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Structural polarities in J.R.R. Tolkien's The lord of the rings


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Structural polarities in J.R.R. Tolkien's The lord of the rings
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Upshaw, Quincey Vierling
University of South Florida
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Tampa, Fla
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Subjects / Keywords:
British literature
Middle Earth
The great chain of being
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: My thesis reflects an assessment of The Lord of the Rings centering on the idea of a structure of opposites. For each place, race, character and object in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien included an element which serves as an antithesis. In addition, the style, pacing, and language of the work also contain antithetical pairs which continually engage and propel the reader to the work's conclusion. I contend that this deliberate pairing of opposing elements adds depth and verisimilitude to the work. Tolkien was an avid student of what his contemporaries would have called "fantasy" or "fairy tales." While dismissed by many scholars as juvenilia, Tolkien and his predecessors the trailblazing folklorists and philologists the Grimm brothers took these works seriously as both serious narratives and fragments of a time for which the historical record is spotty.In examining these Old English, Old Norse, Old Germanic and folkloric works, Tolkien built a professional reputation as a literary critic. He studied the formalist elements of these tales such as plot, diction, characterization and pacing the same way other literary critics studied contemporary or "mainstream" historical works. I contend that Tolkien's work as a critic informed Tolkien as a writer in form and structure. My thesis highlights the deliberately shaped formalist element of antithetical pairs of races, places, objects and characters. In addition, the narrative pacing and style of the works reflect and author concerned with a deliberate paring of polarities. As my thesis examine the text for elements of plot, setting, pacing and characterization I primarily approach Tolkien from a formalist and narratological standpoint.Many of the points I mention are not new; critics have noted in passing some of the elements before essays or books that focus on another method of criticism. However, I believe that in pulling together a final tally of Tolkien's structural polarities I can explain how a work derided at its publication by critic Edmund Wilson as "juvenile trash" has endured to become the best selling work published in England, aside from the Bible.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Quincey Vierling Upshaw.
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Title from PDF of title page.
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Document formatted into pages; contains 76 pages.
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Includes vita.

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Structural polarities in J.R.R. Tolkien's The lord of the rings
h [electronic resource] /
by Quincey Vierling Upshaw.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 76 pages.
Includes vita.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: My thesis reflects an assessment of The Lord of the Rings centering on the idea of a structure of opposites. For each place, race, character and object in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien included an element which serves as an antithesis. In addition, the style, pacing, and language of the work also contain antithetical pairs which continually engage and propel the reader to the work's conclusion. I contend that this deliberate pairing of opposing elements adds depth and verisimilitude to the work. Tolkien was an avid student of what his contemporaries would have called "fantasy" or "fairy tales." While dismissed by many scholars as juvenilia, Tolkien and his predecessors the trailblazing folklorists and philologists the Grimm brothers took these works seriously as both serious narratives and fragments of a time for which the historical record is spotty.In examining these Old English, Old Norse, Old Germanic and folkloric works, Tolkien built a professional reputation as a literary critic. He studied the formalist elements of these tales such as plot, diction, characterization and pacing the same way other literary critics studied contemporary or "mainstream" historical works. I contend that Tolkien's work as a critic informed Tolkien as a writer in form and structure. My thesis highlights the deliberately shaped formalist element of antithetical pairs of races, places, objects and characters. In addition, the narrative pacing and style of the works reflect and author concerned with a deliberate paring of polarities. As my thesis examine the text for elements of plot, setting, pacing and characterization I primarily approach Tolkien from a formalist and narratological standpoint.Many of the points I mention are not new; critics have noted in passing some of the elements before essays or books that focus on another method of criticism. However, I believe that in pulling together a final tally of Tolkien's structural polarities I can explain how a work derided at its publication by critic Edmund Wilson as "juvenile trash" has endured to become the best selling work published in England, aside from the Bible.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Sara Deats, Ph.D.
British literature
Middle Earth
The great chain of being
Dissertations, Academic
x English
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Structural Polarities In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings by Quincey Vierling Upshaw A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Sara Deats, Ph.D. Hunt Hawkins, Ph.D Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D Date of Approval: May 27, 2009 Keywords: British Literature, Middle Earth, formalist, the Great Chain of Being, opposites Copyright 2009 Quincey Vierling Upshaw


Dedication This manuscript is dedicated to my loving and superhumanly supportive husband, Brian Upshaw, and my erudite parents, who firs t inspired in me a love of reading, writing and life-long learning.


Acknowledgments I am deeply grateful for the guidance, patience, and intellectual care demonstrated by Dr. Sara Deats, distinguished professor of English at the University of South Florida during the process of crafting this thesis In addition, I gratefully acknowledge the valuable comments and keen insights of my committee members Dr. Nicole Guenther Discenza and Dr. Hunt Hawkins. and I am al so indebted to Dr. John Hatcher, former Chair of the English Department at the Un iversity of South Fl orida for nurturing and inspiring this idea in his class, Tolkien's Theory of Fiction


i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter I: Introduction 1 Rationale 1 Survey of Criticism 4 Critical Approach 8 Chapter II: Polarities 20 Themes 20 Style 34 Places 38 Species/Beings 45 Events 51 Characters 55 Chapter III: Conclusions 66 Works Cited 69 Works Consulted 73 About the Author End Page


ii Structural Polarities in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Quincey Upshaw ABSTRACT My thesis reflects an assessment of The Lord of the Rings centering on the idea of a structure of opposites. For each pla ce, race, character and object in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien included an element which serves as an antithesis. In addition, the style, pacing, and language of the work also contain antithetical pa irs which continually engage and propel the reader to the work’s conclusion. I contend that this deliberate pairing of opposing elements adds dept h and verisimilitude to the work. Tolkien was an avid student of what his contemporaries would have called “fantasy” or “fairy tales.” Wh ile dismissed by many scholars as juvenilia, Tolkien and his predecessors the trailblazing folklorists and philologists the Grimm brothers took these works seriously as both serious narratives and fragments of a time for which the historical record is spotty. In examining these Old E nglish, Old Norse, Old Germanic and folkloric works, Tolkien built a professional reputation as a literary critic. He studied the formalist elements of these tales such as plot, dict ion, characterization and pacing the same way other literary critics studied contemporary or “mainstream” historical works. I contend that Tolkien’s work as a critic informed To lkien as a writer in form and structure. My thesis highlights the deliberately shaped forma list element of antithetical pairs of races, places, objects and characters. In addition, the narrative pacing and style of the works reflect and author concerned with a deliberate paring of polarities.


iii As my thesis examine the text for elements of plot, setting, pacing and characterization I primarily approach Tolkien from a fo rmalist and narratological standpoint. Many of the points I mention are not new; critics have noted in passing some of the elements before essays or books that focus on another method of criticism. However, I believe that in pulli ng together a final tally of Tolk ien’s structural polarities I can explain how a work derided at its public ation by critic Edmund Wilson as “juvenile trash” has endured to become the best sel ling work published in England, aside from the Bible.


1 [W]ithout the high and noble the simp le and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary th e noble and heroic is meaningless. -J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131, to Milton Waldman of Collins (c.1951) Chapter I: Introduction Rationale In J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the most potent thematic symbol in all three volumes is not the Ring, although the destruction of th e Ring of Power is clearly the goal of Frodo’s quest Rather, the central symbol of the trilogy is the Mirror of Galadriel, which most accurately embodies the reflective nature of the work, for it is the mirror of Galadriel that shows characters what they may be or might have been. In a larger sense, the structure of the work itsel f reflects back to th e reader all of Middle Earth; through its shimmer the beings, landscap es, and characters of the Third Age can be discerned by the reader as inverting one another, reinforcing through correspondence or opposition the themes and structure of the tale. This thesis focuses on this inverted reflection and parallelism; for when we look into Galadriel’s mirror to see the glorious final days of the Third Age as they unfol d, we also see the symmetry of Tolkien’s subcreation shining back at us. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien spins for the reader a tenuous web of reflective images. At once delicate and durable, the fict ional world of Middle Earth becomes real for the reader by virtue of its sophisticated structure and subtle oppositions, which both


2 enhance familiar themes from previous works and create an entirely new cultural mythology. Tolkien describes the fictional wo rld authors create as a subcreation, which he defines as an “ . achievement of expr ession, which gives (or seems to give) ‘the inner consistency of reality’” ( The Tolkien Reader 68). Spinning a consistent tale is difficult for any novelist, but Tolkien’s constr uction of Middle Earth takes this complex task a step further, creating a world at once familiar to the reader yet unfamiliar, populated by creatures recognizable from traditional fairy tale s existing side-by-side with human beings; Middle Earth both invites the reader to recognize the familiar and mentally construct the unfamiliar. Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey comments that the trilogy’s “air of solidity and exte nt both in space and time” ( The Road to Middle Earth 103) contributes to its success. In order to develop my discussion, howe ver, I must establish what is meant by reflection Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien hints that Midd le Earth is a selfreflective place; species of bei ngs are said to be “abominated ” versions of another, and characters, alike in thematic function (i .e. the leaders of a people) often reflect personalities or virtues which prove to be polar opposites. Th ese inverted reflections are evident in nearly every aspect of the tril ogy: themes, style, places, species or beings, events, and characters. At other times, elemen ts of the books parallel one another, and these reflective and parallel qualities unite the books structurall y, creating a sense of unity for Tolkien’s sub-creation. Reader respon se critic Wolfgang Iser explains Shippey’s sense of an “air of solidity” when descri bing the mental processes that the reader experiences while reading: We look forward, we look back, we decide we change our decisions, we form


3 expectations, we are shocked by their nonf ulfillment, we question, we muse, we accept, we reject; this is the dynamic proce ss of recreation. This process is steered by two main structural components within th e text: first, a repertoire of familiar literary patterns and recurrent literary th emes, together with allusion to familiar social and historical contex ts; second, techniques or st rategies used to set the familiar against the unfamiliar. (“The Reading Process” 62-63) This act on the part of the reader of re flecting and deciding, cr eating and re-creating, questioning and supplying answers echoe s the antithetical structure of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Each new character recalls anot her familiar one; each object encountered by the reader reflects another; and for each land in which the characters interact, there exists an antithesis. Reader response theo rist Louise Rosenblatt in her seminal work Making Meaning with Texts asserts that “[t]he . read er pays attention to–savors–the qualities of the feelings, ideas situations, scenes, personali ties, and emotions that are called forth [by a work] and part icipates in the tensions, conf licts and resolutions of the images, ideas, and scenes as they unfold” (11). Tolkien’s careful construction of polarities subconsciously reminds the reader of the act of reading itself, thereby bestowing on the work additional meaning for the engaged reader. Northrop Frye comments on the reader’s grasp of the writer’s constructions when he declares, “[w]e hear or listen to a narrative, but when we gr asp a writer’s total pattern we ‘see’ what he means” (1451). In this thesis I will address six aspects of this idea—themes, style, places, species or beings, events, and characters—all of wh ich provide examples of this symmetrical, reflective construct. In J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Shippey comments on the


4 structure of the trilogy and observes: “Symme try is… unmistakable, if you look for it” ( The Author of the Century 51). Survey of Criticism The critical history of The Lord of the Rings is divided into several methodologies, although biographical, historic al, and linguistic approaches dominate Tolkien criticism. However, most Tolkien sc holars combine multiple approaches in their observations. Biographical scholars endeavor to align elements of Tolkien’s fiction with many aspects of his life: his service in World War I, his family environment, his scholarly output and vocation as a philologist or his conversion to Catholicism. Critics adopting this approach in whol e or in part include Roger Sa le and Leslie Jones. While it is true that many aspects of Tolkien’s ch ildhood and adult life, as documented by his letters and later in Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter, appear in various forms throughout The Lord of the Rings epic and other writings, it is difficult to reduce Tolkien’s fictional works to a strictly biographical format. C onsequently, critics such as Tom Shippey draw on aspects of Tolkien’s life as partial inspirations for his work, but these critics wisely tend to view Tolkien’s bi ography not as the “key” that unlocks their meaning or as the chief influence behind Tolk ien’s writing but as an important element that cannot be ignored. I agree with this measured view; To lkien’s journals and letters attest to a man very involved with his cr eation and eager to reflect upon its design and reception. However, the evidence of incidents in Tolkien’s life influencing elements of his fiction remains speculative at best. I conc ur with other critics who are skeptical of drawing a one-to-one parallel between To lkien’s life and fiction. Instead, I view


5 Tolkien’s interests and deeply held religious a nd social opinions as influences, rather than parallels, to his work. Historical critics, includ ing Marjorie Burns, Jane Croft, Jane Chance, John Garth, and Stuart Lee, attempt to link The Lord of the Rings trilogy to aspects of either medieval or early twentieth-century history. These cr itics also often employ Tolkien’s life and career as a prologue to historical discussion. Of special interest to this group of critics are the texts from the Middle Ages that Tolkien studied, as some of the medieval sources exercise a strong direct or i ndirect influence on Tolkien’s fiction. While these works can lend valuable insight into th e unique world that Tolkien cr eated, they do not explain the vast scope of Middle Earth. Additionally, historic al critics often cite Tolkien’s service in World War I and his sons’ service in World Wa r II as possible influences on his depiction of war and on some of the imagery in the wo rks. Again, although this scholarship greatly enhances our knowledge of the complicated or igins of Tolkien’s creation, it leaves many aspects of these origins unexplained. Historical criticism remains crucial for later Tolkien scholars in establishing the cont ext for the author’s life and wo rk, but I hesitate to draw a direct parallel between global and/or personal history and To lkien’s fiction. The world of Middle Earth is far deeper, richer, and imagina tive than a simple allegorical parallel to a personal biography or hi storical sources. Linguistic critics, such as Tom Shippey, E lizabeth Kirk, and Les lie Jones, dissect Tolkien’s professional and pers onal interest in Old English, Old Norse, and other ancient languages and bodies of literature as sources an d inspirations for his literary productions. Tolkien’s profession as a philologist and his work on the OED clearly informed his creation of the many complex languages of Middle Earth, which include substantial


