24 October 2017

Allegory in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings?

I was very pleased to find this essay, 'Is “The Lord of the Rings”' an Allegory?, by Mr Joseph Pearce, on 'The Imaginative Conservative'. As I read the title of it, I turned to my Other Half, and remarked that whatever the author of the essay and Professor Tolkien might say, The Lord of the Rings is, indeed, an allegory.

It seems my position is borne out by no less an authority than the good Professor himself. In a letter to Fr Robert Murray, S.J., he wrote 'The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.'

How could it be else? The man himself was a devout Catholic, indeed a Traditionalist, and his Faith informed virtually everything he wrote. The Nine Walkers depart Rivendell on their Quest to destroy the one Ring on the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day, in the year 3018 of the Third Age.

The Ring is destroyed on the Feast of the Annunciation, Lady Day, in the year 3019. Lady Day, 25 March, was, until Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar reform in 1732, the beginning of the new year. To reinforce this point, the beginning of the Fourth Age, according to the reckoning of Gondor, takes place two years later on 25 March, 3019.

These dates are not arbitrary. Professor Tolkien did not conjure them out of thin air. 

The entire trilogy is replete with allegorical allusions to the culture and society of the High Mediæval period, the Great Ages of Faith. The shire is the Professor's idealisation of the yeoman society of England during that time. Possibly the only thing that could have made it any more obviously a Catholic allegory would have been to engrafted the entire panoply of mediæval Catholicism on the tale, with Gandalf as a Bishop, etc.

Regardless of Professor Tolkien's distaste for 'allegory', clearly stated in the Preface to the second edition of the Lord of the Rings, 'As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical…. I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence', it is obvious to any Catholic reader, especially of a Traditionalist bent, that the story is chock full of allegory. I am glad Mr Pearce has written this essay to clarify the various ways in which 'allegory' may be defined, and in what way it quite obviously applies to one of the greatest works of Catholic fiction of all time.

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