An English Mythology?

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Brandywine74 31/Dec/2006 at 09:35 PM
Foolhardy Ent of Fangorn Points: 1291 Posts: 562 Joined: 20/Apr/2006

It is often said that Tolkien wished to write a mythology for England and that the fruit of this is Middle- earth.

However, there seems little in his work that could be specifically related to England, in my opinion. The Hobbits live approximately where England would be today and they seem very English, but the majority of the action in LOTR happens away from The Shire and most of the other characters have little to do with the Shire and most don’t even know where it is.

Most other myths connected to specific lands refer to specific geography of the country in question or detail the history of the people. LOTR doesn’t seem to do this for England.

Given this, how successfull can we say Tolkien is in creating a specifically English Mythology?

geordie 01/Jan/2007 at 08:57 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Tolkien never said he wanted to create ’a Mythology for England’. That phrase was coined by his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, from a portion of a letter which Tolkien had sent to Milton Waldman in 1952 [letter no. 131]. This letter is in fact a sales pitch to Collins publishers [for whom Waldman worked]. Tolkien wanted to publish not only LotR but also Silm; and the tales he was talking about - the ones he had once desired to ’dedicate to England: to my country’ - were in fact the older mythology, not LotR per se. And the early tales did have a lot more to do with England than their later forms did.
WyteWolf 01/Jan/2007 at 02:50 PM
Gardener of Lothlorien Points: 265 Posts: 37 Joined: 01/Jan/2007
While Yes as a sales pitch He may have made the passing remark that the Hobbits were much like the English and the Mythology of the Hobbits were much the same.the story was witten as much in my opinion for the made up mythology as it was for the pure joy of letting Tolkien give enjoyment to others...remember that The Hobbit was published not long after the end of the great depression in the United States and was probably written during the early parts, so one theorize that The Hobbit and LotR were written to allow people an escape from the day to day struggle for survival....( these are my opinions only and could be completely off the mark and without any verifiable proof)
geordie 01/Jan/2007 at 03:05 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Hi, WyteWolf, welcome to the Plaza.

remember that The Hobbit was published not long after the end of the great depression in the United States and was probably written during the early parts, so one theorize that The Hobbit and LotR were written to allow people an escape from the day to day struggle for survival....( these are my opinions only and could be completely off the mark and without any verifiable proof)

It’s good to see you’ve an open mind - - actually, Tolkien had no such thoughts in mind when he wrote TH, nor LotR. TH began as one of the stories which Tolkien told to his children in the 20s and 30s. He took the trouble of typing up this one; the typescript was seen by someone from the publishing co. George Allen & Unwin, and the book was published, in Sep.1937. Almost by accident in a way.

The book looked as if it was going to sell well - they had to reprint in Dec.1937, so A&U asked if Tolkien had anything else. He sent them some stuff, inc. bits from Silm, but they were’nt in any kind of order, and the publishers’ readers could’nt make much of them. So Stanley Unwin asked Tolkien if he could write more about hobbits. Tolkien demurred at first; he did’nt think there was any more to say. But then he got started, and well - he took twelve years to write the book!

All of this and more can be found in JRR Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter. I recommend it. Or, there’s a nice ’potted’ biography at the top of the ’Tolkien: The Man forum. Very useful.
WyteWolf 01/Jan/2007 at 05:47 PM
Gardener of Lothlorien Points: 265 Posts: 37 Joined: 01/Jan/2007
so then My opinion in some ways is not far off in that TH and LotR were in fact written for the enjoyment of others just not in the way I was meaning....more for His children then the public in general.so I demure to Your greater knowledge...as most of My knowledge comes from LotR and TH with a little of The Silmirillian thrown in.and Thank You for the welcome
Galin 02/Jan/2007 at 06:31 AM
New Soul Points: 3638 Posts: 1945 Joined: 28/Jan/2005
It’s a bit of a conflation by Carpenter, as noted. In addition to the Waldman letter, there is also the ’Thompson draft’ in which Tolkien began...

’Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging letter. Having set myself a task, the arrogance of which I fully recognized and trembled at: being precisely to restore to the English an epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own: it is a wonderful thing to be told that I have succeeded, at least with those who have still the undarkened heart and mind.’ JRRT Letters

If we take the Waldman letter as being more detailed, Tolkien indeed explains (as Geordie noted)...

’Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and the cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story -- the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing slendour from the vast backcloths -- which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our ’air’ (the clime and soil of the North-west, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possesing (If I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be ’high’, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.’ JRRT Letters

In the very early Book of Lost Tales it is noted, for example, that Tol Eressea was either to become England itself (moved to the geographical position of England), or be a ’re-embodiement’ -- that is (according to the latter), when Elfwine sailed to Tol Eressea it ’... seemed to the English mariner to be remade in the likeness of his own land, which the Elves had lost at the coming of Men: for it was indeed a re-embodiement of Elvish Luthany far over the sea.’ Christopher Tolkien The History of Eriol Or lfwine