October 29, 2010
Ok, yeah, this is an essay for a class I'm taking... On J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the RINGS! [review time]
The Fellowship of the Ring, and the Lord of the Rings as a whole, develops the theme of loss and mortality through the decline of magic in a fantastical world. There is a sense of inevitability throughout the text as the reader is constantly reminded that Middle Earth will never be the same. The time of Man is coming, the elves are leaving, magic is fading and the hobbits are in hiding. This is a major theme of the text, but the central plot and quest have nothing to do with it, thus emphasizing the inevitability of this loss. Sauron is considered nearly invincible and the quest seems impossible, but that does not stop Gandalf and Frodo from facing dangers and dark forces when they have no other choice. They do not, however, go on a grand quest to save the magic of Middle Earth and make the elves stay. Tolkien seems to be suggesting that while it is possible to conquer evil, it is not possible to stop the wheels of time from turning – mortality cannot be stopped. Although magic is fading, the world will go on without it, and there is no solution.
Although Fellowship deals with Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and Men, Tolkien continuously reminds us that it will soon be the time of Man. Persistently emphasizing that the elves will soon be gone tells the reader that this was a treasured time on Middle Earth, and what has faded is lost forever. With every magical wonder we are introduced to comes a sort of lament that even if Frodo succeeds in his quest, Middle Earth will still change, and its magic will run out. Nature is idealized and treasured in this text, and as Frodo leaves the river Nimrodel, “it seemed to him that he would never hear again a running water so beautiful, for ever blending its innumerable notes in an endless changeful music” (page 453). There is a very deliberate sense of loss implied here, reinforcing the idea that what has passed can never be restored. Again as Aragorn goes toward the city of the Galadhrim in Loth Lorien, we are reminded that it is not possible to save this land: “And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man” (page 462). There is a contrast to the forward motion of the story and the quest to stop Sauron in that every time the Fellowship moves forward, we are reminded of what they are leaving behind and the loss that occurs. They can never go back, and we never really find out why.
This age is ending because magic is fading, and some connection can here be made with technology and the way in which society has progressed. Magic and Elves and Hobbits represent the pastoral love of nature, where Man and advancing technology represent a disconnect from nature. It is inevitable that we will continue to grow away from nature and sublime, unexplainable beauty, and this cannot be conquered or undone in the way that Frodo can conquer Sauron and undo his evil. The theme of mortality parallels the battle against evil, where one is an inevitable fact of life that cannot be undone, and the other is a seemingly impossible obstacle that Frodo will eventually manage to defeat.
The sense of loss and mortality surrounds all of the once treasured places in Middle Earth, creating a Golden Age thinking that is difficult to ignore. The reclamation of Moria exemplifies the Dwarves’ attempt to regain what has been lost, but it proves to be futile. They greatly treasure “Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern World!” (page 315), but even though they gathered the courage to return to the mines where they dug too deep and released ancient evil, they could not regain that which had been lost: “Messages reported that Moria had been entered and a great work begun there. Then there was silence, and no word has ever come from Moria since” (page 315). There is a Golden Age idealization of the old strongholds, but Moria cannot be reclaimed. It is lost. Gimli also glorifies his ancestor’s work, further solidifying the Golden Age ideology: “But in metal-work we cannot rival our fathers, many of whose secrets are lost!” (page 301). There is no explanation as to why the dwarves cannot make swords and armour as their forefathers did, so the reader is left with a sense of longing.
The anti-fantasy element of fading magic creates a Golden Age thinking for the reader and also creates a longing that reinforces the fantasy experience. Each time we are reminded that the elves are abandoning their home in Middle Earth, we think longingly of the Middle Earth at its peak, full of magical creatures, beautiful forests, songs and magic itself. When Haldir says, “Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime” (page 457), the reader’s prompted response is to think longingly of Middle earth “as it was aforetime” – a place of deep magic and fantasy. It is regretful that Middle Earth is inevitably becoming the land of Men and that it is irreversible. While Tolkien has magic decline, decreasing the fantastical element of his world, the effect on the reader is that we gain more appreciation for the fantasy.