6 bodies of vocabulary and regulated syntax and grammar systems. Tolkien reveals his fascination with these languages in a confession to his publisher that he “wished he could have written [it] in Elvish” ( Letters 54). While places, character names, and other elements of the work are plainly drawn from the corpus of literature that Tolkien examined as a philologist, a sole focus on language ignores other nuanced and original narrative elements that Tolkien included in his novels. While the body of criticism regarding this aspect of the trilogy is fascinating, it is not my area of expe rtise and does not correspond with my interests for this paper. Other pervasive critical methodologies include formalist, religious and/or mythological, gender studies, queer studies and reception theory. Anne Petty, Michael Brisbois, Verlyn Flieger, and other formalist critics concentrate on elements of plot and character to discern meaning. Formalist stud ies also often focus on the treatment of nature or the elements from world cultu res that possibly influenced Tolkien’s mythopoeia. Religious critics, such as R.J. Reilly, Gunnar Urang, Richard Purtill and Ralph Wood, examine both the pagan and Chri stian sources for Tolkien’s texts. This body of criticism often comp ares the narrative arc of The Lord of the Rings to the religious stories and doctrines of Christianity and earlier European belief systems. Gender studies critics such as Lynette Porter and others examine th e interplay of sex and gender in the novels, primarily showing how these el ements pertain to medieval and ancient sources. Anna Smol and Mark Hooker, while both utilizing and cr itiquing ideas drawn from queer studies theory, explore the complex web of male relationships in The Lord of the Rings. Reception theory critics, such as Br ian Rosebury and Tom Shippey, consider the ways in which the wider culture has been changed by The Lord of the Rings and The


7 Hobbit Moreover, some reception theory critics co llaborate with theorists in education to integrate The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into a contemporary literary education at the secondary level. These educators and th eorists strive to bring Tolkien into the secondary school canon as they contend The Lord of the Rings trilogy represents fiction that both entertains and proves challenging for emerging readers. My thesis concerns the formalist element of structural polari ties, which, for some unknown reason, have not been examined in the corpus of Tolkien criticism. The only explanation that I can offer for this negl ect is the relatively recent phenomenon of Tolkien’s fictional output being viewed as “serious” enough to wa rrant literary study. While some authors experience critical acclaim during their lifetimes, Tolkien did not. It was not until the 1970s that critics began to view Tolkien’s work, which had always been “popular” literature, as the stuff of “great” li terature, and by that time the formalism of the 1950s had been replaced by historicism a nd postmodernism as the dominant critical approaches. Formalist-dominated examinations such as my own have only just begun to reenter critical favor. However, while my perspective may be primarily formalist, the polyvocal nature of contemporary criticism allows my thesis to encompass several approaches to serve my formalist goals. Many critical schools, particularly the historical and biographical, reinforce my interpretation of Tolkien’s tr ilogy, so I am particularly interested in examining those critical viewpoints. Finally, some of the articles or books written from a religious perspective lend additional shades of meani ng to my analysis of the trilogy, so I will explore those positions as well. Tom Shi ppey’s work, which engages in many diverse critical approaches to Tolkien, is especially helpful to my central thesis, as are the works


8 of Michael Drout, Marjorie Bu rns, and J.S. Ryan. In addition, my thesis draws on the reader response theories of Wolfgang Iser and Louise Rosenblatt, as well as the feminist theories of masculine and feminine bina ries posited by Hlne Cixous and Marilyn French. Two critics specifically deal with ideas of duality in The Lord of the Rings but the respective focus of each work, while informi ng aspects of my thesis, differs from my primary concentration. Michael Brisbois’s ar ticle “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature: An Analysis of the Structure of Middle Earth” presents Tolkien’s representation in his subcreation of nature as e ither passive or active; in many ways, Brisbois’s ideas of activity and passivity in the novels correspond to and enhance the feminist theories of Cixous and French that I utilize in my th esis. Finally, in a ch apter entitled “Binary Opposition in Middle Earth” from the book One Ring to Bind Them All: Tolkien’s Mythology Anne Petty also recognizes duality in Tolkien’s creation. Petty analyzes global mythology to contextualize at titudes toward life and death in The Lord of the Rings Petty’s work does not overlap with mine; I interpret and articulate the sense of a binary tension in Middle Eart h in a different fashion. Critical Approach Why would a novel consisting of a carefu l construction of op posites resonate so deeply with the reading public? And why, in an era when experimental modernist literature was fashionable, would a writer stri ve to create balance and symmetry in his fiction? I offer the following explanations: first, Tolkien’s scholarly focus was the


9 European Middle Ages, and the order and bala nce of both the medieval worldview and its literary conventions affected his creation of Middle Earth. Next, Tolkien’s Catholicism profoundly influenced his imagination. The Catholic theology in which Tolk ien was devotedly immersed exhibits reassuring balance for the believer; the fall of humanity into a sinful world initiated by the Devil is balanced by humankind’s deliver ance to salvation through belief in the Savior, and the grace of God saves all who believe from the evil of sin. Moreover, Catholic theology juxtaposes not only salvati on and damnation, Christ and Satan, but also heaven, purgatory, and hell. In a letter that Tolkien wrote to his colleague and friend Robert Murray, an early reader of the work, Tolkien writes, “ The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious work; unconsci ously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, pr actically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cult s and practices, in the imagin ary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism” ( Letters 172). Although Tolkien later seemed to contradict this statemen t in 1955 when he wrote to his American publishers Houghton Mifflin that The Lord of the Rings “certainly . has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or to pical, moral, religious, or political” ( Letters 220), I believe that the two statements reinforce rather than cancel out each other. Any “religious” intent that Tolkien had in mind when crafting the storyline for The Lord of the Rings embodied a generalized, ethical thought, not strict Catholic or Protestant dogma. In an author steeped in Catholic theology, th is morality-based cosm ology is “absorbed” and consequently manifests itself in ways that are at once recognizable to a reader familiar with Christian theology and alien from those te nets. Critic J.S. Ry an contends that in


10 crafting a detailed subcrea tion Tolkien wished to echo his own Creator and draw attention to what Tolkien called in the essa y “On Fairy Stories” “the eucatastrophy of Man’s history”: the birth of Christ ( The Tolkien Reader 88). Ryan states that “ . it was Tolkien’s artistic purpose in his sub-crea ting to provide an analysis for his own generation, and those to follow, of the poi nt of fusion of all creation and of its implications for the duty and destiny of hu manity” (117). Thus, an exact one-to-one parallel between Tolkien’s work and Chri stian theology is impossible to draw, and Tolkien correctly points this out in letters in which he expresses his disgust for those who reduce his works to a fantastical religious tract. However, intimations of Tolkien’s Christian ethics illumine the text, and this tension between unfamiliar and familiar worlds further involves the reader in the complexities of Middle Earth. Although the lives of human beings in To lkien’s Catholic philosophy hang in a delicate balance between si n and virtue, religious sc holars throughout the ages consistently affirm the almighty power of God. Moreover, in creating Middle Earth, Tolkien does not present a Manichean worl d view, which would pit equal and opposing forces against each other, since ultimatel y, as in the Christian narrative, good does triumph over evil. However, throughout Tolkie n's narrative, we are never sure of this triumph. Part of Tolkien’s great gift as a stor yteller is his ability to keep his readers in continual suspense concerni ng the ultimate outcome in the struggle between good and evil. Like the Quest itself, the reader of th e trilogy has a sense of the tale balancing on the precipice of doom, and this contributes to the fascination of the work. Indeed, Middle Earth is a world where the forces of evil initia lly appear stronger than the forces of good; significantly, the God-figure of Middle Earth, I llvatar, is absent fr om the narrative and


11 in his stead the divine figures of Sauron, Saurman, Gandalf, and Galadriel clash with their respective forces for the fate of the Free People. In this, Tolkien seemingly subverts the paradigm of an omnipotent God, and this sense of uncertainty regarding the outcome of the story provides the suspen se that drives his work and shapes his subcreation. The four battling, divine figures in the work e xhibit their own human-like character flaws, but for the majority of the three novels the odds look dire for th e Free Peoples. The forces of evil could win and, indeed, almost do. Theref ore, Tolkien’s genius lies in giving the reader enough hope to identify with the s eemingly overmatched forces of good while never “stacking the deck” in fa vor of those forces. These long odds keep the tension of the lengthy saga running high throughout the nov el. In his construction of the narrative, Tolkien privileges the mortal and divine fo rces of good by repeated ly demonstrating the nobility, righteousness, and desperation of the Free Peoples’ cause while simultaneously presenting the forces of evil as potent, omni present, and insidious, thereby aligning the reader with good, initially presented as the “underdog” in this epic battle. Ultimately, Tolkien depicts Middle Earth as a divine and mortal battlefield as fraught with peril as the mortal world of Catholic theology. Moreover, Galadriel’s statement that “[the] Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fa il, to the ruin of all” ( FOTR 348)1 recalls the theoretical worldview of the Great Chain of Being, which st retched from classical antiquity well into the early modern era. Although contemporary medieval scholars question the extent to which the culture of the Middle Ages adhered to this rigid construct, it is clear that Tolkien doubtless imbibed the idea through his professional work, and some of Tolkien's 1 Hereafter, all of the quotes from The Lord of the Rings novels that I use come from the 1987 Houghton Mifflin edition of the works. For the in-text cita tions, I abbreviate the works' titles as follows: FOTR for The Fellowship of the Ring TT for The Two Towers and ROTK for The Return of the King.


12 contemporaries, including C.S. Lewis, played a role in reifying the idea of the Great Chain of Being. In this concept, the world is divided into a hierarchical order, with all beings descending down the Chain from pe rfect and almighty God to the lowest inanimate mineral or element. There are thr ee categories in descending order on the Great Chain: the Spiritual universe, ruled by God and including His angels; the Middle State of human beings; and the Physical Universe of animals, plants, and inanimate objects such as metals and stone. These divisions are furt her subdivided and ranked; for example, as God rules in heaven the King, reigning by di vine right, occupies the pinnacle of the Middle State of humanity. But this Middle St ate remains a tenuous position for individual men and women; pulled spiritually towards heaven yet subject to the demands and mortality of the flesh, human beings daily wa lk the “edge of the knife,” fearing the fall into sin and disorder. In the medieval worl dview it is impossible to escape one’s place on the Great Chain; violation of the cosmic orde r is considered a grave sin. This theology informs both the contemporary re ligious practices in which Tolkien actively participated and the early Christian texts th at he encountered as a scholar In fact, Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion a kind of biblical text for Middle Eart h, and wished to have it published with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In a lengthy letter to his publisher, Tolkien summarizes the cosmology of Middle Earth and the creation of this master mythology by stating “The whole of the ‘world politics,’ ou tlined above, is of course there in [the readers’] mind[s], and [ The Lord of The Rings text] also alludes[s] to [it] occasionally as to things elsewhere recorded in full” ( Letters 158). But in Middle Earth, the structure of the Great Chain reveals other characteristics in addition to the medieval concept of orde r. Jane Chance asserts that, “If love binds


13 together the heavens and the hierarchy of sp ecies known in the Middle Ages as the Great Chain of Being . then hate and envy and pride and avarice bind t ogether the hierarchy of species under the aegis of the One Ring of Sauron and th e fallen Vala” (151). Just as people in the Middle Ages understood their place on this Great Chain of Being as a tension between the saving grace of God and th e damning sin of the fallen angel Satan, so too the residents of Middle Ea rth are caught between the cong regated forces of the Free Peoples, who look to the all-powerful One or Ilvatar, while warring with the ultimate destructive evil of Sauron, a fallen Ainu or “an gel” figure, and his mustered forces of destruction in Mordor. Gandalf, a Valar or “archangel” in the cosmology of Middle Earth, works tirelessly to thwart the machinations of Sauron, the fallen Ainu, to take over Middle Earth. But if the forces of Sauron ar e chained by fear, Chance observes that “the hierarchy of good characters [are] linked by th e symbolic value of friendship into an invisible band or chain of love . .” (151). In addition, many scholars have argued th at balance and symmetry are a hallmark of literature from the classical, medieval, and early modern periods, and Tolkien, as a significant medieval scholar, w ould have been engrossed in the works of these eras. Scholars such as Cedric H. Whitman dis cern a number of parallelisms in Homer’s Iliad and other classical works. Moreover, many crit ics have discussed the double plot construction, which includes the careful assemb ly of balance and antithesis, in medieval works such as The Second Shepherd’s Play Finally, commentators over the centuries have examined Shakespeare’s use of foils, pa rallels, and symmetry in the double plots of many of his plays. Therefore, in my thesis I propose that because of the confluence of a number of elements, both personal and prof essional—Catholicism, the medieval world


14 view of the Great Chain of Being, and the prevalence of symmetry and antithesis in classical, medieval, and early modern lit erature—Tolkien demonstrates a natural inclination to view the world in terms of polarity and balance, and this worldview manifests itself in his creation of his own s econdary world, or subcreation, Middle Earth. Some contemporary feminist critics conte nd that the tendency to view the world as a set of binary pairs stems from the culturally inculcated division of the sexes. In the essay “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Ou t/Forays,” French feminist Hlne Cixous articulates the deeply rooted cu ltural divide of the masculin e and feminine principles, and contends that “[i]f we read or speak, the same thread of double braid is leading us throughout literature, philosophy, criticism, centuries of re presentation and reflection. Thought has always worked through oppositio n, Speaking/Writing, Parole/Escriture, High/Low” (348). Cixous discerns this cultur al inclination to pol arity as a universal principle, and declares that “Myths, legends books. Philosophical systems. Everywhere (where) ordering intervenes, where a law orga nizes what is thinka ble through oppositions . . And all these pairs of oppositions are couples ” (348). Writing in 1975, twenty or so years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Cixous discusses both the historical and contemporary propensity to divide the wo rld into antithetical pairs, a theory that further affirms Tolkien’s dualistic worldview. Marilyn French in her book Shakespeare’s Division of Experience also contends that the worldview of early modern writers operated along a dualistic divide, which she refers to as the masculine and the dual outla w and inlaw feminine pol es or principles. The goal of the masculine principle is power in the world, and while this principle encompasses all that is violent, destructive, and aggressive, it also incorporates the


