[u] Situating Lord of the Rings in the literary evolution of the novel [/u]
Tolkien is also called ‘the grandfather of the modern fantasy novel’, and probably this is correct. His work The Lord of the Rings can be considered as the founder of the fantastic genre. The book is unique, and for various reasons. Firstly, it was written over a long period of time (from 1936 till 1949) and therefore we cannot link it to a certain period. Secondly because the book was written to amuse the readers, not to convey a certain postBody or inner meaning (see p. 4: intention of the postAuthorID). And finally because Tolkien was the first to write fantastic books, and to be successful at the same time. The Lord of the Rings is the founder of the genre, and although a lot of people have tried to imitate Tolkien before, not many have been successful. A lot of new writers from that period recovered parts of Tolkien’s work into their own.
Tolkien didn’t write the trilogy to criticise the situation in his country at that time, nor to describe a certain period in history. It is a ‘fantastic’ book, and that’s why the story takes place in an invented world. A lot of people confuse fantasy with science-fiction, although I think these are two totally different styles. For myself I always use my own definitions: fantasy stories take place in a world that was created by the postAuthorID, in an invented and imaginary world. Science-fiction books look into the future, take place totally or partly in that future. They mostly reflect the vision of the postAuthorID on our future.
JRR Tolkien didn’t like details; he much preferred to let the imagination of the reader do its work. This is one reason why there are much speculations about the themes of the book. It is possible that he wanted to describe the 20th century, with the industrial revolution and the many wars. The fight between good and bad is a theme that is much spoken of, and probably the theme that haunted the postAuthorID the most, because he had to live through two big world wars. But the wonderful thing about Tolkien is that these themes remain applicable, his stories are timeless.
[u] Analysis of the main character [/u]
Frodo Baggins from Bag End, Hobbiton, is a Hobbit, which means he is small and well-built, doesn’t have a beard, but has hairy feet and is always hungry. He is living together with the other Hobbits in the Shire, a region in Middle-Earth. Frodo is a cheerful but sober young lad who has just turned 33 in the beginning of the book. According to the Hobbit-reckoning, he comes of age.
Frodo is the son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck. When his parents died, Frodo was left as an orphan, but a few years later he was adopted by his uncle Bilbo Baggins, and he went to live with him in Hobbiton. With his uncle’s disappearance at the birthday-party in the beginning of the book, Frodo becomes the Master of Bag End, for he inherites the hole with (almost) everything in it. In the beginning he finds it rather difficult to live here without his uncle, and he also has some troubles with the departure of Gandalf, who left sooner than he had expected. But he manages to get over it and to maintain himself as the new master of Bag End. He is a rather emotional character, very sensitive, but he has a strong will, which will become more clear afterwards.
Frodo undergoes a thorough evolution in the book. In the beginning of the story he is a young and merry Hobbit, who has his whole life still ahead of him and who therefore always tries to make the best of every day. But on his journey to Mordor the Ring starts to weigh more and more heavily with every step he takes, and he is not only physically but also mentally exhausted. The Ring “feels” its end is drawing near and is also coming closer and closer to its forger. The Ring has only one purpose: getting back on the hand of its forger, and so it tries to torment its present bearer to have a good chance of being found and returned to its master. But Frodo’s will is stronger than expected, and with Sam’s support he manages to reach Mount Doom. However, when the moment has come to throw the Ring into the destructing fire, the Ring’s will gets the upper hand. Instead of throwing the Ring into the fire, Frodo puts it on his finger. Without Gollum, who turns up and bites the Ring (finger and all) off his hand and throws himself and the Ring with him into the fire, Frodo’s mission would have failed at the very end.
Frodo will never recover completely from the wounds that were inflicted on him, and the damage the Ring has done appears to be too big. He returns to the Shire as a broken Hobbit, and in the fight for Hobbiton he leaves the leadership to Merry and Pippin. He lost his strength and power on the trip to Mordor, but especially inwardly he lost a lot. The tortures of the Orcs, the seeing of Sauron’s Eye and the inner struggle the Ring brought with it almost drove him to death. Although he survived, Frodo is slowly but steadily going downhill.
