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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Did he really dislike 'Allegory'?
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SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 2:38am

Post #1 of 101 (866 views)
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Did he really dislike 'Allegory'? Can't Post

I found this quote from one of Tolkien's letters, where he writes the following:

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism"....

Source: Letters, no. 142.

There was all this talk in here and other Tolkien related sites pushing the notion that Tolkien disliked allegory, but this letter proves clearly otherwise, so what is going on, what is the truth about this matter?

I'm no preacher or a politician…



squire
Valinor


Jun 6 2014, 3:14am

Post #2 of 101 (490 views)
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Yes, in the context of interpreting LotR. [In reply to] Can't Post

In his most famous comment about his "cordial dislike" of allegory, in the second Foreword to LotR, Tolkien was dismissing as misguided those critics who read LotR as an allegory of the recent Second World War. As he noted, it was absurd to say that the Ring stood for the Atomic Bomb! Of course, in other times and contexts Tolkien was "cordially" engaged by allegorical writing, most famously in his fable of the artist-as-sinner, "Leaf By Niggle."

The quote from Letter 142 that you are focusing on does not "clearly" promote an allegorical reading, but rather a symbolic or thematic one. In allegory, the author "codes" his characters and situations on a one-for-one basis to correspond with another existing and understood narrative. But Tolkien, in calling his masterwork "fundamentally religious and Catholic", did not mean that LotR should be read as, say, an allegory of the Christian story (Frodo = Christ, Sauron = Satan, The Ring = Sin, etc.). What he meant was that Catholic morality and values pervade the book in, for instance, the characters' devotion to self-sacrifice and public duty, honest faith in a higher world to come, and a belief that their fate is the hands of a caring entity (who is never identified as a God).

I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author. (JRRT, Foreword, LotR 2nd ed.)




squire online:
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Elizabeth
Valinor


Jun 6 2014, 3:26am

Post #3 of 101 (464 views)
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To clarify further... [In reply to] Can't Post

Have you read C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? That is a direct retelling of the crucifixion/resurrection story, set in a children's fable, but there is no doubt that Aslan the lion is meant to be seen as Christ. Lewis' other related childrens' tales are similarly retellings of other Bible stories.

Tolkien studiously avoids any such direct parallels, and is telling an entirely original tale (though with roots in many ancient mythologies). His moral themes are "applicable" (to use his word), but any attempt to identify his characters so directly is inappropriate.

Does that help?








SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 4:04am

Post #4 of 101 (465 views)
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You have made some points but... [In reply to] Can't Post

One can't run away from the fact that he called his Tale a 'Catholic Work'...

Duties, self sacrifice, dedication to mission, are all more or less concepts that all religions encourage and consider as noble, so the question remains, what is so specifically Catholic with his Tale?

I personally, don't see anything specific that is Catholic, most people of different faiths would be able to find mirrored concepts within his Tale that can remind them of their own particular faiths, and religions, so what did he mean by what he said?

When something is so general, and prone for multiple interpretations it can't be called 'A Catholic work', unless you will add clear and obvious specifics that shoots back to the Catholic Faith, or encourages some of its concepts, and theological arguments.

Or if that is not done, then one has to say plainly that Tolkien did have in mind these particular specifics and as a result did believe in allegory, even in its most blurred and indistinct form.

I'm no preacher or a politician…



(This post was edited by SaulComposer on Jun 6 2014, 4:05am)


Elizabeth
Valinor


Jun 6 2014, 4:41am

Post #5 of 101 (453 views)
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Bear in mind that this letter was to a Jesuit, Fr. Robert Murray, [In reply to] Can't Post

...who was a very close friend. It would be very human of Tolkien to stress his devotion to Catholic concepts in this way. Yes, many people have found the themes you list applicable to many moral systems in addition to Catholicism. That does not make this allegory according to the definition in Wikipedia and elsewhere: Allegory is a rhetorical device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.

The ideas and concepts are embodied or demonstrated by various characters and events at various times in LotR, without the kinds of fixed assignments such as you find in Lewis. Joseph Conrad was another writer who wrote allegorical fiction. Not Tolkien, though.








