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Re: On the other hand (was Re: Another article on Tolkien ...)

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  • Michael Martinez
    For what it s worth, I ve had a chance to browse the Letters and whatever I had in mind earlier today is not leaping out of the pages at me. I have certainly
    Message 1 of 18 , Sep 24, 2001
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      For what it's worth, I've had a chance to browse the Letters and
      whatever I had in mind earlier today is not leaping out of the pages
      at me.

      I have certainly found passages in the letters where Tolkien
      discusses applicability, and there is usually a reference to
      allegory, but there are also specific points concerning his
      intentions versus what people read into the text. For example, in
      Letter 183 he writes: "...This story is not about JRRT at all, and is
      at no point an attempt to allegorize his experience of life -- for
      that is what the objectifying of his subjective experience in a tale
      must mean, if anything." Not quite a reproach for reading more into
      the text than is there, but close.

      I may have been (incorrectly) thinking of Letter 337, in which
      Tolkien wrote: "I fear you may be right that the search for the
      sources of THE LORD OF THE RINGS is going to occupy acdemics for a
      generation of two. I wish this need not be so. To my mind it is the
      particular use in a particular situaton of any motive, whether
      invented, deliberately borrowed, or unconsciously remembered that is
      the most interesting thing to consider."

      Perhaps a passage which strikes closer to the mark I was aiming for
      is one in Letter 328, where Tolkien recalls a visit he had from
      someone (several years prior to writing the letter) who believed he
      had found Tolkien's inspirations in artwork:

      "I think I can now guess what Gandalf would reply. A few years ago I
      was visited in Oxford by a man whose name I have forgotten (though I
      believe he was well-known). He had been much struck by the curious
      way in which many old pictures seemed to him to have been designed to
      illustrate THE LORD OF THE RINGS long before its time. He broughht
      one or two reproductions. I think he wanted at first simply to
      discover whether my imagination had fed on pictures, as it clearly
      had been by certain kinds of literature and languages. When it
      became obvious that, unless I was a liar, I had never seen the
      pictures before and was not acquainted with pictorial Art, he fell
      silent. I became aware that he was looking fixedly at me. Suddenly
      he said: 'Of course you don't suppose, do you, that you wrote all
      that book yourself?'

      "Pure Gandalf! I was too well acquainted with G. to expose myself
      rashly, or to ask what he meant. I think I said: 'No, I don't
      suppose so any longer.' I have never since been able to suppose so.
      An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his
      private amusement...."

      Or, it could be that I was thinking of Tom Shippey's preface to the
      second edition of THE ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH after all, where he wrote:

      "Yet I do turn back to the letter Professor Tolkien wrote to me on 13
      April 1970, charmingly courteousand even flattering as it then was
      from one at the top of his profession to one at the bottom ('I don't
      like to fob people off with a formal thanks ... one of the nearest to
      my heart, or the nearest, of the many I have received ... I am
      honoured to have received your attention.') And yet, and yet ...
      What I should have realised -- perhaps did half-realise, for I speak
      the dialect myself -- was that this letter was written in the
      specialized politeness-language of Old Western Man, in which doubt
      and correction are in direct proportion to the obliquity of
      expression. The Professor's letter had invisible italics in it,
      which I now supply. 'I am in agreement with NEARLY all that you say,
      and I only regret that I have not the time to talk more about your
      paper: especially about design as it appears OR MAY BE FOUND in a
      large FINISHED work, and the ACTUAL events or experiences as seen or
      felt by the WAKING mind IN THE COURSE OF ACTUAL COMPOSTION.' It has
      taken me twenty years (and the perusal of fifteen volumes unpublished
      in 1970) to see the point of the italics. Tolkien, however, closed
      his letter to me with the proverb: 'Need brooks no delay, yet late is
      better than never?' I can only repeat his saying, question-mark and

      Well, it's hard to follow that up with anything better than a brief
      summation: I think that, when I wrote last week I thought Trudy
      Shaw's reference to the scene where Sam looks at the dead Southron
      mighht be a perfect example of Tolkien's use of "applicability", I
      was in fact confusing two related, very similar issues that are
      nonetheless probably viewed distinctly from each other by most
      people. That is, there is the issue of applicability versus
      allegory, and then there is the issue of determining where it all
      comes from versus simply accepting it for the story itself.

      Tolkien seemed to be constantly evading the probing questions of
      people who wanted to assign him to specialized slots, or pigeon-
      holes. The first Robert Murray letter (142) is summarized briefly,
      and Carpenter's closing remark in the header is: "[Murray] doubted
      whether many critics would be able to make much of the book -- 'they
      will not have a pigeon-hole neatly labelled for it.'"

      Tolkien agreed with him. I think we're still groping for the
      appropriately labelled pigeon-holes today, although in much
      different, far broader contexts than the critics of 1954 could ever
      possibly have imagined.
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