LotR (was Re: reviews (but not of MC))

Charles Butler hannibal at thegates.fsbusiness.co.uk
Tue Dec 16 17:32:07 EST 2003

But it occurred to me that a related question might be -- did Tolkien
achieve myth?  And if we try to follow that question - we're going to have
to consider 'what is myth' or 'what does myth do' somewhere along the way,
I'd think.

The way I understand the word 'myth' (which may be quite humptyish and
idiosyncratic, I admit) it's not the kind of thing that an individual writer
can create, and certainly not in the spirit of "What I shall I write today?
A thriller? A school story? I know - a myth!". That's because it's a word
that describes the relationship between a story and the culture from which
it emerged, that has something to do with that culture's understanding of
the world, of the past, of its own identity. Almost always, myths are
created by many individuals over time.

I'd make two partial qualifications to that. One: if you are writing a book
that involves the creation of a whole culture, then of course you can write
their myths too - just as (one example amongst many) Richard Adams invented
a mythology for the rabbits in *Watership Down*. I'd say that Tolkien was
kind-of doing that in *LotR*, and more obviously so in *The Silmarillion*.
Two: it may be that a writer by some combination of talent and
fortuitousness writes something that over a relatively short time (but
probably not less than a few generations) begins to operate in a mythic way.
Arguably Virgil did that for the Romans - though even he was rehandling and
amplifying existing materials to an extent.

I don't think there's any necessary relationship between myths and allegory,
though as Robyin pointed out earlier in this thread a good many myths have
been allegorized. The Renaissance was particularly prone to it, because it
meant that they could still enjoy the sexy bits in Ovid while pretending to
find some arcane allegory about the progress of the soul!


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