THONART : Tolkien or the Fictitious Compiler (ULiège, 1984) – Chapter 1 – The Lord of the Rings as more than a Romance

Tolkien, drawing showing Rivendell (c) 2004 Royal Mail

The Lord of the Rings as
more than a Romance

The Lord of the Rings is not a romance ! It seems almost scandalous to make such a declaration after having read the captivating pieces of criticism written by Derek S. Brewer in Symbolic Stories and the Lord of the Rings as a Romance (BSSBLRR). It is not less daring to open a chapter with what could be considered as an accusation of critical incapacity. It is in fact not at all the case here and these two opening sentences are written without any vindictiveness – I have not the least chance to compete with Mr Brewer’s deep knowledge of the romantic matter and I therefore only propose a small adjustment of one of his analyses. He was moreover clever enough no to lay his work open to sharp criticism and this thanks to one letter ! The title The Lord of the Rings as a romance involves a mere approach of Tolkien’s tale in comparison with romantic literature and its characteristics whereas a title as The Lord of the Rings is a romance would have implied a firm statement leaving no place for doubts or nuances. Dr Brewer was not that naïve, he was self-disciplined enough -though one is delighted with the enthusiasm underlying his analysis of Symbolic Stories – to dodge the problem. What is less prudent is his comment in the epilogue of Symbolic Stories :

The Lord of the Rings is a romance of adolescence.

He wrote it ! It is the result, he writes, of his “analysis of the fundamental structure” of the book (p. 190). These ten words filled me with ease not because a polemical text is always easier to write than a quiet, common-sensed piece of criticism, but simply because it offered me a starting-point for the difficult discussion of Tolkien’s story. The help provided by Dr Brewer’s writings was naturally not limited to a counterpoint in an intricate controversy. His unorthodox approach to symbolic stories remains in my opinion an innovation which has in it  all the germs of the orthodoxy to come in matters of “non-realistic” stories. I shall try to discuss it further in this chapter.

Before commenting on Brewer’s modern – I insist – on “modern” – approach to romance I have first to write some words on tradition. The definition given by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English gives some clues to a complete view of what romance is (p. 963) :

A story of love, adventure, strange happenings, etc., often set in a distant time or place, whose events are happier or grander or more exciting than those of real life.

As to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, it says (p. 1242):

1. A narrative depicting heroic or marvelous achievements, colorful events or scenes, chivalrous devotion, unusual or even supernatural experiences, or other matters of a kind to appeal to the imagination.
2. A medieval narrative, originally in verse, in some romance dialect treating of heroic personages or events : the Arthurían Romances.

These definitions are general enough to satisfy everybody. In the Concise Cambridge History of English Literature, George Sampson adds that romances are often anonymous and he explains that there is a difference between  heroic and romantic, a shift in matter which he ascribes to the change of audience. The growing female audience allowed the introduction of courtly love and – one must also consider the systematic christianization of late medieval literature – the Virgin cult (p. 33). From poems on the sanguinary deeds of courageous warriors recited in the hall, the medieval literary taste turned to a more ornamental description of courteous knights fighting in the name of fair ladies. Romances mark thus the beginning of an increasing interest for women in English literature. It is also commonly accepted that romances must have happy endings. The discussion of romances moreover implies the use of the sempiternally quoted lines of Jehan Bodel :

Ne sont que iii matíères à nul home antandant,
De France et de Bretaígne et de Rome la Grant.

To the matters of France (a.o. Carolingian romances), of Britain (mainly the Arthurian cycle) and of Romes (a.o.Lydgate‘s Troy Book and Chaucer’s tale of Palamon and Arcite told by the knight), must be added the so-called matter of England (King Horn, Havelock the Dane) and Oriental tales (Floris and Blancheflour, Barlaam and Josaphat).

Concerning the remoteness of the romantic world Sampson gives an interesting comment :

They describe a utopian society in which everything appears to be anybody’s and in which there is no consciousness of patriotism or nationalism, but only a sense of Universal Christendom at war with the powers of darkness.

