“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” (Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937)
This has to be my favourite opening to a novel, and what better way is there to open a blog? It is so evocative and descriptive, which is where Tolkien’s talents lay. He invented a rich world that can be visualised.
It is once again time for my weekly blog, and this week I have asked my students to write a blog post analysing the themes of a song, using cultural theories and methodology. In order to show good practice I will write a similar blog post.
Instead of writing about a song, I have chosen my favourite book, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. (Or should I say, one of my favourite books). This way the work can also be used for my PhD. (I still argue that Fantasy is closely linked with Science Fiction – they’re often on the same book shelves.)
My thesis: The Effect of the Second World War on The Golden Era of Science Fiction (1950-1960) must look at the postcolonial world. The world of Middle Earth and Tolkien’s writing is a good example of these theories coming to play in literature. I love the Hobbit, but The Lord of the Rings is probably a more accurate example.
It is often suggested that the Lord of The Rings was a literary response to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The badlands around Mordor being a desolate industrial place, and Saruman the White cutting down the trees around Isengard in order to increase production of his Uruk-Hai, detestable creatures. (Jeffries, S. 2014) There is a clear black and white distinction between good guys and bad guys, good and evil. The good guys, the Hobbits live in grassy greenland free to roam the forests and wildlife, where as the bad guys seek to bring all the lands of Middle Earth under their industrial chokehold. The opening page of
The industrial revolution itself was a very colonial phenomenon, using the slave trade and produce of colonies, tobacco, cotton, sugar, etc. that was then turned into products in the factories. (Seth. S. 2013) However, the Lord of the Rings itself was more concerned with what happened after the industrial revolution. How could Sauron be defeated, and his evil grip on middle earth be distinguished?
In the end (Spoiler alert!) Frodo throes the ring, a product of the evil Sauron into the fires of mount doom, this destroying this product in the fires of its on industry. The ring itself is a magical metaphor, for power, but the end result is still the same. Sauron is gone.
At the end of the story, the Elves the omniscient ancient race that originate from somewhere outside Middle Earth (were they conquerors originally?) leave the natives to their own devices, knowing that Middle Earth is now far beyond their control, and the native peoples (Humans and Hobbits) can start to look after themselves.
To me, this is a very postcolonial outcome. Much as when the British Empire left India and the other colonies, knowing that their power was limited and the natives were rising up to take their own power. (Johnson, R. 2007) This is a very general summary, but there are definitely postcolonial themes there that can be analysed and discussed.
I would like to see what happened to Middle Earth after the Elves left. This idea has always fascinated me, and fives that great literary question, “what if?”
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment below.
Jeffries, S. (2014) How the West Midlands Black Country Inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/19/how-the-west-midlands-black-country-inspired-tolkien-lord-of-the-rings
Johnson, R. (2007) The British Empire: Pomp, Power and Postcolonialism. Humanties-ebooks.
Seth, S. (2013) Postcolonial Theory and International Relations. Routledge.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (1937) The Hobbit. George Allen & Unwin.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954) The Lord of the Rings. George Allen & Unwin.