THONART : Tolkien or the Fictitious Compiler (ULiège, 1984) – 03 – The Quest

Temps de lecture : 27 minutes >

It is often the case with romances that a quest appears to be the organizing pattern of the narrative. One of the best-known medieval examples is the quest for the Sancgreal in the Arthurian Romances. It also seems a common feature that the quest-pattern should be limited to romances. As a matter of fact heroic literature is preoccupied with more down-to-earth matters. Since the main concern of the hero is to go down to posterity i.e. leave in the minds of the living people an image of courage and unfailing virtue – virtue being in this case proportional to the adherence to the heroic code of honor and not at all the Ten Commandments – the Old English. heroic poetry rather puts the emphasis on war, the duties of the Germanic comitatus, the patching up of blood feuds with impossible marriages, the problems of man in front of his lot (wyrd) and the shame of the warrior unfaithful to his lord. In this sense heroic poetry can be said to be more true-to-life than romances.

It is the lot of the Germanic warrior to concentrate on one word : “overcome”. Overcome fear in order to appear as a courageous soldier, overcome temptation to remain submitted to one’s lord, overcome the enemy to save one’s tribe, overcome evil to gain the right to a high renown after death. Be it physically or intellectually, victory was the stimulating principle of the life of a warrior. The alternative between  victory by physical strength or by wise strategy is best illustrated in Beowulf‘s three progressive assaults. Young Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands. Grendel’s mother, which dwells at the bottom of a lake, must be killed by a magical sword. The third. assault against a fire-breathing dragon necessitates a special shield capable of protecting Beowulf from the flames. Beowulf, helped by Wiglaf, is victorious but dies. I should rather have written “is victorious and dies” since a heroic warrior knows he is doomed to violent death; it is moreover his greatest achievement to die with an “undefeated spirit”. Anyway, as a traditional hero, he must die on the battlefield or as a result of his encounter with the enemy – in this case: the dragons. It is a necessary condition for him to deserve his place in the Valhalla even if the Valhalla has disappeared from christianized Old English poetry. Beowulf ends thus a successful career completed by an unavoidable death.

Another feature of the hero is his “transparency” as a character. One could conclude that the heroic achievement is external : the hero is judged in his status according to “deeds” giving evidence of his courage. Whatever the fear felt or the inner cowardice of the character, what matters is the external appearance of heroic virtue. Such an interpretation, reducing heroism to a “look” in the modern meaning of the word, is based on a corrupt(ed) reading of Old English poetry. Modern writings are indeed full of characters whose appearance inside the tale contrasts with their real feelings or inner life. This was not true in the early medieval literature.

What I mean by “transparency” is precisely that heroes are supposed to have an inner life corresponding to their external appearance. More than that, the medieval poets were not at all concerned with psychological matters. Their characters are meant to be courageous when they act courageously. The inner conflicts between fear and courage are directly conveyed into actions illustrating the choice made by the hero. Moreover a good character is mainly thoroughly good, courageous and strong, whereas the traitor is presented as thoroughly perverse.

Romances on the contrary are not so much concerned with the public image of the hero for its own sake. The innovations in concern brought by the romance-writers are of two kinds. On the one hand, the eschatological struggle between Light and Darkness, God and the Devil in which the hero takes part as a herald of Good is no more set on a war-background involving armies and wide battlefields or dragons embodying all the Evil of the world. The battlefield in romances is symbolically reduced to the protagonist himself, inside of whom the actual struggle takes place. While the heroic hero takes part in a battle,the action in romances is located inside the protagonist which is used as a microcosm reflecting human experience. This conclusion is drawn in accordance with Brewer’s interpretation of the tale as the total mind of the protagonist. He in fact means by this that, since the protagonist and the other characters in the narrative are aspects of the protagonist’s mind, the story itself is the summing up of these aspects of the total mind. The various events are in fact illustrations of the various conflicts occurring in the mind of the maturing protagonist, romances being often, according to Brewer, stories of maturation. The tale is consequently seen as dynamic, the evolution of the protagonist being its organizing and stimulating principle. I mean by dynamic that the parameters determining the construction of the tale at its beginning are altered during its course and different at the end. Let us take for example the Green Knight: he is a terrible father-figure at the opening of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, forcing young Gawain out of childhood, represented by the Court of King Arthur, I already explained that; it appears, however, at the end. that the character that served as a temptator throughout the tale, as a confessor during the rationalization scene and the Green Knight himself are but one and the same person : Bertilak of the High Desert. More than that, this character is himself the victim of Morgan the Fay. It is in this sense that I used the words “altered parameters”, characterization being one of these parameters; So much for the first innovation made by the romance-writers.

The second is actually a corollary of the first. Since man and his experience are at the centre of the preoccupations of the romantic tale, it is logical that romances should be concerned with the humanity of the hero, refusing to reduce him to a courageous warrior in front of his lot. The heroic rules that were at the centre of the heroic “casuistry” are hence questioned. in romances. Benson (quoted by Brian Stone) says that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the “story of the perennial conflict between ideal codes and human limitations”. I shall also try in this chapter to explain how Frodo’s humanity is illustrated in The Lord of the Rings, my general purpose remaining, however, to show why this tale is not a romance.

