5558Re: Why the middle ages are so popular in fiction
- Mar 11, 2002--- In mythsoc@y..., Stolzi@a... wrote:
> In a message dated 3/10/02 1:09:03 PM Central Standard Time,ancient
> m.bodez@w... writes:
> > What is egyptian in Gondor ?
> Those two big statues on the way in? ;)
> Oh, the tomb area and emphasis thereon - and the preservation of
> records - is pretty Egyptian, too. The style of the crown hasbeen compared
> (perhaps by JRRT himself?) to an Egyptian one, also.Tolkien did indeed make the comparison between Gondor and Egypt, in a
> Diamond Proudbrook
letter to one of his readers. He said the Numenoreans were like the
Egyptians in many ways, and listed a few examples, including their
love for massive construction, their preoccupation with longevity and
the preservation of the dead, the division of the Two Kingdoms, and
Although Tolkien undeniably drew upon medieval sources for his
fiction, he also drew upon many classical sources, and it is
unfortunate that many of his readers fail to recognize those very
strong classical influences on Tolkien. He used the Bible, Greek
philosophy and mythology, and even Babylonian sources. A few years
ago, in order to prove that Tolkien had confined himself to medieval
studies as much as possible, someone from the news groups asked Tom
Shippey whether he ever viewed himself as a medievalist.
Shippey's response (archived on Google Groups, but I don't have time
to search for it) stipulated that Tolkien viewed himself as a
classicist, but he did not use the word "medievalist" the way people
use it today. Shippey conceded that if pressed really hard, Tolkien
might have agreed he was a "medievalist", but pointed out that
Tolkien though of himself as a philologist (a point which Tolkien
makes more than once in his letters).
To Tolkien, language was not confined to a specific time period, or
even to a region. His study of the Anglo-Saxon language is
categorized as a specialization in the literature, but he explained
(in at least one of his letters) that he was fascinated by the
history of words. He often makes references to ancient forms of
words, and modern equivalents, moving about through the chronology of
language very comfortably.
Tolkien viewed his Rohirrim as "Homeric horsemen", whereas the
argument is made by many people today that they were Anglo-Saxon
horsemen -- largely because Tolkien used Anglo-Saxon to represent
their language, a fallacious association he advised readers not to
make. In fact, he did suggest that the Rohirrim played a similar
role to that of ancient Germanic peoples who settled in portions of
the former Roman Empire -- and in doing so associated the Rohirrim
with Saxons, Vandals, Goths, Lombards, and all Germanic tribes which
settled in western Europe. The historical associations appear to
have been far less important to Tolkien -- who developed a linguistic
family tree represented by Old English, Old Norse, and modern English
which has no bearing to the historical relationships of these
languages -- than to those of his readers who insist that Middle-
earth is modelled on medieval Europe.
To Tolkien, Middle-earth represented all of our world, not just a
part of it. He definitely used some medieval models for parts of it,
but he used other models for other parts of it. And that includes
some 20th century models, including (according to Tom Shippey -- I am
not qualified to argue for or against this) the long-running
divisions in the British philology/linguistic community.
I honestly think a lot of people assume Middle-earth is medieval
because they have been inundated with pseudo-medieval imagery for
decades by film and television (and other media). You'll never find
the word chivalry in Tolkien's fiction about Middle-earth, but you
may NOT be surprised to find many discussions about Tolkien which
refer to it. We tend to project many things onto the stories we love
which are really not there.
Tolkien expressed reservation about people's attempts to document
sources in his fiction. I think he wanted the readers to look at the
stories for themselves. He would probably be disappointed by the
frequent efforts to explain where it all comes from. Aragorn's
nobility may indeed be based in more than one medieval tale of
chivalrous knights, but he is not a medieval knight. He is a heroic
man who rises to the kingship over an ancient and fading civilization
in an epic mythology the scope of which Tolkien never fully
envisioned, and which even he probably did not recognize as such
until after he had created it.
He did, after all, only set out to write a little more about Hobbits,
when he began working on THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and at the time he
had no idea of what he could say, believing he had written all that
could be written of them.
In a way, he was correct. For THE LORD OF THE RINGS is certainly not
about Hobbits. It's about humanity's search for ways to circumvent
the natural order of things, and the consequences we bring upon
ourselves through selfish actions. Or, to put it Tolkien's way, it's
about death and the search for deathlessness.
Hobbits don't really seem to be concerned with such matters.
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