Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The War of the Ring and World War II

I've been re-reading Lord of the Rings via audiobook, having just finished The Fellowship of the Ring this afternoon while planting the vegetable garden. At the end of Fellowship it provides the author's forward, in which Tolkien disavows any allegorical meaning in the novel relating to the world war during which he wrote much of LotR, sending installments to his son Christopher Tolkien who was overseas with the RAF. I'd remembered the disavowal of allegorical meaning, but what I'd forgotten is that Tolkien provides a brief sketch of what the story might have been like had it in fact been an allegory for the second world war. This is particularly interesting, since it provides a view into how Tolkien (a Great War veteran with children fighting in the second war) thought about World War II and its aftermath.

Here is the section in question:
As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if the disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

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-dur 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 in 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 have survived even as slaves.

1 comment:

Agnes said...

I remember very well this part of Tolkien's comparison of WWII and the War of the Ring. I could always empathize with it - I have lived under a Communist regime which derived a great deal of its legitimization from defeating the Nazis and "liberating" my country from Nazi oppression, so I perceived quite early that wars should never be viewed as black-and-white conflict of evil and saintly forces. Also, I believe no real war and no real political power struggle can ever avoid being tainted by the evil lure of power and by the fallen nature of man - so the stories/parables where evil is rejected ultimately, even as a means to achieve good ends appeal to me on a deeper level than merely the good-vs-evil dichotomy of action movies and westerns etc.