As has often been said in this study, a quest constitutes the leading-thread of the narrative. Frodo left the Shire in order to destroy the One Ring in the Fires of Orodruin. This ring he inherited from his uncle Bilbo then retired at Rivendell, the dwelling of Master Elrond Half-Elven. It is Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, who proposed the quest to Frodo. Elrond has also chosen eight companions among the Free Peoples…

…to accompany the Ring-Bearer on the Quest of Mount Doom. They were : Gandalf, Aragorn, Dúnadan of the North, and Boromír, Prince of Gondor (for men); Legolas, son of King Thranduíl (for the Elves); Gimlí, son of Glöin (for the Dwarves); and three Hobbíts – Meriadoc, Peregrin, Samwíse.

Together they leave to Orodruin. Gandalf disappears in the Mines of Moria and Aragorn has consequently to reveal his true name – he had so far been known as Strider – and his rank: he is the True Pretender. Arrived to the Rauras Falls, they have a little rest. Time enough for Boromir to succumb to the power of the Ring, try to steal it and die repentant under the blows of Orcs that attacked the fellowship. So far for the handle of the forked quest.

“Forked quest” means here that from that point in the story two different courses of the narrative are to be taken into account. On the one side, the major part of the Fellowship (Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin and Merry), who follows a heroic evolution as I shall try to make clear further, and, on the other, Frodo and Sam, who achieve the romance part of the tale. This chapter is thus an amplification of my conclusion to the chapter devoted to Brewer’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. I hope to have shown that Brewer’s statement that Tolkien’s book is a romance of maturation applies only to the part of the narrative devoted to Frodo.

In the Arthurian tales centered on the Sancgreal, various members of the same community are on a similar quest: Percival, Galahad, Lancelot and others try to discover the Grail Castle. The similarity between the multiple quest in the Morte d’Arthur and in The Lord of the Rings is not an evidence of the romanticity of Tolkien’s work. As a matter of fact Malory’s “Noble tale of the Sancgreal“ (book XIII) is not one as a narrative, it is rather a series of smaller romances each devoted to a questing character. Hence a possibly misleading paralelism between the two books. In addition to that, Brewer considered The Lord of the Rings as the romance of Frodo exclusively, the other characters being splits of the protagonist or related figures.

However, the early mention of the conditions of the quest corresponds to the traditional pattern of romances. Gawain leaves Arthur’s Hall to seek the Green Knight, who will return the blow Gawain inflicted him. The bargain between Gawain and the Green Knight is settled in the tale as early’ as line 282 (the whole romance being 2530 lines long):

So I crave in this court a Christmas game,
For is is Yuletide and New Year, and young men abound here.
If any in this household is so hardy in spirit,
Of such mettlesome mind and so madly rash
As to strike a strong blow in return for another,
I shall offer to him this fine axe freely;
This axe, which is heavy enough, to handle as he please.
And I shall bide the first blow, as bare as I sit here.
If some intrepid man is tempted to try what I suggest,
Let him leap towards me and lay hold of this weapon,
Acquiring clear possession of it, no claim from me ensuing.
Then shall I stand up to his stroke, quite still on this floor –
So long as I shall have leave to launch a return blow
Yet he shall have a year
And a day’s reprieve, I direct.
Now hasten and let me hear
Who answers, to what effect.

In Peredur ab Evrawc, Peredur (Percival) is told before leaving his mother the various recommendations that will determine his further behaviour in the tale

Va, dit-elle,tout droit ä la cour d’Arthur, là ou sont les hommes les meilleurs, les plus généreux et les plus vaillants. Ou tu verras une église, récite ton Pater auprès d’elle. Quelque part que tu voies nourriture et boisson, si tu en as besoin et qu’on ait pas assez de courtoisie ni de bonté pour t’en faire part, prends toi-même. Si tu entends des cris, vas de ce côté; il n’y a pas de cri plus caractéristique que celui d’une femme. Si tu vois de beaux joyaux, prends et donne à autrui, et tu acquerras aussi réputation. Si tu vois une belle femme, fais-lui la cour, quand même elle ne voudrait pas de toi, elle t’en estimera meilleur et plus puissant qu’auparavant.

It seems thus that the rules of the game have to be settled before the game opens. In The Lord of the Rings, the opening spell is not an exception

Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where Shadows lie.

