Sunday, 18 February 2018

If WW II was an allegory of Lord of the Rings...

A first version of the following post appeared a couple of years ago, and proved popular among some people - including Fantasy author L Jagi Lamplighter. I though I'd re-run it, lightly edited and slightly expanded...

In his Foreword to the 1966 Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was at pains to emphasise that the book was Not an allegory: in particular it was not an allegory of the 1939-45 World War:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

We could, inverting Tolkien's point, play with the idea of what would have happened in WW II if it had followed the lines of LotR...


**

The One Ring = The Atom Bomb

Sauron = Hitler
Mordor = Germany under National Socialism

Saruman = Stalin
Isengard = Moscow

The Free Peoples = USA and UK



The plot would focus on the destruction of the Atom Bomb (and implicitly all knowledge required to make it) by a small team of English patriots led by George Orwell, who infiltrate Germany and destroy the evil research establishment which is making the A-bomb.

The team are 'helped' by a slimy little creature called Mussolini, who gets them into the lab but intends to seize the death weapon for himself.

The climactic end would be the death of Mussolini; killed when the ready-for-use bomb prototype explodes in his face as he tries to steal it. A chain reaction speads through Nazi HQ and Hitler and his Nazi-Nazguls are caught in the conflagration, ending the National Socialist regime.

Orwell and his 'batman' servant Monty are airlifted from the blazing ruins at the last moment. 

Europe comes under the rule of the restored King Albrecht - the exiled Duke of Bavaria, and heir to the United States monarchy. He had been given the throne by popular acclaim during the course of the war, and is now ruling from his palace in Richmond, Virginia.

The Holy Roman Empire is thus restored. 


En route there would be the destruction of the Soviet Union, the restoration of the Tsar, and the exile of Stalin.


After Moscow is obliterated by enraged Finns wearing Mech suits; Stalin makes his way to England, where he is welcomed by the quisling Communist Prime Minister, Konni Zilliacus. Stalin swiftly invites foreign mercenaries, takes over in a secret coup, enslaves the native English and manages to pollute or destroy much of the countryside before Orwell and his English patriots return and raise a successful counter-revolution.

After the scouring of England, the defeated Stalin is stabbed by his creepy deputy Lavrentiy Beria - who is immediately executed by a mob of pitchfork-wielding rustics (despite Orwell's protests...).


England repudiates industrialisation, is demilitarised, sealed against immigration, and made into a clan-based dominion ruled by benign hereditary aristocrats - under the personal protection of King Albrecht.


Orwell, traumatised and made consumptive by his wartime experiences, sails West toward the sunset in a small boat and eventually arrives in... Ireland; where he ends his days peacefully as a subsistence crofter...


(No wonder Tolkien cordially disliked allegory, 'in all its manifestations'...)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Tolkien and Giants


Tolkien included Giants in several of his stories - although not in The Lord of the Rings - despite their appearance in The Hobbit. This was natural, since there is abundant evidence for the historical reality of Giants - including in Britain, where they were the first inhabitants. Giants are, understandably therefore, probably more evident and important in the oldest English history/ legend/ folklore than elves, dwarves or dragons.  

How to discover more about such matters? Well, Geoffrey of Monmouth had access to a now-lost book of the deep and mythic history of Albion - a book which, I imagine, would have provided almost exactly what JRR Tolkien felt was missing from his country's culture - 'a mythology for England'.

Our modern Geoffrey - Geoffrey Ashe, the Greatest Living Englishman - made a really excellent job of filling this gap with his Mythology of the British Isles of 1990.

Ashe uses Monmouth's book as a skeleton, fleshed out with all other available and relevant sources to provide a clear and concise mythical account at the start of each chapter, followed by scholarly commentary and footnotes.

If someone extracted the mythical sections, and arranged them sequentially; when imaginatively-illustrated and published as a unity, this could make a wonderful Child's History of Albion.

The first Geoffrey - of Monmouth - clearly influenced Tolkien who draws upon it often (as have so many hundreds or thousands of other writers for many centuries - including Shakespeare, via Holinshead), but the 'flavour' of his great book was not really to Tolkien's taste. It is, indeed, over-filled with bloodthirsty battles, intrigues and deceptions. But then, so are the Norse Sagas...

