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Old 01-22-2011, 04:34 PM   #1
LadyBrooke
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Tolkien's Importance to History

In my European History class, we are currently doing our second book reports, this time on authors after 1800. One of the authors is J.R.R. Tolkien and LotR/TH. I chose LoTR. Looking at the other books on the list some of the other books are obvious why they're on list like Mein Kempf or the Communist Manifesto. So why is this book important to European History?

Of course, LotR started the modern fantasy movement which is why it is important to literary history but why is it important to history in general is a harder question to answer. There have debates over whether or not his private letters and papers to other people are covered by copyright but that's not that important except to Tolkien fans. There is an international fandom but that is once again not so much history as culture.

So thoughts? Why do you all think it's important to history?
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Old 01-22-2011, 05:11 PM   #2
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Maybe because LOTR/TH are so popular...

I really don't know!
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Old 01-22-2011, 05:59 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyBrooke View Post
...which is why it is important to literary history but why is it important to history in general is a harder question to answer.

... but that is once again not so much history as culture.

So thoughts? Why do you all think it's important to history?
I think the first thing to be considered here is your division between "history vs. culture" or "literary history vs. history." To make a very basic grammatical point, "literary history" is still history--albeit that noun is modified by a focus on literature. Similarly, what is about culture that strikes you as ahistorical? Personally, I don't think it is--on the contrary, what is history about if it can't include culture.

You say your course is a "European History" course. Well what does "European history" mean? Is it simply the history of Europe? Unlikely... if you consider that "Europe" properly means the landmass. More accurately, European history probably refers to the history of Europeans, since, by and large, we're generally more interested in people when we speak of history than landmasses. And you can scarcely speak of people without speaking of culture.

Basically, I'm just getting onto a bit of a soapbox here about the fact that "history" is more than just politics and wars--even when leavened by the all-powerful modern favourite, economics. History should not relegate art and philosophy and culture to some spin-off discipline like "Art History" or "History of Philosophy" (though such courses may be highly useful in the disciplines of Art or Philosophy), but needs to keep them at hand.

Anyway, soapbox aside, I have hardly answered the question of why Tolkien may belong in a history class, but I hope it's no longer in question whether culture should be considered in a history class.
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Old 01-22-2011, 08:07 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
I think the first thing to be considered here is your division between "history vs. culture" or "literary history vs. history." To make a very basic grammatical point, "literary history" is still history--albeit that noun is modified by a focus on literature. Similarly, what is about culture that strikes you as ahistorical? Personally, I don't think it is--on the contrary, what is history about if it can't include culture.
I could probably have phrased my orginal post better. You are right that culture is an important part of history and we have studied the great artists; Da Vinci, the ancient Greek and Roman writers, The Prince. So perhaps the better question would have been; Has Tolkien achieved the same level of importance as say The Illiad or The Last Supper have reached that LotR is a important facet of the history of the modern world?

Quote:
Basically, I'm just getting onto a bit of a soapbox here about the fact that "history" is more than just politics and wars--even when leavened by the all-powerful modern favourite, economics. History should not relegate art and philosophy and culture to some spin-off discipline like "Art History" or "History of Philosophy" (though such courses may be highly useful in the disciplines of Art or Philosophy), but needs to keep them at hand.
Indeed the current trend seems to be splitting the subjects into so many different divisions that it becomes impossible for many students to even consider that subjects are interconnected. Last semester I meet with stares of disbelief when my essay on Henry VIII contained research into frontal lobe injuries. My European History teacher is very good about keeping it all connected though.
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Old 01-23-2011, 12:23 PM   #5
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Maybe it's because the teacher feels you're a fool if you don't know LOTR Or maybe that it has become such an iconic part of our history that it should be included. Or maybe it's just a ploy to get kids to actual participate.
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:03 PM   #6
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I think one aspect that you could look at is how LoTR has been applied to various movements and political positions. We know that it is not allegory, and no doubt Tolkien would not have expected some of these, but readers use the story to reinforce their prior positions on many matters.

For example:

A 'Green Party' environmentalist may take to heart the story of the destruction of trees in Fangorn forest or the slag heaps and pollution at the gates of Mordor, contrast these with the Shire and Lothlorien and end up even more committed to their cause.

An anti-communist or anti-fascist may decide that Sauron represents the particular dicatorship that they are opposed to, and use the story as a classic good v evil tale.

An anti-nuclear campaigner might (incorrectly) see The Ring as an allegory of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, that should therefore be cast into the Cracks of Doom.

A royalist might find support for ideas that a monarchy is a good idea, looking at Aragorn reuniting the kingdoms and restoring the line of Elendil.

Etc

Etc

How significant any of these might be is a different question, and probably there's no evidence for direct infuence on the politics/economics/warfare sort of history, but there you go!
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Old 01-23-2011, 01:49 PM   #7
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The reason? Simple. Mein Kampf simply cannot compete in a smoke ring contest versus a Hobbit. The Communist Manifesto? Well, first off, a Manifesto sounds like something one would serve with marina and sprinkle with Parmesan, and once again would be devoured by any number of rustic Hobbits during one of several meals scattered throughout the day. No competition, really.
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Old 01-24-2011, 05:30 AM   #8
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Seriously, Mein Kampf had close to zero impact on history. Hitler the man had huge impact, but his book is a joke that would bore the pants off the most dedicated Nazi. Sure, The Communist Manifesto was an influential work, but I guarantee you that nobody ever became a Nazi after reading Mein Kampf!

Tolkien, on the other hand, not only created works that are hugely influential on the modern fantasy genre (and arguably lead the way for that genre's current popularity) but he also influenced other related artforms. Star Wars definitely took something from Tolkien, and without Star Wars' influence it's hard to imagine a lot of the modern sci-fi and fantasy film blockbusters ever being made. Then of course there is Peter Jackson's film adaptations of the Lord of the Rings.

Outside of fantasy and sci-fi there is Tolkien's general influence on Western culture. In the UK and the USA "The Lord of the Rings" frequently finishes #1 on the list of books nominated by readers as their favourite - that has to count for something!

To have written what is generally regarded as the best-loved novel of all time - and we are talking about a novel published almost 60 years ago, not some flash in the pan - well, that would seem to indicate some level of historical importance.
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