It has been evoked in the chapter devoted to the Ring that Frodo’s quest, as opposed to Percival’s or Galahad’s, was in some sense a negative quest, at least an ambivalent one. Frodo indeed does not leave home in order to seek something, he possesses the object. of the quest from the beginning of the tale: the ring inherited from Bilbo. The actual aim of his quest is moreover destruction and not discovery. This reversed quest-motive is due to the nature of the object of the quest itself. On the one hand, the Grail is a Christian symbol of sanctity, it stands on the side of Good and of God:

Le Graal représente à la fois, et substantiellement, le Christ mort pour les hommes, le vase de la Sainte Cène (c’est-à-dire, la Grâce divine accordée par le Christ à ses disciples), et enfin le calice de la messe, contenant le sang réel du Sauveur. La table sur laquelle repose le vase est donc,selon ces trois plans, la pierre du Saint-Sépulcre, la table des Douze Apôtres, et enfin l’autel ou se célèbre le sacrifice quotidien. Ces trois réalités, la Crucifixion, la Gène, l’Eucharistie, sont inséparables et la cérémonie du Graal est leur révélation, donnant dans la Communion la connaissance de la personne  du Christ et la participation à son Sacrifice Salvateur. (Dds, p. 482-483)

Its origin seems however to be rather pagan:

Le Saint Graal de la littérature médiévale européenne est l’héritier sinon le continuateur de deux talismans de la religion celtique pré-chrétienne : le chaudron du Dagda et la coupe de souveraineté. (Dds, p. 482)

In its symbolical function, the Grail could in fact fit with all religions:

Le Graal c’est la lumière spirituelle, qui n’a que faire des dogmes. Mais on ne peut s’en approcher qu’au prix d’une longue recherche et de douloureux efforts de dépassement de soi-même. (BMC, p. 286)

The quest of the Grail is thus purely spiritual. Though it is actualized in adventures and secular peregrinations, it is in fact a spiritual research inside one’s soul: the questing hero tries to achieve the interiority of faith, the mystical relationship between lnimself and God. It is in this context that
Brekilien properly describes it as “n’ayant que faire des dogmes”.  Mysticism requires individuality : the mystic follows his own path refusing the too well-beaconed highway to God that church is. The quest of the Grail is thus a positive interior quest of something – in this case the Grail- which reflects an ideal state-of-soul that one has to achieve.

On the other hand the ring is obviously not standing for any personal achievement. On the contrary, it embodies the forces of Evil threatening the moral integrity of the questing hobbit. As I wrote in another chapter, the Ring, borne out of Evil, represents the lust for power to which any of us might succumb. The hobbits are described by Tolkien in the prologue as

an unobtrusive but very ancient people,… they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt… They were a merry folk. They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green;… And laugh they did, and eat, and drank, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them).

The author gives us a picture of a sensible innocence, uncorrupted by the lust for power (“sensible” meaning here that their innocence has nothing to do with that of God’s Lamb: Hobbits enjoy food and drink and sometimes quarrel; their innocence is a rather temperated one). Evil, embodied by the Ring, has thus to come from outside the Shire. The moral integrity is here a starting point rather than an achievement. Hence the necessary destruction of the Ring as a means to protect innocence from corruption. In the Morte d’Arthur, the case of Lancelot illustrates very well my point here. Lancelot’s quest ends on a meagre satisfaction: he is allowed to see the Grail very briefly, in a dream. The reason for that failure is his corrupted soul, i.e. his love for Guinevere, his lord’s wife. The two quests are thus totally reversed:  whereas finding the Grail means achieving personal sanctity, an interior connection with God, the destruction of the Ring means preventing the original innocence of the protagonist and his fellow-hobbits from being spoiled by corruption.

Another aspect of the quest that could serve as a point of comparison is its ending: is success necessary and what should be the meaning of a failure ? I already alluded to the difference of attitude in front of the quest to be performed between Gawain and Frodo. Gawain left the court as a daring youth (“what should man do but dare ?” SGGK, l.565) whereas Frodo felt “very small, and very uprooted, and well-desperate” (p. 76). The contrast between Gawain’s self-confidence and Frodo’s sense of doom led me to say that Frodo’s fears denoted a rather heroic mood. Any romance reader indeed knows that there must be a happy ending. Though Gawain makes a mistake, he is not beheaded by the Green Knight and he is allowed to go back – repentant – to his lord’s court in order to tell the other knights of the Round Table of his fault. Gawain’s failure is turned into a good moral lesson. The same for Lancelot: lacking virginity, he cannot reach the Grail Castle and only’ sees the object of his quest “half wakynge and slepyng” (MMAE, p.158). As a squire comments :

I dare ryght wel saye
sayed the squyer that he dwelleth in some dedely synne wherof he was never confessid (MMAE, p. 160)

Lancelot, however, does not seem to mind his limited success :

Mais voilà que le visionnaire s’estime satisfait et content de lui. (MMAE, p. 30-31)

Failures of the protagonist are thus minimized in romances in order to provide a happy ending :

& Yf I may not spede
I shall retorne ageyne as he that maye not be ageynst the wil of our
Lord Ihesu Cryste (MMAE, p. 144)

In point of fact they are even more meaningful than success would have been : a failing hero is made human, identification is made easier and the tale the more effective.

