J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Autor: Kamča Nová | 14.9.2010 20:58 | 3 komentářů | Přečteno: 4836 krát

The Road goes ever on and on ... 

The Road goes ever on and on 
Down from the door where it began. 
Now far ahead the Road has gone, 
And I must follow, if I can, 
Pursuing it with eager feet, 
Until it joins some larger way 
Where many paths and errands meet. 
And whither then? I cannot say.1 

There are many books written in English which I consider being worthy to compose an essay about and thus it is quite difficult to pick just one. Lots of these have left a great impression on me and I have had a notion of reading them once more. But I have always failed to do so, since there has been a number of other titles waiting on my must-read-list, the ones that I have been either recommended or have read about somewhere and found interesting. However, there proved to be one exception to the rule. It was a piece of literature that stood out from all my previous experience, the one that had often come on my mind as a reminiscent of the values its author had shared with his readers which made me read it again and again. No wonder that this, in my view a masterpiece, had a great impact on my choice of the theme for the essay: this little treasure is called The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien. 
I don't think there is any need to introduce this book, since it is well known all around the world and in recent years it has become familiar even with the reading public in the Czech Republic. As far as I know, it has won a very good reputation not only among the common people but it has also inspired other writers and artists in different fields of art. For this reason I would like to put my focus especially on Tolkien's aim for writing this famous oeuvre and afterwards I will try to give my idea of his message that he had left to the coming generations of both young and adult readers. But before I start, let me put down some important facts related to the author and his books that might enable us to acquire a better understanding of his writings. 
It is essential to know at least this: Tolkien spent his earliest childhood in happiness, in a small and quit village Sarehole in the countryside where he lived with his younger brother and their caring mother. There he became acquainted with the beauty of the surrounding nature. Soon, he was deprived of the two things he loved the most. First of all, the family moved to noisy and industrial Birmingham and secondly, the only parent he had had, i.e. his mother, died when he was only 12 years old. All he was left was the idyllic picture of the rural countryside in his mind and catholic education he had been given by his mother. One more thing still remained unchanged - his passion for old books, classic languages and ancient myths. Due to that passion, he decided to study Old and Middle English and after finishing his studies and establishing his own family, he became a university teacher in Leeds. He mastered the subject with enthusiasm and it did not take long before he was given professorship of Anglo-Saxon in Oxford. Besides his work of a teacher and publishing critical essays, he devoted his life to creating his own fictional worlds and languages. 
Tolkien wrote several books in genre of fantasy. First of all, it was The Silmarillion (published posthumously), which he himself appreciated the most.2 Fortunately, some of his other works were put into print with his own approval. Namely a modern fairy tale called The Hobbit and then, what was supposed to be its sequel, the above mentioned The Lord of the Rings. The former tells a story of the Halfling Bilbo and his 13 Dwarfish companions travelling to the Lonely Mountain in search of their stolen treasure, while the latter, in which I am interested, was more serious and complicated, aiming much further from many points of view. It could be comprehended only as an account of the journey of another Halfling, this time Bilbo's nephew Frodo, but it would probably miss the very important message it contains. 
Some say that LotR is rather a sequel to The Silmarillion. Tolkien used the before created mythology as a setting for this adventurous saga, which means he reintroduced the fictional country called the Middle-Earth and mixed it with all the places and characters that derive their origin from The Hobbit. Once more we can meet all the fabulous creatures such as the Elves, the Dwarves3, the Wizards, or the Eagles, but also the Orcs, the Trolls, the Werewolves, and of course Tolkien's little invention - the Hobbits. Now we encounter an important question: Why did the author set the story somewhere out of this world? Only to escape the reality and tell us a fairy tale to enlighten our hearts? Or, is there any relation to our lives and our existence on the Earth? We can guess and I am quite sure we will not find it as simple as a plain tale. It is obvious that our explanations will differ from one person to another, and I do not think there is only one right answer either. But here is mine. 
I myself found the Middle-Earth being a mirror reflection our world with all its problems and dilemmas. The reflection might not resemble its model as faithfully as to the physical appearance, but it does as to the essence. We do not have the Dwarves here, but we posses their desire for the precious things, e.g. for gold and silver. We have never got in touch with the Elves, although we still meet virtuous and wise people. There are not any who look like the Orcs, but can we say that there are not those who behave like them? I just wish there is more of the Elvis kind and less goblin like. But in general, if we compare all the folks from the Middle-Earth with our mankind, we come to a conclusion that the majority of us are undoubtedly like the Hobbits in most of their features. We are neither black nor white, we are always a mixture of those two elements. There is an eternal fight between the good and evil going on within us, a struggle amount our virtues and our vices. By all means we ought to help the former so it can prevail. 
Let's look at the parallels with the Hobbits. Just like them, we live quietly in our own Shires and enjoy all the comfort we have. We do not bother ourselves with the problems that do not have a direct impact upon our lives. We do not like any disturbance, any sort of uncertainty. We think we have the inalienable right to everything we posses, that we deserve it. All we long for is to live a comfortable life and to be sure that tomorrow we will not have less than we have now. How modest, isn't it? We expect everything to be in its own place, all right, why not, but don't we take it for granted? Why do we become so indifferent? We do not want to care about things that do not touch our lives personally. Unless something comes straight into our way and wakes us up, we are wrapped up in our tiny little problems and miss the important things. But it is dangerous, the evil things never sleep. 
If we stop guarding the good things, the evil might start to play the major part and overcome us. Or wasn't it the same thing, when the Hobbits were just as happy in their Shire as they could be while the Dark Lord was gaining power in the land of Mordor? Nobody wanted to hear about it, since one had enough bread, dry shelter, and some entertainment? Until the real danger showed up. First then, the responsible ones became alarmed and stepped out of their comfortable lives. They collected all the courage and though being well aware of the perils, still they set off for their journey before it was too late. Even though they knew they might not come back. What they realised is that it was better or give at least a try than to give up entirely. We can learn a lesson there. One should be on the watch all the time. If he is not, one sinks slowly into a deep sleep. But what assures us that we will always wake up in time? 
