Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Top Ten All-Time Best-Selling Books, 3: J R R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)

In lieu of a separate post, and for fear simply of repeating myself: here are things I've already written about Tolkien in another place:

Fellowship of the Ring I.

Fellowship of the Ring II.

The Two Towers I.

The Two Towers II.

Return of the King I.

Return of the King II.

Master-slave dialectic in Tolkien.

Pauline Baynes cover.

A placeholder, yes. Sorry about that; but -- you know. Christmas and whatnot. Still, there are real, actual posts about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Dickens just around the corner.


Mike Taylor said...

I am commenting here, rather than on the original Return of the King I article, because I assume there's more likelihood of discussion here on the still-active blog.

In one sense [Denethor] has to die, in order for the rule of the Stewards to end and the rule of the King to begin. But suicide is so semiotically tangled and troubled a thing for JRRT's imaginatino; he doesn't want to parse it as a nobly Roman action, and strains it into the straight-jacket of over-coded pseudo-Christian moralising [...] But this seemed to me pretty much a double standard. For in point of fact one of the general trajectories of this book is precisely that pseduo-samurai or Horatius-at-the-Bridge sacrifice of self: Frodo and Sam going (as they think) into certain death; the Rohirrim galloping will-nill towards a massively larger army; Gandalf rejecting the truce terms and dooming (they all think) the entire army to destruction.

I am surprised to read this. There is all the difference in the world between suicide and martrydom. as for example expounded by Chesterton in a passage in Orthodoxy (which I imagine his fellow Catholic Tolkein would have been familiar with, and in agreement with). To quote Chesterton, who expresses it much better than I would:

"About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe."

And on an unrelated note:

How is Eowyn able to get so much speechifying and rhetorical fancypanting out without getting e.g. her head bit off?

Indeed. This is one of the places where the dialogue in the film ("I am no man") rather improves on the text. (Another is Frodo's speech at the Cracks Of Doom: "The ring is mine.") Sometimes, less really is more.

And on a completely different subject: why in the name of all that is rational does Blogger not let me use the BLOCKQUOTE tag?

Irene Jennings said...

Nice list. I'll make sure to get a copy of those books.

Irene (Ad Wizards)