Frodo on the contrary illustrates heroic fatalism as if he knew from the very beginning that heroic tales often conclude on the death of the hero – though glorious. His failure is moreover not at all tempered by a posteriori considerations. Although his quest is successful – the Ring is destroyed – Frodo once succumbed to the power of Sauron and, without the providential intervention of Smeagol, he would have turned towards Darkness and Sauron. He says to Sam Gamgee after Gollum’s death:

But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end.

In spite of the joy provided by the saving of the Shire, Frodo has changed:

One evening Sam came into the study and found his master looking very strange. He was very pale and his eyes seemed to see things far away. “What’s the matter, Mr Frodo ?” said Sam. “I am wounded”, he answered, ”wounded; it will never really heal.”

Fatality is thus the feeling that prevails in his mind. This is once more a feature that does not fit with the definition of the traditional romantic hero. As a matter of fact the further we analyse the various characteristics of Tolkien’s book, the less it is possible to classify his references: Frodo is a questing character (thus romantic) having a rather heroic mood.

Genuinely romantic and corresponding to Brewer’s theory is however the progression of his quest. Tolkien organized various “rites of passage” on his way to Orodruin: doors, gates, tunnels, bridges, crossing of waters are by nature places that imply a passage. Symbolically they are also meaningful, e.g.

La porte symbolise le lieu de passage entre deux états, entre deux mondes, entre le connu et l’inconnu, la lumière et les ténèbres, le trésor et le dénuement. La porte ouvre sur un mystère. Mais elle a une valeur  dynamique, psychologique; car non seulement elle indique un passage, mais elle invite à la franchir. (DdS, p. 779)

Be it on purpose or unconsciously Tolkien provided the Fellowship with many of these “passages”. Before leaving the Shire, the Hobbits had to cross the Brandywine river on a ferry. Crossing a river is not an image limited to Tolkien: in ancient China, the “just married” pairs had to cross the river in Spring, it meant a real crossing of the seasons, the year, from the Yin to the Yang; is was moreover a rite of purification (DdS, p. 449-450). Acheron, Phlegeton, Cocyte, Styx and Lethe are the names of the rivers of Hell, they were to be crossed by the damned souls (DdS, id.). I shall, however, not go into too far fetched interpretations of Tolkien’s rites of passage. We cannot know anyway whether he meant them as such (i.e. symbolically) or if the various crossings simply meant stages in a travel – I mean that Tolkien could have used these “steps” as devices in order to render the spatial translation necessary to a picaresque narrative (the more you cross rivers and go through gates and tunnels, the further you are from home).

Beside the symbolical use and the technical one, there is another possibility: Tolkien, impregnated with medieval literature, could have noticed the many “passages” that appear in romances and heroic tales, and simply have reproduced the pattern in The Lord of the Rings without exploring its deeper meaning. The last alternative should, however, be a kind of an insult to Tolkien’s cleverness and keen knowledge of the functioning of medieval stories, and, be it the case, I should rather consider that professor Tolkien purposely ignored the analysis proposed by psychoanalysts as Yung and others, probably because he hated excessive interpretation. It. could nevertheless be possible that the identification of Tolkien with medieval poets was nearly complete. These ancient story-tellers obviously did not know about Brewer’s analysis of symbolical tales, and, instinctively, reproduced patterns in their creations, or rather re-creations, not modifying the inner meaning of the story they tried to re-tell. The function of many medieval story-tellers actually consisted in giving to a traditional motive a version “adequate to itself and the audience” (as Brewer explains in his Symbolic Stories). Brewer writes:

While the same given story may have differing verbal realizations, each version must be regarded as adequate to itself… each version has its own validity, its own character, just as different members of the same family, though sharing similar characteristics, each have their own individuality. Each version must be judged in itself, as well as being an emanation of a general entity. (BBS)

The basic story, or let us say the basic pattern, could be compared to an apple pie, the poet being the cook who determines the portion of sugar, flour and butter according to the taste of his guests. There is indeed a basic recipe but one may use brown sugar instead of white sugar, add some cinnamon or whatever. In this sense the various crossings or passages could have appeared to the poet as necessary ingredients for a consistent and relevant tale, without revealing their archetypal meaning (since not objectivized). So much for the possible “innocence of Tolkien as a story-teller.

At the border of the Shire is also a forest. Jung interpreted the forest as the representation of the unconscious, the attitude of the protagonist in front of it determining whether he lived in harmony with his deepest self or on the contrary feared to be faced with his inner tensions. Reactions can thus be varied and the forest can be experienced as unfriendly or protective:

D’autres poètes sont plus sensibles au mystère ambivalent de la forêt, qui est génératrice â la fois d’angoisse et de sérénité, d’oppression et de sympathie, comme toutes les puissantes manifestations de la vie. (DdS, p. 455)

My point is here to mention a series of “passages” in the tale, offering diverse possible interpretations but without deciding on their validity. I am no psychoanalyst and cruelly lack the cleverness of Dr Brewer, so that, as I suggested in the introduction, my work had better be considered as a guide to various doors and windows, all of them being possible approaches to Tolkien’s work, to be opened by others than myself. The reader should feel as Alice in the hall :

There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every doors, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was to get out again.(LCAW, p. 27)

Yet, I shall have the lack of humility to try to direct the reader’s eyes towards the “little three-legged table, all made of solid glass” and the “tiny golden key” (id.). It would be my greatest achievement to give enough clues for the reader to discover the little door behind the low curtain. End of the digression.

