Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Tolkien and applicability vs. allegory / Follow-up: Observations around literary criticism and interpretation

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In preparation for my own writings, I am revisiting a few old favorites. I just started on Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”, and found this claim in the foreword:

I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

This single sentence concisely covers much of what I try to say in the second half of an earlier text.

More generally, it is interesting how Tolkien rejects suggested hidden meanings, allegories, connections with WWII, … This despite (because?) the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy being highly open to interpretation. Indeed, specifically a WWII influence felt obvious to me as a young* reader, in the repeated rises of Sauron resp. Germany and how both World Wars changed the world sufficiently that it might be warranted to speak of a new era—just like in Tolkien’s history.

*How young I do not know. My first reading might have been at age nine or ten, but I am not certain that I already knew enough about WWII and the overall situation to already have this image, implying that it might have arisen during a later reading.

With age, of course, I have been less likely to make such interpretations, because the analogies hold poorly, e.g. with WWI Germany (or the other “Central Powers”) not being more evil than other countries, and the “Allies” of WWII containing a very comparable evil to Hitler’s Germany in Stalin’s Soviet, or with the dubious identification of WWI Germany (respectively, the “Central Powers”) with WWII Germany (respectively, “Axis Powers”) Indeed, shortly before the above quote, Tolkien discusses how a strong WWII influence on the book would have implied changes that blurred* the difference between good and evil.

*Likely, to him; definitely, to me: I note my repeated claims that “evil is as evil does”, “fascist is as fascist does”, etc. (However, I stress that Hitler, like Sauron, instigated the evils and pushed them further, and that any evil acts by the Allies would have been made unnecessary by his absence.)

As an aside, for a beginning author looking forward, this foreword, by an accomplished author looking backward, is very interesting and educational.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 4, 2019 at 1:14 pm

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