15 orderly, the hierarchical, and the rational; the goal of the inlaw fe minine principle is community and cooperation, and this principl e encompasses nurturing, the creative force of childbirth, passivity, and the emotional; lastly, the goal of the outlaw feminine is pleasure, and this principle encompasse s the rebellious, hedo nistic, passionate, unreasoning, and sexually threatening aspects of femininity. French insists that these cultural views “ . rest on perceptions that have been forgotten by the conscious mind, but which are perpetuated by the conventions of our literature, art, and language” (31). French asserts that “[Shakespeare’s] work re presents a lifelong effort to harmonize moral qualities he did associate with the two gende rs, and to synthesize opposing or seemingly opposed states and qualities” (17). By this, Fr ench argues that in Sh akespeare’s works the “best” characters reveal a blending of ge nder duality; the unflinchingly masculine are doomed to tragic ends, and the unmitigated feminine are often victims. However, the characters that combine aspects of both polarities exhibit growth and change. For example, Macduff in Macbeth demonstrates both masculine courage when he fights nobly against the usurper Macbeth for Sc otland and feminine emotion when, upon hearing the news of the murder of his wife and children, he states that he must “feel it as a man” (Shakespeare, Macbeth. 4.3.223) before he can enact vengeance. This hermeneutic of balancing masculine and feminine traits can also be applied to Tolkien’s fiction; certainly characters such as th e uncompromising and destructive Denethor embody a strict masculine principle, while Ar agorn, who heals his companions with herb lore, protects the Shire from invaders, and as cends into his regal bearing as a warrior and king, blends the inlaw feminine with the masculine. Additionally, the disgusting, predatory female monster Shelob represents al l that is horrific in the outlaw feminine


16 principle, while the gentle, nurturing Arwe n exemplifies the inlaw feminine pole. Galadriel melds her immense magical and politi cal power in the Elven world with a deep concern for nature and the fate of all livi ng things, thereby exhibiting both masculine and inlaw feminine principles. Conversely, ow yn combines all three of the principles, blending her rebellious spirit (outlaw feminine) with a nurturing care for her sovereign Thoden and the Hobbit Merry (inlaw feminine ), while displaying the valor and fortitude of a patriotic warrior (masculine). French’s feminist theories of a deeply rooted masculine/feminine duality in literature he lp to legitimate Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth as a reflective world. Neither Cixous nor French claims an esse ntialist point of vi ew regarding gender polarities; that is, they do not assert that this schism represents the true nature of men and women. Rather, these feminist critics stress th at societal forces such as religion, the separation of the public and domestic sphe re, and economic forces lead people to perceive the genders as split and polarized. As Cixous declares, this way of seeing the world is so engrained in huma n beings that “ . the sa me thread or double braid is leading us throughout literature, philosophy, crit icism, [and] centuries of representation and reflection” (348). Certainly Tolkien expe rienced this “double braid” leading him through the works of medieval literature and Christian theology that so profoundly affected his imagination, and that same “double braid” of polarized opposition extends throughout his work in many ways. In this hermeneutic of opposition, one side always triumphs or is privileged over the other; such is the nature of the dyad. Cixous calls this th e “universal battlefield” (349) and as a feminist scholar laments the inevita ble triumph in Western culture of masculine


17 ideals over those aligned with the feminine. Previously, in his essay “Diffrance” Jacques Derrida argued that since the coupled part s of oppositions cannot exist independent of one another, since they define themselves by what they are not, these elements are therefore generated by their opposite and contain elements of alterity. Derrida asserts that “[e]very concept is necessarily and essentia lly inscribed in a chain or system, within which it refers to another and to other concep ts, by the systematic play of differences” (285). Tolkien’s oppositions function in a simila r way; the concept of good is heightened and foregrounded by the forces of evil presen t in the texts, alt hough these forces of good, such as Galadriel or Gandalf are not unblemished by evil because of their admitted temptation to use the ultimate instrument of evil, the One Ring. Conversely, figures such as Gollum demonstrate that even in evil ther e may exist some good; acting as half of his fractured self, the hobbit-like Sm agol, Gollum pledges fidelity to the will of the Master of the Ring. Although the tre acherous Gollum may subsequently betray, mislead, and attack Frodo, because he ultimately fulfills his pledge the Ring is finally destroyed. Therefore, throughout my thesis, I will follow Derrida and Cixous by employing the terms “polarity,” “opposites, ” and “balance” not to impl y equality but to signify difference and opposition. My approach primarily examines the text for elements of plot, setting, pacing, and characterization, so I would identify my methodology as form alist. Many of the points that I mention are not new; critics have prev iously commented on some of these elements in essays or books that em ploy different methodologies, a nd I intend to cite these comments in some instances and expand upon th ese observations in others. However, my ultimate goal is to understand why readers respond to Tolkien’s work with such


18 enthusiasm, and I believe that in analyz ing polarities I can construct a primarily formalistic argument that answers that question. To do so, I must additionally employ two seemingly antithetical critical stances: biographical criticism and reader response theory. A biographical reading of Tolkien is almost inescapable; as both a towering contributor to the field of philology and an e ndless critic of his ow n work in letters to friends, family, and colleagues, Tolkien deve loped a unique voice in his novels and any critic wishing to study his liter ary production must also be knowledgeable about his life, personal writings, and scholarly essays. But th at approach leaves unanswered the central question: why do readers embrace the complex world of Middle Earth that Tolkien creates? I believe that includi ng elements of reader response theory, which dissects how readers interact with literature and how that interaction shapes the text, provides the best answers to this question. By categorizing and thoroughly analyzing Tolkien’s structural polarities, I can perhaps explai n how novels classified as de rivative juvenile fiction at their initial publications have endured to become best-selling works for fans of all ages and nationalities. Reader response criticism, although not ye t articulated when Tolkien was creating his masterpiece, comments on the act of read ing that each reader must undergo while interacting with Tolkien’s world or with any li terary work. Iser remarks that in order to construct an understanding of the text, the reader must have “. . a consistent, configurative meaning [which is] essential for the apprehension of an unfamiliar experience, which through the process of illu sion-building we can incorporate into our own imaginative world” (“The Reading Process” 60). Reflective structures such as Tolkien’s antithetical constructions prove impor tant in creating this “imaginative world,”


19 as the pairs of opposites bind the narrative together to create a cohesive whole. Iser notes that in the act of reading the individual “li nks[s] the different phases of the text together, it will always be the process of anticipation and retrospection that leads to the formation of the virtual dimension, which in turn tran sforms the text into an experience for the reader” (“The Reading Process” 56). Jane Tompkins assesses reader response as a culmination of the author’s effo rts, asserting that “[t]he read er’s experience, then, is the creation of the author: he enact s the author’s will” (xvii).


20 Chapter II: Polarities Themes Much critical ink has been spilled re garding Tolkien’s overarching themes: free will versus destiny, the small versus the mighty, and the triumph of generosity over Faustian self-interest. My character-based thematic focus centers around how two or more characters, often inverted reflections of each other, react in nearly identical situations. The first situation I will examine concerns an act of pity leading to mercy. Often, an act of this kind init ially appears to be an error, as when Frodo spares Gollum, only to have Gollum lead him treacherously into Shelob’s lair. However, this can eventually be seen as a felicitous mistake or “felix culpa” resulting in an unexpected happy turn of events, what Tolkien termed eucatastrope ( The Tolkien Reader 85). Clearly, mistakes and happy endings are gene rally diametrically opposed; traditionally a hero’s mistake or failing, the hamartia, results in tragedy. But To lkien relied on religious precedent to develop this idea: he states in “On Fairy Stories” that “[t] he birth of Christ is the eucatastrope of Man’s history” ( The Tolkien Reader 88) By this, Tolkien meant that the fall of humanity from the paradise of Eden turned out to be a fortunate fall, because it necessitated God’s sending his Son, Jesus Ch rist, who taught, led a model life, and


21 ultimately redeemed humankind.2 Thus, the tragedy of Christ’s later sacrifice on the cross became the salvation and “good news” or “gospel” of heavenly redemption for all humankind. However, Tolkien takes the idea of “felix culpa” and turns it to his own thematic use in the characters of Frodo and Gollum. Tolkien does that by transforming the theme of redemptive pity that Christ felt for wayward humanity, which led to his sacrifice, into the redemptive pity that Frodo feels for the wr etched creature Gollum. This clever echoing of the powerful Christian tenets of mercy and sacrifice drives much of the plot and heightens the tensi on of both action and characte r development between three characters, the traveling “trin ity” of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. The fates of Frodo and Gollum are clearly intertwined: one bore the Ring for many years, and in the chapter “The Shadow of the Past” Frodo learns that he will be the next to bear the Ring. Gandalf tells the story of the Ring and the imminent danger in which Frodo finds himself because Gollum utte red the words “Baggins” and “Shire” to his Orc tormentors. In respons e to Frodo’s assertion that it is a pity that Bilbo did not stab Gollum when he had the chance, Gandalf re plies, “Pity? It was P ity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity” ( FOTR 58). This establishes the fundamental difference between Bilbo’s reaction to the Ri ng and that of Gollum. Because one of the first deeds performed by Bilbo while bearing the Ring was an act of pity, he receives a kind of mercy; the Ring leaves him relative ly unscathed. By contrast, Gollum, as the reader later learns, gained possession of the Ring through murdering his cousin Dagol, 2 Of course, Milton also outlines this idea in Paradise Lost


22 who had initially found it, and Go llum’s wretched state reflects this treachery. This lesson is not lost on Frodo. Later in the same passa ge Gandalf speculates: “My heart tells me that he has yet some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not the least” ( FOTR 58). Frodo assimilates this lesson as well. Th e pity of Bilbo, as the reader sees, becomes the pity of Frodo; time and again Frodo is given the chance to rid himself of the “footpad” that follows the Ring, but merc y stays his hand. Even after the Gollum’s betrayal of Frodo and Sam that leads the two to Shelob’s lair, ne ither Frodo nor Sam, who despises Gollum intensely, kills the wretched creature when they next encounter him. ( ROTK 922-923) Gandalf’s final lesson c oncerning the value of mercy and his prophecy of Gollum’s ultimate role to play in the trilogy prove true: at the final moment of expected triumph Frodo has become too affected by th e Ring and cannot cast it into Mount Doom. “‘I have come,’ he said, ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’”( ROTK 924). The mercy that Frodo has shown Gollum by allowing the miserable creature to live now reveals its value, and the ultimate end, a happy or unlooked-for positive turn of events, occurs when: Suddenly Sam saw Gollum’s long hands draw upwards to his mouth; his white fangs gleamed, and then snapped as they b it. Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger st ill thrust within its circle. It shone now verily as if it were wrought with a living fire. ( ROTK 925) Gollum’s dance of joy leads to a subsequent tumble into Mount Doom, and he thereby


23 accomplishes what Frodo proclaimed minutes ea rlier that he could not: destroy the Ring. Frodo reminds Sam of the lesson of pity and me rcy and he turns this lesson into one of forgiveness: “‘[y]es,’ said Frodo. ‘But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him!’”( ROTK 926) Early in the trilogy, Gandalf comments, th at Gollum “. . became sharp-eyed and keen eared for all that was hurtful. The Ring had given him power according to his stature” ( FOTR 52). This idea is critical, for it se ts the standard for a character’s individual reaction while in close personal pr oximity to the Ring of Power. While Bilbo, protected by his first act of mercy, appears shielded from the Ring’s full wrath, Frodo too gains a sort of grace by continuing this mercy and his initial revulsion to the concept of an all-powerful weapon. “I wish it ne ed not have happened in my time” ( FOTR 52) Frodo asserts. While the Ring which, according to Gandalf, can “look after itself” ( FOTR 54) remains in Frodo’s custody, it does work on him. However, Frodo resists until the bitter end all attempts by the Ring to possess his mind and soul. On the Seat of Seeing, Amon Hen, Frodo reacts to the call of the Ri ng to bring it back to its master: Two powers strove in him. For a mome nt, perfectly balanced between their piercing point, he writhed, tormented. S uddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger. ( FOTR 392) Other characters fall on a spectrum of r eaction to the Ring in accordance to their inner motivations and agendas; for them the Ring also operates “according to his [or her]


24 stature” ( FOTR 52). When offered the ring by Fr odo, both Gandalf and the Elf-queen Galadriel first hesitate then reject the oppor tunity to wield the all-powerful weapon. This hesitation complicates both of these characte rs; while each is chiefly concerned with Middle Earth’s continued survival, each too has a specific agenda. Galadriel wishes for her people to ensure the survival of Middle Earth so that the Elves may retreat in peace to the Havens, while the drive to organize th e Free Peoples in resistance to Mordor consumes Gandalf. Both characters hesitate as the Ring offers immediate power to fulfill those respective goals, but each possesses the wis dom to know that the short-term gain of using the Ring would be followed by dire, long-term consequences, and thus each refuses. Mortal characters also react according to their natures in proximity to the Ring. One pair of mortals exhibiting antithetical r eactions to the Ring is Boromir of Gondor and his younger brother Faramir. Boromir cannot be alone with the Ring-Bearer without falling under the spell of the Ring, on Parth Gale n, in the only scene in which the two are alone together, Boromir tries to wheedle Frodo into bringing the Ring to Minas Tirith so it can aid Gondor in fighting Mordor’s forces When words do not work, Boromir cries, “. . I am too strong for you, Halfling,” and he “sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes” ( FOTR 390). In the end, desire for the Ring, co mbined with courage and devotion in protecting the Hobbits, lead to Boromir’s de struction; while later defending Merry and Pippin on Parth Galen, Boromir is killed in a hail of Orc arrows. In his dying words to Aragorn, Boromir accepts his death as a ju st punishment for his attack on Frodo. Indeed, throughout The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien creates in Boromir an


25 internally warring character whose opposing motivations often appear as either temperamental outbursts or maudlin se ntiment. Although Boromir’s bravery is undeniable—he plays a critical role in help ing the party survive the dangerous trek around the mountain Caradhras, for example—his courage and his loyalty to his oath to protect the Ring Bearer seem at odds with his personal goal of saving Gondor from Mordor’s forces through the expedient use of the Ring of Power. Frequently, Boromir waxes sentimental and exhibits genuine pr ide in his ancestors, the great Men of Westernesse, and in his glor ious country, but his craven action in cornering Frodo on Parth Galen is at odds with the noble sentim ents that he espouses. Holly Crocker notes that “. . in his ploy to take the Ring Bo romir identifies the promise of masculinity that actual Men have not been able to realize si nce Isildur’s failure” ( 112) Crocker perceives that Boromir at once embodies the best and wo rst of mankind, and this type of figure, one who is both noble and admired yet overreaches to his doom, has not been seen since the legendary Gondorian King Isildur. Boromir represents a complex combination of opposites, and his death, which is a result of both a treacherous betrayal of Frodo and a noble defense of Merry and Pippin, reflects this contradiction. Boromir’s brother Faramir has the initi al advantage of not knowing what Frodo possesses, but even after he understands the enor mity of the Ring Bearer’s task he treats Frodo with respect, courtesy, and kindness. E xhausted mentally and physically from the trek, Frodo breaks down and confesses to Farami r that he must “. . find the Mountain of Fire and cast the thing into the Gulf of Doom” ( TT 666). Faramir’s immediate reaction to the exhausted Frodo after he confesse s his task is critica l: “Faramir stared at [Frodo] for a moment in grave astonishme nt. Then suddenly he caught him as he


