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Old 08-14-2014, 02:12 PM   #1
The Squatter of Amon Rdh
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Pipe An early Lord of the Rings fan review

Recently I bought a copy of Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis (Ballantine, 1988), in the hope that it would contain some interesting Inklings anecdotes. I'm not disappointed. The entry for Saturday, 12th November 1949 is the earliest opinion of LR that I've ever seen, and it bears examination because it offers a classic first-time reader's reaction and simultaneously predicts one of the biggest misconceptions that the book generated. I'll let Major Lewis continue.

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I have just finished in MS. Tollers' sequel to The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings. Golly, what a book! The inexhaustible fertility of the man's imagination amazes me. It is a long book, consisting very largely in journeys: yet these never flag for an instant, each is as fresh as the one before, new colours available in profusion, whether the journey be beautiful or terrible. Some of the scenes of horror are unsurpassed, and there is wonderful skill in the way in which the ultimate horror - the Dark Lord of Mordor - is ever present in one's mind, though we never meet him, and know next to nothing about him. The beauty of Lothlorien, and the slightly sinister charm of Fangorn are unforgettable. Frodo's squire, Sam Gamgee and the dwarf Gimli are I think the two best characters. What is rare in a story of this type, is that there is real pathos in it; the relationship between Sam and Frodo in the final stages of their journey moved me greatly. How the public will take the book I can't imagine; I should think T will be wise to prepare himself for many crits. on the lines that "this political satire would gain greatly by compression and the excision of such irrelevant episodes as the journey to Lothlorien". Indeed by accident, a great deal of it can be read topically - the Shire standing for England, Rohan for France, Gondor the Germany of the future, Sauron for Stalin: and Saruman in the "Scouring of the Shire" for our egregious Mr Silkin, the town planner (and destroyer)! But a great book of its kind, and in my opinion ahead of anything Eddison did.
What I find particularly interesting about Major Lewis' comments are the allegorical equivalences that he saw from the standpoint of 1949. Who nowadays would imagine Gondor to stand for Germany or Rohan for France? I've certainly never seen those suggestions made before, although Stalin as Sauron may have done the rounds at some point. I find it fascinating that someone was considering this question before The Fellowship of the Ring had even gone to print, and seeing it for the red herring it undoubtedly is. It's also reassuring after so many years of reading discussion forum posts about Tolkien that naming favourite characters has been a part of the Tolkien experience since the beginning.
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Old 08-14-2014, 02:23 PM   #2
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From his standing so near the end of the war, it's not surprising the man could see the potential for readers to divine echoes of real life in the book.

Similar ideas have indeed been brought forth more recently, though.

I think personally that Sauron has much more in common with Orwell's Big Brother than Hitler, but that's another thread.
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:00 PM   #3
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Really interesting! For myself, I must confess, on my first reading of LotR the apparent allegory was Sauron=Hitler, Saruman=Stalin, since he was at first allied with those who were fighting the Enemy but then became their little Enemy by himself. Of course, I was very, very young back then. Also, I bumped then into the problem with this allegory, I remember very well, because it didn't seem logical to me to make the "Great Enemy of the First War" the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Somehow it didn't seem to scale that way, from Morgoth-poor Franz Josef towards Hitler-Sauron... obviously my mind back then, in primary school age, would not think in the bigger picture of (if I already had to make this an allegory) applying the Enemy rather to the phantom of power in general, recurring in many shapes throughout the history...

Nonetheless, enough of my nostalgic memories; great find, Squatter. If there's more, it'd be certainly interesting if you kept us updated on similar unusual finds. What I also like about the quote is that it is an unusual witness to a specific early reader's preferences - and naming Gimli, of all members of the Fellowship! Sufficiently random. (Then again, what to expect from a man who sees Rohan as France. Post-war Germany as Gondor is brilliant though, food for thought how could one imagine that parallel to work...)
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Old 08-14-2014, 09:44 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
I think personally that Sauron has much more in common with Orwell's Big Brother than Hitler, but that's another thread.
Another thread perhaps, but I agree completely. The parallels are quite striking (a largely absent primary antagonist whom the protagonists never meet and exists almost entirely through symbols and representations - although while Sauron is of course meant to be real, but hidden, I always assumed Big Brother did not exist at all, although it's of course ambiguous).

