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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Relationship between reality and fantasy

The Shire

Sep 16 2012, 10:41am

Post #1 of 6 (1022 views)
Relationship between reality and fantasy Can't Post

I am in the very very early stages of writing a dissertation on The Lord of the Rings. One of the ideas I'm exploring at the moment relates to the interaction between fantasy and reality in the books. Specifically, I am starting to see the novel as chronicling the start of a transition period. This is the period where what we now call fantasy, which was once history, begins to change and fade into what we now call reality. It's a work in progress but as I'm at that decision point where I really need to focus down on something, I thought I'd ask the only group of Tolkien enthusiasts I know whether this sounds like a workable idea.

At the moment my thinking is very much isolated from the world of criticism. I'm struggling to find anyone writing at length about this topic so if anyone here knows of anyone that has written about it, I'd be very interested to read what others have said.


Sep 16 2012, 2:17pm

Post #2 of 6 (500 views)
There are comparisons... [In reply to] Can't Post

that are true enough as general motifs in folklore (along with historic parallels) that can be used as points and parallels in Tolkien's work.

Although Tolkien cordially disliked the works of Irish mythology, there is in fact a correlation between the waning of the heroic age to the pragmatic modern era. The diminution of the races of giants and heroes like the Irish Daoine Sidhe and Fir Bolgs into post-Christianity leprechauns and sprites, presents both a figurative lessening of their power and a literal drop in stature, a waning of their emphasis as Christianity or the modern world waxed. Tolkien also includes a waning in stature as his ages progress, and an equal lessening of magical attributes.

Tolkien's worldview of Middle-earth changes from the more pagan aspects of heroic mythology in the 1st and 2nd Ages to a more Christian view (still subsumed but present) in the 3rd Age War of the Ring. This is much like the patina of Christianity that glosses the Anglo-Saxon work Beowulf, which still maintains much of the Pre-Christian elements recited by the scops, and skalds before them, that make up the bulk of the poem.

The Numenoreans are a towering race, but as we reach the end of the 3rd Age they have become so co-mingled with lesser mortals that the remnant of the Dunedain in Gondor are not much different than any other race. Aragorn is called "Strider" because he is unusually tall for a man in the 3rd Age, but he is nowhere near as tall as his forefather Elendil.

Who are the most modern of all the inhabitants of Middle-earth? The smallest folk, the Hobbits. Their society is riddled with anachronisms from an England far in advance of the rest of Middle-earth: the squirearchy of the Shire resembles 16th or 17th century England (without a king or parliament), they have a post office, afternoon tea, a local constabulary (shiriffs), law firms that handle auctions and inheritances, and they have no magic about them whatsoever.

In a magical sense, there is a withdrawal of power in Middle-earth. The Valar no longer show themselves openly as they did in previous ages, nor do they interfere in direct confrontation with evil as in earlier times. By the 3rd Age their emissaries, the Istari, are cloaked and wizened and are forbidden to match power with the One Enemy. Likewise, the primary evil has receded from an angelic Vala (Morgoth), to his lieutenant, a Maia (Sauron), and by the end of the 3rd Age onward, the evil manifested in the world is only present in mankind itself.

The only truly magic race (if inherent power can be described as such - an idea that Galadriel found quaint) the Elves, are leaving the shores of Middle-earth, and Tolkien implies that the remnant of the Elves who stay in Middle-earth will literally fade the longer they remain. Galdriel accepts leaving for Valinor and uses the word "diminish".

Even the Dwarves have lost whatever magic they once possessed. Thorin bemoans the fact that he hasn't the skills of his forefathers, and the dwarves cannot accomplish the feats of their ancestors; for instance, Gimli is no help to Gandalf in opening the magical Doors of Durin, and the dwarves themselves could no longer craft such doors. Dwarves, in and of themselves, are a reduced race, and it is implied that the lack of females will eventually cause them to cease as an individual people.

So, the concept of diminishment is both a real world folklotic motif as well as an overall state of affairs in Middle-earth. Parallels can also be seen from a real world historical perspective as warriors and knights once fought with their own physical prowess and gained singular renown, and kings led their armies directly into combat; whereas as we reach the point of modernity, the great charges of knights gives way to formations of common infantry and kings and political leaders remain safe in their chambers while surrogates lead their armies.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.

(This post was edited by Morthoron on Sep 16 2012, 2:24pm)


Sep 16 2012, 3:59pm

Post #3 of 6 (508 views)
Fantasy or Legend? [In reply to] Can't Post

I don'k know if this is a viable subject. What you are referring to as fantasy here might be more accurate to call legend. Fantasy need not intersect with reallity at all, where legend at least has a basis in historical events. Maybe that is where your focus lies.

'Thus spake Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.' - Gandalf the White

The Shire

Sep 16 2012, 10:54pm

Post #4 of 6 (464 views)
Well that's precisely the point [In reply to] Can't Post

Or rather not precisely but part of it. I understand the distinction between fantasy and legend and what I am referring to is the fantasy element. Those parts of The Lord of the Rings which are not of this earth and I am seeing a transition from their dominance to the dominance of the more legendary, which I have called reality. Fantasy, in my opinion, precedes legend in the novels.


Sep 16 2012, 11:04pm

Post #5 of 6 (442 views)
Okay, I see what you are getting at... [In reply to] Can't Post

If we look at the Red Book of Westmarch as a prehistoric artifact of the Third Age that was discovered and translated by Prof. Tolkien (perhaps with other related manuscripts) then we have to make certain assumptions. 1) The manuscript is wholly fantastical with little or no historical reality; 2) the manuscript is largely true, but includes exaggerations and fantastical additions (perhaps added by later contributors); or 3) the manuscript is true and the World was a very different place in a prehistoric era when what we call 'magic' was quite real.

'Thus spake Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.' - Gandalf the White


Sep 18 2012, 9:11am

Post #6 of 6 (860 views)
This subject [In reply to] Can't Post

covers an aspect of JRRT's work that presents me with the greatest problems of acceptance. What I have referred to as what is the myth or facts within the myth. Aragorns quote about the "green earth" to Eothain I think touches on this.


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