26 swayed, and lifting him gently, carried him to the bed and laid him there, and covered him warmly” ( TT 666). In sharp contrast to his brothe r, Faramir does not attempt to take the Ring by force or by rhetoric. Commenti ng on the moral “stature” that Faramir demonstrates when in proximity to the Ring, Sam remarks: ‘Good night, Captain my lord,’ he said. ‘You took the chance, sir.’ ‘Did I so?’ said Faramir. ‘Yes sir, and showed your quality: the very highest.’ ( TT 667) Pride and despair are two interwoven emo tions experienced by the leaders of the Free Peoples in Middle Earth; after all, th e odds against them seem long as ultimately their hope for victory lies in two small crea tures creeping secretly towards the stronghold of the enemy. How the leaders of men react to the intertwined emotions of pride and despair in battles provides an index not only of their intrinsic fitness as leaders but of their legacy in the tale. Thoden and Denethor represent the re flective opposites in this case. Although both do not survive beyond the Battle of Pele nnor Fields—an importa nt parallel between the two—the Free People venerate Thoden afte r his death for his pride in the face of despair, while Gandalf chastises Denet hor for abandoning his post as Steward and sinking into despair as a result of Fa ramir’s (supposed) death. Gandalf scolds Denethor, “Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your Cit y, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart” ( ROTK 834). Denethor’s response provides an index of his fitness as a leader; he abandons his pride and sinks into despondency. Furthermore, he has annihilated any satisfaction in victory th at he might have felt in becoming a traitor and aligning himself with the Dark Tower:


27 ‘Pride and despair!’ he [Denethor] cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? … For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space now you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory.’ ( ROTK 835) Michael Drout comments that this total dere liction of duty “In a medieval context would be the sin of ‘wanhope,’ of abandoning faith in God and refusing to believe that one can be saved even in the darkest circumstances ” (147). Shippey summari zes this polarity of duty and abandonment when he observes, “O ne may say that the wise characters in The Lord of the Rings are often without hope and so near the edge of despair, but they do not succumb. That is left to Denethor, who will not fight to the last, but turns ‘like a heathen’ to suicide and the sacrifice of his kin” ( The Road to Middle Earth 158). In abandoning his people in their hour of need, relinquishing all pride in Gondo r’s martial puissance against Mordor’s forces, and immolating himself in such a violent way, Denethor represents a brutal breakdown in Middl e Earth leadership. This rabid adherence to despair, refusa l to admit mistakes, and tendency towards violence exemplifies what French would design ate as the most destructive aspects of the masculine principle. Denethor’s foil, Th oden of Rohan, successfully blends the masculine and feminine principles in his courage, determination, and pride (masculine principle) and his kindly trea tment of the Hobbit Merry and his devoted protection of his people (in-law feminine princi ple). While Denethor sinks into self-indulgent misery, Thoden perseveres against long odds in order to nurture a better future for his beloved nation. Thoden never abandons hope, nor does he take the advice of his successor,


28 omer, to return home and let the younger men do the fighting. Thoden knows that the worst offence that a king can commit is the lo ss of personal pride as a leader in battle and the loss of hope for his pe ople—in short, despair. ‘But if you would take my counsel,’ said omer in a low voice, ‘you would then return hither, until the war is lost, over or won.’ Thoden smiled. ‘Nay my son, for so I will call you, speak not the soft words of Wormtongue in my old ears!’ He drew hi mself up and looked back at the long line of his men fading into the dusk behind. ‘Long years in the space of days it seems since I rode west; but never will I l ean on a staff again. If the war is lost, what good will be my hiding in the hills? A nd if it is won, what grief will it be, even if I fall, spending my last strength? … Let us ride on!’( ROTK 775) Woven throughout the trilogy are many exam ples of characters overreaching their grasp and attempting to manipulate events. Ch aracters who overreach with the intent to deceive inevitably experience a negative out come, while characters who overreach with no set intent or with beneficial intentions achieve positive results. Saruman believes that he can know Sauron’s thoughts through looking into a palantr, one of the connected gazing stones used for communication and prophesy. Thus, as Gandalf explains, Saruman gazes too far, and finally when “. . he cast his gaze upon Barad-dr. Then he was caught!” ( TT 584) Saruman becomes a traitor and eventually suffers the attack on Orthanc by the Ents and his ultimate dimi nishment of power. His act of overreaching betrays Saruman yet again when his confeder ate Grma in ignorance and spite throws the palantr at Gandalf and his companions af ter the Ent invasion of the White Tower. Gandalf quickly assumes custody of the pala ntr, much to the distress of Saruman.


29 Pippin and Sauron both overreach in relati on to the palantr, but because Pippin’s ultimate intentions are good, his mistake results in positive outcomes, while for Sauron the hubris has dire consequences. The palan tr formerly owned by Saruman that Gandalf later guards draws Pippi n irresistibly to it, as its master Saur on searchers through the gazing stone for Gandalf’s halfling compani on. When Pippin gazes into the stone, he exclaims that he “saw things that frightene d me. And I wanted to go away, but I couldn't. And then he came and questioned me; and he looked at me, and, and, that is all I can remember” ( TT 579). In the questioning, Sauron learns that this is a H obbit companion of Gandalf’s and he “gloated” ( TT 579) over this information. What Sauron, who also overreaches in this scene, does not realize is that this is not the Hobbit, the one who bears the Ring. Pippin’s act of overre aching misdirects Sauron’s gaze so that it concentrates upon the action of the remaining members of the Fellowship, not upon Frodo and Sam as they plod toward Mount Doom. For the Free Peoples, Sauron’s overreaching proves beneficial, but for Sauron it is deadly: misr eading what he sees leads Sauron to focus on the actions of Gandalf and the assembled armies of the Free Peoples; un til it is too late, he overlooks Frodo and Sam’s quest to Mount Doom. Thus, Pippin’s rash act, because not motivated by evil, turns out to be one of the many “felix culpas” of the trilogy; whereas Sauron’s overreaching, which is motivated solely by evil, acts as catalyst to his doom. Crucially, Gollum overreaches in relation to Ring when he breaks the covenant that he makes to Frodo by swearing on th e Ring. Frodo and Sam bind Gollum with the elf-rope when they lead him from Faramir’s lair, and Gollum shrieks that the rope “ . freezes, it bites!” ( TT 603); but Frodo and Sam refuse to unbind him without a promise


30 that he will not betray them again. The subse quent scene establishes the ultimate outcome of the trilogy: ‘No, I will not take it off you,’ said Frodo, ‘Not unless’—he paused a moment in thought— ‘not unless there is any prom ise you can make that I can trust. ‘We will swear to do what he wants, yes, yess,’ said Gollum, still twisting and grabbing his ankle. ‘It hurts us.’ ‘Swear?’ said Frodo. ‘Smagol,’ said Gollum suddenly and clea rly, opening his eyes wide and staring at Frodo with a strange light. ‘Sm agol will swear on the Precious.’ Frodo drew himself up, and again Sam wa s startled by his words and his stern voice. ‘On the Precious? How dare you?’ he said. ‘Think! One Ring to rule them all and in the Darkness bind them. Would you commit your promise to that, Smagol? It will hold you. But it is more tr eacherous than you are. It may twist your words. Beware!’ Gollum cowered. ‘On the Precious, on the Precious!’ he repeated. ‘And what will you swear?’ asked Frodo. ‘To be very, very good,’ said Gollum. Then crawling to Frodo’s feet he groveled before him, whispering hoarsely: a shudde r ran over him, as if the words shook his very bones with fear. ‘Smagol will swear never, never to let Him have it. Never! Smagol will save it. But he must swear on the Precious.’ . [Frodo said] ‘ . not on it. Swear by it, if you will . . Down! Down!’ said Frodo. ‘Now, speak your promise!’


31 ‘We promises, yes, I promise!’ said Gollum. ‘I will serve the master of the Precious.’ ( TT 603-604) Gollum wins a temporary victory through this action since Sam releases him from the rope; however, this deed has consequences mo re profound than just Gollum’s release. In swearing by the Ring, Gollum in his greed undere stimates the power with which he is now contending; when he does betray Frodo, “t he Master of the Ring,” by leading Frodo and Sam to Shelob’s lair, Gollum seals his doom. Although his final act of stealing the Ring by biting it off Frodo’s finger and tumbling into the fiery pit saves Middle Earth, it kills Gollum. To the end, Gollum does serv e the Master of the Ring by doing what Frodo wishes to do but what, at the end, he is t oo weak and ravished to accomplish: annihilate the Ring. But, at the same time, the Ring extracts its revenge on Gollum. As Chance observes, “. . Gollum’s battle with Frodo is motivated not by the loving desire to support his lord but instead by his selfish desire to become his Lord—an act of disobedience” (10). In developing his plot, Tolkien exploits the medieval concept of an attempted usurpation of place on the Great Chain of Being: Gollum’s punishment for his disobedience to his lord is death. Two characters in the trilogy, through th eir actions, descriptions, and words, comment on the duality of power, covert and ov ert, and of danger, covert and overt in Middle Earth. Aragorn, the “King” of the title of the third novel, first appears to the travelling Hobbits as a Ranger, a sort of homeless, roving guardian for Middle Earth whose main job consists of fe nding off Orc attacks. The Rangers are in fact more than they seem; they represent the last male descendants of the Me n of Westernesse, the ancient kingdom of legendary warriors beyond the sea. Aragorn in particular is more than


32 he seems, and in him resides more power th an the Hobbits initially realize. Early in The Fellowship of the Ring presenting himself as “Strider,” Aragorn forces an audience with the Hobbits at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree. While the other Hobbits, especially Sam, express fear and distrust of this man, Frodo hesitantly states, “‘[y]ou have frightened me several times tonight, but ne ver in the way the servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his sp ies would—well, seem fa irer and feel fouler, if you understand.’ ‘I see,’ laughed Strider. ‘I look foul and fe el fair. Is that it?'“ ( FOTR 168) This statement echoes Act I scene i of Shakespeare’s Macbeth In the ironic structure of that scene, Duncan, Malcol m, and the Captain enter praising Macbeth directly after the Witches chant, “Fair is foul and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and the filthy air” (1.2.11-12). Astute viewers of the play draw a parallel between the two contradictory descriptions of Macbeth. While Aragorn, according to his rewording of Frodo’s assessment, looks foul and feels fair the usurping king M acbeth looks fair yet feels, and acts, foully. The idea of nature commandeered and the hierarchy of the Great Chain of Being undone, as presented by Shakespeare in Macbeth results in chaos for Scotland. Conversely, as an inversion of Macb eth, Aragorn, disguised as a Ranger, hides his kingly destiny to all but the few, like Fr odo, who can discern it. Aragorn is a potent power, who as a warrior represents great dange r to the Enemy, but because his power and danger are hidden, the Enemy remains unaware of the threat from this humble Ranger until too late. But steered to the correct place on the Great Chain of Being, Aragorn’s power ultimately manifests itself in kingly, not destructive, wa ys, leading not to chaos, as in Macbeth but to a just and orderly rule.


33 The Elf-Queen Galadriel also represents both covert and overt power in Middle Earth. Sam, who visits Galadriel in Lorien, describes her to Faramir in a series of polarities that parallel Frodo’s pr evious statement about Aragorn: ‘Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and sle nder like. Hard as di’monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as fros t in the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow-mountain, and as merry as any lass I ev er saw with daisies in her hair in springtime. But that’s a lot o’ nonsen se, and all wide of my mark.’ ‘Then she must be lovely indeed,’ said Faramir. ‘Perilously fair.’ ‘I don't know about perilous ,’ said Sam. ‘It strikes me that folk take their peril with them into Lorien, and finds it ther e because they've brought it. But perhaps you could call her perilous, because she’s so strong in herself. You could dash yourself to pieces on her, like a ship on a rock . .’ ( TT 664-665). This evaluation of Galadriel is, of course, as accurate as Frodo’s of Aragorn above. As an ancient immortal resident of Middle Earth, Galadriel exerci ses power in her command of the earth-tending elves and her possession of Nenya, the Ring of adamantine, but her power is disguised in a beautif ul female form. Marjorie Burns cautions the reader against the traditional critical view of Galadriel as simply a “restrained fertility figure” and reminds the reader of “ . the box of soil th at she gives to Sam, soil that sends waves of riotous fertility throughout the Shire, in tr ee and grass, in vegetation in general, and— most significantly—in the birth of Hobbit young” (111). Galadriel’s overt power resides in her authority as co-ruler of Lorien; her covert power lie s in her vast reserves of generative force, in her knowledge of the i nner working of Middle Earth alliances and


34 history, in her keen insight into the cu rrent danger posed by the Enemy, and in her immortality. If she chose to use the Elf-magi c that she possesses, Galadriel would present a potent threat to the Enemy; from the be ginning, her machinations with Gandalf in preparing to battle Sauron have served as catalyst to Frodo’s quest Thus, like Aragorn, Galadriel is both more and less than she s eems: overtly and covertly forceful, both characters embody immense power in calculated disguise. Although Aragorn and Galadriel embody th is polarity, Gandalf points out to Gimli in a conversation about Fangorn that ma ny characters repres ent the parallels of overt and covert power: “‘Da ngerous!’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous that anything you will ever meet . . And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion’” ( TT 488). Style Tolkien’s style and pacing of the book also have a reflective symmetry that lends situational and dramatic irony to his plot. Af ter Book II, readers of the trilogy alternate between the storylines of characters in th e dissolved Fellowship: Merry and Pippin as they are abducted by the Orcs; Aragorn, Legol as and Gimli as they pursue the kidnapped Hobbits; and Sam and Frodo as they trudge to Mordor. The storylines of the members of the Fellowship may intersect or brea k apart again, but over the course of The Two Towers and The Return of the King there are really two speeds at which Tolkien operates: the plodding pace of Sam and Frodo and the sweepi ng epic sprint of the rest of the characters. Shippey observes: “All the way through the later Books there is moreover a


