Missing Tolkien's Point

It's nice to see that he's still read approvingly, all the same.
Consider the invaluable depiction of what we might call "small patriotism" in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: "Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people," Tolkien wrote in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. They are hospitable, nosy, and contentedly devoted to their home, the Shire.

This love of home is not born of naïveté but clear-eyed commitment to community. "I should like to save the Shire, if I could," the hobbit Frodo muses as he prepares to embark on his quest, "though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them." Yet at the thought of departing, Frodo adds, "I don't feel like that now. … I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well — desperate."

Frodo does not love the Shire because it is the best country in Middle-earth. It does not boast the striking scenery and deep knowledge of the elven kingdoms, or the security and wealth of the dwarves, or the cosmopolitanism and architecture of the cities of men. The Shire does not have to be the best, for it is already home and already good in its own way.
The hobbits aren't simply symbolic of England, though: they're symbolic of a part of the English country. The "cities of men" were built by the Numenoreans, the Kings of Men, the Dunedain, Men of the West. These are, well, also "English" -- specifically, they are Norman. They are the grey-eyed men who are 'the race of kings,' and who were and (hopefully!) once again shall be the rightful rulers of the free people of the world. The hobbits love them, and are glad to be ruled by them; but, being hobbits, they also hope to retire back from their grand cities to the beloved countryside with its gardens and pubs.

And the Rohirrim, they're also symbolic of England -- this time, of the Anglo-Saxon heritage. They are the White Horse: the great Anglo-Saxon lord Horsa's name just means "Horse." They stand for another period of English history, without which the rarefied Dunedain lines would never regain their throne -- nor would their lesser heirs, the Stewards of Gondor, have maintained their last kingdom as long as they had.

Nor are even the elves entirely unconnected to England. The Edain became the Dunedain through friendship with the elves, and there is elvish blood in the line of the kings of men. Elrond Half-Elven is kin to Aragorn through Beren.

Insofar as any other nation is represented in Middle Earth, it falls away from the glory of England. There probably has never been a "bigger" patriot than Tolkien in the sense that this author means. Nearly every good thing in Middle Earth is essentially English. Tolkien was at the Somme. He knew what he loved, and what it cost, and it comes through very clearly in his work.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I not only read her article, but her internal links. The rot goes very deep. She misunderstands Tolkien, mostly misunderstands Lewis, invents categories of who are good guys and bad and shoves people into them on the basis of mind-reading their motives. Nor does she understand statistics, but seeing that the researchers she links to don't either, that's hardly surprising.

It's just so discouraging. And I don't even disagree with her in principle on the idea of "small patriotism." She just makes up a lot of stuff about what small patriots and big ones are like.

Eric Blair said...

And this country was always about "big" patriotism. She doesn't even know her own history.