I fully agree with Sampson’s “no consciousness of patriotism or nationalism” since it constitutes the central difference between heroic and romantic literature. Heroic tales are, if not national, at least tribal. Beowulf faces Grendel alone but he represents his nation. He dies as a hero but also as a king, his lot being thus associated with the future of his people. This is made clear in the poem in line 2742 and seq. :

Now comes peril of war when this news is rumoured abroad,
The fall of our king known afar among Frisians and Franks !
For a fierce feud rose the Franks when Hygelac’s warlike host
Invaded the Frisian fields, and the Hetware vanquished the Geats,
Overcame with the weight of their hordes, and Hygelac fell in the fray… (OAEL)

Gawain’s failure on the contrary has no implication on the destiny of a nation the name of which we do not even know. My point is thus that the  career of a central character in a romance is individual – Mr Brewer cannot but agree with this – as opposed to earlier texts in which the hero’s deeds matter for the community rather tan for the central protagonist himself. The last thing I have to write about the traditional attitude towards romantic tales is my sincere astonishment in front of opinions such as Mr Sampson’s (SCHL, p. 39) – opinions which, sadly enough are widespread in the scholarly world – :

There is no need to catalogue the shortcomings of the old stories. People in all ages are easily amused. It is not for the consumer of crime-novels, thriller-films or television serials to cast stones at the medieval romances.

The parallelism drawn between romances and what Sampson obviously considers as degenerated kinds of cultural manifestations is at least pejorative and moreover symptomatic of the deep contempt in which unrealistic tales were and are still held.

The existence of such a segregation is explained by Brewer. It is the result, he says, of an evolution that took its roots in the Renaissance and the humanist thinking, went on in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century up to our industrial civilisation. The increasing materialism in occidental thought led to a progressive rejection of what was not true-to-life in literature. The epitome of this attitude is illustrated in the late nineteenth century naturalism. Brewer opposes the novel to the romances. Novels present the relationship between man and society in a plausible way which allows psychological analysis. Romances on the contrary take no consideration of social reality and moreover are written in an hyperbolic style and variable tone that used to cause heart-attacks to all naturalists. What could be then the value of those tales that do no observe a strict “mimesis” of surface events ? It is precisely Brewer’s point to explain that there are two levels in a story. The surface (or objective) course { of the tale can either be true-to-life as in a novel or “apparently not reflecting reality” as in romances (BSS). These surface events are anyway determined by “inner” events or “deeper” events or meanings :

All stories are, further, in some way symbolic, in that they are examples or illustrations, at a level “below” the surface, of something of what we feel about human experience. (BSS).

The difference he establishes between surface meaning and fundamental meaning is therefore important. Whereas the plot and the characterization of a novel depends on objective reality, the so-called “unrealistic” tales reflect deeper realities, in some way archetypal ones. Their apparent inconsistency is in fact the expression of the fundamental meaning according to which they are built.

Fantasy-thinking seems to be irrational, but it is concerned with the reality of feelings and their conflicts, and with the reality of our need to both celebrate our feelings and resolve our conflicts.

This is quoted from Anne Wilson‘s Traditional. Romance and Tale : How stories mean (WTRT, p. 52) (9). She treats the unrealistic tales in the same manner as Brewer but at another level : while Brewer tries to establish the meaning of various symbolic stories, Wilson concentrates on “how they mean” i.e. the treatment that the primeval meaning of a story has to undergo in order to become a consistent tale, ready for the immortal life that traditional stories seem to have.

