Tom Shippey

Studies of the Written Tolkien Legacy: From Analysis, to Maps, to Philosophy and Ethics, to Philology
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Riv Res
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Tom Shippey

Post by Riv Res » Tue Aug 16, 2005 12:13 am

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Tom Shippey

Riv Res and I sat in an auditorium at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last fall, two of several hundred conference attendees waiting to hear Tom Shippey speak. The crowd was about one-third academics, one-third serious Tolkien students, and one-third people wearing Elvish jewelry, but for most of us, this was to be the high point of the conference, and we were abuzz with anticipation. Out walked a professorial type, balding and tweedy. Undoubtedly he smoked a pipe. Or at least wished he could.

The microphones had been acting up all day. Rather than relying on unreliable technology, Shippey easily filled the lecture hall with his rich voice with a talk that was deeply insightful, philological, cleverly written and delivered, occasionally hilarious, with a few dry zingers that not everyone caught. It was not only the best lecture on Tolkien I had ever heard; it may have been the best lecture—period—I have ever heard, and that, my friends, is saying a lot!

Tom Shippey, the author of The Road to Middle-earth, taught at Oxford, overlapping chronologically with Professor Tolkien and teaching the same syllabus, which gave him an intimate familiarity with the poems and languages that were a primary stimulus to Tolkien’s imagination. He subsequently held the Chair of English Language and Medieval Literature at Leeds University, which Tolkien held early in his career, and he currently holds the Walter J. Ong Chair of Humanities at St. Louis University in Missouri.


This introduction to Shippey, from his J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, explains why Tom Shippey may be uniquely qualified to teach us about Tolkien: the Professor of The Professor!

Here is the place to talk about Shippey’s books, articles, and lectures. Courtesy demands that you familiarize yourself with the House Rules before posting.

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Post by Merry » Sat Sep 24, 2005 10:54 pm

I thought I might try to start us off here with a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century so we could hear Shippey's voice on a subject we have been discussing in another thread:

. . . if there are two further qualities that may finally be asserted for Tolkien's version of Middle-earth, they are these: emotional depth, and richness of invention. The former is unusual, though not quite unparalleled, in a children's book. Few writers for children nowadays would dare to include the scene of Thorin's death, or have a quest end with such a partial victory: 'no longer any question of dividing the hoard', many dead including immortals 'that should have lived long ages yet merrily in the wood', the hero weeping 'until his eyes were red'. Nor would they venture on such themes as the 'dragon-sickness' which strikes both Thorin and the Master of Laketown, so that the one is 'bewildered' morally, by 'the bewilderment of the treasure', the other physically, fleeing with his people's gold to die of starvation 'in the Waste, deserted by his companions'. As for the unforgiving ferocity of Beorn, the unyielding both-sides-in-the-right confrontation of Thorin and the Elvenking, the grim punctilio of Bard, even Gandalf's habitual short temper, all these are far removed from standard presentations of virtue as thought suitable for child readers--no doubt one reason why the book has remained so popular. [pp. 48-49]


Comments?
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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all the days of your life.

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Post by Riv Res » Sun Sep 25, 2005 5:44 pm

Merry, I think that this is Shippey at his masterful best here. The Hobbit, though touted by it's author as written for children, is certainly not above challenging them to think about (and question) more adult and complex subject matter. I think that Shippey is correct is his analysis that the modern children's books seek too much to protect and insulate the young mind, and thus they miss the richness of a full tale.

I believe that it is in the same chapter...at the end of the chapter that Shippey states.

...[in The Hobbit] Middle-earth has many lives and many stories besides the ones that have come momentarily into focus. The trick os an old one, and Tolkien learned it like so much else from his ancient sources, Beowulf and the poem Sir Gawain, but it contiunes to work. It may have been a surprise ti its publishers that a work sui generis as The Hobbit should have been a popular success, but onve it was a success there can have been no surprise in the clamour for a sequel. Tolkien had opened up a new imginative continent, and the cry now was to see more of it.

