Hegel and The Hobbit

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halfir 12/Jan/2006 at 04:42 AM
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In leafing through John S Ryans booklet The Shaping of Middle-earth’s Maker American Tolkien Society 1992 ISBN 1-881799-03-4 in an essay on Tolkien Lewis and Roy Campbell, I came across an intriguing line. Ryan  who was a student of Tolkien’s from 1954-57 is talking of comments that Tolkien’ threw-out’ while pacing the Merton rose garden and mentions :

’the influence of Hegel on The Hobbit’.

I don’t recall ever seeing another reference to this, and it could be that is was solely directed to Ryan, in a fit of whimsy, but I would be fascinated to know if anyone has come across such a reference elsewhere.

Kirinki54 12/Jan/2006 at 02:33 PM
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Halfir, such a connection would be very interesting. Was there no context given but only that short line of words?
halfir 12/Jan/2006 at 06:36 PM
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Kirinki 54: The actual context was a comment by Ryan that we miss a lot in terms of Tolkien biography for not knowing certain sides of Tolkien which werer exemplified by the robust relationship he had with his students. Ryan then goes on to quote a number of comments made by Tolkien (it’s not clear if they were made to Ryan in isolation or Ryan in the company of others) but they were clearly made in the relaxed environment of a walk/s through the Merton rose gardens. The overall context is as follows:

’Thus the present writer still remmebers Tolkien’s bursts while pacing ther Meron rose garden, on such topics as: college farms in East Anglia; pigs and their personalities; Wulstan the Eleventh Century homilist; the birds and beats of battle as a set piece in Germanic verse; the influence of Hegel on The Hobbit etc.’

Mithrantil 12/Jan/2006 at 10:43 PM
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I have also run across such strange references, none in reference to Hegel’s influence on  The Hobbit but a couple of Tom Shippey’s books about Tolkien’s work there are points made about many "under the table" comments in notes, letters, etc. that oftentimes go unexplained...

I suppose if Tolkien knew that his smallest thoughts would be scrutinized at this level he would have taken time to explain in more detail...

Kirinki54 13/Jan/2006 at 01:04 AM
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I wonder if it could have anyting to do with Bilbo as a hero. Why did he make the choices he did and how come he gradually became the undisputed leader of the group? What inspiration did he have? People used to debate whether Hegel was Christian or Atheist as he promoted the greatest being as The World Spirit, not God. However I think that people today usually see him as a true Lutheran.

But perhaps even Tolkien as a Catholic could buy the line of reasoning of Hegel where heroes are inspired by the World Spirit to make world-changing decisions (as "world-historical individuals") and thus, though perhaps even unconciously, causes the nature of the Spirit to come true and realize itself. The hero does this without any personal gain and for a higher purpose (which was very true, for example when Bilbo pinched the Arkenstone and later tried to brook peace with it). Perhaps this is one clue to the Hegelian influence.

I would like to say that the above was written mostly for my own pleasure and that someone savvy in philosophy would probably think it is simplified hogwash. And could also give a better speculation...

Elennah 24/Jan/2006 at 02:12 AM
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During the ’dialectical process’(don’t know the right English terminology) something is first put, then denied, to be made finally into a higher truth. There would be no real truth, only a deeper truth. This also counts for individuals.

For what I understand of it, this would be about Bilbo, the heroic burglar, becoming aware of what he truly is, and acting as such.
Kirinki54 24/Jan/2006 at 12:23 PM
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Thesis - anti-thesis - synthesis. The basic also for all growth of the individual stature. Bilbo going from meek citizen to burglar to hero. Perhaps you are right, Ellenah.
Maiarian Man 24/Jan/2006 at 06:44 PM
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I find this a rather interesting discussion point.  I really can’t see how to make a direct connection between the Hobbit and any of Hegel’s philosophy.  However, the points made above about we might cast the Hobbit in Hegelian terms seem pretty interesting.  And yet, that is all we are really doing--casting easily accessible interpretations into Hegelian terms, without really saying anything about Tolkien wanting us to view things in these terms.  My view is that this is a rather vivid example of how knowing what influenced Tolkien can be quite inessential to interpreting his works.

First, one can see these interpretations without any knowledge of Hegel (though of course, they will not see that they are Hegelian).  Second, even if access to these interpretations is inspired by looking at Tolkien through the Hegelian lense, one hardly needs to say that Tolkien is trying to capture some aspect of Hegel’s philosophy in order to understand how these interpretations might be true of the Hobbit.

Saranna 31/Mar/2006 at 04:51 AM
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halfir, just out of interest I used the title of this thread as a Google search term and got a zillion hits!  I then refined the search by adding in the word Tolkien, and got a few million - here

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Hegel+and+the+Hobbit+Tolkien&hl=en&lr=&start=10&sa=N

As the job I am doing at work today is tedious beyond belief I am going to browse some of these at the same time and if any seem genuinely interesting I shall come back and add them into the thread for you. 

Saranna 31/Mar/2006 at 04:57 AM
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http://72.14.207.104/search?q=cache:9-ixbu5L-XsJ:www.uh.edu/hti/cu/2004/v01/06.pdf+Hegel+and+the+Hobbit+Tolkien&hl=en&gl=uk&ct=clnk&cd=14
Saranna 31/Mar/2006 at 05:14 AM
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This looks interesting but I can’t actually get access to it (I’m looking on Goggle Scholar now, there was too much rubbish in the general search)

Geo-and Biopolitics of Middle-earth: A German Reading of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings - group of 2 »
N Werber - New Literary History, 2005 - muse.jhu.edu
... safe. Rather, it is the wounded, half-unconscious little Hobbit, Frodo,
who flees from the Black Riders all alone in the ford.

Saranna 31/Mar/2006 at 05:23 AM
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http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=cache:nTI0CYcJYa0J:www.owenbarfield.com/Barfield_Scholarship/Re-Weaving_the_Rainbow.pdf+Hegel+Hobbit
Off the point but you may find it interesting anyway.  I shall stop soon as many of these are false results.
Saranna 31/Mar/2006 at 05:35 AM
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The ghost of Auschwitz
B Diken, CB Laustsen - Journal for Cultural Research, 2005 - Taylor & Francis
... As is well known from Hegel’s master–slave dialectic, death is the limit of ... are perhaps
Samson in the Bible and the riddle fight in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Another one I can’t open.  Stopping now, however, this isn’t getting anywhere very definite.

Ankala Teaweed 31/Mar/2006 at 03:48 PM
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Quote: Originally posted by Kirinki54 on Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Thesis - anti-thesis - synthesis. The basi(s) also for all growth of the individual stature. Bilbo going from meek citizen to burglar to hero.

Or perhaps, thesis = Bilbo as staid and boring citizen
+
antithesis
= exploring his inner adventurous nature, living through life and death situations and the calamitous Smaug encounters
=
synthesis
= the post-adventure Bilbo, returned to his peaceful life in the Shire, yet still in communication with the Elves and Dwarves and Gandalf and Aragorn (as is revealed later), followed by his finally leaving the Shire to return to Rivendell (without going into his final journey). He had grown beyond the perpective and sensibilities of his old pre-adventure self.

halfir 01/Apr/2006 at 01:58 AM
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Saranna: Thanks for the references.X(

AK: An interesting take.

mm: My view is that this is a rather vivid example of how knowing what influenced Tolkien can be quite inessential to interpreting his works.

Perhaps you might suggest that some of those who fillet the Letters in order to provide ’the’ explanation of Tolkien’s fiction might care to bear your line in mind!X(