Neither Chaucer nor Shakespeare ever invented a plot, and even if Boccacio  occasionally did so, he put it together out of entirely familiar elements. (BSS, p. 3)

Any romance reader who wants to discover the meaning of a tale has thus to face two things :

In the traditional tale we must therefore distinguish between the verbal realization of the story and its pre- or non-verbal existence as “shape”, “pattern”, “structure” (all such expressions being inevitably metaphorical).
(BSS, p. 3)

These two aspects of the tale are thus its text-form, i.e. what we read, and its fundamental meaning. A comparison that could help to make things clearer is the dream. It is now commonly accepted that dreams are meaningful in the sense that their latent content expresses unconscious tensions. Those contents are treated by the dreamer so as to become “acceptable” by his consciousness; the result of this treatment is called the manifest content. One of the processes used by the mind of the dreamer is rationalization i.e. the a posteriori objective explanation of facts primarily exclusively meaningful on a subjective level. If we equate the fundamental meaning of a tale with the latent content of a dream and the surface meaning of the one with the manifest content of the other, we also realize that rationalization has the same importance in both story and dream (parenthesis mine) :

(fantasy-thinking) is also concerned with the reality of our need to defend ourselves against a conscious realization of what we are feeling and doing as we create stories. (WHSM, p. 52)

A good example of rationalization is the sudden identification of a character which has been a mere “function” throughout the tale. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the Green Knight who served as temptator-confessor is named at the very end :

”Truly”, the other told him, “I shall tell you my title.
Bertilak of the High Desert I’am called here in this land.
Through the might of Morgan the Fay who remains in my house,
… She sent me forth in this form to your famous hall,
To put to the proof the great pride of the house,
The reputation for high renown of the Round Table (SGGK)

As a result of Brewer’s and Wilson’s comments on the matter, one may conclude that rationalization can be useful to the story-teller in two ways. On the one hand as an adaptation of the tale to the audience and on the other hand to render in understandable terms latent pulsions which give the tale its fundamental meaning. In addition to that, it can be useful to the critic who faces divergences in various tales at the bottom of which he guesses a unique “pattern”.

A further step in his study is the realization of the identity between narrator, reader and protagonist. Anne Wilson, for example, introduces her essay as follow :

This book suggests that if the story-telling experience is one of creation and recreation on the part of the story-teller and his audience, and if the identification with the protagonist of the story does take place, then the story-teller, the audience and the protagonist should be seen as united. The approach argues that each story should be viewed as its protagonist’s creation. (WTRT)

Brewer goes even further once he has established the meaningfulness of these symbolic stories :

No character, with the possible partial exception of the protagonist, has an autonomous inner life, a self-motivated independent existence of his or her own. This is an exceedingly important point, the corollary of the fundamental principle that the whole story is told from the point-of-view of the protagonist. (BSS)

The protagonist’s experience dealt with in the tale in thus common to the narrator and the reader as human beings. The next step in Brewer’s approach is that, since growing-up is the most frequent an unavoidable experience in human life, many symbolic stories and, in particular, many romances are tales of maturation rather of maturity. Philippe Sellier (SMH) explains in his Mythe du Héros what he considers as the typical heroic career : an alternation of symbolical births and deaths up to the final heroic status. A hero must be of noble descent, undergo a phase of “occultation” (e.g. Romulus and Remus and their mother-wolf), then be confronted with various “épreuves” or “rites de passage” (often against gigantic or multiple beings : hydras, giants or armies) in order to be “recognized” and restored in a due status. What Sellier announces as the basic career of a hero is reduced in Brewer’s study, to a more analyzable pattern : growing-up with the family drama as background. Many romances give the symbolic account, according to Brewer, of the Various “rites of passage” faced by the protagonist. From untried youth to adulthood, it depicts the emerging of the hero from the rule of the parents to the establishment of his self in relation with his beloved or “peer” and society. The various characters of such a story can therefore be reduced to a set of basic functions :

  • parent-figures at first protective an then restrictive, to be escaped;
  • peer-figures, the beloved to be conquered;
  • sibling-figures, i.e. brothers and sisters mainly helpful;
  • splits of the central protagonist, a.o. the negative split, the dark equivalent of the hero which appears to illustrate the possibility of failure.