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Post by Merry » Mon Sep 26, 2005 4:39 am

I remember that Thorin's death moved me deeply when I was a child reading The Hobbit for the first time. Strangely, I don't think it was sadness at his death so much as the nobility with which he died. I wonder why children understand that kind of nobility so well.

(I learned this summer that my youngest nephew, age 10, also boo-hooed at the death scene. Can't wait to talk to him about it!)

It is interesting to me that Shippey can analyze Tolkien, not just as a philologist, but from many other points of expertise. Like Tolkien, he seems to be a broadly educated man.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Merry » Sat Oct 08, 2005 10:41 pm

I'd like to try again to get a conversation started about some of Shippey's ideas.

In the afterword to The Road to Middle-earth, Shippey defends Tolkien against some of the cynical critics of his (and our) day, like Philip Toynbee and Edmund Wilson, people who preferred Evelyn Waugh and T. S. Elliot to Tolkien. Shippey writes:

The real horror for Tolkien would probably have come when he realized that there were people writing about him who could not tell Old English from Old Norse, and genuinely thought the difference didn't matter. [pg. 334]


Foreign, sexy, and above all gently snobbish: that was the kind of Good Writing the critical profession wanted, and if it shocked 'the public mind', so much the better. Shocking the critical mind, however, was definitely not acceptable. [p. 335]


The problem remains 'misology', hatred of words, the opposite of philology. [p. 337]


Shippey also quotes from a talk that Tolkien gave in 1959, during which he said he felt

a grievance that certain professional persons should suppose their dullness and ignorance to be a human norm, the measure of what is good; and anger when they have sought to impose the limitations of their minds upon younger minds, dissuading those with philological interest to believe that their lack marked them as minds of a superior order. [p. 338]


Shippey says that Tolkien even called this state of affairs an "apartheid".

. . . his success goes far to proving his point about the naturalness of philology and the appeal of names, words and linguistic 'styles'; and in the wider sense of philology as that branch of learning which 'presented to lovers of poetry and history fragments of a noble past that without it would have remained for ever dead and dark' (Essays, p. 235), he showed that its appeal too was not confined to antiquity. I do not see how Tolkien can be denied the tribute of having enlarged his readers' apprehensions (of language), or their human sympathies (with the disciplined, or the heroic, or the addicted, or the self-sacrificing). [p. 338]


As usual, Shippey gives us a lot to think about here. I have to admit to being one who does not know the difference between Old English and Old Norse, but having read Tolkien and Shippey has convinced me that it would be a difference worth knowing some day!

Thoughts?
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Merry
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Post by Merry » Fri Oct 14, 2005 6:16 pm

Okay, whistling in the silence here!

Let me ask Shippey's question in another way: how much of a difference does Tolkien's use of language make to his stories? That is, if Barliman Butterbur from Bree and the lady Galadriel from Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien were just Tom and Linda; and if Sam called himself an idiot rather than a ninnyhammer, and his father was Dad rather than the Gaffer, would the story hold up all on its own?
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Riv Res » Sun Oct 30, 2005 4:05 am

Merry, you come to the very core of Tolkien's brilliance. He was, after all, a man of language and I have always felt that his joy at using words and inventing words and languages is what makes his work shime so much brighter than his peers. Even his friend Lewis...interject Tolkien's command of, and joy in using and inventing languages into the Narnia tales and think what they might have been. :wink:

As Shippey points out...

Shippey wrote:
Grimm wrote:You can divide all philologists into these groups, those who study words only for the sake of things, or those who study things only for the sake of the words.


Grimm had no doubt that the former class was superior, the latter falling away into pedantry and dictionaries. Of that former clas Tolkien was the pre-eminent example.

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Post by Philipa » Tue Nov 08, 2005 4:13 pm

This interview is from March 2002 however, I thought it was a nice piece for us beginners.