The evolution Frodo undergoes is clearly noticeable in the story, therefore we can say that Frodo is a dynamic character. It’s also a round character, because as the story moves on you get to know him better and better. His past is told in the beginning of the book, and during the rest of the story his character is thoroughly deepened. He is the main character, the one undertaking the journey. His feelings are revealed the most; the story pauses regularly with the feelings and thoughts of the important characters, but the most with Frodo’s. You know the most of him, he is the most important character. All important characters in the book are well deepened, but especially Frodo, because his feelings and thoughts are important for the evolution of the story.
[u] Conversation with the main character [/u]
Writing an essay is not easy. Not even if it concerns your favourite book and postAuthorID. Because what do you do if you have to make a conversation between yourself and the main character, while you know very well that this character is a Hobbit (thus non-existing), and moreover, he is dead? I didn’t know either, and therefore I kept brooding, my head in my hands, over an empty sheet of paper.
I had been sitting like this for a while, when suddenly I was roused from my thinking by a soft knock on the door. Rather surprised I went to open the door, and I saw… no one! Who in Gods name had the nerve to… I heard a modest cough just beneath me, and when I looked down a bit I saw to my amazement a little man, that could be nothing else but a Hobbit in my opinion (since he didn’t have a beard, otherwise it might just as well have been a dwarf). “Frodo Baggins, nice to meet you,” it sounded shyly. I had to swallow hard three times. This was a Hobbit, for sure! The most famous Hobbit in the history of Middle-Earth, and precisely the one I needed!
“Mind if I come in?” asked Frodo. “Oh yes! Do come in… Excuse me, I lost my head for a second. Come in, please…” I stammered, and upon my words Frodo entered the room and pulled himself on a chair. I didn’t know quite what attitude to take, so I asked if he wanted to drink something. “Oh yes, please. Do you have perhaps a cup of tea?” Of course I had, and I dashed to the kitchen to make some tea.
I still couldn’t believe it. That little fellow that was swirling his legs on that chair there was Frodo Baggins! But how and why in Middle-Earth had he come to me? This was the first question I ask him, after I had poured the tea. He didn’t seem surprised at all. “That is very simple, isn’t it?” Frodo started. “I was sent here to help you fulfil your mission. You seem to need my help?” He couldn’t have been more right. I explained the situation to him, but still couldn’t quite understand how it was possible he was sitting here next to me. He must have guessed my thoughts, because he smiled and said: “There are some things you simply cannot understand. I don’t understand it that well myself, but then there are so many things that are impossible for me to understand.” I was more than happy to believe him…
Next he explained that after his departure from Middle-Earth he went to the Eternal Lands, a sort of heaven where all good people that had meant something to Middle-Earth at some stage went after their death or departure from Middle-Earth (which goes for Elves, because they are immortal, and in this case also for Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf). He and Bilbo were the only Hobbits there, or so he told me, and they spoke with the old Elven Kings and Wizards who they had met on their journeys. Furthermore he told me how much he regretted it that the Era of the Elves had come to an end, but that he had confidence in the new King Elessar (Aragorn).
After some chit-chat about everything and nothing the atmosphere grew a little looser and the conversation naturally come to the topic of Frodo’s adventure, which is told in Lord of the Rings. I asked him what passed through his mind when he had to leave the Shire. On this he answered: “The Shire was my homeland, I had never known anything else. From Bilbo’s stories I knew a little more of the world than the average Hobbit, but I had never heard of Mordor and Gondor, leave alone of Ents or Orcs. On the one hand I was afraid to leave my familiar hole, but on the other hand I felt that the time was there to travel behind Bilbo. I was beginning to feel restless on the inside. I was 50 at that time, I had the same age as he when he started his journey. But I knew that my trip would be of a totally other kind than his, my journey would be one of life or death. Moreover, I knew very well that the chances of me seeing the Shire and Hobbiton ever again were very small, not to say non-existing.”
“In that case you must have been extremely happy when you were heading back home to your beloved Shire… But in the meantime your own country had changed thoroughly too. Was that a disappointment for you?”
