Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings – Sources of Inspiration
Stratford Caldecott and Thomas Honegger (editors)
Cormarë Series No. 18
In the year after his graduation from Exeter College, Oxford, the great mythopoeic work for which he would become famous was already germinating in Tolkien's mind. In August 2006 the College offered a week of seminars and papers by leading international specialists on Tolkien's Exeter years, the influence of the Great War, the healing power of his narrative, and its relevance to religious and linguistic studies, comparative mythology, and history. Priscilla Tolkien, C.S. Lewis's secretary and friend Walter Hooper, Tolkien's friend the Jesuit priest Robert Murray SJ, and grandson Simon Tolkien attended as special guests, representing the family and those who knew Tolkien personally. The conference was intended to encourage the growth of Tolkien Studies through international and interdisciplinary collaboration.
The papers from this conference have been selected, edited, and supplemented by other essays on complementary themes especially for this volume, in order to reveal the dynamic growth of Tolkien Studies around the world. This book explores the spiritual, poetic, personal, and academic sources of inspiration for what is widely regarded as the greatest book of the twentieth century.
This paper examines J.R.R. Tolkien's life as an undergraduate from 1911 to 1915, focusing on his friendships and extra-curricular activities, and assessing the impact of the First World War on his Oxford college.
Three editors working on the Oxford English Dictionary Revision Programme consider aspects of Tolkien's involvement with the Dictionary and the influence of lexicography on his creative use of the English language. Peter Gilliver looks at Tolkien's personal relationship with two of the OED's chief editors, William Craigie and Henry Bradley, and his work on Middle English texts with Kenneth Sisam. Edmund Weiner explores the way in which even the driest textbooks of academic philology could act as a spur to Tolkienís linguistic creativity. Jeremy Marshall contributes a note on Tolkienís distinctive use of the irregular plural dwarves.
The influence of the deaths in World War I of Tolkienís close friends Rob Gilson and Geoffrey Smith on The Lord of the Rings was profound. Gilson was killed in the Battle of the Somme on July 1 1916. Smith died of wounds December 3 1916. Tolkien wrestled with the loss of Gilson and Smith, and with the meaning of such deaths in a war that seemed to many a meaningless stalemate. In Frodo Baggins, whose sacrifice, like Gilson's and Smith's, benefited everyone but himself, Tolkien, perhaps unconsciously, found a way to re-present his boyhood friends and honor the meaning of their lives.
This paper begins with a few general remarks about enchantment as a human experience before turning to its importance both in Tolkien's creative life and in his principal public work, The Lord of the Rings. I turn for elucidation to the work of Verlyn Flieger and that of two philosophers, Ronald Hepburn and Jan Zwicky.
This paper argues for a strong parallel between the work of Italian philologist Giovanni Battista Vico and the English philologist J.R.R. Tolkien. Just as Vico speaks out in protest against the predominant rationalism of the eighteenth century, Tolkien speaks out against the stifling rationalism of the twentieth. Like Vico, Tolkien suggests that humans are traditional beings who live in larger, largely unconscious structures, which it is dangerous or impossible to change. Like Vico, he asserts that myth is the language of the human psyche which is true even when it is not factual and as such constitutes the main mode of our knowledge of reality. Finally, like Vico's, Tolkien's oeuvre can be taken as one extended argument for the mythopoeic construction of human consciousness.
This paper explores the intricate relationships between philology, creativity, creation, myths, the return to the past and the recurrence of things as discussed by Nietzsche and Tolkien.
As an avowed theist there is only one world for Tolkien in reality and in fantasy: Middle-earth, that is, the world under God. Tolkien insisted that the religious elements of his works are absorbed into the fabric of the story itself: into its substance and symbolism. Thus the moral system of his legendarium is the same as our world's. One purpose of myth is to encourage good morals, by setting them in unfamiliar surroundings so as to appreciate them. Tolkien achieves this by making hobbits his protagonists. His myths are thus tales of the ordinary man, made to grow beyond his previous limited horizons. His tales exult in the earthy and ordinary, the things God himself delights in, and its hero is Samwise, a true saint.
This chapter uses G. K. Chesterton's presentation of the theology of Thomas Aquinas to show how Tolkien too creates a fictional world in accord with Thomistic attitudes to the nature of being, God as Creator and the freedom and mutability of the created order (as shown by Gandalf's fireworks). In particular, Tolkien's short story 'Leaf by Niggle' is shown to be concerned with the relation of making and doing that was so central a concern of the neo-scholastic aesthetics of Jacques Maritain and Eric Gill, while the objects made by the elves embody the values of integrity, proportion and radiance that give them a religious dimension.
In the last years of his life, Tolkien received a letter from Carole Batten-Phelps, who wrote of "a sanity and sanctity" in The Lord of the Rings, "which is a power in itself." If sanctity inhabits an authorís work, he replied, or a pervading light illumines it, then "it does not come from him but through him." What does this statement imply? It sounds very much like an authentic synthesis of the inner dynamism of Tolkien's work. But to what type of 'sanity' and 'sanctity' is he referring? Is he speaking only of a genial literary sub-creation which ultimately can be reduced to 'lies breathed through silver' (to use C.S. Lewis's famous phrase)? Or is there really an 'invisible lamp' which gives light and inner consistency to everything? And why did he think that to deny this 'lamp' would lead us "either to sadness or wrath," while by welcoming it we may become as Frodo did "like a glass filled with clear light for eyes to see that can."
The purpose of this paper is to draw together some of the threads of the volume, and to encourage the further opening up of Tolkien Studies. I will be trying to say a little bit for what it is that Tolkienís work tells us about England, the country he almost died trying to defend in the First World War. And I will touch on the controversial question of Christianity and Paganism.
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