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Talking Tolkien With Thomas Shippey

by Claire E. White

When Academy award-nominated New Zealand director Peter Jackson needed an expert to teach the cast of The Lord of the Rings how to pronounce all the words of the Elven languages there was only one man who could help: Dr. Thomas Shippey, well-known scholar, philologist and the world's foremost Tolkien expert. Professor Thomas Shippey is uniquely qualified to opine on all things Tolkien: he taught at Oxford University at the same time as J.R.R. Tolkien, and later taught with the same syllabus, which gives him an intimate familiarity with the works that fueled Tolkien's imagination. He subsequently held the chair of English language and medieval literature at Leeds University that Tolkien had previously held. He currently holds the Walter J. Ong Chair of Humanities at St. Louis University in Missouri. Dr. Shippey is the author and editor of numerous books, including The Road to Middle-Earth (Houghton Mifflin), The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories (Oxford University Press), The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories (Oxford University Press), Studies in Medievalism XI : Appropriating the Middle Ages : Scholarship, Politics, Fraud (Studies in Medievalism 11), and Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative (University of Georgia Press).

In numerous reader polls, The Lord of the Rings has been consistently voted as the greatest book written in the 20th century. However, with some notable exceptions, many highbrow critics have dismissed Tolkien and the entire fantasy genre as escapist fare. Dr. Shippey argues that the so-called literati who have dismissed Tolkien and his works are at best misguided, and at worst have ulterior motives for attempting to dismiss an author who has become a cultural phenomenon. Dr. Shippey's latest book is, appropriately named, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Houghton Mifflin). The book has been acclaimed by both critics and Tolkien fans. In 2001, Shippey was awarded a World Fantasy Award in the category of "Special Award, Professional" for the book. He also received the "Scholarship Award in Inkling Studies" awarded to him by the Mythopoeic Society, which is dedicated to the promotion of fantasy as literature.

A fascinating and accessible critical study, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century explores Tolkien's influences and methods when he was writing The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, as well as his lesser-known works, such as Farmer Giles of Ham and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Professor Shippey explores the themes of religion (although a devout Catholic, Tolkien does not directly mention religion in The Lord of the Rings), war, redemption, feminism and the nature of evil. Publisher's Weekly calls Author of the Century, "a wonderfully readable study aimed at not just the Tolkien fan but any literate person curious about this fantasy author's extraordinary popularity."

Professor Shippey spoke to us about the challenges of bringing Tolkien's languages to the big screen, and why he believes that Tolkien is the 20th century's most underrated author. He also discusses the film version of The Lord of the Rings, and shares some great advice for writers contemplating a career in academia.

What did you like to read when you were a boy?

I read pretty well anything I could lay my hands on, but an early decision was to subscribe to Astounding Science Fiction. This soaked up most of my spare cash as a young teen, from early 1958.

How did you get interested in an academic career?

Actually, I started working for Colgate-Palmolive on graduation, but we then headed briskly into a recession, in which there were few job openings except for those provided by the state. Universities in the UK expanded at prodigious rates in the mid-1960s.

What is it about philology and the study of languages that you find so fascinating?

The link between language, literature, and (pre)history. Philology opens up visions of the past, and insights into human nature, which were quite unknown to the ancient, medieval, or Renaissance world. Along with anthropology and archaeology, it is one of the great modern soft-science breakthroughs (though universities prefer to support more dubious ventures like psychology and sociology).

How did you first get interested in Professor Tolkien's works?

Someone lent me a copy of The Hobbit when I was, I guess, about 14 -- pretty much the same time I started reading Astounding Science Fiction.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Seeing a new idea arrive in a student's mind. You can feel the click.

I'd like to talk about your latest book, J.R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. What prompted you to write the book?

I started writing about Tolkien a long time ago out of two motives -- piety, and annoyance. By piety I mean "respect for one's ancestors". Tolkien was one of my intellectual ancestors, and in what I saw as a line of professional development now all but forgotten, and I thought that wasn't right. This view was reinforced by annoyance, both over his many detractors, who weren't giving him a fair trial, and over many of his supporters, who weren't really supporting him, but using him to promote their own agenda, whatever that was (Jungian psychology, radical politics, the Tao of Tolkien, whatever). I knew this latter would have annoyed him, and I thought someone ought to speak up for him in a way that he would have approved. As for the recent book, it started when I came to realize that while Tolkien could be seen historically, in a line of philologists going back to people like Jacob Grimm, he could also be seen as a contemporary 20th century author, comparable with Orwell, Vonnegut, LeGuin, Golding, T.H. White etc. -- the group I identify as "traumatized authors".

