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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Applicability and Allegory

Zherkezhi
Bree


Aug 11 2012, 10:55pm

Post #1 of 15 (534 views)
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Applicability and Allegory Can't Post

Hello everyone,

I am currently working on my bachelor thesis, for which I want to analyse a medieval adaption and middle high german translation of Vergil's Aeneid, called Eneas. It's a very interesting piece of work, since it "medievalises" Vergil's epic poem: Aeneas, the legendary founder of ancient Rome, is a knight in shining armor - Dido, the legendary founder of Carthage, is the object of courtly love - and so forth.

So why am I telling you all this?

In this translation/adaption, the author transforms the characters of the Aeneid into examples that illustrate courtly morals and values. In other words, the author uses the characters as allegories. When I realized that, I came to think of what Tolkien said about allegories:


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I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. 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.


I'd really like to put this into my bachelor thesis, albeit as a footnote, but I need a proper scientific paper to quote (Alas, I don't think that my examiners would like me to cite the foreword of The Lord of the Rings. Just a few weeks ago a fellow student walked into their seminar in full knight's armor and caused a lot of irritation. My examiners are probably a bit sensitive of late, when it comes to good academic conduct).

Do you know a paper of Tolkien's which deals with this topic (allegory and applicability) and that I could cite in my thesis? I am not very familiar with Tolkien's scholarly work and I'd like to know whether anyone of you has some recommendations. :)

Thanks in advance and best wishes!


(This post was edited by Zherkezhi on Aug 11 2012, 10:57pm)


Elizabeth
Valinor


Aug 12 2012, 1:53am

Post #2 of 15 (233 views)
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I think Letters are fair game as references. [In reply to] Can't Post

Get a copy of "the Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien" and look in the index for "Allegory". None of the quotes are quite so well-phrased as that one, though.

Another translation/adaptation that I think you might find interesting and relevant is The Saxon Savior: The Germanic Transformation of the Gospel in the Ninth-Century Heliand. The Heliand is a work from approximately 835 AD in which an anonymous East Saxon "scop", or bard, synthesized the four Gospel narratives into a single text, large portions of which have survived ("Heliand" translates to "Savior").

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Jesus is portrayed as a warrior chieftain, and his disciples as warrior thanes. Much of the imagery used to depict Jesus comes directly from the images of Odin, who also sacrificed himself to himself to achieve "wisdom", or magical power. But Jesus is more powerful than Odin, as portrayed by the anonymous Saxon, because while Odin will perish in Ragnarok (the End of Time), Jesus will survive. Throughout the Heliand, not only the scenery and social structure of the New Testament but also the moral standards and expectations of Christianity are carefully modified to appeal to the Germanic tribesmen.

The author of this analysis, G. Ronald Murphy, also did a translation of The Heliand, which I'm sure Amazon will recommend to you. Both books are fascinating.






Join us NOW in the Reading Room for detailed discussions of The Hobbit, July 9-Nov. 18!

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


Zherkezhi
Bree


Aug 12 2012, 8:10am

Post #3 of 15 (172 views)
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Thank you [In reply to] Can't Post

... very much. I will give it a try! :)

The Heliand sounds very interesting, although my work will focus on the high middle ages. But I am going to read it, be it for entertainment or educational purpose. I think the German "Heiland" is derived from this old saxon phrase.

Best wishes


geordie
Tol Eressea

Aug 12 2012, 8:56am

Post #4 of 15 (170 views)
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I recommend Scull and Hammond [In reply to] Can't Post

- the index in their 'The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide' (London: Harper Collins, 2006) contains a dozen or so references to 'allegory' (and one or two to 'appliability'), which are immensely useful - see for example the authors' treatment of Tolkien's 'Smith of Wootton Major' (Vol.II, pp.945-50)

I particularly recommend the entry on 'Allgory' (Vol.II, pp.37-41), in which the authors examine the topic using examples and quotes from Tolkien's works, and letters (some of them not published before).

