Deconstructing Tolkien: A Fundamental Analysis of the Lord of the Rings by Edward J. McFadden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Deconstructing Tolkien was a good ,entertaining read.Edward J.McFadden is a definite fan of JRR Tolkien as can be evidence by the forwards and the introduction. The first chapter goes into the biographical details of his life as do most book which is all good fine and well. But then the author makes supposition that I have no way of verifying, it is all guess work. The author rotates on two concepts, authors that may have influenced JRR and writer that he has influenced. First a chapter on who influenced Tolkien and then the next chapter on someone influenced by Tolkien. Figuring out Tolkien's influences is sketchy especially in light of the the fact. That he does not reveal his sources that inform the reader about how he came up with this conclusion. Now this does not make the book terrible but it does in fact detract from the book. There is a very interesting discussion where the author debates whether Lord of the Rings is in the genre of fantasy or science fiction. The author debates both sides of the coin but then falls to Science fiction. Most of us would consider Star Wars or Star Trek science fiction. Star Wars does have elements of fantasy but by the notion of space ships, distant galaxies and light sabres we would have to call it science fiction. Tolkien's Middle Earth happened a long time ago and the characters do not use space ships but rather magic, swords and dragon.I am left wondering.
The book does have some very strong points in it's favor. The first point is an analysis of Lord of the Rings. It is very hippyish. Hobbits like to smoke pipe weed and they love festivities. The pipe weed is stronger then your common pipe tobacco yet it does not waste you like Hashish or marijuana. Rather it induces socializing and the need for conversation. It's use is therapeutic. The author also makes note of the fact that Middle Earth tends to stagnate meaning things stay the same. How can life go for millenia, age after age and remain the same? That is the one unrealistic thing in the book. Sexual relations themselves are almost left out of the picture, In fact there are no lovemaking scenes what so ever. There is some level of physical affection between Sam and Frodo when Frodo is injured. Some have read into that homo erotic love. The author makes note of this and then , much to his credit, informs the reader that critics and others have made the mistake of thinking that Tolkien is writing an allegory or getting some hidden message across. Tolkien himself clearly blasted such a notion. The author rightly agrees with him. Tolkien was writing a fantasy story plain and simple. What I liked was his analysis of Gandalf. I will not go into detail but Gandalph has five virtues that make him a great leader, courage, loyalty,patience and honesty. In this analysis Gandalph is portrayed as a wandering wizard who helps heal middle earth. He is also the leader that everyone hearkens to.
It is with Gandalph that I would like to draw in my criticism. According to the back story Gandalph was no mere human but was a Maia, a god like being who used magic. Kind of a step below that of the Varda. The author leaves out the whole surrounding mythology behind the creation of Tolkien's middle earth. He doe rightly mention that Tolkien invented language for the Middle Earth that had various levels of completion. Most were skeleton languages and could not be used to right a major treatise but at most basic communication. Most denizens of the Middle Earth use Westron the common speech.
Perhaps my main contention is that the author asserts that writer such as HG Wells, HP Loveraft, Edgar Allan Poe who are more like Horror writer had an influence on his writing. To my knowledge there is no documentation elsewhere to support this supposition. Tolkien was influenced mostly by Norse Mythology, Faery tales and Old English Lore and Catholicism. There are parallels between him and these writers to be sure. But darn it is a long shot. HG Well chapter on "The Valley of Spiders" may parallel Frodo's capture by Shelob and Edgar Allan Poe's "William Wilson" may have parallels into the nature of multiple personalities in conflict with each other. Then again so do many authors and their pieces of work.
When it comes to the works of writers who were inspired by Tolkien, McFadden brought forth three examples. The first one was an excellent piece by Jane Yolen called "Winters King" an excellent fairy story. The next two are pieces written by him. Ok what gives are you trying to promote yourself or what? He should have had more variety. His works of fantasy are not bad and are rather entertaining but when you do an analysis of another great author you do not quote yourself or rely on your own examples.
The book does finish off with a analysis of the recent movies "Lord of the Rings" and the "Hobbit". He does acccurately note that things have been left out or completely lifted and other stuff has been added in. The author is critical of the lengthy battle scenes but over all he does seem supportive. Tolkien never thought his books should be rendered to film. Then again technology has changed. I know that I myself will have to go back and reread those classics.
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