(This post was edited by Elizabeth on Jun 6 2014, 4:42am)


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 5:38am

Post #6 of 101 (450 views)
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I just don't get the apologetics here [In reply to] Can't Post

The writer says that he considered his own work as a 'Catholic Work', therefore by his own admission I don't accept the apologetic notion that Tolkien disliked or ignored or didn't apply allegory into his work. One can't represent Tolkien 'better' then Tolkien himself.

So in conclusion, save all the apologetic notion, the fact is that Tolkien was using allegory when he was writing his works, and his religion and experiences in ww2 did influence him in inserting and creating his ideas within his work. And even though I personally don't see any Catholic ideas in his work, I can't have the audacity to suggest that I know better then what Tolkien thought or held himself.

All these philosophical 'excuses' are simply that 'Excuses', I don't know why people or fans can't come with terms with the fact that Tolkien infused his own beliefs, convictions, and ideas, be it religious or otherwise, into the volume of his works.

I'm no preacher or a politician…



Elizabeth
Valinor


Jun 6 2014, 6:36am

Post #7 of 101 (453 views)
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The problem is in the definition of "allegory". [In reply to] Can't Post

Infusing your beliefs and convictions into an artistic work is not, per se, "allegory". Of course Tolkien infused his beliefs, etc., into his works. No one denies that for an instant.

But "allegory" implies a very specific and rigid connection: specific characters and specific events are directly representative of specific concepts, like Lewis' Aslan being the Christ figure. That kind of rigidity was anathema to Tolkien.

Can you not see this distinction?








Arannir
Valinor


Jun 6 2014, 9:03am

Post #8 of 101 (424 views)
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Agreed. [In reply to] Can't Post

Plus, I think his clear statement against "allegories" also came from the attempts at the time to interpret the book as a fantasy-version of WWII and/or the beginning Cold War.

I also got the feeling that he was very keen on the fact that people found truth and applicability in his work - that is a major reason imho why LotR is so timeless and has become a true mythology (instead of just imitating one). It was the narrowly interpreted allegories that indicated political or religious messages and/or agendas he disliked (especially since many of them were said obviously unaware of the time-frame the book was written in).

It is a thin line sometimes but an important one, to say either "Frodo's journey resembles the passion of (christian) matyrs" or "Frodo symbolizes christian matyrs". Or "The One Ring and its significance can be applied in many ways to nuclear/atomic weapons" vs. "The One Ring symbolizes the Atomic Bomb".

"I am afraid it is only too likely to be true what you say about the critics and the public. I am dreading the publication for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at." J.R.R. Tolkien

We all have our hearts and minds one way or another invested in these books and movies. So we all mind and should show the necessary respect.



(This post was edited by Arannir on Jun 6 2014, 9:11am)


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Jun 6 2014, 9:43am

Post #9 of 101 (418 views)
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If the good Professor does say he dislikes allegory [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that we can take his word for it, despite the fact that few believe him and people do have a habbit of finding allegory in Lotr. A lot of critics just can't seem to cope with the idea of a tale which is not allegories! However, it is hard to think that the experiences of the world at the time could have had no effect on Tolkien. For example, the siege of Minas Tirith with fires exploding from bombs outside the city with circling creatures crying shrieks of death does have echoes of the Blitz which Tolkien had at least clear memories of when he wrote that chapter.


Elthir
Gondor

Jun 6 2014, 12:15pm

Post #10 of 101 (404 views)
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definitions [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
But "allegory" implies a very specific and rigid connection: specific characters and specific events are directly representative of specific concepts, like Lewis' Aslan being the Christ figure. That kind of rigidity was anathema to Tolkien.



Martha C. Sammons argues that even the Narian works are not allegory, so I think the point about how one defines allegory is a good one. I won't quote her argument, or her quoting of Lewis to support that argument, but for anyone interested see chapter eight to A Guide Through Narnia...

... erm, if this book is still around. My copy has a price printed right on the cover: $3.95 for an oversized paperback.

Wait what's a paperback? Wink


Darkstone
Immortal


Jun 6 2014, 2:05pm

Post #11 of 101 (405 views)
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Perhaps a more demonstrative book... [In reply to] Can't Post

...would be John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", with characers named "Christian", "Evangelist", and "Atheist", and places named "Slough of Despond", "Valley of Humiliation", and "Vanity Fair".

Definitely an allegory. (Required reading in my high school English class. Probably illegal now, but that was in the American South in the 1960s.)