It's reassuring to know that Major Lewis perceived that such an allegorical reading could only occur "by accident." It's also very interesting to see a forecast mis-reading of the text as a prediction of a future Cold War 'gone hot' rather than as an analogy of the Second World War. To go by that example, however, I think from reading Tolkien's letters he saw World War 2 as more like many different Mordors and Isengards (and perhaps a few Denethor-led Gondors) fighting each other rather than a conflict with quite the moral clarity of his own narrative. I daresay any Cold War scenario would be much the same, if not worse.

"we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side." (Letter 66)
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Old 08-15-2014, 04:03 PM   #5
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That's interesting. These days I've been seeing more parallels with the First World War than the Second World War or after, even though Tolkien was writing the books during that time. It's probably that image of four country lads going off to distant lands to fight an enemy in dark lands and coming back changed, for better or worse (in Frodo's case, it makes me think of PTSD). But then it could be applied to many wars of this type.
Also, I never considered Sauron as being like Big Brother until now. The more you consider things, though...
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Old 08-26-2014, 08:45 AM   #6
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I'm not terribly knowledgeable regarding the composition process of LoTR being more interested in the final creation than in the process of writing it, but a reading from late 1949 sounds like this particular reading was of a nearly complete if not completed version of the story, i.e. there were no more Trotters trotting about.
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Old 09-01-2014, 12:54 AM   #7
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By 1949 it was basically finished. There may have been some small differences from the published version, but nothing significant. Most of the time that passed between this version and publication was taken up with making a fair copy typescript, wrangling with publishers over issuing LR and The Silmarillion together (during which Tolkien tried to negotiate a deal with Collins to get the Sil in print) and the usual long process of typesetting and proofing.

The Lewis brothers had been enthusiastic listeners throughout Tolkien's readings from LR at Inklings meetings, so Warren Lewis' comments above about Frodo and Sam's journey to Mordor are similar to earlier comments about readings by the author. Interestingly, Dyson's veto over readings from LR was very unpopular with several Inklings members, including the Lewises. From Major Lewis' diary I got the impression of Dyson as a witty but ultimately quite unpleasant man, who preferred conversation over readings because he wrote little and was better at off-the-cuff humour and Shakespeare quotations.
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Old 08-15-2017, 06:56 AM   #8
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I thought I'd dredge up this fossil to add some Tolkien anecdotes that I found in the same place.

Quote:
After we had chatted there [on the terrace in Exeter College gardens] for some time the party broke up, Tolkien, Dyson, J [C.S. Lewis], a little unobtrusive clergyman, and myself walking to Magdalen where we strolled in the grove, where the deer were flitting about in the twilight - Tolkien swept off his hat to them and remarked, "Hail fallow well met" - until ten o'c[lock]. T[olkien] told a good story about one of the old guard, the head of a house, I think within his own lifetime, who greeting a newly elected fellow of his college, observed "now that we have elected you, Mr. ---, I hope you mean to come amongst us as a gentleman, and not take up with any of these new fangled ideas about TEACHING".

Wednesday, 26th July 1933
Quote:
J [C.S. Lewis] brought out with him today a copy of The Oxford Magazine for 9th Nov. which has a in it a faery poem ["Errantry"] by Tolkien, excellent in itself and also very interesting as being in an entirely new metre. I think it a real discovery.

