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25. April 2015

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)

Tolkien's concept behind Middle Earth was to map European myths onto a mythical land, called Middle Earth.

It would appear he took the liberty to turn the Americas into Valinor and Atlantis into Númenor. Somewhat more certainly Forlindor is Wales, Harlindor Cornwall, Rohan Lower Saxony, the Misty Mountains the Scandes, the White Mountains the Alps, the Anduin a composite of the Baltic sea, the Danube, the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, Minas Tirith Constantinople, Near Harad Arabia, Far Harad Northern Africa, Mordor Anatolia, the Sea of Rhûn the Caspian Sea, the Celduin the Volga, the Iron Mountains the Urals, the Empty Lands Kazakhstan, Carrock some island in the Baltic Sea, possibly Saaremaa, Fangorn the Black Forrest or the Bavarian Forrest and Esgaroth St. Petersburg.

Elves are associated with Celtic folklore, horses with Saxon folklore (Hengist and Horsa) and trolls with Norwegian folklore, greater times with Constantinople, Elephants with Phoenicians, shape shifters with Finnic folklore, enchanted forests with southern German folklore and St. Petersburg is a city on an island in a river and St. George a man of the east.

The geography matches within the limits of some obfuscation.

According to Tolkien himself, he was bothered by the lack of English myths. So he went about to create some. But he was a prudent man, he didn't want to introduce any new elements, so he simply turned the knowledge of foreign myths into a myth itself. Thus the Silmarillion was born and before its backdrop The Lord of the Rings.

The ring motive, of course, was borrowed as well. But Tolkien didn't want to write an allegory. He didn't like the idea to tell somebody what life is like. He was a prudent man, he didn't want to be presumptuous. He just wanted to describe life, not analyse it. So for example, Galadriel's mirror doesn't mean anything, it just shows what a dream might show, if it's not fictitious.

And accordingly the ring motive doesn't amount to more than the western peoples' struggle for freedom, interpolated from the ancient Greeks to the modern British, ignoring everything that doesn't quite fit into that picture.

Yet Tolkien had a point, for at the time he conceived of all this, the Hobbits had the turn of further events indeed in their hands.

It was a warning then, a bit romantic. But a fundamentally different warning than what the films of late communicate. Tolkien never really thought of this struggle as a last man standing kind of thing. The flood of dangers is just a reflection of the mythical genre, in which the stories of those who got away are being told. He meant to inspire good sense, overcome sadness and raise awareness of the historical horizon.

And he didn't bother when some things didn't fully add up, like with the role of the giant eagles, who would let others fight first and only intervene if necessary: an obvious reflection on the aristocracy's behaviour, which doesn't quite fit the Hobbits for freedom idea, but that of higher powers showing the way. However, for the time having been, it was part of good sense, powers, rights and duties having been distributed as they were.

So today, in our time, when Jackson has turned a kaleidoscope of European myths into underwear models hopping around in tasteful costumes in an apparently hopeless fight to preserve the last of their kin / kind being led by their king trusting the power of whimpering incantations, what is thus inspired?

And the weird thing is... this inversion came about unintendedly. It was no biting of the snake, but a transfusion of blood from one poisoned man to another, a seal upon Hobbitan defeat. There was a reason, why Tolkien had the Shire pillaged at the end, for Hobbits at his time were already in too deep to just go on. For the rottenness to be mended, it needs to be exposed. Jackson didn't treat The Lord of the Rings with any more luck than he treated King Kong with: in his hands everything gets distorted beyond recognition under layers of grease he uses to gloss over his lack of sentiment.

Really, how perverse to assume he could have done a work justice, this once. You've been had.

Admit it!, for his version breeds insecurity of oneself, then fear, then hostility and delusion, or everything put together: weakness out of weakness.

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