Earlier works of allegory were "morality plays", the most famous of which was "The Summoning of Everyman", with characters named God, Death, Everyman, Good-Deeds, Angel, Knowledge, Beauty, Discretion, and Strength.

Most definitely allegories. (Read some in college.)

Just from the descriptions the difference between these and LOTR should be quite clear.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 2:14pm

Post #12 of 101 (408 views)
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Read this... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Infusing your beliefs and convictions into an artistic work is not, per se, "allegory". Of course Tolkien infused his beliefs, etc., into his works. No one denies that for an instant.

But "allegory" implies a very specific and rigid connection: specific characters and specific events are directly representative of specific concepts, like Lewis' Aslan being the Christ figure. That kind of rigidity was anathema to Tolkien.

Can you not see this distinction?


I disagree, maybe that's your own definition of what allegory means, but if you read wikipedia for instance it has a more general view and interpretation of the word...

'Allegory is a rhetorical device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has been used widely throughout the histories of all forms of art; a major reason for this is its immense power to illustrate complex ideas and concepts in ways that are easily digestible and tangible to its viewers, readers, or listeners. An allegory conveys its hidden message through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.'

And it continues:

'As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor'...

So your insistence that allegory must convey specifics is not accurate...

I'm no preacher or a politician…



Darkstone
Immortal


Jun 6 2014, 2:29pm

Post #13 of 101 (402 views)
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There is a difference. [In reply to] Can't Post

Allegory is metaphor.

Applicability is simile.

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 4:17pm

Post #14 of 101 (392 views)
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Semantics [In reply to] Can't Post

The term Allegory is defined by broader characteristics then some would like, I still can't figure out what is the big deal if his own fans would accept that Tolkien used allegory in his works...

Well the obvious reason for this refusal can simply be the fact that those who are atheists reject the religious infusion in the Tale, any religion, not only Catholicism, arguing that the principals, ethics and morals that are found in this book doesn't have to be of religious origin per say, rather they argue that since Tolkien so called 'rejected' allegory therefore he was inspired by the so called general 'humanism' that is particularly secular.

Some people might have a major problem with Tolkien's Works been of a Religious inspired origin, and that's why I suspect they insist that Tolkien rejected Allegory, even though this is not true, and even though by Tolkien's admission, he considered his work as a Religious of Catholic work. The implications are profound, gone is the notion that the work is of a general 'humanist' or 'secular' origin, rather since this is a religious work, therefore the ethics and morality that is found there has a profound and specific religious message, and a s a result there should be a credit to religion all together, for been the inspiration for such a great Tale.

Some people naturally would like to avoid giving credit to religion, any religion, no matter how indirectly it may be given, for the obvious reasons I have listed above.

This is my own observation and opinion, and I accept that this opinion would not be shared by all.

I'm no preacher or a politician…



nandorin elf
Bree


Jun 6 2014, 4:43pm

Post #15 of 101 (381 views)
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To use your definition... [In reply to] Can't Post

 

In Reply To
Infusing your beliefs and convictions into an artistic work is not, per se, "allegory". Of course Tolkien infused his beliefs, etc., into his works. No one denies that for an instant.

But "allegory" implies a very specific and rigid connection: specific characters and specific events are directly representative of specific concepts, like Lewis' Aslan being the Christ figure. That kind of rigidity was anathema to Tolkien.

Can you not see this distinction?


I disagree, maybe that's your own definition of what allegory means, but if you read wikipedia for instance it has a more general view and interpretation of the word...

'Allegory is a rhetorical device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has been used widely throughout the histories of all forms of art; a major reason for this is its immense power to illustrate complex ideas and concepts in ways that are easily digestible and tangible to its viewers, readers, or listeners. An allegory conveys its hidden message through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.'

And it continues:

'As a literary device, an allegory in its most general sense is an extended metaphor'...

So your insistence that allegory must convey specifics is not accurate...


