What drove Tolkien?

Any assessment of Tolkien must begin by considering his enormous popularity.

Some of this popularity, no doubt, was simply “popular things become popular”. But that level of popularity requires the threshold – if you like a critical mass – before it becomes self-perpetuating. Therefore, Tolkien was providing to his audience a message which the audience perceived to be valid.

Tolkien repeatedly stated that his works have no secondary meaning. He insisted that they should be taken at “face value”. And therein lies a nub. What is “face value”? At least one of the Tolkien analysists felt that the messages might be “unconscious”. Such an exposure of the subliminal is not unlikely. Various genres of “psychologists” have emphasised the power of behavioural processes outside of the cognitive. Further, there may well have been good reasons for an individual, inevitably enmeshed in the politics of large universities, to want to avoid any hints of attitude which might be categorising, or demand explanation. Many other writers of fables and analogy have sustained strength by writing that which they left the reader to decipher and interpret.

Therefore one must look at the broadbrush of Tolkien’s work and the elements of his structure.

That ifs founded on grouping of “beings”, each group characterised and identifiable by behavioural and appearance. Although these distinct groups are presented by Tolkien as having qualities undesirable (when viewed through the eyes of another group), each group functions in a homogenous fashion, with behavioural consistency, a consistent ethic and a strong bondage within that group by a consistent ethos. Whatever the motives of the group, these were accepted and complied with by all in the group, apparently satisfying a need of that group.

Another consistent theme was the threat which each of Tolkien’s groups posed against other groups.

It is of interest that Tolkien defined his groups by language. This explanation may not be as simple as believing this stemmed from his own interests in language, allowing him (and perhaps his audience) to play games by constructing languages.  More likely Tolkien recognised the primacy of language as a distinctive, identifying and distinguishing facet of communicating beings as the powerful self identifier of each group.

In these ways much of Tolkien’s portrayal reflects values demonstrated by the social behaviour of communal animals.

Taken a step further. It cannot but be believed that Tolkien was portraying the inherent beliefs and fears of the human social animal, subliminal as they might have been to him. That these seem to originate in a single individual (Tolkien) cannot, therefore, be considered a cognitive/conscious  “creation out of nothing.” A conjuring trick: or alchemistical fabrication (as improbable as converting the mundane into gold).

The popularity of Tolkien’s work can only be that masses of people, in their search for a crystallisation and materialization of their own behavioural quest, believed that they could find in Tolkien’s work a more tangible structuring of their own uncertainties. By extension, the popularity of Tolkien’s work as suitable for children (a decision which can only be made by adults) probably reflects the adult need to arm its progeny with the best possible insight and precautionary advice, which they believe Tolkien provides. It matters not whether these precepts and perceptions flowed from Tolkien’s subliminal domains. Such cautionary tales of Saxon origin which prevailed in the Anglo-Saxon world and must remain embedded (as demonstrated by their regular appearances in tale and talk) in the broad population.

The presiding themes of Tolkien’s work are the ever present threat of entropy of social structure and preservation of homogenous social units


About jp

Orthopaedic Surgeon
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