A Rumination on Tolkien

I do not often write in this webspace–or, indeed, many others–on Tolkien. Though I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings early on in my life, and though I have read a fair bit of the supplementary materials and criticism (not least in support of my abortive academic efforts, such as this), I know better than to call myself an expert on the matter. I am happy to contribute from time to time, happy to be of some help, but more than that generally exceeds me.

Not something I want to approach, even on this anniversary of their fall
The Gates of Barad Dur by CurtissShaffer on DeviantArt, here, used for commentary

From time to time, however, I do feel obliged to comment, and commemorations of events suggest themselves as such times. And it remains true that a lot of what I do has its basis in Tolkien. The Fedwren Project (which I know I need to update) has its origins in an annotated bibliography I did on Tolkien scholarship early in my graduate study; it was through that project that I became convinced I could do annotative work such as I have done for the New Chaucer Society. The Tales after Tolkien Society is particularly overt in its grounding in Middle-earth, I think, and if its focus is generally on appropriations of the medieval, it does not seldom turn to medievalism for its references–and that often means going back to or through Tolkien.

None of that means I ignore the problems that are in the texts (and about which I make some comment to Luke Shelton in a piece linked above) or in the person who wrote them. Tolkien is one of many problematic writers–even Hobb, about whom I do most, has issues with which I take issue–and it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the areas in which he–they all–we all–can do better. I know I do not do enough to address them, either, and I do wonder at times if I ought to stop entirely, to divest myself of my copies of the relevant texts and expunge overt and intentionally covert references to them from my writing and speech moving forward. I know it would be an impossible overreaction, given the perniciousness of flaw and wrongness in the world–but there are many ways in which I remain far less than I ought to be.

For all those problems, though, there is much to commend. At one level, Tolkien has gotten a lot of people to read a lot of words from a lot of pages, and getting people to read is good, in the aggregate. His works have also shown people or reaffirmed to them that it is okay to do “weird” things, to step outside of expectation, at least a bit–and that, too, is good in the aggregate. And they seem to have become canon or to have moved toward that status, insofar as such a thing can be anymore, and in forming the basis of a system of commonly understood reference, they serve to bring together people who might otherwise not have interacted–not always pleasantly, to be certain, but often well and usefully and joyfully, and that is far from without merit.

One post to rule them all, one post to find them, one post to get your coins and in my pockets bind them, perhaps?

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