Allegory, whether you like it or not

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From quotefancy

I’m sorry, Tolkien – I love your work and all, but this is happening.

Per the quote above, and the message in the foreword, it’s not incredibly hard to figure that Tolkien was not fond of allegory and especially its application to his work. While the times might indicate that the War of the Ring has some pretty strong parallels to some of the recent events of the time (namely World War II), Tolkien and his followers have strongly protested this idea, and said they had nothing to do with each other. And others have connected his work to religious texts, namely the Bible (Frodo as Jesus, Melkor as Lucifer, etc.), which would (and likely has been refuted by his fans).

Unfortunately for Tolkien and many of his fans, that’s not really the way literary criticism and allegory works. The intent of the author is not necessarily considered when reviewing texts and parallels with other texts. Even if Dante Alighieri had not planned on making his own epic journey through Hell laden with images of his political rivals, the parallels between his depictions of members of society and his expulsion and dissatisfaction with how Florence was conducting itself were not invisible, and connections can be made.

So it is with Tolkien. Allegory doesn’t require the author to have written the text with allegory in mind. And as it is, many writers write things with parallels that are discovered after the fact and that were completely unintentional. Unfortunately for Tolkien, his Catholic upbringing and fellowship with writers like C.S. Lewis allow there to be a solid injection of hidden meanings and ideals thrown into the mix.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of religious allegory, the makings are there. As previously mentioned, there are characters who bear resemblances to Biblical figures – Frodo carries the ring (sins of the world) and he alone is capable of making the sacrifice necessary to destroy it; Melkor was an Ainur (essentially angel) and corrupted many Maiar (lesser angels) to follow him, including Sauron and the balrogs; other examples that elude me.

There are plenty of unintentional allegories that exist in the world. You don’t have to look much further than this year: “Warcraft,” the fantasy movie based on the strategy game series, has been linked by some Redditors to the Syrian refugee crisis despite preceding the crisis by decades. And even if Tolkien is sincere in saying no allegory is meant to exist within The Lord of the Rings, it exists.

And even if it can be vehemently ripped apart and destroyed, the story is good enough stand alone; in fact, if the reason Tolkien was and Tolkienites are so vehemently against the trilogy as being described as allegory was/is to establish it as a root text for future allegories, I’ll gladly support it.

 

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Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Is it really an allegory?

To be honest, the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t think that it could be allegorical of anything at all. It was a highly fictional world with Elves and Dwarves and Magical Rings that are just too imaginative to be part of the real world. To me, Lord of the Rings was nothing more than the product of Tolkien’s fantastic imagination and dedication towards creating such a detailed world. All I saw was a writers’ great enthusiasm towards the concept of this imaginary world in which all the creatures from the fairy tales we all have read live together.

To be fair, I was 15 at the time so I’m not surprised to see how my recent readings of this series has completely changed its meaning – not going to lie, I enjoyed my first reading far more than my recent ones, just because I was able to immerse myself into this fantastical world and almost become a part of the story. In recent readings, however, I have been much more aware of what is actually happening in the story and have often connected aspects of it to the real world. By doing so, I did cut out on some of the fun of reading it, but my recent readings of the series have been far more memorable, just because they now feel a little more realistic.

In the foreword, Tolkien bluntly states that “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” In short, THIS BOOK IS NOT ALLEGORICAL OF ANYTHING – And my first reading of this book is representative of exactly this. As the story progressed, I went along with Frodo and Sam on their quest and felt the same things as they would have felt – the book most definitely held the attention of its readers. What really strengthens this idea that Lord of the Rings is purely fictional is that Tolkien just didn’t stop at this book, but wrote almost 12 more books on the history and lore of Middle Earth. He was just trying his best to make a complete fictional world.

However, at this point it’s just difficult for me to think that this book (and all the books preceding or following it) does not pull from the events around Tolkien in his time. The overlaying themes of good versus evil is something that was (and is) highly prominent at the time given that this book was written shortly after the first World War and was followed by the second World War. The number of parallels that can be drawn between the book and the state of the world at that time make it very difficult to agree with the fact that this book was written as pure fiction. Sure, the book is not a direct allegory of real events such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which it is clear that each character represents a person in the real world, but it is most definitely not pure fiction.