35 deliberate alternation between the sweeping and dramatic movements of the majority of the Fellowship and the inching, small-sc ale progress of Frodo, Sam and Gollum. The irony by which the latter in the end determ ines the fate of the former is obvious, remarked on by the characters and by the narrator” ( Author of the Century 52). Richard C. West notes that in demonstr ating both the close-focus and panoramic views of Middle Earth, “Tolkien uses a structur al technique similar to that of medieval interlace” (78). West defines interlace as “see k[ing] to mirror the pe rception of the flux of events in the world around us, where everythi ng is happening at once. . The paths of the characters cross, diverge and recross, and the story passes from one to another . Also, the narrator implies that there are innumerable events that he has not had time to tell us about . .” (79). While this style of narration seems ch aotic, West asserts that “. . it actually has a very subtle kind of cohesi on. No part of the na rrative can be removed without damage to the whole, for within ever y given section there are echoes of previous parts and anticipations of late r ones” (79). Indeed, West poi nts out that small references to lore or prophecy early in the work reflect later actions in the narrative, “[t]he grisly detail of Isildur cutting the Ring of Power fr om the hand of Sauron is repeated as Gollum bites off Frodo’s ring finger and is borne into the fire by the weight of the Ring” (84). But why would Tolkien bother with this esoteric and difficult style of narration? West posits that the readers’ sense of Mi ddle Earth is profoundly affected by this technique. He calls the effect “openendedness,” which he defines as the reader “[having] the impression that the story has an existence outside of the confines of the book . . Since Tolkien’s romance is a section only (however large) of a vast mythology, it is just such an effect he wants” (90). This interlace technique intrigue s and enchants the reader, beguiling a reader


36 response of acceptance for the solidity of the fantastical Middle Earth. From the very beginning of his Middle Earth novels, To lkien gives the reader a sense of in medias res by dropping him or her off in an unfamiliar wo rld; while the narrative voice guides the way, the reader must sort out what Iser calls the “blanks” (“Interac tion” 1677) and create the world for him or herself. In this, Tolkie n takes a medieval techniques and uses it to solicit a modern reader response. Aristotle in the Poetics asserts that this careful bu t seemingly artless type of construction was the optimal mode for artistic creation; he argu es that a work “ . ought to be so constructed that, when some part is transposed or removed, the whole is disrupted and disturbed” (97) Tolkien’s carefully structur ed plot, which consists of several interweaving narrative threads, embodies this Aristo telian concept of a unified whole. Aristotle, who is also concerned with the poet “consider [ing] how many ways [constructions] might signify” (115) acknowledg es the audience’s response to a work; in this way, Aristotle may be the fi rst reader response critic. Within the very fast-paced and active s cenes of the novels, Tolkien also carefully inserts quiet moments of refl ection, or introspective scenes, which comment thematically on the larger meaning of the scene and book. In The Two Towers Sam, Frodo and Gollum attempt to hide from a skirmish between Faramir’s men and forces loyal to Mordor. In the heat of the ba ttle scene, as arrows fly thick and the sound is like “…a hundred blacksmiths smithying together” ( 646), Sam takes time to muse on the capricious nature of warfare as he watches the battle: Then, suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through slender trees, nearly on top of them He came to rest a few feet away, face


37 downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar…. It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not s ee the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; a nd if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the l ong march from his home; and if he would not rather have stayed there in peace—a ll this in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind. ( TT 646) This scene is strikingly modern and reminis cent of perhaps the most famous World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front In the heat of a battle, the narrator Paul contemplates the similarities between himself and the French soldier he has just killed: If you jumped in here again I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called for its appropriate re sponse. It was that abstra ction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, or your bayonet, or your ride; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. (Remarque 223) It is remarkable that Tolkien uses this tec hnique; since, as Drout notes, Tolkien attempted to position himself “…deliberately outside th e fashionable currents of his day” (148). Indeed, in his letters Tolkien disavows any connection between the war of his fictional world and the wars through which he lived. However, as Remarque did in All Quiet on the Western Front, Tolkien clearly constructs a stylisti c narrative polarity in juxtaposing a fierce battle description with a character ’s internal monologue. Additionally, Tolkien employs this introspective scene as a remi nder for the reader that unless Frodo and Sam


38 succeed in their quest, all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth will meet a fate similar to the one of the unfortunate young man whom Sam se es killed; they will either die or be enslaved to an evil ideology, whic h will result in an untimely end. Later, as Sam and Frodo near Mount Doom, Tolkien provides respite from anxiety for both the characters and the r eader. The Hobbits walk through Ithilien, the ancient “Garden of Gondor,” which because of its proximity to Mordor has been deserted and gone to seed. However, natural beauty stil l clings to the land, and “As they walked, brushing their way through bush and her b, sweet odours rose about them. Gollum coughed and retched; but the Hobbits breathed deep, and suddenly Sam laughed, for heart’s ease not for jest” ( TT 636). The Hobbits’ wonder at the wild beauty of Ithilien and the peace that they experience there is a brief, albeit welcome, respite from the atmosphere of trepidation and impending doom established by the trek to Mordor. Places Places are reflective in LOTR in two ways: first, Tolkien demonstrates the effect that alien lands and nature have on each character. Characters in Tolkien are tied to place, regardless of social station or position in th e narrative; as characters moves from their homeland to an alien place, they change. Cr ocker aligns character with place when she asserts “[k]ind . is a social and moral ca tegory that takes corpor eal and geographic root . ” (112). Also, while Tolkien eloquently describes landscapes, he also creates lands and architectural structures that are refl ective opposites of each other thematically. Regarding characters and thei r reaction to landscape, Michae l Stanton notes that “moral worth [is] measured by closeness to, or di stance from, the world of nature” (37).


39 Frodo clearly diminishes the longer he b ears the weight of th e Ring, but he also becomes more vulnerable the farther he jour neys from home. Conversely, Sam ascends in nobility and assumes more re sponsibility, including beari ng the Ring for a short while, the farther that the Hobbits plod from the Shire. Once in Mordor, Frodo’s strength is almost totally incapacitated by the Ring; Sam acts almost as a valet for Frodo, caring for him in every way. As Mark T. Hooker comments: “As Frodo awakens in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, for example, Sam tries ‘to sound as cheerful as he had when he drew back the curtains at Bag End on a summer’s morning.’ ( ROTK 987) This phrase evokes an image almost straight out of Jeeves and W ooster” (128). However, even as he becomes Frodo’s caregiver, Sam achieves greater streng th and authority. The journey to Mordor becomes a crucible for the characters of Sam and Frodo; while Frodo withers away and becomes purely a servant to the goal of the journey, Sam's doubts and insecurities wither away and he becomes a strong, noble servant to his master and the goal of the quest. Earlier in the trilogy, Aragorn and Boro mir demonstrate a similar inflation and deflation of character: as Bo romir nears Gondor, his restrain t diminishes and his fervor for the Ring increases, so much, in fact, that he frightens Frodo into fleeing and thus breaks the Fellowship. On Parth Galen, Boromir confronts Frodo, procla iming: “It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have be en mine. It should have been mine. Give it to me!” ( FOTR 390) Tolkien indicates that Boromi r’s actions might be due to the influence of the Ring itself: “For a while he wa s as still as if his ow n curse had struck him down; then suddenly he wept. He rose and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. ‘What have I said?’ he cried” ( FOTR 390). Boromir’s subsequent self-sacrifice in defending Merry and Pippin is clearly atonement for th e Ring-influenced crime of


40 frightening Frodo, but this act is also, in Ga ndalf’s words, the Ring “looking after itself” ( FOTR 54). Frodo intends to bring the Ring closer to its Maker in Mordor, while Boromir wants to use the Ring for the defense of Gondor, which would not serve the Enemy’s agenda nor the Ring, which desire s to return to Mordor. Aragorn, as he nears Gondor, begins to reve al his true regal na ture. In both word and deed, Aragorn becomes a leader when he nears the kingdom that he is destined to lead. “‘Fear not!’ said a stra nge voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect … a king retu rning from exile to his own land” ( FOTR 384). After the breaking of the Fellowship, Ara gorn demonstrates this newly-revealed leadership by making what wi ll ultimately be the correct choice: he, Legolas, and Gimli follow Merry and Pippin and allow Sam and Frodo to continue to Mordor alone. Significantly, while Aragorn admits that he fe els tempted by the Ring’s potential to assist Men in their struggles against Sauron, as the party nears Gondor, he does not react to the Ring in a violent, self-serving way as does Boromir. Shippey comments that the differences between the two char acters are highlighted by the wa y that they “strike sparks off each other through their ways of speech” ( The Road to Middle Earth 121). Boromir’s awkward attempt to seize the Ring mirrors his “slightly wooden magniloquence” while Aragorn’s language is “deceptively moder n, even easy-going on occasion, but with greater range” ( The Road to Middle Earth 121). Aragorn’s language and manner reflect the ease with which he slips into a leadersh ip role, while Boromir’s “wooden” demeanor and stilted speech reveal him as a pretender. Fangorn and Ithilien represen t two thematically importa nt landscapes, although in


41 all other ways they constitute opposites. Fangorn, on the edge of the Riddermark, is vast and totally wild, inhabited by cr eatures of legend to Middle Earth inhabitants, the Ents and Hurons, but none of the races of Free Pe ople. But, as Merry and Pippin learn, the survival of Fangorn proves critical, as Treebeard and company, the fierce guardians of the trees and nature, naturally align themselves with the Free People against the destructive forces of Mordor. The Ents turn the tide of battle at Helm’s Deep and effectively destroy Saruman’s power and the fortress of Isenguar d. Burns comments that “[i]n Middle Earth, physical nature is awake; trees and mountains are capable of choosing sides . .” (45). Ithilien, by contrast, represents an entire ly man-made place that also celebrates nature. The so-called “Garden of Gondor” borderi ng Mordor is so striking beautiful that even the bedraggled Sam and Frodo are awed by its wonders. “Here spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and m ould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the tu rf, birds were singing” ( TT 636). In Ithilie n, beautiful, wild nature provides a nurturing, sustaining quality that the Hobbits sorely need, as well as thematically offering a contrast with the desolate, wint ry landscapes of Mordor through which they must travel. The reaction of each character to Ithilien is also notable; as Michael Stanton remarks, “One’s closeness a nd respect for nature becomes a measure of one’s goodness, as a distance from and disrespect for nature is a measure of evil.” (17) While Ithilien represents the good of na ture shaped by the hand of humankind bringing hope to Frodo and Sam on their critical quest, Fangorn figures the wild power of nature on its own let loose against the forces of evil. Stanton observe s: “Both Ithilien and Fangorn stand in affirmation of life, and in thei r difference, in affirmation of life’s variety and richness” (71). Ithilien remains a passi ve place in the novels, a garden “gone to


42 seed” by its proximity to evil, redeemed at the end of The Return of the King when Faramir is named lord of the area by Ara gorn. Michael Brisbois calls this kind of representation of nature in Mi ddle Earth “Passive nature” and argues that spaces such as Ithilien, which Tolkien clearly celebrates, re present the author “advocating stewardship rather than dominion, [he] puts his villains on the other side of the coin. Saruman and Sauron are not caretakers, they are destr oyers” (203). Fangorn, conve rsely, functions as the center of frenetic activity caused by the “v illains” Saruman and Sauron. In response to the despoliation of nature, Treebeard a nd his companions, the other Ents and the Hurons, march out of the forest to attack Saruman’s destructive military manufacturing operation at Orthanc. Fangorn re presents the power of nature infuriated to act by wanton destruction and evil. Brisbois ca lls Fangorn “active nature” which he asserts is “[nature in a] more fantastic form,” sugges ting that “[a]ctive nature has a level of intelligence, if not outright sentience, in its process” (204). Th is balance of nature portrayed on the one hand realistically and on the other fantastically ha s a specific impact on the reader. Brisbois delineates this effect when he asserts “[i]t is im portant for . nature not to contradict the phenomenology of our world too sharply. In this way, the reader can more actively interact with the signs of th e real and the fantastic. These two elements in juxtaposition create the verisimilitude of Mi ddle-earth. If the setting were t oo fantastic, too unnatural, it would not be believable” (205). Hence not all trees march to battle, but when they do, Tolkien’s provides enough realism in describing other aspects of nature that the reader remains absorbed in the narrative. The clearest example of two contrasting lands is the Shire and Mordor; as Stanton succinctly comments: “There is a moral ge ography here as well: good flows from, and


43 returns to, the West. Evil lu rks in the East where its ch ief stronghold is; attack upon evil comes from the West” (11). Tolkien wrote in a letter to Milton Waldman--who worked for Tolkien's publisher Collins--that he wished to write “. . a body of more or less connected legend . which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country” ( Letters 144). Of all the European nation, exce pt for Ireland, England is located the furthest west. Therefore the “moral geogra phy” Tolkien creates was a result of his Anglophilia; he centers a ll that is good and “redol ent of [English] air” ( Letters 144) in the far west of his creation, Middle Earth. The Sh ire, located westernmost in Middle Earth, represents all that is good: the beings coexist pe acefully, nature is abundant and giving. “Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tips of the trees’ fingers” ( FOTR 45). Throughout the narrative, despite measurable personal growth and experience, all four of th e Hobbits long for the peace that the Shire brings. This celebration of nurtu ring and growth establishes th e Shire in the minds of the four Hobbits of the Fellowship as a perman ently verdant place in spring-time glory, populated with beings that ar e continually underestimated by the other species that they encounter. Although small, the chosen H obbit Frodo bears the Ring, and his success against all odds validates Gandalf’s faith in this re silient race of beings. Mordor has the opposite effect on all who enter its borders. Spring never seems to touch Mordor; it remains a land of permanen t winter. More than merely depicting an inhospitable landscape, the diction that Tolk ien selects to describe this ghastly land implies deeper truths; Mordor is a moral as well as physical wasteland: Hard and cruel and bitter was the land that met [Frodo’s] gaze. Before his feet the highest ridge of the Ephel Duath fell st eeply in great cliffs down a dark trough, on


