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February 13, 2006

Tolkien and Modern Society

Seeing as discussion of Tolkien has all but disappeared from the Forum, I figure I might as well try to bring it back around.

Tolkien has said that his works were not allegorical in nature; indeed, he claimed to despise allegory. Instead, he strove for what he called applicability. What's the difference you might ask, if your eyes haven't glazed over already. In an allegory, the story does not stand on its own, but is primarily a medium for the conveyance of a message. What Tolkien means when he says his works are applicable is that they are an end in and of themselves, not simply conveyors of messages, but there are certain principles and themes undergirding his work that can be applied to the real world. What follows is an excerpt from the "Akallabeth", or "The Downfall of Numenor" in "The Silmarillion".

"The bliss of Westernesse became diminished; but still its might and splendour increased. For the kings and their people had not yet abandoned wisdom, and if they loved the Valar no longer at least they still feared them. . . . But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at the least of the prolonging of Men's days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving uncorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filled all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in darkness. But those that lived turned the more eagerly to pleasure and revelry, desiring ever more goods and more riches; and after the days of Tar-Ancalimon the offering of the first fruits to Eru was neglected, and men went seldom any more to the Hallow upon the heights of Meneltarma in the midst of the land."

Two questions arise. Is Tolkien's description of events in Numenor applicable to modern Western society? Clearly, Tolkien views these developments in a negative light. Is he right in doing so?

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