“It hurt me to see how evil had passed on to the Shire, a land which I had always considered as safe, and of which I thought whenever things turned bad for me, as being the only light in the darkening days. And then it turns out to be someone of your own family who started the trouble. Well, it wasn’t wholly his fault, because he was seduced by the sweet words of Saruman, who took over the lead soon and who used the Shire to profit from it. The most difficult moment for me was when I saw how Bag End, my home hole, had been changed into a pile of junk. Perhaps that was the most shocking moment of the whole journey.”
“Did you ever consider to abandon your journey and return home quietly?”
“Oh yes, so often. The first time was when Gandalf fell into the abyss in Moria. At that time I thought: what’s the use of continuing this mission, without Gandalf I’ll never make it anyway. But Aragorn and Galadriel and Celeborn encouraged me again by telling me the journey had to be completed by me, no one else could do it for me. Also the stay in Lothlórien helped me a lot, to gain courage and to think about everything that had happened and that was still happening to me. During the trip with Gollum to Mordor as well, I have thought so many times to give it all up, because it seemed an endless and hopeless battle. Yet just because Gollum was present, I had to continue because otherwise he would take over the Ring from me, and that was the last thing I wanted. Especially in Mordor the Ring weighed heavily on me. Without Sam’s help I don’t think I would have made it then. Because of him I kept hoping, he kept me alive because of his optimism and pure Hobbit-sense.”
“Why did you decide to travel to Mordor alone? And why did you leave without first informing the group of your decision?”
“After the incident with Boromir I realised how dangerous it could be to return to the group. The Ring has an enormous power to grow on people’s minds and you are easily attracted to it. And there’s the fact that I didn’t want to endanger anyone by taking them to Mordor with me, I didn’t want to risk any more lives. It was my mission after all, and I alone could complete it, at least that’s what I thought. A group is easily spotted than a person on his own too. Moreover you have to confer, and this takes time. That too was a reason not to tell my decision to the group, we’d have to confer and discuss it again. Plus I was sure that the fellowship would never have agreed with my decision, especially my friends Merry and Pippin would have opposed it. They would have gone with me, whether I liked that or not, and I didn’t want them to die too. Luckily for me Sam saw my plan, and although I was far but happy with it at first, I saw that he didn’t want to leave me and would go with me wherever I would go.”
And then I woke up. I had fallen asleep above my empty sheet of paper. It was only a dream, I realised. What else could it have been? But my essay wasn’t a dream, it was still waiting for me to finish it. I hastily wrote down my dream, because now it was all still fresh in my memory. Tired but happy I went downstairs afterwards, to the kitchen, to eat something. To my huge amazement I saw there, on the sink, a tray with two cups and a pot of tea on it. Next to it, I found a note, saying: “I’m terribly sorry, but I didn’t have time to do the washing-up. Frodo.”
You probably don’t believe me. You don’t have to. But remember the words of the little Hobbit: “There are some things you simply cannot understand. I don’t understand it that well myself, but then there are so many things that are impossible for me to understand.”
[u] Discussion space [/u]
The place where the story is set is called Middle-Earth, a world created by Tolkien himself. This world consists of 4 big regions: in the north-west we find Eriador, the land of Hobbits, Men and a few Elf tribes as well. In the north-east there is Rhovanian, land of Elves and Dwarves. If we look to the south-west, we see Gondor, the land of Men, and in the south-east we find Mordor, the land of the Dark Lord Sauron.
These four big parts are divided into smaller regions, and I would like to have a closer look at some of these. Firstly there is of course the Shire, home of the Hobbits. Frodo lives in Hobbiton, together with Sam, but Merry comes from Buckland, the land of his family, the Brandybucks. Pippin at his turn comes from the Took-family, who live in Hobbiton and in the hills around it. Just outside Buckland we can find the Old Forest. This is a very special forest, with trees who have a life of their own; they confuse the wanderers through the wood by changing the paths that run through it. The most dangerous trees in this forest are the willows, who can trap you in their spell and enclose you in their trunks. In this wood lives a very special figure too, namely Tom Bombadil. No one knows who or what he is, but in any case he’s very old (although it’s not noticeable) and he is the Master of the Forest. He has a special power too: the Ring doesn’t have any over him. He’s the only one who can put on the Ring without letting the Ring control his will.