As your own definition says, an allegory is meant to "convey its hidden message through symbolic events, characters, etc.". If Lord of The Rings were an allegory, it would be presumed to have a certain "message" to convey and the characters and events are stand-in's for the point Tolkien was really trying to make. The biggest problem with this, is that in the foreword to the second edition Tolkien said (paraphrasing here) his main purpose in writing LOTR was to see if he could write a long story that would entertain a lot of people. An allegory might entertain, in fact a good one will, but its purpose for existing is to illustrate a point the author wishes to make. Narnia is a great example of allegory. Not every element of the story is a stand-in but most are.
There are themes in LOTR, certainly. But there is a difference between a theme and a message. A message is in the author's mind when they begin the work and they consciously craft it in; it is meant to be overt. A theme comes more subtly; it grows out of the story rather than being the core around which the story is grown. In the editing process, the author may notice a theme and decide to tone it down or put more focus on it, but it was already there.
Of course, an author's worldview will creep into their work. The art comes from them and they cannot completely separate it from themselves nor should they be expected to. That does not make it allegory. Tolkien believed that Good will ultimately defeat Evil, and so that happens in Middle-earth. He held friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice as qualities we should admire, and so his heroes possess them. To get a little nearer to specifically Catholic beliefs, I believe he once compared the way an Elf would cry to Elbereth to the way a Catholic would cry to Mary. He was not saying Elbereth=Mary, so still not allegory. There is more in the Sil that is closer to allegory: Halls of Mandos~Purgatory, Eru~God, Melkor~Satan. Even still, despite some parallels, there are material differences.
tl;dr: allegory=/=applicability.
You do like to stir the pot don't you, sir? Smile


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 5:00pm

Post #16 of 101 (365 views)
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Applicability [In reply to] Can't Post

Well he said that he applied his religious views into the story, isn't this what he insinuated when he said that the work is a religious work?

Of course not every single thing can be paralleled , that would defeat the purpose, but the allegoric motif here is much broader then what some would want it to be or assume...

I'm no preacher or a politician…



Darkstone
Immortal


Jun 6 2014, 5:17pm

Post #17 of 101 (365 views)
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Nope. Definitions. / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 5:25pm

Post #18 of 101 (368 views)
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Yes… [In reply to] Can't Post

And I see a different definition here based on that wikipedia passage

I'm no preacher or a politician…



Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 6 2014, 7:14pm

Post #19 of 101 (357 views)
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About that... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
And I see a different definition here based on that wikipedia passage



Putting your faith in a wikipedia entry is like assuming that the message in your fortune cookie is the Word of God. You may want a citation that carries a bit more authority.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


Darkstone
Immortal


Jun 6 2014, 7:15pm

Post #20 of 101 (343 views)
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Try the OED. / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 7:20pm

Post #21 of 101 (355 views)
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Its not faith [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To
And I see a different definition here based on that wikipedia passage



Putting your faith in a wikipedia entry is like assuming that the message in your fortune cookie is the Word of God. You may want a citation that carries a bit more authority.


Its just a broader definition then what most people thought it to be in the context of Tolkien and other forms of art...

I'm no preacher or a politician…



Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jun 6 2014, 7:26pm

Post #22 of 101 (359 views)
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Faith. Trust. Confidence. Whatever. [In reply to] Can't Post

Wikipedia is not a reliable source unless the individual entry has proper citations that do check out. If that is the case in this instance then I withdraw my criticism. Otherwise, it stands.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


SaulComposer
Rohan


Jun 6 2014, 7:30pm

Post #23 of 101 (354 views)
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That's fine [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Wikipedia is not a reliable source unless the individual entry has proper citations that do check out. If that is the case in this instance then I withdraw my criticism. Otherwise, it stands.


You can have your criticism, that's fine, I said from the outset that not everyone is going to accept my position on this issue...

I'm no preacher or a politician…



nandorin elf
Bree


Jun 6 2014, 7:36pm

Post #24 of 101 (339 views)
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We'll have to agree to disagree on this :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Darkstone
Immortal


Jun 6 2014, 7:55pm

Post #25 of 101 (335 views)
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Can't argue with belief. / [In reply to] Can't Post

 

******************************************
The audacious proposal stirred his heart. And the stirring became a song, and it mingled with the songs of Gil-galad and Celebrian, and with those of Feanor and Fingon. The song-weaving created a larger song, and then another, until suddenly it was as if a long forgotten memory woke and for one breathtaking moment the Music of the Ainur revealed itself in all glory. He opened his lips to sing and share this song. Then he realized that the others would not understand. Not even Mithrandir given his current state of mind. So he smiled and simply said "A diversion.”

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