It is thus necessary to mention the various forests that appear in The Lord of the Rings, each being differently experienced by Frodo. The Old Forest at the border of the Shire is a dark one, “stories” are told about it. An interesting passage is this :

“Are the stories about it true ?” asked Pippin. “I don’t know what stories you mean”, Merry answered, “If you mean the old bogey stories Fatty’s nurse used to tell him, about Goblins and Wolves and things of that sort, I should say no. At any rate I don’t believe them. But the Forest is queer. Everything in it is very much more alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire… But at night things can be most alarming… I thought all the trees were (LofR, p. 125)

If we take for granted Jung’s interpretation of the Forest as the unconscious, this extract strikingly illustrates the theory. Night being a period during which everything can happen, since “ratio” is at sleep or at least less powerful, it could be the reason why rthings can be most alarming” (just imagine the terror-striken self facing his darkest unconscious without the help usually provided by rationalization). “Queer things” are, if we play the psychoanalytical game, pulsions. Pulsions, in fact the contents of the unconscious, are not expressed in rational terms (one has to think of the “language” used by dream-making) but in “unintelligible language”. Brewer wrote that fairies were to be considered as standing for pulsions of the protagonist.

There is both ancient depth and a fresh inventiveness in his creation of non-human, non-animal creatures, Elves, Dwarves, Ents, Fairies, that enbody perceptions and impulses that the naturalistic novel has long since laid aside. (BLRR, p. 262)

I shall therefore leave the reader conclude by himself on the meaning of Lothlorien and its inhabitants, the Elves. We must however not skip other important episodes.

Frodo has thus left the Shire, comfortable childhood, and gone through the Old Forest, the unconscious and the pulsions that inhabit it. At the edge of this forest, the Hobbits (the Fellowship has not yet been completed with Elves, Men and Dwarves) were attacked by trees ; Frodo was almost drowned and Pippin and Merry were literally swallowed by an old willow-tree. There were rescued by Tom Bombadil – a protecting father figure – and went on their way. To have succumbed to the attacks of the forest would probably have meant alienation (total dependence on one’s pulsions). After the council of Elrond – another father-figure – the completed Fellowship went South. Noticeable is the presence of many father-figures round Frodo at the beginning of the tale : Gandalf who drives Frodo out of childhood, Tom Bombadil and Elrond who make up for Gandalf’s defection (he left the Hobbits to their lot until he met them anew at the council) and Aragorn, as we shall further see. Indeed, in the depth of the Moria, Gandalf disappeared during a fight against a Balrog. Another helpful father was needed and it is then that Aragorn reveals his true lineage and takes over the leadership of the frightened group. Before entering the Moria, however, Gandalf had once been helpful to the Hobbits. The access to the mines of Moria is shut by a locked door, a passage, but this passage is moreover invisible : no actual door is to be seen. It is indeed true that the youth does not know how to become an adult, the father-figure is necessary : he has to impose the tests and help his child to get through. Beside that any growing up youth must leave behing his various teddy-bears which were his companions throughout childhood. All this could be said to appear in this episode of the LofR. Gandalf-father leads the Fellowship in front of the West Door but

Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen uhen shutt said Gimli. They are invisible, and theyr own masters cannot find them or open them, if their secret is forgotten. (LofR, p. 321)

It is indeed true that a father must keep in mind his own maturation trials to be able to be helpful to his child. Daddy-Gandalf then pretended not to know how to go through the door :

But do not you know the uord, Gandalf? asked Boromir in surprise.
No  ! said the wizard.
The others looked dismayed, only Aragorn, who knew Gandalf well,  remained silent and unmoved. (LofR, p.324)

One feels naturally distressed at the sight of a father who cannot help. It could be very clever of a father to leave some doubt about his capacity so that the child could be led to think over his problems by himself.  Nevertheless Gandalf interrupted the suspense and pronounced the magical opening words

Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen!
Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!
No, I didn’t work!
Edro, edro!
It didn’t work either!
Mellon! (LofR, p. 324-325)

At last the door opened but it did not mean the end of the test for Frodo yet. A last kick of childhood prevented him from “passing the door”:

Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was palegreen  and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water. (LofR, p.326)

Dark water could play the same part as the forest before, giving meaning to Frodo’s comment : “I’m afraid of the pool. Don’t disturb it!” It is a split of Frodo who is however deprived of his teddybear : Sam had to leave Bill the poney behind him. Being the father, Gandalf made things clear to him :

I’m sorry, Sam, said the wizard. But when the door opens I do not think you will be able to drag your Bill inside, into the long dark of Moria. You will have to choose between Bill and your master. (LofR, p. 321)

After the episode of Lothlorien to which I already alluded and during which one of the faint mother-figures, Galadriel, appears, crossing new gates (the Gate of Argonath), the fellowship split into two groups : the heroic and the romantic one.