To the other side of the Misty Mountains there are more special woods, among others Lothlórien and Fangorn. In Lothlórien, the Elves live under the command of King Celeborn and Queen Galadriel. Lothlórien is also called the Golden Wood, because in the autumn the leaves don’t fall off the trees but colour gold. Fangorn is a very dark wood, where the Ents live, lead by Treebeard. The Ents are a kind of living trees who have their own languages, and who are known as the eldest living creatures on Middle-Earth. They have been around for as long as anyone can remember.
The space in the story always reflects a certain atmosphere. In the mines of Moria, the hide of millions of Orcs, and also of the Balrog, the atmosphere is threatening and oppressive. The surroundings are very dark, with nothing but stone halls and passages, where because of the Orcs not many light is let through. In Lothlórien on the contrary, the atmosphere is more merry and mysterious. Lothlórien is an Elven- wood, and you notice this. The trees are high, but let enough light through; this light plays with the leaves and shimmers in the waters of the river Silverlode that runs through the wood. The company is well-accepted by the Elves, but because of the loose atmosphere in the forest, you know this on beforehand. In Mordor, a dismal land with nothing but threatening danger and not one green blade of grass to be found, the atmosphere is ominous and stays that way. The surroundings stress this of course, and therefore Frodo and Sam feel lonely, afraid and helpless in Mordor. By this it is clear that we can talk of a characteristic space.
Frodo comes from a family that’s well-off, and when he moves in with his uncle Bilbo and is chosen as his heir, his life can only go the good way, or so it seems. At first sight, there’s nothing wrong with his social environment. But Bilbo is an adventurer, who has many friends, among others Gandalf the Wizard. Frodo grows up among adventure, riddle and mystery. It is actually not surprising that he himself will go on an adventure some time. But an adventure as described by The Lord of the Rings no one had expected, not even Bilbo and Gandalf.
[u] Critical overall judgement: 10/10 [/u]
I guess it is clear now? To me Lord of the Rings means hours of reading pleasure, I can go on reading in it. The book has everything a good book needs to have according to me: tension, humour, a good plot and above all a lot of variation. The landscapes and characters change until you can’t count them anymore, and the adventures never stop coming. Although sometimes there’s a part that’s a bit long-winded, the story never gets boring, and above all it remains credible.
All this, and also the big amount of poetry in the book, the richness of languages and sounds has made clear to me that Tolkien is a great writer. He may be “but” a fantasy writer, his work still is admirable. He was the first who dared to write a story like The Lord of the Rings, and he was a professor at the University of Oxford! No matter what others might say, I think he couldn’t have written a better book.
[u] Special thanks to: [/u]
- www.planet-tolkien.com, since a couple of years my favourite Tolkien site, which turned out to be an inexhaustible source of information
- all the members of planet-tolkien, for their cooperation and help, especially Dave Holwill (PlasticSquirrel), John Kaputa (Grondmaster), Taz and Rednell
- my brother Bart, for his forgetfulness, because of which he gave me the CD with the filmmusic twice as a present, so I could give one away with this essay
- my friend Veerle, for the scanning of the picture on the front page
- my computer, who didn’t let me down this time and without whom I never could have finished this essay
[u] Bibliography [/u]
- De Morgen: daily contribution “In de ban van de Ring” (24/11/01 – 03/12/01)
- Het Belang van Limburg: “In de ban van de film” (19/12/01)
- TIME: “The lord of the films” (24/12/01)
- Tom Shippey: JRR Tolkien: postAuthorID of the century
- JRR Tolkien: The Fellowship of the Ring
- JRR Tolkien: The Two Towers
- JRR Tolkien: The Return of the King
- JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit
- JRR Tolkien: The Silmarillion
- Christopher Tolkien: History of Middle-Earth
Denial is not a river in Africa.