Tolkien Lectures: Week Two


These notes were originally written by Erik Tracey, transcribed to MS Word by Erik Tracey, and HTMLized by Scott Powers. Enjoy!


The Hobbit and first part of LotR are patterned on classic form of "fairy story" - the empowerment of the central figure and the good ending eucatastrophe(good catastrophe).

Contrasting this is the dark and somber tone of the Silmarillion. The "ending" is left open to question. No certainty, _maybe_ some hope.

The doom of the individual life is the normal tone of classic "myths" and usually full of it. The Sil. is patterned on this mode.

wyrd = fate (future unknown events)

Oedipus - the epitomy of the "classic" hero who faces pride and fate. What chance did he have of changing his fate? appearently none - he was "doomed" from the start.

The Vow of Oedipus starts the wheels of fate moving towards his doom.

Danger of pride can cause the hero mistakes. [Turin is perfect example]

Volsunga Saga -> Norse Saga from which the Niebelungelied was derived.
This work impressed Tolk.
Hero ->Sigurd.
Odin ->appears in form of old man; Saruman?
Sword that is reforged
Fafnir ->dragon
A gold ring is also a common motif in the LotR and Volsunga Saga.
Brunnhild is a shield maiden - Eowyn

Oaths and vows taken _very_ seriously (in oral societies, no written contracts, so oaths were made) But oaths usually cause problems

Professor tangent:
Bare blade of sword between Brunnhild and Gunnard - a common motif in Germanic/Norse/Medieval literature as a sign of chastity

[Student comment: this explains why Arthur and "the land" suffered in the movie Excalibur - because he plants the sword between Lancelot and Guinevere as a sign of denial of the truth of their sins.]

Heroes and Incest - a recurring downfall

Another recurring concept in myth is the "Golden Age"

Most myths have the idea of entropy ->world starts out good and creeps toward evil and decrepitude. "The longer we're here the worse it gets." This is also present in Tolkien's work.

Possible paper topic:
How does Tolkien bring in/introduce the ideas of heathenism/paganism that so moved him and merge it with his strong religious feelings? This is accomplished in the first pages of the Sil.

Eru is the judeo-christian sky god Zeus, Diu pater (Jupiter), "God" = sky god [??]

The pagan element is infused via the Ainur/Valar(Seraphim - greater angels) and the Maiar(cherubim - lesser angels)

The Valar are clearly patterned on a pagan pantheon of gods.

Elves are also introduced (common in Celtic lore- Tuatha De Dannan; big bad and powerful - not small weak and shy as Tolk so bitterly complained against)

Constant danger in ME; pride of things that are made or pride in one's work.

The elves are tied/bound to ME until the end. The longer they are in ME the wearier they get.

Aside: wyr = "man" -> werewolf = man wolf

Men are not tied the ME; not bound by the Theme of Illuvatar. Men are not controllable as the elves. The fate of man is beyond the confines of ME

Men fly to Beleriand from some Darkness which they do not tell of and as soon forget. The implication is that man is flying from some event that caused his fall from "eden".

Men have free will, the elves don't. (Judeo/Christ. sense of sin and free will)

Morgoth can NOT be defeated by elves or men; it takes Valar to defeat Valar; it takes Maiar to defeat Maiar [wrong- Glorfindel and Ecthelion defeated Balrogs]

Evil is personified - it makes it easy to identify the enemy.

Feanor loves his works (the Silmarils) too much and this causes his doom. This is a recurring theme of trouble.

The First Age is dominated by the oath of Feanor.

Beren and Luthien -> the redemptive power of Love.

Turin -> a story of free will vs. "doom" - a common Medieval theme.

Oath of Feanor: danger of pride,
Beren and Luthien: caught in the oaths
Finrod: caught in two oaths

Tolkien's faith never wavered [wrong; he succumbed to bouts of sagging faith ->this is what points his end of ME as uncertain w/ no guarantee or final victory]

For Celtic and Germanic cultures the West had a "holy" connotation. Dying associated w/ going west.

Dwarves die and are reborn [huh? I thought they were fated to help in mending the hurts of Melkor at the end. Or, as the elves believe, they return to the stuff they were made of]

When "sex" appears in ME it is usually crooked and as lust; Maeglin of Gondolin

Music and Creation -> unique to Tolkien [huh? I thought this was a common Medieval Theme of Harmony]

Music/Enchantment: Thingol & Melian, Beren & Luthien, Finrod vs Sauron, Luthien vs Morgoth

"Courage was admirable only when it was out of bleak necessity."

This view was held by Tolkien; those characters who persued brave deeds for the sake of praise and honour had trouble.


This page is maintained by:

Scott Powers
NCSA X Mosaic Lead