Friday, April 8, 2011

Tolkien Paper Falling Apart

So, after weeks and weeks of research, writing and rewriting my synthesis, struggling with an annotated bibliography I finally got to the step I was looking forward to: writing the first rough draft of my research paper for WRI 1200 class. Unfortunately, I lost track of what I was doing and wrote a fairly informal essay about how sucky the point of my thesis was. If you're bored I posted it below.
I remember the very first time I read The Lord of the Rings. I was in sixth grade, delving through books in my local library when I came upon a copy of the Fellowship of the Rings. It had no dust cover. Just a simple hard back book. It was green, I think or maybe blue. Yet, the title peaked my interest and I had heard some rumor of the trilogy and the author's name before. Now, here it was in my grubby little naive hands waiting for me to merely crack it open and explore this strange and exciting place called Middle Earth. I didn't know then about 'fantasy genre'. I didn't know about Tolkien's critics. Had I known I wouldn't have cared. All that matter to me was this magical tome of ancient lands and strange myths; a tale of an underdog risking life and perhaps even his very soul to save the land he loved from utter evil. Oh yes, and elves. I was hooked.
I won't try to pretend that my discovery of Professor Tolkien's work was unique. In fact, I have read many other stories just like mine. And I am sure there are a million more stories like it untold. And yet I find myself decades later, in my mid-thirties writing and defending a man who died two years before I was born. Yet defending Tolkien from what? I have struggled with this question from the start of this project. I wondered how Tolkien was being attacked? And if he was, how was I to save him? Or who was I to save him (little ol’ me)? Who really cares about him and should I? Were the claims against his work legitimate or based on a weak foundation of the rules of literary criticism that even critics can’t seem to define? Furthermore, what would proving his importance benefit the world? After all, most of his critics are dead and still his work lives on; not just in print but movies, art, video games, board games. Maybe that’s the problem? When was the last time you played The Grapes of Wrath board game?
Fantasy writers and readers alike admit vehemently that Tolkien was the grandfather of fantasy fiction. Though a literate and educated person will inform you that Tolkien was not the first to write fantasy, he definatly organized the blueprint for a future of starry eyed dragon lovers and adolescent pimple faced teens who dream of one day being a lithe, elven archer. Oh and fantasy writers.
If my words were to turn back time and change the past, to change the opinions of those narrow minded critics; If my words could somehow renew the faith of those stuffy fantasy haters in the mid 20th century and The Lord of the Rings was not just praised by said critics and stuffy fantasy haters but landed this great trilogy in the Annals of Literary Canon next to Mice and Men and War and Peace and Wuthering Heights, what would that accomplish?
The end result that this research paper desires to reach serves no pupose. It’s like arguing that you got the wrong wrapper around the right burger you ordered, it’s semantics, trivial. Tolkien is not a struggling, starving artist that, should his work be recognized by the right people, royalties would flood in and he would be afforded the oportunity to retire and spend his remaining days crafting tales of adventures for hungry readers. Bad news folks; Tolkien died in 1973. He cares little for fame or royalties anymore.
But, I wonder, is there something in this topic for me? Is there a reason I am writing it? The more I read and study Tolkien’s work, his life, his theories of literature, his methods for creating Middle Earth in the manner that he did, I begin to wonder if, perhaps, I am an island in my view of Tolkien, a leaf that struggles to swim up river. For instance, I asked myself and argued with myself whether The Lord of the Rings really is fantasy. Ishmael saw quite a few fantastic things during his voyage on the Pequod and yet I have never seen a copy of Moby Dick on the fantasy shelves at the book store. The magic of Middle Earth wasn’t really magic at all. It was religious mystisicm and story driven miracles based on virtue.
I have read that no fantasy author since Tolkien has matched Tolkien’s work with the detail and artistry yet I wonder if you couldn’t also argue that ‘they all missed the goddamn point!’ The Lord of the Rings is not about dragons and trolls and magic. It not about wizards and warriors and rangers. It’s not about escapism or romanticism. It’s about myth and religion and history. And if it’s not fantasy and if it’s not escapism or romanticism, what’s all the fuss about? Is it possible to think that The Lord of the Rings was so well written that even the highly intelligent and educated minds of the critics of by-gone days missed the whole point? Perhaps the most important novel of the 20th century was secretly hidden in a fairy tale about a midget on a quest to destroy a ring? It’s sad to think that it took a generation of acid dropping hippies to realize the importance of this tale.
So, where do I go from here? What is my argument? It has to be real. Perhaps I hoped to uncover some secret Nazi base where german strategists were plotting the destruction of the Tolkien estate. Or some balding british literary critic is plotting the death of the remaining Tolkien family and my words alone could stop him.
Then again, maybe there is no argument here? Maybe The Lord of the Rings is doing exactly what it was meant to do; entertain and inspire future generations? Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, unaware that there isn’t even a cat for miles around to bark at? It’s a little late in the game to start over. The fat hand on the clock is almost at midnight. I have to put up or shut up, even if it means continuing the battle under the hateful gaze of the bull shit flag. Carry on, defender of Gondor!


  1. The quest to defend a quest that doesn't need defending? hmmm

    First you must find the true enemy which is the adult unable to find his inner youth and imagination. Those killers of dreams. I think there were likely many more before the 60's.

  2. Actually, this help a lot. I decided perhaps I should argue why you 'the reader of the essay' haven't read LOTRs. I'm not sure if that will work out but it seems, while not a great argument, at least it's an argument.
    Thanks for the advice. :)