Gil-Estel writes: I had the pleasure of attending the Tolkien Lecture at the University of South Carolina on Thursday evening (thanks to the spy reports from TORN). It was a very interesting, and delightful experience to listen to the U.S.A.’s leading authority on Tolkien discuss the Modern and Medievel aspects of Tolkein’s literature.
After introductions were given, Dr. Micheal Drout walked into the lecture hall reciting the first twenty lines of “Beowulf” in old Anglo-Saxon, just the same way that Tolkien began all of his lectures. Five minutes into the lecture gave all the impression that he was an amiable, and likable man. And he spoke to all as though he was not above them, more on their level (even though we all knew that this man was a genious!).
I took notes on all he said about Tolkien’s literature and Medievel literature so here is an overview of the presentation.
*First of all, I must point out that Dr. Drout has read all of Tolkien’s manuscripts and is currently putting together Tolkien’s writings from a book he wrote that will be published this summer called Beowulf: The Monsters and Critics.
-All of the names of people, places, and things began all derived from the old Anglo-Saxon toungue, but a Tolkien revised, only the Rohirrim kept the names. For example, all the kings of Rohan’s names mean “King” in Anglo-Saxon (Fengel, Thengel, Theoden, Eomer, etc.). But as you journey farther back to the first king in the Mark, their names begin to be derived from the Goth’s language (Visigoths). This symbolizes the fact that, although it has never been proven, Tolkien believed that the Angles and Saxons where from the Geats and them from the Goths. There were many more instances like this from the book, and the reason for this is because Tolkien’s ideas were so controversial, he was afraid to publish them in any other documents.
(more Anglo-Saxon words he used were Ent:giant. Eored: Troop, and although nobody knows what it means, Tolkien used the Arkenstone in the Hobbit that was from “Beowulf”).
-The complexity in Beowulf is in it’s people, not the situations, but in LOTR, it is quite the opposite. None of the LOTR characters are exactly what literary critics would call “well-rounded.”
-Also, everything in all of Tolkien’s fantasy literature came from other sources, like orcs, elves, dwarfs, dragons, etc. but the one and only thing that was truly Tolkien was the Hobbits. Tolkien invented the hobbits so that normal people could relate to the book. Like Dr. Drout said, ” I mean, how many people do you really know are like Aragorn. Seriously, who’s as superhuman as he is, whacking orc’s heads off and becoming king and everything while the hobbits stand by and are like, ‘Okay!” The hobbits are meant to be the median for us. These creatures are not “slaughter happy” and it totally contradicts the medievel ways. Medievel writers would have looked at this and thought Tolkien was an idiot, and that is where the modernism comes in: the hobbits are a simple people that have no desire to kill unless it becomes a requirement. Even in the Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam kill no one (except for an orc or something).
-Also, King Leer, from Shakespeare, forms almost a triangle between the similarities between Denethor, Eomer, and the Witch King (I can’t really expand on that because Dr. Drout assumed we all knew King Leer, but I don’t so…) What is furthermore, is that all three people (Denethor, Eomer, and the Witchking) stem from what King Leer was. They all made choices that led them in different paths and thus creating a whole new character.
-The whole idea of good and evil is fully presented through the theme of sacrifice (verily embodied by Frodo and Sam). Frodo and Sam made ultimate decisions of sacrifice and put themselves in the situation where they HAD to do the right thing, the only thing they could do was succeed. Here again, we depart from modernism, because, left out of 20th century literature was heroism.
-As Dr. Drout ties up his lecture, he concludes with the statement that “Tolkien presents ways of looking at problems, but never actually gives the answers except through the actions of the characters in the books.”
Afterwards Answer and Question:
“Obviously, C.S. Lewis wrote all of his stories and books as complete allgories, and many people make the mistake in believing that the Lord of the Rings an allegory. But why is it not considered one.”
Dr. Drout answers by saying that even though LOTR was not created to be allegorical, the Christ image does come through, but in an allgory there can only be one Christ figure, whereas the LOTR has the seperate attributes to Christ alloted into at least three different characters. Many people also make the mistake of saying things about how Bill Clinton or George Bush represents Saruman, but there is no truth to that. Tolkien just made the books so general so we could relate to them in our own way, not that they really represented any one thing.
Another comment was brought up, by a woman, about Tolkien’s distance towards women in the books, but Dr. Drout fully disaggreed that women were distant. Although the women were not brought up to the forefront of the story for most of the time, they were constantly the driving force for the book. For instance, Arwen could only marry Aragorn if he succeed in his journey to become King. She was the one that kept Aragorn on his path, if ever he got the idea to turn around (not like he did), he would remember their love for eachother and keep going. Also, through Tolkien’s personal experiences in WWI, were these painted images of women. The elves stood for the perfect angels that the men thought of in the trenches, Eowyn was the brave nurses and other women who risked their lives to help, and Rosie Cotton can even be seen as a mans simple, but wonderful wife waiting back home for him. The only bad woman in all of Tolkien’s writings is Shelob, but by doing this, Tolkien almost makes women look too good, becuase he gives all the evil attributes to an insect/spider, making it seem as though the attributes aren’t even womanlike. Shelob also had a part in the WWI, she was like the prostitute woman who was greedy and wanted it her own way. Dr. Drout said that if you read the encounter with Shelob again, you will notice much sexual inuendoes and evilness Tolkien shows towards her. So Tolkien’s image of women are really not cold and distant at all.
Many people there were also interested in the movies as well. Dr. Drout actually, instead of criticizing the movies, he liked them. He said “it is the best that Hollywood could do for The Lord of The Rings at this point in time.” But on a side note he said, “Sure, I am not someone who would watch the DVD at home about 9-10 times…But I would watch it about eight times!” So even he, a really scholarly kind of man, enjoyed the movies. (Obviously this shows evidence that Peter Jackson did the impossible!).
One last thing Dr. Drout said was that Tolkien had revised, revised, and revised. He wrote the first chapter in the Lord of the Rings almost 36 times! Also, the character of Aragorn began a hobbit named “Trotter” and had wooden feet because he lost them in past encounters with Sauron. I believe revision is a good thing!
If anyone ever hears that Proffeser/Dr. Micheal Drout is giving a lecture on Tolkien, I highly advise them to see and hear what he has to say (although many were dissappointed that he only spoke for an hour- I never knew I could learn so much in one hour!) The experience was very delightful and I would definatley do it again!