On the romantic side, Frodo and Sam went ont their way to the Cracks of  Doom. Other “passages” appear throughout the tale a.o. the Black Gate, the Marshes of the Dead, the Shadow Mountains, the Pass of the Spider and at last Mount Doom, the way to which, i.e. the way to the completion of the quest and hence of the maturation process, is winding and hard to climb. Each of these tests could be subject of a long analysis, be it psychoanalytical or symbolical both are connected anyway but it is not my point here. Their presence gives first of all clear evidence that Frodo’s part of the quest – as a matter of fact the only actual quest of the tale is genuinely romantic. Brewer was right there. I would like to comment only on two passages of the narrative : concerning respectively Shelob the Spider and Gollum-Smeagol as a guide. Shelob, a giant spider which bites Frodo and plunges him in a deep sleep, has a feIlow-spider that Tolkien confronted to Bilbo in There and Back Again (TBH, p. 161) :

Then the great spider, who had been busy tying him up while he dazed,  came from behind him and came at him. He could only see the thing’s eyes, but he could feel its hairy legs as it struggled to wind its abominable threads round and round him.

As for Shelob :

The bubbling hiss drew nearer, and there was a creaking as some great jointed thing that moved with slow purpose in the dark… Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape… A little way ahead and to his left he saw suddenly, issuing from a black hole of shadow under the cliff, the most loathly shape that he ever beheld, horrible beyond the horror of an evil dream. (LofR, p. 744-754)

Both spiders are nevertheless overcome by the protagonist and the test is therefore completed. I mentioned these two passages because I think they constitute the best example of critical temptation. A spider that appears in a dream is interpreted as standing for physical contact, sexual promiscuity which can be feared or enjoyed. It is therefore easy to associate the function of spiders in Tolkien’s tales with that of dragons in romances : the killing of the dragon is for Brewer the victory over sexual fears. The dragonfight-feature indeed appears in various medieval tales : be it heroic (Beowulf’s victory over three worms of the hottest kind, the last being sleeping on a treasure; noticeable is also the fact that the fight takes place under a barrow) or romantic as Peredur-Percival adventure (BMC, p. 277) :

L’autre lui répondit que c’était en se battant avec Le Serpent Noir caché sous un monticule appelé Cruc Galarus, Le Tertre Douloureux. Ce serpent avait  dans la queue une pierre magique : quiconque la tenait dans une main recevait dans l’autre toutes les richesses qu’il désirait.

The pattern dragon-barrow-treasure is also present in Tolkien’s tales. Bilbo’s task is to kill Smaug, one of the greatest Urulôri (fire-dragons)  “who lays on the gathered wealth of both Erebor and Dale” inside the Lonely Mountain (TTc, p. 535-536). I only take in consideration here the presence of a dragon to be vanquished, the interlaced motives dragon-barrow-treasure offering possibilities of interpretation which are beside the point here. It is as I said tempting to consider the motive of the killing of the dragon and hence of a spider as a purely medieval one and to conclude in favour of Tolkien’s intention of using such a pattern in the medieval trend, by imitation. Reality is, however, different and demonstrates the aleatory ground of excessive critlcism:

And many months later, when Ronald was beginning to walk, he stumbled on a tarentula. It bit him, and he ran in terror across the garden until the nurse snatched him up and sucked out the poison. When he grew up he could remember a hot day and running in fear through long dead qrass, but the memory of the tarentula itself faded, and he said that the incident left him with no special dislike of spiders. Nevertheless, in his stories, he wrote more than once of monstrous spiders with venomous bites . (HCTB, p.13-14)

The second thing I would like to allude to is Gollum (Smeagol) accompanying. I have said before that Smeagol was to be considered as a “split” of Frodo, in fact his negative split pointing out the possibility of failure – hence making the evolution of the tale more thrilling. The very fact that Gollum should be the negative self of the protagonist is interestingly illustrated by their balanced strengh during the tale : during the journey through Sauron’s desolated territory there is an alternation of predominance between the two Frodo’s. GoIIum, who had been trailing Frodo and Sam, attacks them as they make ready to enter the Heart of Darkness. However, Frodo prevents Sam from killing the defeated slimy creature and this seems almost to turn back to a life of gentleness again. It is a chastened Gollum that serves as a guide to the two hobbits. But, while Frodo’s forces are declining, the ring getting heavier and heavier as they come closer to Mount Doom, Gollum’s cruelty and evil forces increase up to the final crisis. At Mount Doom Frodo is at his lowest and actually succumbs to the Power of Darkness; Gollum on the contrary is more angry than ever against the Ring-Bearer, his treasure being so closely at hand. At the climax of the contrast only, evil Smeagol commits his “unwilling” suicide and disappears in the Fires of Doom with his coveted treasure. He, as a negative Frodo, was no longer needed since the quest was completed. Self-destructive evil.

