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Old 01-19-2018, 10:14 AM   #17
Pile O'Bones
Join Date: Dec 2010
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Originally Posted by Balfrog View Post

"I think it also worth pointing out that Tolkien rejected the notion of an allegorical interpretation of his work. Of course, he was referring to those who thought LoTR was an allegory for WWII."

From an overall standpoint that certainly seems to be the case.

"But given his stated dislike for allegory in all forms I'm not sure why that would apply any differently to an overtly religious interpretation of his books."

There is considerable doubt about this. Particularly from the eminent Tom Shippey (see J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the 20th Century). Shippey diplomatically questions and refutes Tolkien assertion - especially in certain circumstances. I think it's long overdue that such a doubt spreads to the fan-base.
Does Shippey provide any evidence from the writings or letters of Tolkien himself to support his assertion that the Professor intended any religious allegory in his fiction? What is the basis for his knowledge? Did he interview Tolkien?

Or is it just, you know, his opinion?

My basis for arguing that there is no allegory at all is the well known Forward, written by Tolkien himself, that appears in virtually every modern printing of the Lord of the Rings.

In it, he states "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. 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."

Perhaps there are published letters of Tolkien to the contrary (I have not read most of his published correspondence). But in the absence of such, I see no reason not to take him at his word.

Otherwise, we are basically asserting that Tolkien either didn't know his own mind or was outright lying to the reader when he wrote what I have quoted above. I am not comfortable doing that in the absence of supporting documentary evidence.

There is no doubt that Christian symbolism (or at least symbolism with parallels in Christian lore) appears in the Lord of the Rings and Simarillion. But symbolism and allegory are not the same thing by any means. And at any rate, it may be impossible to determine whether Tolkien's use of any particular symbol was intended to actually be a parallel to Christianity, as it is used in the story. It might be and it might not.

That said, there are parallels to other philosophical and religious traditions that a reasonable person could find in the Lord of the Rings. Take Hinduism for example. Gandalf could be seen as a parallel for Krishna, the avatar of the god Vishnu. Krishna is basically a god-made-man who takes mortal form and guides his people against their enemies through his wisdom rather than shooting death-rays from his fingertips.

Sound familiar?

Of course, I'm not saying that Tolkien intended Gandalf to be an allegory for Krishna or Vishnu. As far as I know, there is no evidence that Tolkien had any real knowledge about Hindu myth or canon. But a reasonable person with a background in Hinduism might connect those dots because of the "varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers" that Tolkien was talking about in his Forward.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christian Tolkien fans out there who seem to think that because they see Christian symbolism in the Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien was a devout Catholic himself, that therefore all the symbolism they see MUST be intentional. It MUST be a direct call to Christian myth/lore. It MUST be allegorical.

In my opinion, that is a mistake. Especially when the author himself tells you that no allegory was intended.

Originally Posted by Balfrog View Post

"All of that said, I think Bombadil makes a poor analogue for Michael. Gandalf or even Glorfindel would probably be a better choice."

The author quite rightly points out that very little is known about the Archangel. That is especially true when it comes to appearances. Our views of what the Archangel Michael looks like are probably tainted by medieval and renaissance art. In any case what we do know of Tolkien's mythology is that of the good guys, such beings of angelic origin veiled their majesty in M-e as they saw fit. Indeed the Istari do not come across at all as 'angelic' in appearance when not 'in-action'.

If we set aside 'looks' Bombadil makes a better fit than either Gandalf or Glorfindel. Because:

(a) It is Tom that is in action on St. Michael's Day
(b) It is Tom that defeats a demonic spirit on this day
(c) It is Tom who casts out the evil spirit from the land in an analogous manner to the devil being cast out from heaven
(d) The spirit is told to depart to barren lands – in a analogy of the devil being cast into hell.
(e) It is Tom that recalls the souls of the hobbits – in an analogy of Michael's apocryphal role as weigher and recaller of souls.
(f) It is Tom's feet that is alluded to be on the foot of the devilish corpse-hand.

Very simply put, Glorfindel or Gandalf simply do not accomplish what Bombadil does on September 29th. However I would like to hear the substance behind your reasoning.
So what about September 29th/St. Michael's Day? Do you have any evidence that the encounter with Tom and the Balrog being on that day was intentional by Tolkien? If you don't have any evidence that it was, your assertions rise only to the level of speculation, at best.

As for the rest of your list, you may see Tom's actions as analogies for those of Michael's or other biblical characters, and you are free to do so. But I would refer you to my response above concerning allegory versus applicability.

And who said anything about how Tom looks? I certainly didn't. I don't think Gandalf the Grey would look much like an angel in any event.

But Gandalf fulfills the traditional role of the angel in most of their (very few) biblical appearances - messenger for the god(s) and motivator of mankind. Tom doesn't do that. Tom dances around, sings apparent nonsense songs, picks flowers for his wife, and rescues the hobbits from their own inexperience with the wider world. He is clearly a supernatural figure of some kind, at least from the hobbits' point of view. But an angel equivalent?

And Tom recalls their souls? From where? Please quote me the passage where that happens or the passage where the hobbit's souls left their bodies. He breaks the wight's spell on the hobbits - but I don't see how you get from that to recalling some souls from... somewhere.

Last edited by Marlowe221; 01-19-2018 at 10:23 AM.
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