Do you consider the work to be a biography?

It's not intended as a biography, but since Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography came out in 1977 we have learned a great deal about the way Tolkien worked and wrote, with the publication of many volumes of his early drafts and works not published in his lifetime. I try to take this into account, and I also see some of his minor works as being in effect autobiographies: I call them "autobiographical allegories".

What do these minor works reveal about Tolkien the man?

They bring out his inner anxieties. One should remember that Tolkien did not get his major work into print until he was 62, and that for most of his working life the chances were that he was going to remain forever unpublished. He sometimes imagines his own work surviving into the future as a single manuscript, never read by anybody, with the name of the author lost -- exactly like the poem Beowulf, in fact. Of course his work has now sold hundreds of millions of copies, and is set to do the same again in the next generation, and Beowulf in the end has had more books and articles written about it than Hamlet. That's ironic, but not all ironies have to be negative ones.

Recent polls in both the U.K. and the U.S., show that Tolkien is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and that The Lord of the Rings is the best book of that century. These findings apparently appalled certain members of the literati -- even those who had not even read The Lord of the Rings, as you point out in your book. What is the reason for the deep-seated animosity that certain critics have had for Tolkien? Some of the criticism seems so vitriolic, so over the top, that it makes one wonder what it is that so upsets them.

Their all but hysterical reaction must be caused, I think, by feelings of threat, or challenge. Tolkien's success challenges their authority as the definers of literature. It also challenges their belief, central to their self-image, that they represent the wave of the future -- that they are the "modernists". But the modern world has stubbornly refused to go the way it was expected to by the likes of Edmund Wilson, or Philip Toynbee (upper-class left-wing soft Marxists, you might say). It also increasingly takes no notice of the activities of professional critics. People who feel their grip on power/authority slipping are liable to overreact, as in this case.

What remains unique in Tolkien's work?

Two things I'd pick out are the poetry, and the sense of shape.

There are a lot of poems in The Lord of the Rings, in many different styles and formats, and not many other fantasy writers have the confidence or the literary background to go inventing whole new poetic traditions (or re-inventing old ones). But this gives Tolkien's work a mythic and imaginative dimension which has never been duplicated. As for the shape, The Lord of the Rings is very tightly controlled, with multiple plots integrated by a day-to-day chronology, which you really need to follow. What it does is make each of the characters feel lonely and isolated, while in the broader view you can see that everyone's story is a part of everyone else's: much more like reality than the plot of a conventional novel. It works laterally as well as linearly.

I'd like to talk a bit about the prelude to The Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit. The Hobbit is certainly lighter in tone, with more humor. What kind of sense of humor did Professor Tolkien have? What made him laugh?

Tolkien had a strong sense of verbal humor, as you can see in The Hobbit (Gollum, the trolls, the goblin-songs etc). And songs like Sam's in The Lord of the Rings.

One of the major themes in The Lord of the Rings is the nature of evil. In your book, you discuss the two views of evil reflected in The Lord of the Rings: the Boethian view that there is no such thing as evil, that evil is simply the absence of good; and the alternative view that evil is very real, exists and must be opposed and fought at all costs. Based on your research and your reading of The Lord of the Rings, which view do you think Tolkien held on the subject of evil? Do you think he ever settled it in his own mind?

I think Tolkien eventually decided that both views were true, and must be seen as continually interacting. So there are limits on the power of evil -- but they may well be limits beyond our view. And evil may all lead to future good -- but again, that is almost certain to be beyond our vision. Maybe I could say that he believed Boethius, but not here in Middle-earth.