The multiple rites of passage, the completion of the quest, the unicity of the protagonist, contribute to the romance aspect of Frodo’s part of the narrative in the terms in which Brewer analyzed it. But, as opposed to that, the other members of the fellowship do not take part in a romantic quest, on the contrary, I already insisted on the fact that each member of the Fellowship had a personal existence, separate from the central protagonist, because of his belonging to a specific nation of Middle-Earth : Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elve, Merry and Pippin the Hobbits, Aragorn and Boromir the Men. Boromir dies early in the tale and his death is caused by his addiction to the Ring. He could therefore be considered as a negative split but a split of Aragorn! He is thus not connected with Frodo, Brewer’s central protagonist, and, as a foil to Aragorn, he gives the latter the central role in the heroic part of the Fellowship. Indeed, Aragorn is a hero of high lineage :

Aragorn II, born in Rivendell (2931 Third Age), the only son of Gilraen the fair and Arathorn II, fifteenth Chieftain of the Dùnadain of Arnor. When his father died in battLe only two years after Aragorn’s birth, the boy in his turn became Chieftain.
His mother then took him to safety in Rivendell, where the young Dùnadain was fostered by Elrond himself. Then he bore the name Estel (“hope”) to conceal his true lineage from the emissaries of Sauron who were scouning the North for the last Heir of Isildur. On his twentieth birthday, Elrond revealed his true name and ancestry, and the ancient hopes of his House, and he gave to Aragorn the heirlooms of his Line : the Ring of Barahir, and the shards of Elendil’s sword Narsil. (TTC, p. 28)

His career does correspond to the various stages described by Sellier : born of high rineage, the hero has to undergo a phase of occultation, he then has to come back to his heroic status after having been rqcognized as a hero thanks to a token (in this case the sword of Elendil) and having done deeds establishing his worth as a hero. Aragorn is thus fully independent from Frodo since he achieves his own career. Even the two other Hobbits achieve minor heroic careers. Hobbits are not by definition made out of the “right stuff”. They are shy and cordially dislike adventures. Both Hobbits are however dubbed by two kings of Middle-Earth : Peregrin “Pippin” Took swore allegiance to the steward Denethor II and was made a guard of the Citadel for his pains, he was later “knighted by king Elessar for his services to Gondor” (TTC, p. 468-469); Meriadoc “The Magnificent” Brandibuck :

Being of aristocratic Hobbit lineage, from the start Merry was able to  express his admiration in the correct manner by formally pledging his service to the king, a gesture which greatly pleased the aged ruler, though doubtless he continued to regard the Hobbit more as a ward than a warrior. Nonetheless, Meriador of the Shire did accompany the Riders of Rohan on their epic journey to the aid of Gondor during the War of the Ring. And in the battle of Pelennor Fields he stood by Théoden after the king was attacked by the Chief Ringwraith, and he courageously strucke the Nazgûl, thus helping to bring about his downfall. For these deeds Merry won great honour and renown among the Rohirrim, uho named him Holdwine in their language and gave him rank and much esteem in their land..

In addition to that, the main characteristic of this part of the narrative, which establishes it clearly as non-romantic, is that it is based on war : the Great War of the Rings. War is never at the centre of romances and, when it appears, it remains peripherical (MMAE, p. 58) :

Thenne within two yeres kyng Uther felle seke of a grete maladye
And in the meane whyle his enemies usurped upon hym
and did a grete bataylle upon his men
and slewe many of his people
Sir said Merlyn ye may not lye so as ye doo
for ye must to the feld though ye ride on an hors lyttar
yor ye shall never have the better of your enemyes
but yf your persone bethere
and thenne shall ye have the vyctory…
And at Saynt Albons they mette
with the kynge a grete hoost of the north
And that day Syre Ulfyus and Syr Bracias dyd grete dedes of armes
and kyng Uthers men overcome the northern bataylle and slewe many peple
& putt the remenaunt to flight

(This extract being the longest evocation of war in the Morte d’Arthur). It is however logical that it should be so, romances being centered on individual achievement. War is by essence a wider phenomenon implying a whole society or a whole tribe. It is precisely what appears in The Lord of the Rings : Theoden King, Denethor, Faramir, Aragorn, Eowyn, Legolas and Gimli, Gandalf, Merry and Pippin, the Balrog, are all actors in the Great war of the Ring. Large armies are confronted : Orcs, Dwargs, Balrogs and others on the side of Sauron and the Elves, the Dwarves, the Hobbits, the Riders of Rohan, the Ents, even the army of the Deads are on the side of the Free Peoples. Battles follow battles up to the final victory thanks to Aragorn intervention by sea. There is indeed no room enough in the solipsistic romances, hence in the protagonist’s mind, for so many people and events at the same time!

