Tolkien (was Re: Who invented the modern fantasy genre?)

minnow at minnow at
Tue Aug 24 19:12:34 EDT 2004

Margaret Ball wrote:

>>My favorite part is still the Scouring of the Shire.  It's probably because
>>I do prefer the human element to the broad epic scale;
>Mine too, although rereading it makes me wonder how Tolkien could
>possibly claim that he wasn't influenced by current events when writing
>LoTR....after fighting and defeating a mighty power that menaces all the
>world, our hobbits return home to something that looks awfully like the
>England of Aneurin Bevan!

What he wrote about it in a letter to Michael Straight in 1956 (the draft
survives) was

"There is no special reference to England in the 'Shire' -- except of
course that as an Englishman brought up in an 'almost rural' village of
Warwickshire on the edge of the prosperous bourgeoisie of Birmingham (about
the time of the Diamond Jubillee!) I take my models like anyone else --
from such 'life' as I know.  But there is no post-war reference.  I am not
a 'socialist' in any sense -- being averse to 'planning' (as must be plain)
most of all because the 'planners', when they acquire power, become so bad
-- but I would not say that we had to suffer the malice of Sharkey and his
ruffians here.  Though the spirit of 'Isengard', if not of Mordor, is of
course always cropping up.  The present design of destroying Oxford to
accommodate motor-cars is a case."

(They were planning to run a 'relief' road through Christ Church Meadow.
It's a plan that's been put forward several times...)

Seems to me that if the Shire was based on the village where he grew up
fifty years and more earlier, it had probably already been so altered that
he wouldn't have recognised it by the time he wrote the Scouring, and he
might well have been remembering what he might have felt to be its
desecration even before the war, let alone after.

He was living in Oxford, not in a village, so it would all seem a bit
different anyhow, wouldn't it?

The thing I find telling is that he says he doesn't think that England is
suffering malice.  He may have thought that people were making mistakes and
becoming bad planners when they had the power to put their plans into
action, but it looks as if he didn't think they were doing it on purpose.

What really makes me doubt the direct reference, though, is that Sharkey
and co were not native to the Shire: they were foreigners who invaded and
took over, and that isn't what had happened in England.


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