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

Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Wed Dec 17 03:53:57 EST 2003

>Your response intrigues me and inspires some questions.  Do you see 
>allegory as an umbrella category into which myth fits?   And secondly, 
>*can* an allegory be unintentional?  Can it be that Tolkien specifically 
>said he didn't write an allegory, but accidentally did so anyway?

Allegory is both an umbrella term and a specific term. It is used both to 
mean metaphor in a general sense and also to mean a story/poem which has a 
parallel metaphorical meaning. I think that's the meaning which is causing 
contention. To give a benchmark example, Dante's Inferno is an allegory, 
and Dante famously explained all the levels of allegory -- the story of his 
journey through Hell parallels the journey of a soul to salvation, and it 
is also a political allegory, because all the bad guys are well known 
figures from Dante's world, etc.

>The distinction I had been used to drawing between allegory and myth went 
>something like this - in an allegory there is a 1:1 relationship between 
>the symbol and its meaning. There is a an author-intended correct reading 
>and each symbol is meant to mean what the author has determined it to 
>mean. As perhaps Deborah and/or Melissa might point out, that doesn't stop 
>the reader from doing as she pleases, but it *is* a point of reference, to 
>my mind.
>Can one read an intentional allegory and not ask oneself "What does the 
>author mean for this symbol to mean?"

Well in the Dante case, he claimed 4 levels of meaning, so the work the 
reader has to do is considerable. Few allegories work well on the 1:1 
basis, whatever the author states. More often the parallels are thematic.

The advent of Jung (for me, anyway) makes it quite possible to read 
something allegorically even if there isn't author intention. This is 
because of the idea of archetypes that underlie human experience. You don't 
have to be aware of them to express them, but readers who are aware may 
well see something allegorical.

>But I'm game to entertain any number of allegorical readings and see how 
>they stand up to a bit of batting about, so if you've got one in mind I'd 
>enjoy hearing it.

Here's one to debate: a colleague of mine has a book all about how the 
Harry Potter books are an alchemical allegory. The more you know about 
alchemy, the more true this appears to be. Has anyone heard of this theory?

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