Thursday 30th November, 1933
Tolkien accompanied the Lewis brothers on a walking holiday in August 1947.
Quote:
Next day [5th August] , a bright sunny morning, we all three went down on the 11.28, travelling 1st [class] on 3rd tickets without being called upon to pay excess: sandwiches in the train and up to No.4 The Lees [Malvern], soon after 2pm. Tollers looked a little blank at the idea of sleeping on the divan, but we soon had him fixed up by taking Maureen's bed out of her room and setting it up in the nursery. Tollers fitted easily into our routine, and I think he enjoyed himself. His one fault turned out to be that he wouldn't trot at our pace in harness; he will keep going all day on a walk, but to him, with his botanical and entomological interests, a walk, no matter what its length, is what we would call an extended stroll, while he calls us "ruthless walkers".

Tuesday, 19th August 1947
Later in the diaries, we get a brief look at the success of LR and late work on the Silmarillion. Major Lewis' jealousy over Tolkien's success was probably caused by his continuing grief over his brother's death in 1963. I think the comments about what Clyde Kilby was doing in Oxford demonstrate how few people who knew him in private life understood what Tolkien was working on in his retirement and the vast scale of the project.
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[Clyde S. Kilby] told me that last year Tollers' Ring sold over a quarter of a million copies in the U.S. I felt a swift and unworthy pang of envy that his success should have so far exceeded anything that ever came J's way. Kilby is over here to assist Tollers in some continuation of the Rings on which he is now engaged, but what form the assistance is to take I did not gather. He thinks Tollers himself quails at the magnitude of the task, whatever it is.

Sunday, 26th June 1966
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Old 11-20-2017, 10:32 AM   #9
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An excellent find and thank you for sharing it Squatter! I agree it's a neat little piece of history from the earliest fan review I'm aware of! A reminder that we all find something different to draw us in. With Major Lewis it was Lothlorien and Fangorn, and Samwise and Gimli.

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Indeed by accident, a great deal of it can be read topically - the Shire standing for England, Rohan for France, Gondor the Germany of the future, Sauron for Stalin: and Saruman in the "Scouring of the Shire" for our egregious Mr Silkin, the town planner (and destroyer)!
The only one I'm struggling with is "Rohan for France," but I have very little knowledge on mid-late 1940s France and how Lewis thought to make that connection.

It's interesting he connects Sauron to Stalin and Saruman from the "The Scouring of the Shire" to "Mr. Silkin." Doing a quick search, I wasn't able to find much about Mr. Silkin, other than at the time Major Lewis wrote this review Lewis Silkin was the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and created the Silkin Test in 1949. Lewis is definitely attributing the destruction of the English countryside happening under Silkin's leadership.

I agree with Inziladun that I never connected Sauron to one of the WWII fascist dictators. Although, I also read LOTR in the 2000s, and not from the perspective of someone who lived in the time of these historical figures. So, it's not surprising Major Lewis warns Tolkien about the critics are going to say the story is allegorical and written to be a political satire. Sauron as Stalin makes more sense than Hitler, to be honest. I would say, Stalin was perceived as a bigger evil, and greater threat than Hitler (especially after the war). It could be the British and French felt a closer shared connection with the German people than they did the Russians, but for years leading up to WWII the belief was Hitler could be dealt with rationally and reasoned with, Stalin couldn't be. You could say the leading European powers were trying to deal with Hitler as a misbehaving little brother, because they were hoping to use Germany as a stop to the spread of Stalin's communism.

"Gondor as the Germany of the future"...hmm I'm trying to think of where Lewis is going with that comparison. Is it during much of LOTR Gondor was a dwindling empire? Gondor had lost much of it's territories over the years and was continuing to decline under Denethor's leadership. Which also makes a connection to Germany interesting, because Denethor did not oppose Sauron based on the grounds that Sauron was the Dark Lord and big bad evil, but Denethor perceived Sauron as his political rival and threat. But "Germany of the future" seems to suggest post-war Germany and the rebuilding effort, like Gondor would have to do after the War of the Ring.
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