Although some critics have alleged that The Lord of the Rings relegates women to the background, I have always seen Tolkien as being rather advanced for his time in his depiction of women. Eowyn, the lady of Rohan who sneaks off to be a warrior certainly is no shrinking violet. As for Galadriel: although her scenes are not lengthy in comparison with say, Gandalf's, her presence lingers for many chapters after the characters have left Lorièn. What is your opinion on this subject: how did Professor Tolkien feel about Galadriel? About Eowyn?

I can only point to the scene in "The Houses of Healing," where there is a careful and sensitive account of what it must have been like for Eowyn, not only trapped at home while the men rode off to war, but trapped with Wormtongue, and watching her uncle fall under his spell. This is a striking and early sensitivity to the theme of female passivity, which people often miss.

Although Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic, religion is not overtly mentioned in The Lord of the Rings. And you refer in your book to a letter which Tolkien declared that "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work…." What do you think Tolkien was referring to in this statement? Certainly religious and ethical themes are considered in the work, but there is no traditional religion depicted anywhere in the book at all, and I thought that Tolkien himself admitted this. Could you shed some light on this for us?

I discuss this in my book, but I can only say that there is almost no allusion to Christianity anywhere in The Lord of the Rings, and nearly everyone misses what there is (dates, as much as anything). Tolkien perhaps covered himself by feeling that Middle-earth demonstrates the need for Christianity. Without it the whole of history will only be "the long defeat," as Elrond calls it.

I'd like to talk about the recent release of The Lord of the Rings as a feature film directed by Peter Jackson. I understand you assisted the film makers in the pronunciation of character and place names from the book. What challenges did they face with the language from the book?

Spelling is not a good guide to pronunciation in The Lord of the Rings, because Tolkien used different conventions for different languages. So, the -ai- in names/words like Thain, Gwaihir, Dain, is different every time. Also, the stressing of the elvish languages is not what it would be in English -- DaGORlad, not DAGorlad, etc. This all had to be worked through.

Some diehard fans were upset by the deviations from the book's plot (e.g., Arwen's increased role, the deletion of the Tom Bombadil scenes etc.), while others felt that the plot changes were necessary, and that Jackson did keep to the spirit of the book. What is your opinion of the finished film, as far as plot, special effects, dialogue and mood/tone?

There's no doubt that something had to go, just for time considerations. Tolkien was well aware of this, and commented to that effect on the filmscript he saw in 1957. I actually reviewed the film for The Times (London). What I said regarding the condensing of the story was:

"The Fellowship of the Ring is well over 200,000 words long, and would take getting on for forty hours to read out loud. Pictures may be quicker than words, though often they aren't, but cutting forty hours to three cannot be done without loss. Tolkien himself, well aware of the fact, indicated that he much preferred "abridgement" to "compression". Cutting out subplots and travel sequences was much better than trying to do everything at breakneck pace, a process which would tend, especially later on in the story, to throw undue stress on the battles and the sieges, while all the time, as the entire plot makes clear, these are really subordinate in importance to the silent and stealthy approach of Frodo and Sam and Gollum to Mordor and the Cracks of Doom."

As to the quality of the film and of Jackson's direction:

"Jackson's scenery, like Tolkien's, is magnificent. It was a
brilliant stroke to recreate Wilderland in New Zealand with its moors, mountains, forests, empty rivers. His special effects are state of the art, aimed to outgo Star Wars. His actors put across their lines, archaic though they often are, with total and persuasive conviction. And he can do slow scenes, and silent scenes, with just as much of a grip on his audience as the cataclysmic ones. As the Fellowship went through Moria you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre, if anyone had dropped one, but there was never a rustle of paper: jaws ceased to move."


Fantasy is making a big comeback, with the release of both The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. What is the appeal of high fantasy to the modern reader?

I really don't know why fantasy has made such a comeback.

What effect has Tolkien had on modern fantasy?