I mentioned the responsible ones. It is interesting to stop at that. Tolkien shows us how strong people can become if they need to. The human will and the power within us is infinite if we go deep enough inside ourselves. In some situations it is possible to overcome the obstacles which may otherwise seem undefeatable. We would be surprised to see that our endurance is far greater than we think and that we are able to do great things if we believe we can. We just ought to try. Here Tolkien probably applied his own deep faith developed through Catholicism, the reminder of his deceased mother. His aim was to make us think about our own lives and to ask ourselves a question, whether it is worthy to spend a lifetime chasing the passing commodities and satisfying our desires for luxuries. He did not want anybody to waste his life. 
The Lord of the Rings tells us of the ancient times, about many things and events that took place long time ago. There have been many Bilbos and Frodos in history since then, who have risked their lives for our world. Life has not always been that easy to live in as it might be now. We should look back and realise this. Appreciate it much more. To apply it to these days: we finally live under democracy, we enjoy that freedom, but how much did it cost our ancestors to acquire it? Is it right to be completely indifferent about it, when many have lost their lives for us and for our future? Shouldn't we be a bit grateful for all of it? Unfortunately our gratefulness disappears so fast, we forget too soon the deeds that had to precede it. Maybe if we lost it again, we would realise our mistakes, but won't that be too late? We might regain it, but why, if we can save all this effort and use it in a different way? Tolkien's books remember many noble deeds of those great men, who brought the light into our lives. In the Middle-Earth, the Elves were those who cared for the past and learned from it in order to live better in the future. They treasured the old times and sang of it in their lore. There is a lot of wisdom in history and we should study it, because as we know, it tends to repeat itself. 
Now I come to the point, in which the reflection in the mirror does not resemble its original anymore. It used to do but that has changed. Tolkien portrayed here the landscape from his early memories, his dreamland once found in Sarehole. By means of the characters of the book, he could enjoy all the beauty of the unspoiled nature again, once more he had a chance to climb the trees, dive into the pure waters of the river, pick the mushrooms in the evergreen meadows, listen to the songs of the birds. I would say it was for him a kind of refuge from the common grey reality and it works the same with the reader. But the purpose was not only to escape the ugly and dirty town, I suppose he intended to remind us this essential element of our existence, the importance of the surrounding nature. He suggested we needed less noise and more green, we ought to return back to it since we are part of it. Problems arise whenever we separate ourselves from that source of life. We are not robots yet to be independent from the biosphere. We still cannot do without oxygen, water, sunshine and many more things that come from the nature. Knowing all this, can we abandon it then? 
As I said already, Tolkien loved nature and admired its mighty power. Reading his vivid descriptions we come to knowledge that we are almost meaningless next to it. It makes us kneel down in front of it and listen to its peaceful pace. Then we realise that we do not own the land, but on the contrary, the land rather owns us. If we try, we can learn to live in harmony together - but first we should start playing our given roles as a part of it and stop pretending to be its masters. Going through his books and enjoying the breathtaking adventures, we read of the splendid landscape of the Middle-Earth where everything teems with life. Deep forests are inhabited by wild animals of all sorts, there grow all different trees4, it is full of fascinating plants of various scents etc. The tiny streams as well as the mighty rivers are so clear that you can drink of it, you can catch some lively fish with your bare hands. You run across the blooming meadows with butterflies flying around, the wind is blowing through your hair heading for the gorgeous valleys, you hear the voice of the ocean and seagulls crying on the shores. But there is much more, e.g. Tolkien's unforgettable appreciation for the green spring. Is it everything worthless that it does not deserve our attention, care and preservation? It is up to us, how we treat it. 
I have summarised Tolkien's major accomplishments, but there is at least one more of a very big importance. It is evident from his brief biography that his fondness of languages had to somehow influence his literary works. Actually it was inevitable, because he spend all his life studying old languages. I would guess that the application of his own fictional languages stood for the incentive of all his writings. No matter whether I am right or not, it became a quite important element of his books. For the narrative he was using a distinguished form of his mother tongue, but often he had to draw some words from Old English in order to evoke the atmosphere of the passed times. For this reason he also had to avoid a lot of words which derived their origin from French or entered the English usage later. It can be seen on the example of the word tobacco, which was introduced to English quite recently5. Tolkien used the older word pipeweed instead. Similar it is with words potato and tater. These facts may cause difficulties in translations, but we cannot blame the author for that. No problems arise with other words that come from the languages of the Elves and the Dwarves. These are not translated at all, because they are Tolkien's inventions, but of course their formation is not accidental. They have their own alphabets, but for the purpose of legibility they are transcripted into the Latin letters. All these make it a unique book, which is sometimes difficult to read for a foreigner6, but it gives the reader pleasure of reading. 
I do not think I have covered everything that has made the book so special and admirable, as it is very complicated and enables more than just one explanation. Regardless of that, I tried to show that there are many aspects of Tolkien's message and I just mentioned the most obvious ones. My major aim is to recommend this book, so one can find his little truths and wisdom in it. Even if someone does not find the book interesting (which I doubt) and corresponding with his own ideas, reading of the LotR is worthy, for it can make one think about these things and it will raise questions relevant to our lives. Or do you find it not important? 
The Road goes ever on and on 
Out from the door where it began. 
Now far ahead the Road has gone, 
Let others follow it who can! 
Let them a journey new begin, 
But I at last with weary feet 
Will turn towards the lighted inn, 
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.7 