44 the further side of which th ere rose another ridge, much lower, its edge notched and jagged with crags like fangs…from it rose in huge columns swirling smoke, dusty red at the roots, black above wher e it merged into the billowing canopy that roofed in all the accursed land. ( ROTK 878) By sending the Hobbits on the Quest to Mordor to rid Middle Earth of the Ring, Tolkien highlights the imminent destruction that Mi ddle Earth faces; even the best, remote western lands, as embodied in the Shire-figur es of Frodo and Sam, will be destroyed if Sauron is allowed to triumph. Additionally, for a Christian such as Tolkien, this description of a moral wasteland echoes trad itional depictions of hell ruled by Satan. Interestingly, Tolkien selected a title for the middle work of the series which reflects a polarity of places although the author himself c ould not decide exactly what that polarity was. In a le tter to Rayner Unwin, the son who took over the publishing duties of Tolkien’s works from his fath er Stanley Unwin, Tolkien remarks, “ The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a titl e to cover the widely divergent [storylines of the individual books]; and can be left ambiguous—it might refer to Isenguard and Barad-dr, or to Minas Tirith and B[arad -dr]; or Isenguard and Cirith Ungol” ( Letters 170). Indeed, the several towers that loom larg e for the narrative confuse the issue as to what exactly the title refers, so perhaps that polarity is best left ambiguous. Perhaps the best explanation is to view the towers of the title as the two wa rring forces in the book: Sauron’s armies and the assembling Free People who fight him. Chance declares that “the two towers in Tolkien express division in a more microcosmic sense, in terms of the separation and perversion of the two parts of the self” (163). This concept recalls the Middle State of humanity on the Great Chain of Be ing: all of the char acters in the novels


45 must choose between the dark, looming power s of Sauron or the diverse, constructive forces of the Free Peoples just as the huma n readers, in Tolkien’s Christian worldview, must choose between sin and salvation. Species / Beings Species or groups of beings in the trilogy reflect opposing thematic purposes, generally associating one gr oup with a positive purpose a nd one with a negative goal. Merry and Pippin learn of the idea of “count erfeit” during their tim e with Treebeard: “Maybe you have heard of Trolls? They are mighty strong. But Trolls are only counterfeits made by the Enemy in the Great Da rkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs are of Elves” ( TT 474). Here Treebeard refers to the cr eation of Orcs from Elves—as well as other nasty things such as trolls and dra gons—by Melkor, the Ainu w ho “fell from grace” and set about disrupting the crea tive work of the Elder Childre n of Ilvatar. Thematically, the Ents represent the wise, constructive for ce of nature; they serv e as the shepherds of the forest: “We are tree-herds, we old Ents. Few enough of us are left now. Sheep get like shepherds and shepherds like sh eep…. It is quicker and closer with trees and Ents, and they walk down the ages together” ( TT 457). But Trolls, the “counterfeit” Ents made by Melkor, do not nurture; they merely destroy. Trolls are both of na ture and disconnected from nature, as Bilbo discovered in The Hobbit In that tale, Bilbo and the party of Dwarves are attacked by Trolls, and Gandalf defeats the Trolls by tricking them into staying outside of their caves until the sun ri ses, whereupon the sunlight turns them into stone. Because something so natural destroys them, Trolls repres ent the inherently unnatural; further, their affin ity with stone demonstrates that unlike the Ents, who are related to growth and wisdom, the Trolls ar e rock-like and stupid, one of the types of


46 beings incapable of goodness or wisdom in Tolkien’s bestiary. They are markedly different from the Ents, as Treebeard echoe s the noble sentiment of Thoden when he says: “…likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom w ould find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts ; and that is why we are marching now” ( TT 475). This “species” duality clearly embodies French’s masculine/feminine schism. The Ents simultaneously meld the inlaw feminine principle with the masculine polarity as they both nurture the forests and passionately fight those, such as the Orcs and Saruman, who threaten nature. Trolls, however, only destroy and wreak havoc on the landscape, which demonstrates a strict adherence to the most violent of masculine principles— destruction. The same can be said of the El ves and the Orcs; Elves blend masculine and feminine traits as they tend the natural world yet fight the deleterious forces of Sauron, while Orcs only kill other bei ngs and ravage the landscape. In The Return of the King Frodo comments on the polarity of the Orcs and the Elves. According to The Silmarillion, the Elves, the creation of Ilvatar, exist only to nurture and protect all living things. Convers ely, Orcs, Frodo states, arise from a very different circumstance, “[t]he Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the Orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them . .” ( ROTK 892). Indeed, in many ways the Elves and the Orcs serve opposite functions in the plot even in small de tails: for example, the Elven waybread that Galadriel bestows on the Fellowship sustains Frodo and Sam for almost the entire journey, and it also sustains Merry and Pi ppin physically and emotionally after they


47 escape their Orc kidnappers: “[ t]he cakes were broken, but s till good, still in their leafwrappings. [Merry and Pippin] each ate two or three pieces. The taste brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter and wholesome food in quiet days now far away. For a while, they ate t houghtfully, sitting in the dar k, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby” ( TT 447). Earlier in this same ch apter, Pippin is forced by his captors to drink an Orc c oncoction that provides the same physical nourishment but opposite emotional effects: “Uglk thrust a flask between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: [Pippin] fe lt a hot, fierce glow flow through him” ( TT 438). Animals as well, particularly the Eagl es and the winged beasts of the Nazgl, serve reflective functions in the novels. Bo th appear periodically throughout the works but with opposite effect. Alt hough both are wild animals, the Eagles remain nobly loyal to the Free Peoples, while the winged creatures ar e enslaved to the will of the Nazgl, or Nine Riders. The Eagle chief Gwaihir aids Gandalf and consequently all of the Free Peoples three times during the War of the Rings : first, he frees Gandalf from Saruman’s entrapment at Isenguard; next, he rescues Gandalf from the peak of Zirakzigil after Gandalf’s epic battle with the Balrog; and la st he delivers Sam and Frodo from the slopes of Mount Doom after the Ring has been dest royed. The Eagles, like the Ents, represent the majestic and noble in nature, which would be destroyed if the forces of the Enemy prevailed. The Eagles help Gandalf and the Free Peoples willi ngly; conversely, the winged monsters of the Nazgl are magically bound to their masters, the Ring-wraiths or Nine Riders, and the fear that they strike in to the hearts of the Free Peoples reflects the horror evoked by the sinister Nine Riders th emselves. The terror that the cry of the


48 Nazgl’s winged beasts inspires plays a key role in the ps ychological warfare waged on the city of Minas Tirith: The Nazgl came again, and as their Da rk Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered onl y his will and malice, were filled with evil and horror. … More unbearable they became, not less, at each new cry. At length even the stout-hearte d would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would st and, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into thei r minds a blackness came . . ( ROTK 805) The major steeds of the works constitu te another type of polarity. Snowmane, Thoden’s noble horse, dies with his master during the final battle and is laid to rest with great honor. The narrator notes that forever after “[g]reen and long grew the grass on Snowmane’s Howe” ( ROTK 827). By contrast, the horrifi c steed ridden by the WitchKing of Angmar into the final battle also di es with his master, but the earth on which he expires will never be the same. The land unde r which this winged m onster is buried is forever “black and bare where the beast was burned” ( ROTK 827); the winged steed’s presence in the earth curses the spot. Two minority groups of men in Middle Ea rth, the Corsairs and the Wild Men, acting in thematically similar although an tithetical ways, serve parallel yet opposite functions in the critical battle of Pelennor Fields. The Corsai rs, an old-fashioned word for “pirate” that Tolkien appropriated, were hire d by Sauron to attack Minas Tirith by the “back way” of the coastline. Aragorn foils th is treachery by direct ing the Oath-Breakers to overwhelm the Corsairs’ ship and terrify the Corsairs in to fleeing, so the troop of the undead can surprise the forces attacking Gondor by arriving in the Corsair ships,


49 overwhelming the battlefield. This act terr ifies Sauron’s forces—as Aragorn asserts, “[no] one would withstand them” ( ROTK 858)—and paves the way to victory for the Free Peoples. Thus Sauron’s tactic of hiring the Corsairs to attack the forces of the Free people by the “back way” backfires and contributes to his defeat at the Ba ttle of Pelennor Field. The “Wild Men” of Gondor, who, as Merry observes, resemble the crudely piled rocks dotting the highway, are hired by the Rohi rrim to show them a “back way” to the besieged Minas Tirith through Druadan forest thus avoiding the mass of Orcs stationed on the main road. The Wild Men fulfill this promise and lead the Rohirrim to Minas Tirith, which results in success for the Free Pe oples at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. According to Robert Foster’s Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle Earth, as a reward for his fidelity, the leaders of the Free People reward GhnBuri-Ghn’s by promising that the “Wild Me n” may exist unmolested by outsiders (203). These two incidents involving minority groups accentuate the progression of the trilogy: the group that chooses altruistic goals is allowed to prosper, while amoral mercenaries are punished. This parallel reinforces the theme that benevolent and “unlooked for help” invariably aids forces of good, while twists of fate and failures in character inevitably foil the forces of evil. The two sets of “undead” beings of Middl e Earth that interfere with the affairs of the living also demonstrate reflective quali ties: although both groups contribute to the plot in key ways, they interact with the livi ng in very different manners. The first set that the Hobbits encounter is the Barrow-wights. Ea rly in the trilogy, af ter the departure from Tom Bombadil, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are captured by Barrow-wights, ghosts of kings and warriors who fought and died in a gr eat battle against Saur on on the field that


50 the Hobbits now cross. Previously, Tom Bo mbadil provided the Hobbits information about the Barrow-wights in his roundabout, poe tic style: “Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind…. The Hobbits shuddered” ( FOTR 128). The Barrow-wights are th e restless, nob ly-born dead who try to bring down the livi ng into their marshy purgatory, as they mistakenly believe they can still win the battle and destroy Saur on, if only they had more help. The Hobbits escape this fate because at the last moment Frodo calls to Tom Bombadil to save them and he appears, but in the pr ocess the noble ghosts give the Hobbits very important gifts which Tom Bombadil distributes: For each of the Hobbits [Tom] chose a da gger….They gleamed as he drew them from their black sheaths, wrought of some strange metal, light and strong, and set with many fiery stones. Whether by some virt ue in these sheaths or because of the spell that lay on the mound, the blades seemed untouched by time, unrusted, sharp, glittering in the sun….Then [Tom] told them that these blades were forged many long years ago by Men of We sternesse: they were foes of the Dark Lord . . ( FOTR 142) Aragorn summons the other group of unqui et dead, the “Oath Breakers,” to do battle at Pelennor Fields, and the troop of ghos ts arrives in secret via the ships coerced from the Corsairs. The Oath Breakers repres ent the ignoble dead who swore fealty to Isildur, the founder and King of Go ndor but, as Ar agorn states: ‘when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfill their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years. … Then Isildur said to their King: “Thou shalt be the


51 last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until you r oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you sh all be summoned once again ere the end.”’ ( ROTK 765) This group of ghosts, unlike the Barrow-wights, died dishonorably, bu t in death they can turn their disgrace to virtuous ends by turni ng the tide of battle at Pelennor Fields. The Oath-Breakers do not provide the tools, they are the tools of victory; the living King who wields that tool is the Oath -Breakers’ only hope to be freed from Isildur’s curse and eventually rest in peace. Of course, the irony of the inclusion of these two groups rests in the fact that both groups fought Sauron ages a go, and that same battle still rages for the Free Peoples during the cour se of the narrative. Events Actions and events have counterpoints in the trilogy; and these parallel groups function in thematically similar ways: that is, while the first incident parallels the second, the second incident invariably has vastly greater conseque nces for the outcome of the narrative. The first set of thematically reflectiv e scenes is “The Council of Elrond” in The Fellowship of the Rings and the “Last Debate” in The Return of the King Tolkien highlights both meetings by giving them separate chapters, and their respective placements near the beginning and end of the trilogy further emphasize the parallel qualities of these scenes. Although the first c ouncil is far lengthie r than the second, both scenes underscore the importance of cooperatio n as a weapon leading to victory. Despite


52 the bickering of Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf in “The Council of Elrond,” during this council, the Fellowship forms and guides Frodo on the beginning of his quest. Similarly, in “The Last Debate” Prince Imrahil of Gondor and Gandalf wrangle concerning the appropriate tactics of the a ssembled Free Peoples; while Gandalf cautions that “‘victory cannot be achieved by arms,'“ Imrahil barks, “'Then you would have us retreat to Minas Tirith, or Dol Amroth, or to Dunharrow, and th ere sit like children on sand-castles when the tide is flowing?’” ( ROTK 860) Aragorn quells this exchange, explaining that via the palantr he has revealed himself as th e true king to Sauron and that the group “‘. . must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril . . [b]y arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be’” ( ROTK 862). The leaders of the Free Peoples assent to this plan of dist raction, thereby giving Frodo and Sam time to accomplish their quest. The squabbling and subsequent unity foreshadowed in “The Council of Elrond” adumbrates the cooperati on of the races of Middle Earth throughout the book, especially in the final battles that deci de the fate of Middle Earth: The Battle of Pelennor Fields and the Battle at the gates of Mordor. The next set of incidents concern the b lindfolding of the H obbits: the blindfolding of the entire Fellowship as they enter Lorien parallels and contrast s with the blindfolding of only Frodo and Sam as Faramir’s men lead the Hobbits to their hideout. In the incident at Lorien, Gimli the Dwarf is so o ffended at the blindfolding that Legolas offers to be blindfolded as well, alt hough as an Elf he does not need th is restraint. This results in the entire company volunteering to wear blindfolds as they tr aipse into Lorien, but, most importantly, it represents a turning point in the relationship between the Dwarf and the Elf. Here Gimli and Legolas overcome their cu ltural prejudices to wards each other and


53 become true companions; this tight friendshi p serves them well in later battles and has long-lasting implications for later negotiations between Dwa rves and Elves in Middle Earth. In the second incident, Frodo and Sam are led to the secret hideout of Faramir and his group of Rangers who protect the borde rs of Gondor. While Sam and Frodo remain blindfolded, they ascertain th at the proximity of the Ring does not tempt Faramir; unlike his brother Boromir, Faramir does not attempt to take the Ring by force or attack the two Hobbits as a result of the malevolent influe nce of the Ring. Faramir passes this test, an index of his character, while Boromir fails. Faramir thus remains a faithful and useful servant to the Free People, while Boromir dies as a result of his selfish attempt to snatch the Ring, and therefore a measure of glory, fr om Frodo. On the one hand, this incident does reveal the unity between species—in this case, the Hobbits and Faramir—while at the same time, the contrast between Farami r and Boromir highlights for the reader the schisms that exist between the motivations of Men: some seek glory while others seek peace. The next series of parallel incidents invol ve the small slipping past the gaze of the powerful. In the first, Merry rides unnoticed in owyn’s saddle to th e Battle of Pelennor Fields. This proves to be crucial, since in the climactic scene in which owyn faces the Witch-King of Angmar, the leader of the Ri ng-wraiths brushes the Hobbit aside to battle owyn disguised as the young man “Dernhelm.” When owyn seems doomed to defeat, Merry stabs the Witch-King in the back of the knee with the sword that Tom Bombadil had recovered from the Barrow-wights. This ancient blade, forged and imbued with magic by the Men of Westernesse to battle Sauron’s forces, has been magically