He created the genre -- not quite single-handed, but very nearly so. I discuss other fantasy traditions in my Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, but the shelves in modern bookstores would look very different if Tolkien had not written, or if Stanley Unwin had decided not to publish him after all, back in the early 1950s. The eagerness with which he was followed suggests that there was a suppressed desire for the kind of thing he did, but nobody before him quite knew how to do it, or thought it was allowed. C.S. Lewis said Tolkien was as hard to influence as a bandersnatch, and only somebody like that could have broken with literary convention and established wisdom in the way that he did.

Have you read the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling? If so, what did you think of them? What Tolkien-esque themes (if any) do you see in Ms. Rowling's work?

Rowling really isn't very Tolkienesque at all, as far as I can see. However, she might not have got the opportunity if it had not been for the creation of the fantasy market by Tolkien and his many successors. There was fantasy before Tolkien, see my Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, but he made it mass-market.

I'd like to talk a bit about the actual process of writing. When you start a new book, how do you approach it? Do you have a special system for research and organization?

One thing you have to have and that is uncommitted time. Nothing else is as important. Writers all have different systems for getting started, but when you're staring at that blank screen, if there's a meter running in you head -- "I have to go to the meeting at 2:00" -- then you will get nothing done. It's easier once you have started...

How has the Internet affected your life as a teacher? As an author?

The Internet has had very little effect on me, except for shopping. It's hard to sort out the information from the misinformation.

How has the academic life changed over the years from when you first entered it? What advice do you have for writers who are hoping to make a career in academia?

The academic life has become far more bureaucratic, and is increasingly dominated by people with the habits of bureaucrats. You have to either do the bureaucratic stuff on autopilot, and try to keep some section of your brain free for thinking, or find a place where there are friendly bureaucrats to shield you. I'd say this. Managerial programs work best where there is a clear and quantifiable outcome and an easy way of checking what the work-force is doing. Neither of these apply to teaching, or research. Really productive researchers are often staring at the wall, or going for walks -- and their product tends to turn up ten years later. Good teaching is not measured by the number of degrees you turn out, or even how highly the students rate you at the time. But unsophisticated management systems (and those are the ones we have) insist on counting something. "Them as counts counts more than them as doesn't count," as it says in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker.

When you're not working, what are your favorite ways to relax and have fun?

Have fun? I used to play rugby. Then it dwindled to soccer, as my injuries accumulated. Maybe I will be down to golf, in the end.


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Post by Merry » Thu Nov 10, 2005 4:45 am

What a wonderful interview--thanks, Philipa! Shippey is the kind of academic who first taught me in college way back when: a real man of thought and language. Alas, they are a dying breed.

I can shed a bit of light on one of his comments: that one can see oblique hints of Christianity in LOTR in the dates. The Fellowship left Rivendell on December 25 (we all know what that is), and the Ring was destroyed on March 25, which was the traditional date for both the Annunciation (i.e, the conception of Jesus) and often Good Friday as well.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Merry » Thu Feb 16, 2006 10:20 pm

I've been reading Shippey again this week: masterful stuff! One of the things I enjoy most about his books is the way he takes on the critics of LOTR, who claim that it is juvenile, simplistic, and escapist. Shippey sends out a series of gentlemanly and erudite zingers!

One such critic is a man named Leonard Jackson, and Shippey writes about him in The Road to Middle Earth. Shippey confesses to having some respect for Jackson. But--get this--Jackson does a Freudian analysis of LOTR:

Jackson's argument, set out on pp. 77-80 of the book just mentioned [Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the New Sciences of Mind, 2000], is that The Lord of the Rings is a classic Freudian castration-fantasy. It's climactic scene, of course, is the biting off of Frodo's finger with the Ring still on it, an image, says Jackson, 'as clearly Freudian as one could ever hope to get. If this scene is not a reference to the castration complex, then there is no reference to castration anywhere in literature' (apart from some entirely literal cases). To ensure that this option feels right, Jackson continues, 'the book is stuffed with father-figures', Gandalf, Fangorn, Bombadil, and especially Sauron: with the destruction of the Ring, the menacing father-figure is removed from the scene, and Frodo abandons all possibility of growing up to be like him . . ."