Nonetheless, Monmouth's is our best annalistic source for mythically imaginative hints of deep truths from our island's story; hints that may intuitively be developed into real myths.

And our contemporary Geoffrey has made from it an even better resource for modern fantasy writers.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Tolkien nods - the introductory description of Arwen

I am currently reading aloud The Lord of the Rings, as a bedtime book; and am again absolutely delighted by it. I find every scene, indeed almost every sentence, to be effective and beautiful.

But yesterday I came across the introductory description of Arwen - as observed by Frodo at a feast in Rivendell; and I realised explicitly something which has nagged at me ever since I first read the book. In his writing at this point, Tolkien fails to communicate the beauty of Arwen.

*

In the middle of the table, against the woven cloths upon the wall, there was a chair under a canopy, and there sat a lady fair to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elrond that Frodo guessed that she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost, her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring. Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white; but her soft grey raiment had no ornament save a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.

So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Lúthien had come on earth again; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people. Long she had been in the land of her mother's kin, in Lórien beyond the mountains, and was but lately returned to Rivendell to her father's house. But her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, were out upon errantry: for they rode often far afield with the Rangers of the North, forgetting never their mother's torment in the dens of the orcs.

Such loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen before nor imagined in his mind; and he was both surprised and abashed to find that he had a seat at Elrond's table among all these folk so high and fair. 

*

It should be noted that Tolkien does a great job of communicating the beauty of Goldberry, and Galadriel - and the special appeal of Eowyn. It is only Arwen where he fails.

I recall, when first reading the book back in 1973, being astonished by the appearance of Arwen to marry Aragorn after the ring had been destroyed - having entirely forgotten about her and who she was; and being even more astonished that Eomer could regard her as more beautiful than Galadriel (in his discussion with Gimli) - since I had a very clear impression of Galadriel's beauty, and none at all of Arwen's.

(By comparison, if Goldberry had turned up at the end of the story, I would certainly have remembered her. Not least because I had a clear picture of her in my mind.)

I think it can easily be seen how the passage on Arwen, which I quote above, fails: she is introduced as looking like Elrond - who is a male; the writing tries to describe her beauty by negatives (young yet not so, hair touched by no frost, grey eyes like cloudless night, flawless skin...); there is too much point by-point description of her features and clothes, without ever putting the 'pieces' together...

And, there is no impression of the effect Arwen has on those around her. The hobbits are stunned by Goldberry's beauty; and the Fellowship almost paralysed by that of Galadriel... Here we have a brief, ineffective paragraph on what Arwen does not look like - then we are off into history and background information.

So, here is a very rare, and yet narratively important, place where Tolkien nods, or lapses. It causes a structural fault in the book - small but significant.

Why here? Most likely because Arwen was a visual reincarnation of Luthien, and Luthien was based on Tolkien's wife Edith - and Tolkien was (understandably) perhaps somewhat impaired in his ability to evaluate his own writing objectively (i.e. for its effect on the reader) when it came to writing about his own wife.


Sunday, 28 January 2018

One of the most interesting books I have ever read... My Amazon (mini-)review of Sauron Defeated

Sauron Defeated: The End of the Third Age (comprising The History of the Lord of the Rings, Part Four; The Notion Club Papers; and The Drowning of Anadune). Being the Ninth Volume of The History of Middle Earth. J. R. R. Tolkien (Author),‎ Christopher Tolkien (Editor). Houghton Mifflin; Boston &NY, USA. 1992, ix, 482 pages. 

This book has three great strengths:

1. Two versions of the delightful Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings. This was the original ending of LotR, and remained so until an advanced stage in the book's production; and Tolkien seems always to have wished it had remained in place but was persuaded to delete it by some of his friends.

2. The Notion Club Papers - an extremely important unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien in a 'modern' setting but with much reference to space and time travel. This was written in the middle of composing the Lord of the Rings, so has Tolkien at the height of his powers. Also, there are many coded clues to Tolkien's own deepest, and secret, beliefs.

3. Several alternative version of the history of Numenor, with a lot of extra (and more vivid) detail than can be found in the LotR or Silmarillion.

Without exaggeration, and speaking as a long term Tolkien fan, this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read.

(NOTE: If this review from 2011 encouraged a single extra person to read Sauron Defeated, I will count it worthwhile.)