One of these quotes is from a letter which has been published before, but in a very slim volume which is not easily found these days (the geordie has a copy, naturally) Smile

The book is called 'Eglerio! In Praise of Tolkien' (ed. Anne Etkin, 1978) The letter, dated 11th Sept. 1958, is to Lucy Matthews. Speaking of LotR Tolkien wrote:

"A strict allegory is like a puzzle with a solution: a great romance is like a flower whose smell reminds you of something you can't quite place. I think the something is 'the whole quality of life as we actually experience it."


geordie
Tol Eressea

Aug 12 2012, 9:27am

Post #5 of 15 (200 views)
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I don't know of any academic work [In reply to] Can't Post

where Tolkien addresses allegory and applicability in this sense. Tolkien's academic pieces tend to be philological; even in his note 'Ipplen in Sawle's Warde' (written in collaboration with Simonne d'Ardenne) the focus us not on the allegorical nature of Sawle's Warde, but on a single word which appears in the manuscript. (Sawle's Warde is a homily written in Middle English in the first part of the 13th century).

Apparently 'ipplen' had been giving problems to language experts for some time. It doesn't exist outside of Sawle's Warde. But according to Tolkien and d'Ardenne the word is not 'ipplen' at all; by examining the original manuscript (MS Bodley 34, commonly known as the Katherine Group) they conclude that the word is more probably riwlen - the confusion being primarily caused by poor workmanship on the part of the scribe, whom Tolkien calls 'scribe B' - though B. was not entirely to blame:

"Poor B was a blunderer, and not always attentive to the sense, but it is possible here to feel a little sympathy with him. The author here must bear some of the blame. This is a bad beginning. Nothing could be more destructive of his allegory, or more confusing, than to introduce we at this point, the real persons, who are being allegorically analysed.."

(from 'English Studies (Amsterdam) 28, no.6 (December 1947, pp.168-70)

.


(This post was edited by geordie on Aug 12 2012, 9:33am)


Zherkezhi
Bree


Aug 12 2012, 4:24pm

Post #6 of 15 (141 views)
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Great quotes [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you, geordie. It's great how Tolkien manages to put poetry into places which are usually quite prosaic... :D


Zherkezhi
Bree


Aug 12 2012, 4:26pm

Post #7 of 15 (157 views)
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I like that, too [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien, quite polite as ever :)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 14 2012, 4:10pm

Post #8 of 15 (151 views)
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If I were you [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd be a bit careful about implying that Tolkien would necessarily disapprove of all medieval allegory. If it's the kind where characters illustrate certain virtues in a general way, then I'm not at all sure he'd disapprove. There's a famous interview he gave to the BBC where he uses the word "allegory" quite unselfconsciously in relation to the hobbits:
Interviewer: ...In the face of the most appalling danger [Bilbo] struggles on and continues, and wins through.

Tolkien: But that seems I suppose more like an allegory of the human race. I've always been impressed that we're here surviving because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds...
This is despite saying quite vehemently at another point in the interview that "I dislike allegory whenever I smell it". But in this second case, it's in reply to a question about whether LotR itself should be considered as an allegory.

What Tolkien particularly disliked, I think, was the idea that LotR might be a "strict allegory", as defined in the letter that geordie quotes. The more general meaning, of characters who embody certain qualities, is something he seems to have been quite happy to apply even to his own hobbits. I don't know how "strict" the allegory is in the work you're studying, but it might be worth bearing the distinction in mind.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



(This post was edited by FarFromHome on Aug 14 2012, 4:12pm)


CuriousG
Valinor


Aug 14 2012, 7:24pm

Post #9 of 15 (171 views)
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Allegory examples [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm always puzzled about the allegory & Tolkien debate. It seems he didn't want people to say "The One Ring is the nuclear weapon of our time, so nukes must be destroyed," but there are repeated messages in the books that seem to me to be directed at modern readers, such as the persistent need, obvious only to the Wise, to end factional squabbling and unite against a common enemy. I don't take that as a position specifically in favor of NATO or the European Union, but it still seems a message intended to be taken outside of Middle-earth. Then there are certain episodes which seem to carry explicit moral lessons, such as Galadriel denying the Ring's temptation and Frodo's forgiveness of his enemy (Saruman).