:shock:
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Iolanthe » Thu Feb 23, 2006 5:39 pm

Well - that's over-simplistic rubbish if I ever read it :roll: . Talk about reducing the sublime to the ridiculous. I'm sure with everything Tolkien went through there were larger issues at work in his subconcious than that. If there are parallels then they could just as easily be spurious or bedded in the symbolism of the earlier mythologies that Tolkien drew from. Mythology is stuffed with father-figures, rings, (and therefore fingers) towers, you name it....
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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Post by Merry » Mon Mar 06, 2006 12:18 am

You know, I can see Gandalf and others in LOTR as father figures, and the fact that both Tolkien and Frodo were orphans probably bears comment. But Sauron as a father figure? I don't see it at all.

Here's more from Shippey on a different topic:

I argue that his [Tolkien's, of course] continuing appeal rests not on mere charm or strangeness (though both are there and can again to some extent be explained), but on a deeply serious response to what will be seen in the end as the major issues of his century: the origin and nature of evil (an eternal issue, but one in Tolkien's lifetime terribly re-focused); human existence in Middle-earth, without the support of divine Revelation; cultural relativity; and the corruptions and continuities of language. These are themes which no one can afford to despise, or need be ashamed of studying. It is true that Tolkien's answers will not appeal to everyone, and are wildly at odds with those given even by many of his contemporaries . . . But the first qualification applies to every author who has ever lived, and the second is one of the things that make him distinctive.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Riv Res
Manwë
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Location: Walking the fields of the Pelennor with the King

Post by Riv Res » Tue Mar 07, 2006 1:37 am

Lordy Merry...don't you just LOVE Shippey?!

Shippey wrote:I believe that it is our ability to read metaphorically which has made Tolkien's stories directly relevant to the twentieth century. We do not expect to meet Ringwraiths, but 'wraithing' is a genuine danger; we do not expect to meet dragons, but 'dragon-sickness' is perfectly common; there is no Fangorn, but Sarumans are everywhere. It may indeed be the readiness with which these points are taken which has made Tokien seem, not irrelevant, but downright threatening, to members of the cultural Establishment. Be that as it may, what Tolkien certainly did was introduce a new, or possibly re-introduce an old and forgotten taste into the literary world. A taste, a trace-element, perhaps a necessary literary vitamin? Whatever one calls it, to use the words of Holofernes, Shakespeare's pedant-poet in Love's Labour's Lost, if not in the way that Holofernes meant them:

    'The gift is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am thankful for it.'


I love the idea of the literary vitamin.
Last edited by Riv Res on Tue Mar 07, 2006 4:53 am, edited 2 times in total.

Merry
Varda
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Location: Middle-west

Post by Merry » Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:55 am

What a great quote!

(Wraiths, dragon sickness, and Sarumans: reminds me of the Oscars last night. Talk about your cultural establishment that just doesn't get it!)

Tolkien remains a breath of fresh air. So does Shippey.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Iolanthe
Uinen
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Joined: Thu Aug 25, 2005 2:21 pm
Location: Washing my hair in the Sundering Sea

Post by Iolanthe » Tue Mar 07, 2006 1:59 pm

Shippey certinly gets to the heart of it, doesn't he? I've just started reading his 'JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century' and just the Forward is brilliant. This is from the quote above though:

I think I believe that it is our ability to read metaphorically which has made Tolkien's stories directly relevant to the twentieth century.

I think this is interesting. I've always thought that a lot of our love of Tolkien comes from being allowed to revisit the kind of epic tales that held our ancestors enthralled, full of wonder, ancient times and heros and mythic creatures (Beowulf, The Odyssey. The Arthurian Legends...). This was everyones literary world in the old days. There wasn't any other. But this adds another slant to it. There is more at work. Maybe Tolkien has truly created a myth for our time, something so deeply relevant that it resonates with millions, and Shippey is right - our 20th Century ability to read metaphorically has lifted it to another plane.

Did people hearing the tales of old have any metaphorical take on them? Some people must have, surely :-k.
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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