The world of J.R.R. Tolkien is a world without sexuality in it. I can’t help comparing it with Wagner’s “Ring,” a much greater work in every conceivable way, which is actually throbbing with sexual understanding and sexual passion and so on.

There’s none of that in “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s as if they had their children by a courier or something: please send a boy child by Federal Express to Mrs. Blah blah blah. And once you’re aware that that’s missing, you can then see the other gaps in it. He doesn’t do any sort of speculative thinking about what’s good and what’s evil. The only interesting character in that way is Gollum, but it’s not interesting enough. It’s nowhere near as interesting as the books of realistic fiction that I was reading. You read “Middlemarch,” that’s a real story about real human beings. It’s about the kind of things that you know when you’re young and you discover when you’re growing up and you’ll learn when you’re old. But, orcs and hobbits, they don’t tell you anything at all. It’s very, very thin stuff. No nourishment in it.

So to find myself writing a fantasy was a bit of a surprise. But I thought of it as realism. I wanted to make the characters as real as I could make them. Mrs. Coulter, for example, is not just a one-dimensional figure of wickedness—she’s not the witch queen, of whatever it is, like Narnia. She finds herself, over the course of the story, being invaded by something she has never suspected she was capable of, and that’s her love for her daughter. She never dreamed she could feel that, and it’s taken over her life. That’s the great change in Mrs. Coulter that I was so looking forward to seeing Nicole Kidman embody in the sequels, if there were any sequels to the “Golden Compass” movie, but that never happened.

Philip Pullman
Interview in The New Yorker, 29th September 2019

Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story – the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our ‘air’ (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be ‘high’, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Of course, such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories were the thing. They arose in my mind as ‘given’ things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour (especially since, even apart from the necessities of life, the mind would wing to the other pole and spend itself on the linguistics): yet always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there’, somewhere: not of ‘inventing’. Of course, I made up and even wrote lots of other things (especially for my children). Some escaped from the grasp of this branching acquisitive theme, being ultimately and radically unrelated: Leaf by Niggle and Farmer Giles, for instance, the only two that have been printed. The Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite independently conceived: I did not know as I began it that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole, its mode of descent to earth, and merging into ‘history’. As the high Legends of the beginning are supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually human point of view – and the last tale blends them.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, 1951

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

They watch you

April 26, 2018

tree 2

And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you. They are usually content merely to watch you, as long as daylight lasts, and don’t do much. Occasionally the most unfriendly ones may drop a branch, or stick a root out, or grasp at you with a long trailer. But at night things can be most alarming, or so I am told. I have only once or twice been in here after dark, and then only near the hedge. I thought all the trees were whispering to each other, passing news and plots along in an unintelligible language; and the branches swayed and groped without any wind. They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in. In fact long ago they attacked the Hedge: they came and planted themselves right by it, and leaned over it.

J R R Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring

only a passing thing

April 21, 2018

And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end…because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing…this shadow. Even darkness must pass.

J R R Tolkien
The Two Towers

A Hobbit book

It must be understood the [The Hobbit] is only a children’s book in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown-ups. The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and its own way so true.

C.S. Lewis
A world for children: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: or There and Back Again

sense of wonder

November 4, 2017

alien landscape3

Wells is teaching us to think. Burroughs and his lesser imitators are teaching us not to think. Of course, Burroughs is teaching us to wonder. The sense of wonder is in essence a religious state, blanketing out criticism. Wells was always a critic, even in his most wondrous and romantic tales.

And there, I believe, the two poles of modern fantasy stand defined. At one pole wait Wells and his honorable predecessors such as Swift; at the other, Burroughs and the commercial producers, such as Otis Adelbart Kline, and the weirdies, and horror merchants such as H.P. Lovecraft, and so all the way past Tolkien to today’s non-stop fantasy worlders. Mary Shelley stands somewhere at the equator of this metaphor.

Brian W. Aldiss
Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction

elf

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say “the land you loved is doomed” to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it.

J.R.R. Tolkien
On Fairy-Stories

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 the 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 the Shadows lie.

J. R. R. Tolkien

I’ve always found Tolkien to be a bit Hobbit forming….