The sex of the protagonist is also determinative to the ingredients of the plot: be it a young man, he has to leave home and go on a quest, facing terrible father-figures (ogres, giants, bears…) and friendly mother-figures, the rule being that characters on the same sex are mainly unfriendly. A young girl will be ill-treated at home by a negative mother-figure (cfr. Cinderella, Snow-White), driven out and finally “recognized” by her peer whom she will marry. The psychoanalytic Oedipus triangle is consequently at the centre of the story save the appearance of the peer which constitutes the necessary happy conclusion:

To put the matter with crude brevity: what the male protagonist has to do is kill his father, dodge his mother and win his girl. The female protagonist has to dodge her father and if not kill at any rate pretty severely neutralize her mother and make it possible to her man to get her. Achievement of the peer signals success – the breaking out of the family triangle, in which the protagonist is always inferior, into the freedom of adult responsibility and equal stable relationship with another person. Usually reconciliation with parent-figures is also achieved. (BBS, p. 9).

What is of importance in Brewer’s analysis is that

While the protagonist is the central leading figure, to whom all other figures must be related, these other figures are aspects of the protagonist, so that the totality of all the characters and actions adds up to as it were a total protagonist, the whole mind of the tale, just as, in a dream, everyone in it is part of the whole mind of the dreamer even if they represent real persons in waking life. (BSS, p. 24)

The obvious corollary to this which Brewer also explains is that nothing can happen outside the mind of the total protagonist, meaning by this that any action in which the central protagonist does not actually or virtually take part has to be at least in direct connection if not with him, with his maturation career. Any element of a tale, once established as being external to the central maturation process, should then constitute an evidence of the “non-romanticism” of the story (since we concentrate on romances as defined by Brewer).

I shall now try to sum up the various characteristics of romances that have been exposed so far. Romances are at face value unrealistic and unconnected with objective reality. The “plot” of a romance is centered on an individual evolution, often the growing-up of the central protagonist. Hence the possible identification between the protagonist, the author (creator or re-creator of archetypal motives) and the reader. In addition to the fact that romances are not national, their elements can on the contrary be reduced to various “functions” corresponding to the components of the family drama. Any element being external to that central pattern should be thus considered as non-romantic.

My purpose in this chapter was to demonstrate that Dr Brewer had gone a little too far when he affirmed that The Lord of the Rings was a romance of maturity. I shall naturally no pledge my word that he was completely mistaken. I shall rather try to examine what led him to that conclusion and what determined me to take if not the opposite view, at least a more nuanced one.

No one could deny that a quest is at the centre of The Lord of the Rings: the destruction of the One Ring. A quest-stucture implies very often a journey through various “countries” and makes easier the introduction in the tale of encounters and perils to be experienced by the protagonist(s). This aspect constitutes naturally the recommended structure for a romance (the interpretation of various rites of passage will be approached in the chapter devoted to the quest). Quests, as Brewer explains, can be of two kinds : they are either determined before the coming to awareness of the protagonist (cfr. Sir Degarre and King Horn) or, later, when the hero decides to go on a quest in full consciousness of the consequences (cfr. SGGK). It is the second option which has been chosen by Tolkien : Gandalf “proposes” the quest to Frodo who is already in his fifties:

There is only one way: to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-Mountain, and cast the ring in there, if you really wish to destroy it, to put it beyond the grasp of the Enemy for ever. (p. 74)

After having hesitated the “young” hobbit decides to leave:

Of course, I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday, a series of adventures like Bilbo’s or better, ending in peace. But this would mean exile, a flight from danger into danger, drawing it after me and I suppose I must go alone, if I am to do that and save the Shire. (p. 76)

One realizes easily that this “reversed“ quest – he has to destroy the Ring, not to discover it – has nothing appealing in it. Frodo’s decision seems moreover to be more the acceptance of one’s destiny as Gandalf tells Frodo:

But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have. (p. 75)

There we are ! This last sentence is typically father-like. Gandalf, in Brewer’s eyes, is thus the father-figure that forces the adolescent out of his childish world (the Shire) to a world where nowhere is safe. Brewer is right : the Shire with its round doors and windows, quiet summer evenings, its almost fœtal comfort, can be interpreted as the re-creation of the warm environment of our first age. Hobbits are besides halflings, child-sized. Frodo and his environment are thus a perfect starting-point for a maturation process. It is all the more evident when one thinks of Bilbo, Frodo’s uncle (nepotism !), who also left the Shire on a quest and also achieved individual existence in front of society by killing Smaug (a dragon) and left the Shire to live in Rivendell, a symbolically adult area of Middle-Earth. If Frodo’s motivation for leaving is not exactly the same as Gawain’s:

We should also not neglect the fact that his departure may be no more – and no less – than the last kick of male restlessness before being tied down to domesticity and what Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms calls the “biological trap”. (BSS, p. 70)

it could be at least

a mysterious latent feeling of “work” so far not done, of destiny to be achieved, of identity to be fixed, before the protagonist can settle with a wife. (BSS, p. 70)

Ay, there is the rub” says Hamlet, Frodo does not settle with any peer ! Once more Brewer has a do-it-yourself explanation to that : the achievement of the peer is in this story reserved to a split of protagonist. It is indeed true that Tolkien provided Frodo with splits as it is common in romance-writing. Sam Gamgee who leaves the Shire with Frodo and accompanies him to the Cracks of Doom, Settles in Bag-End at the end of the story and marries Rosie, his “peer”. The other two hobbits, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, obviously to be considered as splits and “siblings“, also achieve minor individualizations. Their becoming adult is moreover materialized in the fact that they get physically taller after having drunk magical water among the Ents. Another split is Gollum or Smeagol, a negative split, it illustrates, as I have mentioned before, the possibility of failure of Frodo’s quest and his end gives evidence of Tolkien’s opinion on the self-destructive power of Evil. Professor Tolkien also introduced fairies in his tales. Brewer interprets them as reflecting upon the various pulsions present in the protagonist (it would take another hundred pages to explore the function of each fairy, so that I prefer to take this for granted).

One could easily draw a parallelism between Frodo and Sir Gawain, a typical romance hero. Both protagoniste fail : Gawain hides the green girdle from the Green Knight and Frodo is overcome by the power of the Ring at the very moment when he has the possibility to destroy it :

“I have come”, he said, “But I do not choose now to do what l came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine ! (p. 981)

But, since “all’s well that ends well” in romances, both tales have happy endings (I shall nuance this further as for The Lord of the Rings): Gawain is given the occasion of repenting and Frodo is thwarted in his decision by the providential self-destruction of Smeagol. Another characteristic shared by both heroes in their loneliness. Gawain is left with “no man but God to talk
to” and Frodo, though Sam’s assistance never fails, is morally alone:

Self-sacrifice is most poignant when it is entirely solitary; when apparently no one can ever know of the lonely painful deed that has been ungladly volunteered, and that has apparently been of no avail. This solitary heroism is Frodo’s, and the more convincing is that Tolkien does not totally isolate him physically since Sam remains with him for various purposes of the narrative. (BLRR, p. 257)

Their chastity is also to be compared :

First, chastity is for him (Gawain) a supreme virtue, and was generally taken as such in the culture of the time, even for men. The great examples of the importance of male chastity in Arthurian Literature are the romances about Galahad and Percival. Lancelot failed to achieve the Grail because of his unchastity with Guinevere. (BSS, p. 76)

A possible reason for giving such importance to virginity could be that:

The Virgin Mother makes, in this poem, no such outrageous demand. By demanding chastity she begins to break the carnal natural bond exerted by the other aspects of the mother-image, making it possible to use energy in other ways. (BSS, p. 86)

The chastity observed by Frodo is however not tested as that of Gawain. While his story is a “story of innocence tested and virtue successful” in which Gawain achieves the “highest form of mature self-realization for a man” (i.e. not succumbing to a possible peer), chastity is not the central theme in The Lord of the Rings; Frodo is not tempted by sex but by power.