Looking at the allegorical aspects of Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s comments about how the book was not intended to be allegorical of the war, one question that came to my mind was that can anything be pure fiction? Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings during a time of great social and political turmoil and it is hard to think that those ideas were not part of his subconscious while writing the book. It is extremely difficult not to include aspects of the real world in writing and almost impossible to not be influenced by what is going on around you. In my public speaking course, we have been talking about informative speeches and how it is necessary to be unbiased in such speeches. During our discussions, I realized that it is really difficult not to include any of your own opinions to be part of your speech in one way or another. In the same way, I’m certain that Tolkien definitely had some opinions on the state of the world at that time, and at some point some of these ideas were bound to bleed into his writing. Perhaps, this is why he states that the book was not intended to be an allegory, but the ideas presented in the book are highly applicable to the real world and this is just a result of some of his own opinions being reflected in his writing. Taking a look at another ‘fictional’ series, Harry Potter once again deals with highly imaginative topics such as wizards and fantastic beasts. However, it is quite often debated that this series too has some allegorical aspects with respect to religion. Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, themes that are shared with christianity are seen throughout the book, and I think it’s very possible that his interactions with C.S. Lewis could have been a contributing factor to that. After all, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is full of references to the Bible.

In the end, I agree with Tolkien on the statement that The Lord of the Rings was not written as an Allegory to the second World War, Christianity, or any of the many other ideas and themes that this book parallels. It was written as an attempt to entertain and excite readers and it does exactly that. However it is nearly impossible to write any work without being influenced by the culture and society around you and The Lord of the Rings is a result of the events happening around the time it was written, blending into it. However, this actually doesn’t take away from the book but in fact, adds to it. By adding aspects to it that are representative of the real world, readers are able to connect with the book at a deeper level as they are familiar with the concepts being dealt with. It allows the readers to relate to the events taking place in the book and in some ways enhances their experience as the delve deeper into the world that the author has created for them.

The Lord of the Rings vs. who?

Tyler Gilcrest

When asked to compare the Lord of the Rings to another fantasy movie, the first thing I have to do is simply think of another fantasy movie.  The trouble is, that’s the trouble.  It’s hard to think of another movie in the fantasy genre the readily comes to mind other than the Lord of the Rings, let alone find one that is comparable.  After a bit of thought, I come up with a couple satisfactory choices, namely the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if those were the two that most people picked to write about.  But I think to myself, I want to be unique.  I search the archives for a little longer and Eragon (not a memorable movie experience by any means), the Golden Compass (which may not score high on the fantasy scale) and Reign of Fire (of which I can only remember that it contained dragons).  None that jump out at me for sure. 

Which makes me think, why is the Lord of the Rings such a prominent fantasy movie? Why did the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King win all 11 academy awards (including best picture, which no other fantasy movie has done) for which it was nominated?  And why does the Lord of the Rings have such sincere, what can best be called, “replayability”?  I think most of this comes from the world that the movie immerses you in.  And it truly is immersion.  Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and the world of Narnia are simply places in which you watch people interact.  In the Lord of the Rings, you  feel like Middle-Earth is a world that could actually exist.  Part of the reason for this could definitely be the amount of time that you spend in such cinematic experiences.   The Lord of the Rings extended edition reminds me of  Lawrence of Arabia and the era of movie intermissions.  The amount of time that the movie has to acclimate you to the world gives the director that much more time to immerse you in the story and the characters. 

Another advantage the Lord of the Rings has is its origin.  J.R.R. Tolkien did a wonderful job imagining Middle-Earth and then describing it in his books. Compared to his Tolkien’s works, the Harry Potter books are juvenile stories of teen angst written on a napkin in a coffee shop.  C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, was a very accomplished writer and his books do compare to those of Tolkien’s, considering they were friends who imagined fantasy worlds together and pledged to bring them to the mainstream public.  But I think the Lord of the Rings movie outdoes the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe through better characters, and better use of both development and interiority, and battles that can only be described as much more badass and epic.  So asking me to compare the Lord of the Rings to another fantasy movie is a tall order indeed, since in my opinion the Lord of the Rings stands alone on top.

Time Passage in LotR

By: Lynne M.

The movie, obviously, integrates the Green Dragon conversation into one that occurs at The Prancing Pony. The reason for this was to keep out any extra scenes and still get in the important dialogue.  However, it seems to lose a little of its effect. The Prancing Pony is loud and boisterous, while The Green Dragon seemed more calm (especially in LOTRO — There was barely a soul there.) and allowed for the conversation to flow more freely, rather than trying to talk over others.

Also, the journey to The Green Dragon from the novel takes up more time passing, which was not shown in the movie. In LOTRO, it is easy to see (if you look at a map and don’t consider your character’s blazing fast speed) the distance they walked and how long it would take them to do that. Thus, movement within the imagined world varies according to which interpretation of the story is being examined.

Also, the passing of time within the novel seems more like time manipulation to me. Tolkien subtly adds in that 12 years have passed, all while describing a currently happening scene of Sam walking home from The Green Dragon that causes the reader to be drawn back in to a current scene, possibly not even realizing that 12 years have passed. I, honestly, didn’t really think about how odd it was that those 12 years just slipped by until our conversation in class. Tolkien did a wonderful job of glazing over what seems like a long passage of time by adding in only a few paragraphs of detail related to that time.