54 preserved. Indeed, its owner only came to be a restless ghost because of the betrayal of the men who became the Ring-wraiths; thus through Merry’s hand the ancient sword takes its revenge. The blade leaves the Witc h King vulnerable for just long enough for the female owyn to fulfill the prophecy that “ no man” can kill the Witch King, who is slain by the two individuals regarded as “weakest” or most vulnerable by the leaders of the Free People: a Woman and a Hobbit. The c ontrast between the mighty Witch-King and the duo of owyn and Merry serves as a symbol for the entire tril ogy: the cooperation of ostensibly weak forces, through dint of a combination of nerve, cleverness, and the positive intervention of fate, battle and win agains t the forces of evil. The resultant cry of the Witch King and his dying steed informs the a ssembled forces of Mordor that the tide of the battle has turned in favor of the Fr ee Peoples. Burns remarks the effect achieved by this pitting of the weak against the mighty: Given the sheltering attitude towards Hobbits and owyn, [shown by Thoden and the Rohirrim] it is quite ingenious of Tolkien to use a halfling and a maiden (innocence in two forms) to defeat the Nazgl lord—the pitting of these two unlikely warriors against the greatest adversary of the Ba ttle of Pelennor Fields so effectively increases the horror, and poignancy, and the final victory. (145) Even through this incident is critical in the destruction of Mordor’s troops on Pelennor Fields, the next incident of the sma ll slipping past the view of the strong holds far greater significance. Throughout the narrative, Frodo bears the Ring toward Mordor without being sure why he is destined to bring about its destruction. However, readers and many of the main characters gradually ascertain that while the great “Eye” of Sauron is busy hunting


55 Middle Earth for the Ring of Power, it fails to notice two tiny Hobbits trudging closer and closer to the furnaces on Mount Doom. This oversight proves fatal for Sauron, as Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, eventually do arri ve at Mount Doom and destroy the Ring. Although Merry and owyn’s triumph over the Witch King indicates that the tide has turned against the forces of evil, the two small Hobbits deal Sauron his fatal blow. Smaller incidents reinforce the idea of the small slipping under the gaze of the mighty. After the attack at Parth Galen, Frodo re solves to start alone towards Mordor so as not to further endanger his companions. Wh ile Frodo attempts to slip away invisibly by wearing the Ring, the other members of th e Fellowship search for him desperately, calling his name and fearing the worst. Amid st the commotion, Sam “. . passed his hand over his eyes, brushing away the tears. ‘stea dy, Gamgee!’ he said. ‘Think, if you can! He can't fly across rivers, and he can't jump wate rfalls. He’s got no gear. So he’s got to get back to the boats. Back to the boats! B ack to the boats, Sam, like lightning!’” ( FOTR 396). Only later do Aragorn and Legolas real ize what Sam has already deduced: Frodo made his escape via one of the elf-boats, and Samwise Gamgee has joined him. Characters The polarities exhibited by Tolkien’s char acters generally play variations on one key concept, that is, for each of his “big ideas,” Tolkien creates two sets of characters, who sometimes serve as parallels, sometimes contrasts to each other. Burns remarks that “. . Tolkien establishes character teams w hose members, taken together, represent the intricacy and inconsistency wh ich lie within any human being” (94). I have already discussed the duos of Boromir and his br other Faramir (opposites), Denethor and


56 Thoden (opposites), Aragorn and Galadriel (p arallels), and (through their mercy) Bilbo and Frodo (parallels). The remaining sets of antithetically cons tructed characters represent standards of conduct that Tolkien es tablishes as crucial to success in Middle Earth and to the plot of The Lord of the Rings novels. Looming over every action of the story in person or in memory, Gandalf plays a monumental role in the entire schema of th e trilogy. Gandalf grow s both in understanding and power throughout the course of the novels, a nd, for Burns, part of his allure for the reader lies in his paradoxical character. He “. . is neither saintly nor always peaceable. There is a certain amount of self-satisfacti on, irascibility, and sarcasm within Gandalf’s character, all of which adds to his appeal” (98). Yet, for all his irascibility tempered with kindness, Gandalf never loses faith in the goodn ess of Middle Earth or its inhabitants. In French’s hermeneutic, Gandalf comb ines all of the best and most potent aspects of the masculine and inlaw feminine poles. He is unquestionable a physically and magically powerful being, which he demons trates through battling and defeating the horrific Balrog. He defends Middle Earth thr ough organizing the Fr ee Peoples into an army, and he often has to play political games, an aspect of the masculine sphere, in order to accomplish these goals. Gandalf ’s conversations with Denethor in particular highlight the differences in masculine strength between the two; while Gandalf advocates power and defense in unity, Denethor is clearly intimidated by the fa talistic vision of destruction offered to him by Sauron. Shippey’s assertion that Aragorn and Boromir “strike sparks” ( The Road to Middle Earth 121) off one another holds true for Gandalf and Denethor as well. Gandalf also exhibits traditional inlaw feminine characteristics throughout the


57 novels. First, he is the only wizard concerne d with “Hobbit-lore” a nd the defense of the Shire, which marks him as nurturing towards th ese small creatures. But in this nurturing lies great wisdom; Gandalf correctly ascertain s that Hobbits are made of stronger stuff than they might outwardly appear, and he convinces Frodo that he must be the one to bear the Ring to Mordor. Also, Gandalf’s statements regarding mercy towards Gollum prove both prescient and apt; this quality of merc y, always an inlaw feminine trait, allows for the triumph of the Free Peoples over Sauron. In Tolkien’s mythopoeia, Gandalf is a Va la, or “archangel” figure, and, according the Foster, these figures were “concerned with th e completion of Arda (the Earth) according to their individual knowledge of vari ous portions of the Vision (of Ilvatar)” (516). Gandalf continues this mission of form ation in working to pr otect Middle Earth so that it may continue to mani fest Ilvatar’s creation. Early in the narrative, when Frodo mourns that “I wish it need not have ha ppened in my time,” Ganda lf stoically counters, “‘So do I,” said Gandalf. ‘And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is wh at to do with the time that is given us’” ( FOTR 50). This decision to do “right” in th e “time that is given us” distinguishes Gandalf’s character: as a potent but not om nipotent being who exercises all of his powers to protect the inhabitants of Middle Eart h from the threat of Sauron, he chooses to do what is difficult in order to accomp lish what is morally selfless and right. Saruman, conversely, chooses what s eems a guaranteed success over an arduous noble endeavor. Prior to the opening of the tril ogy, Gandalf explains that Saruman, as the head of the Wizard Order, delays reacting to the threat of the “Necromancer” (Sauron) in Mirkwood, and this plays into the Enemy’s hands. Building strength, Sauron eventually


58 turns the ancient palantr in to a trap, and Saruman’s gree dy, overreaching gaze leads to his ensnarement. Gandalf comments to Pippi n, “Easy it is now to guess how quickly the roving eye of Saruman was trapped and held; and how ever since he has been persuaded from afar, and daunted when persuasion would not serve. . How long, I wonder, has he been constrained to come often to [the palan tr] for inspection and instruction . .” ( TT 584). Significantly, Saruman, despite the difficulties of ensnarement by the palantr, had a choice. Certainly Gandalf made a choice when trapped by Saruman in the tower of Orthanc; at that time, Gandalf spurned complic ity in order to conti nue his protection of Middle Earth. Saruman too could have chosen to fight Sauron rather than become a loyal soldier for the Enemy, but he does not, and because of this, Saru man suffers a reduction in power and Gandalf becomes “[as Saruman] should have been” ( TT 484): a mighty force for good in Middle Earth. This corruption and complicity is repa id in the narrative by the Ents’ devastation of Orthanc and Saruman’s eventu al physical dissolution. Although Saruman manages to create trouble fo r the Shire before his end, the ultimate repayment for Saruman’s deception is obliteration. The Elf maiden Arwen and owyn of Roha n represent the antithetical views of passive and active femininity in Middle Eart h. Although each plays a crucial role in the plot structure and eventual outcome of the narrative, they too function in opposite ways. The reader meets Arwen early in the trilogy as she presides over a banquet at her father Elrond’s home, the Last Homely House in Rive ndell. In this scene, the description of Arwen echoes medieval literary conventions: In the middle of the table, against th e woven cloths upon the wall, there was a


59 chair under a canopy, and there sat a lady fa ir to look upon, and so like was she in form of womanhood to Elr ond that Frodo guessed she was one of his close kindred. Young she was and yet not so. The br aids of her dark hair were touched by no frost; her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars were in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowing were in her glance . . ( FOTR 221) According to Appendix A of The Return of the King this is the Elf-maiden promised to Aragorn when he “becomes king of G ondor and Arnor” (342), although, as Burns observes, . first-time readers often fail to re cognize his attachment until somewhere near the end. The entire concept of romance, in fact, works in much the way the figure of Arwen does in Elrond’s council hall; both hover indistinctly and unobtrusively in the background, never disrupting the basic story line, never distracting from the focus of the quest, never qu ite fully in view. (141) Arwen’s key contribution to the plot comes vi a the domestic arts: she weaves the banner of Elendil for Aragorn that he unfurls at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, thereby punctuating the turning point in the battle. She also demons trates kindness, always a traditionally feminine trait, by giving Frodo her amulet as a beacon through hard times and she demonstrates the power of sacrifice wh en she relinquishes her seat on the ship to Valinor to Frodo, if he wishes to go. To reinforce Burns’s assertion, Arwen is both present and obscured in the ba ttle and in the main storyl ine; unfurling her banner turns the battle for the Free People, but, in this sc ene, we are more aware of her absence than her presence. Later, her most notable c ontribution concerns th e relinquishing of a


60 powerful object rather than the performing of a memorable feat, as owyn does by slaying the Witch King. For th e reader, Arwen exemplifies the inlaw feminine pole while remaining an elusive figure: while we receive lavish physical descrip tions of her beauty we know little of her deeds, thoughts, or loyalties. owyn, conversely, represents all three principl es: the rebellious outlaw feminine pole balanced with some of the domestic, in law qualities that Arwen possesses and the masculine trait of strength in battle. After first encountering owyn in Thoden’s hall as a prototypical peace-weaving, mead-cup bear ing maiden in the Anglo Saxon mold, we next hear that she may be a possible regent for the Rohirrim when Thoden departs to fight the forces of Mordor at Helm’s Dee p. Interestingly, Hma, a warrior who is not related to owyn, nominates he r to the King for this duty. “There is owyn, daughter of omund, [omer’s] sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone” ( TT 512). Thoden quickly announces “It shall be so” and “owyn knelt before him and receiv ed from him a sword and a fair corslet.” ( TT 512) Defying Burns’s image of the female figure in the novels “never distracting from the focus of the quest, never quite fully in view,” (141) ow yn steps forward from the background and comes quite fu lly into the reader’s view. owyn next emerges when she wishes to ride with the assembled Eorlingas to assist Gondor as the Orcs besiege the city of Minas Tirith. owyn is again chosen to lead the few Rohirrim remaining around Edoras rather than ride into battle, and she chafes bitterly at this ruling. Aragorn reminds her of her duty to help with “the last defense of your homes” and assures her “[those] deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised” ( ROTK 767). When owyn counters that sh e can fight like a man and fears


61 neither “pain nor death,” Aragorn inquires, “What do you fear, lady?” She replies, “[a] cage,” and expresses fear of “. . stay[ing] behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all the chance of doing great deed s is gone beyond recall or desire” ( ROTK 767). Here, significantly, a female character laments “use and old age accept[ing]” the bars constructed against women who wish to fi ght alongside men. owyn’s disobedience, often paralleled with Hma’s defiance of a direct order as reinforcing the idea of a “faithful” servant disobeying a direct command in order to better se rve a Lord, in fact, represents much more. Yes, owyn is driv en to serve her Lord and kinsman Thoden, but fear of inaction and obsolescence in the passive female role also spurs her action. During her recovery in the House of Heali ng owyn speaks with Faramir, and bids him to “. . command this Warden, and bid him let me go” ( ROTK 938). When Faramir avows that he does not have that power, “[a] tear sprang to her eye and fell down her cheek . . Her proud head drooped a little” ( ROTK 939) and owyn laments that the healers have told her she must remain in bed for another week. This quiet image of a woman yearning for masculine action yet temp ered by feminine weeping portrays owyn as celebrating an active femininity while ac knowledging her passive role. Lynettte Porter cautions the reader that while owyn does inde ed demonstrate active, heroic qualities she “is not created to represent a feminist pers pective” (91). However, owyn’s balance of the active and passive is not evident in Arwe n; while owyn steps forth with Merry to protect her Lord and home, Arwen retreats fr om warfare and only i ndirectly reveals her presence. Using French’s polarities of femi nine depiction, one mi ght argue that Arwen clearly represents the nurturing, quiet, dome stic, inlaw feminine principle while owyn mingles active, warrior masculine qualities with rebellious inlaw femi nine characteristics


62 and nurturing, family-centered inlaw feminine traits. Sam and Gollum/Smagol reflect the idea of a servant; Sam represents the good servant, and his faithfulness highlights the tr eachery of Gollum’s role as the bad servant. However, with Tolkien, these surface comparis ons often dissolve in the course of the story line; previously I discussed how the deceitful overreaching of Gollum causes him to inadvertently serve his master Frodo. What Sam and Gollum also demonstrate is the ascension and deflation of a character under adve rsity while in service to a lord, in this case, that service is defined as aiding Frodo on the difficult hike to Mordor to destroy the Ring. For Sam, this duty entails acting as a companion, servant, and protector for the older Hobbit Frodo, while Gollum’s duty includes showing the two Hobb its the best road into Mordor. While Sam remains loyal to Frodo and assumes more and more responsibility as the quest to Mount Doom increases in difficulty, Gollum’s character deflates; he becomes increasingly perfidi ous as the Ring nears its destruction. Throughout the journey, Sam remains deep ly suspicious of Gollum; for the reader, this vacillation between Sam’s susp icions and Gollum’s avowals of honesty throw each character into relief. For each of his asse rtions of sincerity Gollum performs an act of betrayal; with each of hi s acts of loyalty, Sam beco mes more aware of Gollum’s treachery. An astute reader will ascert ain that Gollum’s deception is a foregone conclusion; he has lived too many years with the Ring to l ead Frodo to destroy it. Sam, however, demonstrates the true meaning of service. According to West, when Sam believes that Shelob has killed Frodo, he “heroically, though reluctantly, assumes responsibility for the quest. Sam’s dilemma—tha t he must leave his master though he is inseparable from him—has been a motif all alo ng” (85). This act of loyalty proves crucial