I have explored so far why The Lord of the Rings could have been considered a romance. It is now time to turn to the other possibility : why the book is not a romance. Although, as I wrote it, many things are comparable between Gawain’s and Frodo’s careers, differences are also to be mentioned. A capital one is the type of fear inspired by their possible end:

Said Gawain, gay of cheer,
‘Wether fate be foul or faire,
Why falter I or fear ?
What should man do but dare ? (SGGK, l. 562-565)

It seems that Gawain begins to actually experience some tremors of fear only after the second temptation, exerted on him by his guide to the Green Chapel. He nevertheless keeps a noble attitude in front of the danger to come :

“By God”, said Gawain, “I swear
I will not weep or groan:
Being given to God’s good care,
My trust in him shall be shown”. (SGGK, l. 2156-2159)

Frodo on the contrary seems to be marked from the very beginning of his quest by a strong sense of the “Wyrd“, the inexorable lot he is doomed to:

“But I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well-desperate. The enemy is so strong and terrible.” (p. 76)

Though this attitude (confessing one’s weakness) is strictly modern – a heroic warrior would have dishonoured his name by doing so – the sense of Doom can be said to be more heroic than romantic. In the structure of the tale itself, the Saruman-postlude (he has modernized and industrialized the Shire during Frodo’s absence, establishing a totalitarian regime) is not evidently romantic. The traditional romantic happy ending is in fact temperated by the mitigated conclusion invented by Tolkien. I concentrated on Gandalf as a father-figure, but other characters could be considered as father-like : Bilbo, Saruman (a negative Gandalf), Elrond, Treebeard, the King of the Golden Hall, Celeborn and, why not Aragorn. In spite of the profusion of fathers, positive and negative ones, the mother-figures are rare. The almost complete absence of women in Tolkien’s tales is striking and there might be a clear explanation to that. Young Tolkien probably did not entertain feminine conversations in the trenches and moreover – war being only part of his experience, though prominent:

At the age when young men were discovering the charms of female company he was endeavouring to forget them… All the pleasures and discoveries of the next three years… were to be shared not with Edith but with others of his sex, so that he came to associate male company with much that was good in life. (HCTB, p. 45)

The two faint mother-figures in the tale are totally positive: Goldberry is a “water-sprite of the Old Forest, the bride of Tom Bombadil and daughter of the ‘River Woman of Withywindle’ (TTQ, p. 25). She welcomes the Company in Bombadil’s house, offering a good supper. Galadriel, the Bearer of Nenya, one of the Three Elven-Rings, shows Frodo the Eye in a fountain (insight into his quest ?). The two beneficent women in the tale could as well reflect the two women that Tolkien loved in his life : his mother and his wife, Edith Bratt. Since we are dealing with sentimental roots it is natural to say a word on the Hobbit’s attachment to the Shire. I have quoted Sampson in the beginning of this chapter. He said that there was “no consciousness of patriotism or nationalism, but only a deep sense of universal christendom at war with the powers of darkness” (SCHL, p. 39). Gawain accepts to have his head cut off as an individual. Brewer insists repeatedly that romances should be viewed as a progressive achievement of the protagonist as individual. Though Gawain belongs to the Knights of the Round Table, he leaves on his own for a personal quest in which he will be tempted personally. Although the Round Table appears at the beginning of the romance as a childish world i.e. from which Gawain has to depart (being in that similar to the Shire), the next time it is mentioned is only at the end during the rationalizing explanation of Bertilak. In the Morte d’Arthur, no mention is made either of a country to protect, of a flag to be kept flying. It is on the contrary necessary for the symbolical purpose of a romance to be, as Sampson explains, remote in place and time. As opposed to that, each
character in The Lord of the Rings belongs to a nation, be it the Shire, Lothlorien, Rohan, Gondor or any other place of Middle-Earth. Frodo decides to go and destroy the “Peril of the World” in order to “save the Shire”. He and Sam very often remember their valley on the way to Orodruin. Legolas “Green Leaf”, an elf, fights in the name of Mirkwood (or forest of Taur e-Ndaedelos), and Gimli “is enrolled in the fellowship of the Ring, to represent his kinfolk in the entreprise” (TTC, p. 245). The more evident nationalistic aspect of the book is naturally embodied by Aragorn:

To re-establish the ancient kingship of both Gondor and Armor was Aragorn’s sworn duty, and his one great hope. (TTC, p. 28)

Each member of the company’ belongs to somewhere. Tyler writes:

This fellowshíp was to represent each of the Free Peoples – Hobbíts, Men, Dwarves and Elves. (TTQ, p. 331)

Each character is thus individualized in the tale through his “nationality”. Since Tolkien wanted us to adhere completely to his story (the so-called “unwilling suspension of disbelief” which I shall explain in a further chapter), we cannot consider the tale as “remote”, without “place” or “time” reference. The nationalist or patriotic connotations are irreconcilable with the given definition of the romance and The Lord of the Rings is therefore not to be considered as a romance, at least an orthodox one. These “nations” represented in the fellowship are closer to the Heroic conceptions. Each character in Beowulf is referred to as belonging to a country or a tribe (Beowulf, lord of the Geats, etc.). The nationalist tendency
is epitomized in the late heroic poetry (The Battle of Maldon, The Battle of Brunanburgh). The patriotic coloration derives probably from the fact that heroic poetry was at the time para-historical, that is was rooted in historical material. What a mastery of story-telling-Tolkien has developed since the only roots of the complete mythology and history he created are to be sought in his imagination. Moreover the “Free People” rings a bell: during WWI Tolkien must have experienced the comradship which inspired him the Fellowship and the “Free People” could as well resound as the “Allies” of both wars.

This is thus one point that prevented me from completely adhering to Brewer’s view on The Lord of the Rings. The second one and not the least, is Brewer’s insistance on the singleness on the protagonist, which is however logical in his interpretation of romance as TALE = PROTAGONIST = AUTHOR = READER. I have already alluded to the fact that other characters than Frodo are individualized through their nationality, I shall now devote the end of this chapter to the multiplicity of questing characters (the double quest-aspect will be dealt with in the next chapter). Brewer writes about Gawain:

Because of our identification with him, we see the other characters entirely in their relation to him, and never to each other. He is present in every scene, and all the scenes have effectively only two characters, Gawain and another. (BSS, p. 83)

I already quoted him when he affirmed that

no other character, …, has an autonomous inner life, a self-motivated independant existence of his or her own. (BSS, p. 23)

There is precisely the problem. If we concentrate on Frodo, the romance-pattern described by Brewer is observed but there are in the book other characters questing and – since these could have been considered as splits of Frodo as is the case with the other hobbits and Smeagol – these other characters achieve their own quest. The most striking example beside Gandalf the Grey (who after a first death reappears as Gandalf the White – death as rite of purification ?), is Aragorn.

It will be explained in details in the chapter devoted to the characterization how Strider is a typically heroic character, it is sufficient here to mention that, though of high lineage, he has undergone a period of occultation after which he has been restored in his heroic status (cfr. the “Sword Reforged”) to finally settle with his peer, Arwen Undómiel, as king of both Arnor and Gondor. Aragorn achieves thus the complete heroic career and this independently from Frodo. The structure of the double quest itself (the heroic one, Aragorn and the major part of the Fellowship, on the one side and the romantic one, Frodo and Sam, on the other) prevents the unicity advocated by Brewer. A good third of the book contains events happening outside the reach of Frodo and moreover unconnected with his personal quest.

These two major counter-arguments – I do not develop here the war-ending which is also typically heroic – allow me to conclude in favour of the non-romantic aspect of The Lord of the Rings or rather : it is not only a romance. The part of the narration devoted to Frodo fits with the analysis of Dr Brewer but the author of The Lord of the Rings as a romance has lost sight of the rest of the narrative in which the romance-likeness is not at all verified ! I once more want to insist on my profound admiration and indebtness to Mr Brewers approach to symbolic stories. My purpose was only to suggest that he probably recognized a pattern in Tolkien’s work which was in his eyes typical of romances i.e. the maturation theme and that he enthusiastically concluded in favour of what I hope I have demonstrated as excessive. It is not because an ape wears a bowl-hat that he is an Englishman.


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