Monday, December 10, 2007

Is LoTR Trivial

Golden Compass writer Phillip Pullman says that the Lord of the Rings is trivial. Is there anything to this?

Granting that Pullman's books are about the death of god or the end of religion or something like that, this is a non-trivial subject. In contrast, LotR appears to be about melting a piece of jewelry in order to maintain the status quo.

I use the word "appears" because there is a lot more to it. The major theme is self-sacrifice. Frodo sacrifices himself in order to save the Shire. In an early draft, Tolkien had Bingo (the original name for Frodo) say that while he was leaving the Shire because of the ring, he would have had to go anyway since he was out of money and hoped to pick some up on the way like Bilbo did. Tolkien marked this out with a note that Bingo still had plenty of money. He didn't have to leave because of money, he chose to leave because of the ring.

Along the way Frodo is surprised by Sam's optimism. Sam has been saving food for the trip back. Frodo never thought that far ahead. He probably thought that he would die while accomplishing his quest (Gollum died in his place by accident).

But Frodo didn't return whole. His only visible injury was the loss of a finger but he had deeper injuries. The wounds he got from the Witchking and Sheelob never completely healed and he was sick twice a year on the anniversary of being wounded.

Worse, he had a piece of Sauron's soul tempting him for years. He was no longer wholly mortal and had to leave for the Undying Lands, normally reserved for the elves.

The elf lords faced the same choice. In helping Frodo they knew that they were bringing about the end of their time in Middle Earth. The alternatives were no better - submit to Sauron or take the ring and become an equally dark lord.

There is a subtext of temptation. Boromir succumbed to temptation but so did Frodo. The quest only succeeded because of Gollum.

Plus we see the passing of the physical embodiment of a demon-figure in the defeat of Sauron.

Is that substantive enough?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good points. I was taken aback when hearing pullman's statement on the radio. I agree there is some clear moral points to the story - but my reaction really was, "if "trivial" in Pullman's defenition, SO WHAT? Tolkien himself stated that it isn't allegorical of anything, and last i checked it has reamained a global fave for 60 years. There's nothing trivial about the place that story holds in people. Nor is it's influence on a genre of literature trivial. Plot-wise, i'll take more trivial if it's as dear and grand a story as LOTR.