In looking up the definition of allegory, the examples listed here are rather interesting: http://grammar.about.com/od/terms/g/allegory.htm

I tend to take The Hobbit at face value as an entertaining story, but LOTR seems intended to send messages to readers in addition to entertaining them.


Elizabeth
Valinor


Aug 14 2012, 7:57pm

Post #10 of 15 (177 views)
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You are describing "applicability" [In reply to] Can't Post

...which is entirely appropriate. To me the easiest contrast between allegory and applicability is between The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and LotR. The Lion, Aslan, is obviously Christ, and Lewis' book is a transparent retelling of Jesus' crucifixion story (the other Narnia books are also fairly direct retellings of other Bible stories). Aesop's Fables are also allegories. As soon as you can say, "This character represents xxx" (Jesus, Greed, Death, whatever) you have an allegory.

LotR certainly has some clear morals and lessons, but there is no direct mapping of that sort. The Ring is not "The Bomb", and neither Gandalf, Frodo, nor Aragorn are Christ (although all three possess different Christ-like characteristics).

Tolkien's point, which I completely agree with, is that as soon as a reader starts making such identifications, it becomes impossible to read the story as a story, and the result is shallow rather than profound.






Join us NOW in the Reading Room for detailed discussions of The Hobbit, July 9-Nov. 18!

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 15 2012, 8:23am

Post #11 of 15 (139 views)
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Yes, I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

It's the one-to-one mapping that Tolkien is so adamantly against. But not all medieval allegory is like this - the word is sometimes used, as Tolkien himself uses it in the interview I quoted, just to refer to the embodiment of certain virtues (or vices) in characters. That doesn't necessarily work against the story as a story - in fact it can help to give it the deeper, universal "applicability" we find in Tolkien's work. The only pitfall really is in the various definitions of the word "allegory", only one of which ("strict allegory") is the one Tolkien refutes. On the board here we tend to think only of this meaning, and contrast it with Tolkien's own preferred term "applicability". But in a wider context, the difference is not so absolute, I think.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Noel Q. von Schneiffel
Rivendell


Aug 15 2012, 12:57pm

Post #12 of 15 (110 views)
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I do not understand... [In reply to] Can't Post

...the whole allegory problem. The Lord of the Rings is the translation of Frodo's and Bilbo's account, aka the Red Book of Westmarch. It is therefore complete historical truth. Everything happened just this way in 6387 B.C., and Tolkien only translated and dramatized these sources (which, by the way, he had personally dug out on his grand archeological expedition to Gizeh in 1921). So how could it possibly refer to anything today?



The Glorious Truth of J.R.R. Tolkien
Radiates from his Holy Writings


http://www.tolkientruth.info/


CuriousG
Valinor


Aug 15 2012, 3:58pm

Post #13 of 15 (122 views)
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Thanks to you both for clarifying. I may finally understand it now.// [In reply to] Can't Post

 


(This post was edited by CuriousG on Aug 15 2012, 3:59pm)


CuriousG
Valinor


Aug 15 2012, 4:03pm

Post #14 of 15 (118 views)
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Unless you're young and very obtuse like me. [In reply to] Can't Post

I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid and though raised a Christian, I had no clue that they were anything more than adventure stories. I might be more perceptive now, but no promises. (Jesus = a talking lion? Oh, c'mon.)

Joking aside, I appreciate your points very much.


Morthoron
Gondor


Aug 16 2012, 2:13am

Post #15 of 15 (241 views)
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Like the Elves, Tolkien says both yea and nay... [In reply to] Can't Post

But it seems to me that "Leaf by Niggle" is the most allegorical of all Tolkien's works. His Letter # 131 says it was not, while his letter #241 implies that it was. After numerous readings over the years, I don't see how it could be anything but allegorical.

Argue amongst yourselves. Wink

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


 
 

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