The last aspect I would have liked to discuss briefly in this chapter is death  in The Lord of the Rings. There are in fact two kinds of deaths in Tolkien’s creation, and these two deaths naturally reflect the two kinds of heroes I analysed : heroic and romantic. The heroic warrior was aware of death as the end of his physical life, his reputation as a courageous soldier being the warrant of his immortality. It is consequently natural that his body should be destroyed, mainly on a funeral pyre. In LofR Denethor, ruling Steward of Gondor, tragically dies on the pyre he has prepared for his son and himself :

Swiftly he snatched a torch from the hand of one and sprang back into the house. Before Gandalf could hinder him he thrust the brand amid the fuel, and at once it crackled and roared into flame.
Then Denethor leaped upon the table, and standing there wreathed in fire and smoke he took up the staff of his stewardship that lay at his feet and broke it on his knee.
Casting the pieces into the blaze he bowed and laid himself on the table, clasping the Palantir with both hands upon his breast. (LofR, p. 888)

Similarly Beowulf’s body is burned on a “peerless pyre” (OAEL, p. 97, l. 2935-2945) :

The geat folk fashioned a peerless pyre
Hung round with helmets and battle-boards,
With gleaming byrnies as Beowulf bade.
In sorrow of soul they laid on the pyre
Theyr, mighty leader, their well-loved lord.
The warriors kindled the bale on the barrows
Wakened the greatest of funeral fires.
Dark o’er the blaze the wood-smoke mounted;
The winds were still, and the sound of weeping
Rose with the roar of the surging flame
Till the heat of the fire had broken the body.

The body of romantic protagonists – when their death is mentioned in the tale – have on the contrary to be kept unspoiled since their death has not the absolute meaning of the heroic one. Death means in romances the access to “true life”, in the “other world”, paradise. Plunging its roots into the Celtic mythology, the romantic “other world” is located overseas (BMC, p. 12-13) :

Mais l’Autre Monde est également situé de l’autre côté de l’océan, dans une île paradisiaque où il n’y a ni mort, ni souffrance, ni mal, où tout est beau et pur. Elle porte, dans la tradition gaélique, les noms de Tir nam-Og, la Terre des Jeunes, Tir nam-Blo, la Terre des Vivants, Mag Meld, la Plaine du Plaisir, Tir Tairngire, la Terre du Bonheur, Mag Mor, La Grande Plaine, Tirr aill, L’Autre Monde, ou encore Tir na m-Ban, La Terre des Femmes. Pour les Bretons, c’est l’Île d’Avalon, l’Île des Pommes (la pomme a toujours été le symbole de la connaissance). De toute façon, cette île habitée par les fées est le pays du bonheur sans mélange, de l’amour, des jeux.

The similarity between Malory’s “auylyon” and Tolkien’s Grey Havens is striking : both are oversea and both are the final dwelling-place, the destination of the Last Journey. Dying Arthur comforts Bedwere in these terms :

For I wyl into the vale of auylon to hele
me of my grevous wounde
And if thou here never more of me praye for my soule
but ever the quenes and ladyes wepte and shrycked that hit was pyte to here
And as sone as syr Bedwere had loste the syghte of the baarge he wepte and uaylled and so took the foreste (MMAE, p. 232)

At the end of the LofR all the characters that do not belong to the New Age of Middle-Earth leave on a white ship to the Grey Havens (LofR, p. 1068-1069) :

and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the lïght of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air, and heard the song of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Tom Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Such a soft, progressive death (one thinks of the second movement of Schubert’s string quintett for two cellos) leaves in the mind of the reader a whole picture of the heroes, and one could easily believe Malory when he writes (MMAE, p.232) :

Yet somme men say in many partyes of England that king Arthur is not  deed
But had by the wylle of our Lord Ihesu into another place
and men say that he shal comme ageyn & shal wynne the holy crosse. I wyl  not say that it shal be so
but rather I wyl say that there is wryton upon his tombe this vers
Hic iacet Arthurus Rexquondam Rexque futurus

The conclusion of this chapter can but be the same as elsewhere in this study : no strict or scientific decision can be made about the romance likeness of LofR. Though Frodo’s quest corroborates Brewer’s hypothesis, other elements in the tale – and not the least ones – make it impossible to adhere completely to his views. It is indeed true that Frodo is confronted with various rites of passage, many of which have a clear psychoanalytical or symbolical explanation. The ultimate ending of Frodo’s quest moreover confirrns, by similarity with genuine romances, what Brewer considered as obvious : the state of the hero’s body being taken as a criterium, Frodo goes unspoiled to the “other world” as Arthur did before. But the many other characters that achieve personal careers prevent the extension of the romantic aspect to the totality of the tale, giving evidence of the multiplicity of independent protagonists. Each of these characters sharing heroic and romantic characteristics, one can not assess that LofR is a heroic tale either. There is more to Tolkien’s creation than a mere romance, there is a blend – a refined one – of the whole Middle-Aqes.

Contents [contenus en cours de digitalisation]

[INFOS QUALITE] statut : en constructon | mode d’édition : rédaction et iconographie | sources : mémoire de fin d’études ULg | auteur : Patrick Thonart | crédits illustrations : en-tête, un dessin de Tokien © 2004 Royal Mail.

Plus de Tolkien…