Bibliography: 
Carpenter, Humprey: J.R.R.Tolkien - životopis, přel. V.Pošustová, Mladá fronta, Praha 1996 
Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Hobbit, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1978 
Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollinsPublishers, London 1993 
Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Silmarillion, Ballantine Books, New York 1982 
1 The Lord of the Rings, p. 35 
2 In this particular case, his ambitions were not any smaller than to create a complete English mythology, for he thought his own country was lacking one similar to those of the Norsemen, the Danes etc. Whether he accomplished this noble goal or not, I cannot say, for he did not finish it during his life, it was completed by his son Christopher and first published few years after Tolkien's death, but it has never become a solid book. 
3 Tolkien was using the plural form Dwarves instead of Dwarfs 
4 Tolkien's fondness of trees was so great that some of them were put to life in the LotR, called the Ents 
5 speaking in means of hundreds of years 
6 I read it both in English and in Czech translation 
7 The Lord of the Rings, p. 965
 

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Komentáře (3)

Napsal: Petr Láslo | 15.9.2010 15:48 | Odpovědět

Formatování článku hrozný, text se stává nepřehledným a ani se mi ho nechce číst *WALL* :-/

Napsal: Jana Murčá | 15.9.2010 15:50 | Odpovědět

Nikdo tě to číst nenutí 8-) *ROFL*

Napsal: Petr Láslo | 15.9.2010 15:53 | Odpovědět

Akorát to snižuje úroveň webu nic víc ... nebejt vývojář portíku, tak se sem už nevrátím :-/

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