08 November 2018

The Purposed Domination of the Author






Allegory, Tolkien said, 'resides ... in the purposed domination of the author' (FR xxiv). I don't know why I never saw until the other day that this description so closely matches what he says about the Ring, but lately I've been working on a book about the Ring inter alia. So perhaps that allowed me to see this phrase differently.  We need think only of the incantation contained in the Ring verse and inscribed on the Ring itself (FR 1.ii.50); of Elrond's words to Glóin that 'those who made [the Elven rings] did not desire strength or domination' (FR 2.ii.268); or of Galadriel's warning to Frodo that to use the One Ring '[he] would need ... to train [his] will to the domination of the wills of others' (FR 2.vii.366).

I could be mischievous and suggest that the Ring is an allegory of Allegory, but that would be too meta. It would also be wrong. But I guess he wasn't kidding when he said he expressed his dislike for allegory. So were all stories in Mordor allegories?

6 comments:

  1. Tom,
    Since you are looking at the Ring inter alia, I'm passing off this problem to you. I recently listened to a podcast which had nothing to do with JRRT, but which talked about what happens when gold is refined. It got me thinking about the Ring itself. Pure gold is extremely soft; in order to hold a shape, certain 'impurities' have to be added. Was the essence of Sauron the impurity added? And what does that say about the apparently intrinsic beauty of the Ring... Its 'precious'-ness? From the comment by Gandalf about the melting temperature of Frodo's fire, I think we need to presume that JRRT was not ignorant about gold qua gold. As Yul Brynner once said, "Is a puzzlement." Throw that puzzle into your cauldron. I look forward to the soup.

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    1. Kate, see my next post. Thanks for the great observation (as always).

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  2. Please remember that in spite of his declared dislike of allegory (and I think he was telling the truth about that), he did write one genuine allegory, and that is "Tree and Leaf." It starts out, "Once there was a little man named Niggle who had a long journey to make," and if that doesn't mark "Begin Allegory Here" I don't know what does.

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  3. As you suggest, dear Unknown, Tolkien is not perfectly consistent, and his opinions were different in different times and circumstances. I tend to think that his statement here is born of frustration with years of hearing that "the Ring is the atomic bomb", which would be a particularly clumsy and boring use of allegory. Clearly, "Leaf by Niggle" is an allegory, but a good one, as well as being a favorite of mine.

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  4. I don't think talk of imperfect consistency meets the point of the Unknown. Niggle is an allegory, as also is the story of the man who built a tower that proclaims one is entering the 1936 Beowulf lecture. And once you have a long journey to make with a tower at the beginning of it you have taken the first step into 'The Lord of the Rings.'

    "Allegory, Tolkien said, 'resides ... in the purposed domination of the author' (FR xxiv). I don't know why I never saw until the other day that this description so closely matches what he says about the Ring..."

    I think we have to bite the bullet that you fire. Tolkien cordially dislikes allegory because what he is doing in his great story of the Ring cannot be quite differentiated from allegory. He does not like looking in a mirror and he recognized a fellow author in Sauron. The One Ring = Lord of the Rings, and allegory is in the making of both.

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  5. "I could be mischievous and suggest that the Ring is an allegory of Allegory, but that would be too meta. It would also be wrong."

    Why would it be wrong?

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