63 and exemplifies what Tolkien meant by eucatastrope. After the grieving Sam takes Frodo’s belongings including the Ring, from hi s body, he learns from the Orcs that bear Frodo away that Shelob has not killed him; the great spider has just put Frodo in a temporary “sleep” from her venom. Sam’s action is critical to the success of the quest, because when the servants of the Enemy find Frodo he does not have the Ring in his possession If he had, the Ring would have been de livered immediately to Sauron and the entire narrative would have ended tragicall y. In addition, the entire history of Middle Earth would be drastically altered for the wo rse if Sauron received the ring. Thus by his actions, Sam quite literally saves the world. But as soon as he begins to bear it, the Ring begins it seduction of Sam; it entices him w ith visions of “Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age” ( ROTK 880). Unlike Gollum, however, Sam perceives the deception in these visions; humility, always a virtue for Tolkien, saves Sam, since he “knew in the core of his heart that he was not larg e enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him” ( ROTK 881). In marked contrast to Gollum, however, Sam’s time with the Ring enhances his fierce loyalty rather than leading to deception and destruction. As he charges up the Tower to rescue Frodo from Orc captors, Sam reveals his presence to Orc guards. However, what the guard perceives reflects Sa m’s inner resolve rath er than his physical presence, “ . it saw not a small frightened Hobbit trying to hold a steady sword: it saw a great silent shape, cloaked in a grey sha dow looming against the wavering light behind . .” ( ROTK 883). The Orc flees, warning others of the “great Elf warrior” in the tower and Sam, through this incredible act of fide lity, is able to rescue Frodo. Therefore, Sam proves his loyalty most vividly when he does the most disloya l thing of all: bearing the


64 Ring in Frodo’s stead. For the reader, this imag e of a “great warrior” reinforces what we have known all along: considering the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and increasingly bleak odds that he faced and the fortitude that he consistently showed in acting anyway, Sam becomes, perhaps second on ly to Frodo, the brav est character in the trilogy. Sam’s actions under these dire ci rcumstances are the fulcrum on which the outcome of the narrative pivots; some critics argue that he is the true hero of the novels. The Hobbits Pippin and Merry present th e most apparent set of character parallels. Porter, in her book Unsung Heroes of The Lord of the Rings includes a chart detailing Merry and Pippin’s analogous devel opment in the narrative. Both offer service to the leader of a people, bot h perform duties for that lord, both continue to serve that lord faithfully after being released from servi ce, both save the lord’s child (or surrogate child), both remain with the that lord duri ng his death, and both ar e recognized by that lord’s successor for heroic deeds (Porter 84). To this list I would add: both Merry and Pippin face a “monster” during battle and, with the assistance of a human companion, aid in that beast’s slaughter. Merry assists owyn in the slaying of the leader of the Nazgl, the Witch-King of Angmar at the battle of Pelennor field, and Pippin helps a Gondorian warrior slay a troll at the battle of Cormallen field. Perhaps more than any other characte rs, Pippin and Merry grow and mature during the course of the three nov els. Porter notes that “Tolkien uses the Ent draft [which makes the two grow taller] as a device to i llustrate how much Merry and Pippin literally grow up during their adventures” (26). The e ffect of this clear point-by-point reflection and obvious symbolism for growth is twof old. First, tracing Merry’s and Pippin’s individual storylines as they cr oss, separate, and reunite allows the reader to keep track of


65 the intricacies of Tolkien’s plot in a subtle way; the reader can remember the storyline of one Hobbit while the narrative focuses on th e other one. Indeed, Merry and Pippin are involved with and knowledgeable of each turn in the divergent stor ylines of Rohan and Gondor. Next, the separation of the two Hobbit companions reinforces for the reader the wide-reaching consequences of the Free Pe ople’s war on Sauron; the far-flung physical locations in which each Hobbit finds himself illustrates the vastness of Middle Earth, and the enormity its destruction would be if Sauron were allowed to win. What Tolkien implies through his character s is a template for living a moral and successful life, and he does this through skillfully employing compelling character examples of virtue and opposing characters with undesirable qualities. The characters teach the following lessons though parallel qua lities or paired opposition: one must act for the greater good and eschew self-interest (F aramir and Boromir); lead with integrity (Thoden and Denethor); show strong lead ership yet nurture th e weak (Aragorn and Galadriel); show mercy (Frodo and Bilbo); choose the right pa th even if it is difficult (Gandalf and Saruman); always offer your assistance despite being underestimated (Ewyn and the Hobbits); and loyally serve a cause greater than yourself (Sam and Gollum). This diverse list underscores the va stness of Middle Earth; its characters are complex and compelling and the challenges they face individually and collectively are intricate and imposing. Therefore, Tolkien constructed a vast, balanced, yet multifaceted world that is capacious enough to hold these resonant characters.


66 Chapter III: Conclusion Much of the joy of reading literature ope rates subconsciously; the vast majority of readers do not assimilate the entire work and concurrently search for structure, themes, and a cohesiveness of style. Iser calls the ga ps between the information given in the text “blanks” and asserts that “. . the structured blanks of the text stimulate the process of ideation to be performed by the reader on the terms set by the text” (“Interaction” 1677). However, it is this seemingly artless el ement that creates the overall sense of transportation to another realm and time, one that seems to exist with its own rules and laws. Iser explains how descri ption can create this sense of transportation: “the reader’s wandering viewpoint travels betw een all these segments, its c onstant switching during the time flow of reading intertwines them, this br inging forth a network of perspective . . In the time flow of reading, segments of the various perspectives move into focus and are set off against preceding segments” (“Intera ction” 1679). This active operation inherent in Tolkien’s work engages the reader deep ly and continuously; while other works of fictions merely ask the reader to imbibe the text Tolkien asks his readers to help in its construction. Clearly, Tolkien’s fiction was shaped by th e same forces that fashioned the fiction that he studied; this led to the creation of a world that demonstrates an interwoven,


67 balanced structure of antithe tical pairs. What Cixous and French might perceive as a balance between masculine and feminine, To lkien, through the lens of his Catholicism and literary background, might term a car efully structured opposition between the polarities of good and evil, right and wrong, h eathen selfishness and Christian altruism. In constructing these dualisms, Tolkien ha rnessed a Western lit erary tradition of antithesis already resonant in the minds of his readers and employed it in a way that few had done with such stunning success: he created out of his rich imagination a “brave new world / That has such people in it!” (Shakespeare, The Tempest 5.1.185-186) and one that feels as real to the reader s as their own country. This powerful ebb and flow of percepti on, a growing vision of a palpable world, creates what Tolkien terms “the subcrea tion.” Chance affirms that throughout the interlacing narrative and reflect ive patterns of character, race, place, object, and theme “. . all of Tolkien’s work manifests a unity, with understanding of its double and triple levels . .” (182). The effect on the reader of this unity, of this seamless subcreation, is a reality so vivid that the reader feels as if she or he could jo urney to Middle Earth and live there; readers can imagine themselves in To lkien’s world by filling in the “blanks” Iser speculates engages readers in works of art. Th is world, in its elusive tangibility, invites the readers in to collusion with the author. Shippey describes this reader response as “a kind of complicity” and elaborates that reader satisfaction wi th the wholeness of Middle Earth stems from the fact that “every time another piece of the picture is [filled] in [by the reader], another part of the mental map[of Middle Earth] [is] disclosed” ( Author of the Century 20). This complicity hands partial ownership of the text to the reader; small wonder, then, that audiences for generati ons responded and continue to respond so


68 powerfully and passionately to Tolkien’s visi on. Tolkien’s effective use of reflective elements builds the foundation of his subcreat ed world of Middle Earth; the reader can peer into the mirror reflected by the novels, see the multitude of elements flashing back, and be dazzled by the spectacle.


69 Works Cited Aristotle. Poetics Trans. Richard Janko. Leitch 90-117. Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: J.R.R. Tolkien Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000. Print. Brisbois, Michael. “Tolkien’s Imaginary Nature : An Analysis of the Structure of Middle Earth.” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 197-216. Print. Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and No rse in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print. Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. Print. Chance, Jane. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Print. Cixous, Hlne. “Sorties: Out and Out: Att acks/Ways Out/Forays.” Rivkin and Ryan 348-351. Print. Crocker, Holly. “Masculinity.” Reading the Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien’s Classic Ed. Robert Eaglestone. New York: Continuum, 2005. 111-128. Print. Croft, Janet Brennan. “War and th e Works of J.R.R. Tolkien.” Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy 106.2 (2004): 87-112. JSTOR Web. 14 Oct. 2008. Derrida, Jacques. “Diffran ce.” Rivkin and Ryan 278-299.


70 Drout, Michael. “Tolkien’s Prose Style a nd its Literary and Rhetorical Effects.” Tolkien Studies 1 (2004): 137-163. Print. Flieger, Verlyn. Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2002. Print. ---. “Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of a Hero.” Zimbardo and Isaacs 122-145. Print. Foster, Robert. Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle Earth. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001. Print. French, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience New York: Summit Books, 1981. Print. Frye, Northrop. “The Archetypes of Literature.” Leitch 1445-1457. Garth, John. Tolkien and the Great War: Th e Threshold of Middle Earth Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print. Hooker, Mark T. “Frodo’s Batman.” Tolkien Studies 1 (2004): 125-136. Print. Houghton, John, and Neal Keesee. “Tolkien, King Alfred, and Boethi us: Platonist Views of Evil in The Lord Of The Rings .” Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 110-134. Print. Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Ph enomenological Approach.” Tompkins 5069. ---. “Interaction Between Text and Reader.” Leitch 1673-1682. Jones, Leslie. Myth and Middle Earth Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Press, 2002. Print. Kirk, Elizabeth. “‘I Would Rather Have Written in Elvish’: Language, Fiction, and The Lord of the Rings .” A Forum on Fiction 5.1 (2000): 5-18. JSTOR Web. 15 Nov. 2008.


71 Lee, Stuart and Elizabeth Solopova. The Keys to Middle Earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print. Leitch, Vincent B, Ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton and Compa ny, 2001. Print. Petty, Anne C. One Ring to Bind Them All: Tolkien’s Mythology. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1979. Print. Porter, Lynette. Unsung Heroes of The Lord of the Rings: From the Page to the Screen Westport, CN: Praeger, 2005. Print. Purtill, Richard. J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984. Print. Reilly, R.J. “Tolkien and the Fairy Story.” Zimbardo and Isaacs 93-105. Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front Trans. Arthur Wesley Wheen. Boston: Little and Brown, 1958. Print. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, ed. Literary Theory: An Anthology Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. Print. Rosebury, Brian. “Revenge and Moral Judgment in Tolkien.” Tolkien Studies 5 (2008): 1-20. Print. ---. Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon Basingstoke, New Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillian, 2003. Print. Rosenblatt, Louise. Making Meaning With Texts Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. Print.


72 Ryan, J.S. “Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Cr eation of a Story.” Zimbardo and Isaacs 106121. Print. Sale, Roger. “Tolkien and Frodo Baggins.” Bloom 157-183. Shakespeare, William. The Necessary Shakespeare Second Edition. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Pearson, 2005. Print. Shippey, Tom. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print. ---. The Road to Middle Earth: How J. R.R Tolkien Created a New Mythology Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print. Smol, Anna. “‘Oh . Oh . Frodo !’: Readings of Male Intimacy in The Lord of the Rings. ” Modern Fiction Studies 50.2 (2004): 949-979. JSTOR Web. 10 Sept 2008. Stanton, Michael. Hobbits, Elves and Wizards: Expl oring the Wonder and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings New York: Palgrave, 2001. Print. Sullivan, C.W. “Folklore and Fantastic Literature.” Western Folklore. 60 (2001): 279-296. Worldcat. Web. 20 Oct. 2008. Thomson, George. “ The Lord of the Rings : The Novel as Traditional Romance.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 8 (1967): 43-59. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2007. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Hought on Mifflin, 1995. Print. ---. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. Print.


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75 Johnson, Judith, ed. J.R.R. Tolkien: Six Decades of Criticism Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1986. Print. Librn-Moreno, Miryam. “Parallel Lives: The Sons of Denethor and the Sons of Telamon ” Tolkien Studie s 2 (2005): 201-225. Print. ---. “Greek and Latin Amatory Motifs in Eowyn’s Portrayl.” Tolkien Studies 4 (2007): 208-221. Print. Lobdell, Jared. A Tolkien Compass: Including J.R.R. Tolkien’s Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings La Salle, IL Open Court, 1975. Print. ---. The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy Chicago: Open Court, 2005. Print. McNelis, James. “‘The tree took me up from ground and carried me off’: A Source for Tolkien’s Ents in Ludvig Holberg’s J ourney of Niels Klim to the World Underground.” Tolkien Studies 3 (2006): 151-162. Print. Mortimer, Patchen. “Tolkien and Modernism.” Tolkien Studie s 2 (2005): 127-149. Print. Reading The Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien’s Trilogy Ed. Robert Eaglestone. London: Con tinuum, 2005. Print. Sinex, Margaret. “‘Tricksy Light s’: Literary and Folkloric Elements in Tolkien’s Passage of the Dead Marshes.” Tolkien Studie s 2 (2005): 93-112. Print.


76 About the Author An "almost native" Floridian, Quincey Vierling Upshaw grew up from the age of one in Winter Park, Florida. She received tw o bachelor's degrees from the University of South Florida in 2001: a fine art degree in photography and a degree in literature. In 2006, Quincey re-entered USF as a graduate st udent in Literature, and a class she took her first semester as a gradua te student, "Tolkien's Theory of Fiction" taught by Dr. John Hatcher, inspired the idea for this thesis. Quincey lives with her husband Brian in Ta mpa. At the time of this thesis's acceptance and the completion of her M.A. in Li terature, she is expecting her first child, a girl. Pending the little one's arrival, Quincey is taking a break from her teaching career, which includes six years as an English t eacher at Florida public high schools and one year as an instructor for the Firs t Year Composition program at USF.