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

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Aug 25 07:30:17 EDT 2004


Margaret Ball wrote:
>>
>>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.
>>
>
>You're absolutely right in all of the above, and I never thought the
>"Scouring of the Shire" was intended as a direct reference to postwar
>England - but some of the phrases in that section, mostly lines about
>planning and permission IIRC, reminded me very strongly of complaints in
>contemporary postwar English novelists. Or am I making it all up? I'll
>dig Volume III out and see if what I think I remember is actually there <g<

Oh, yes!  Sorry, I had misunderstood this as being post-WAR rather than
POST-war as an emphasis -- my mistake.

I agree that what has become the "way things are done" in the Shire after
Sharkey and co take over is probably somewhat based on the general
experience of the middle classes of England during the later 1940s and
early 1950s.  Rationing in particular: "We grows a lot of food, but we
don't rightly know what becomes of it.  It's all these 'gatherers' and
'sharers', I reckon, going round counting and measuring and taking off to
storage.  They do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the
stuff again."

It was a very difficult time to live through, by all accounts I have ever
heard, even for the young who had just missed being involved in the actual
war and didn't have horrible combat experience to cope with (or the
disruption of being conscripted into the mines or farm-work).  For the
country-living middle-aged who hadn't actually been in the forces it was
evidently "more of the same only worse" in terms of day-to-day life, with
even less to eat than there had been during the war, and nasty badly-made
clothes, and everything somehow sullen and mean.

JRRT himself mentions planning-blight in the passage I quoted, and the
having to get permission for everything one did when before the war it was
up to the owner of the field what crops he grew in it probably annoyed a
lot of people a lot of the time.

In fact, I so agree with you, having thought about this overnight and seen
your comments above this morning, that I'd go so far as to say that I think
the Scouring of the Shire is a sort of wish-fulfilment dream for Tolkien:
what the returning hobbits do is *put everything back the way it was
before*, don't they?  and that is what his generation and class probably
wanted most of anything.  Since their experience between the wars hadn't
included living five to a room in a slum with no lavatory in the house, or
being unemployed and on means-tested 'welfare', or having no access to
medical help of any kind for a seriously-ill child, or any of the other
real horrors suffered by the poor in England during the 20s and 30s, they
found the levelling process that was going on to be a great disimprovement
in everything, and longed to have things back *for themselves* the way they
had been before all the upheaval.  I'm sure they didn't wish for anyone to
be in insanitary accommodation with not enough to eat, but they found it
very hard indeed to accept the fall in their own standards of living!

It must have been terribly galling to be sent food parcels by Americans,
too, if one had been used to giving charity rather than longing to be given
it.  Reading Helene Hanff's *84 Charing Cross Road* made me think about
that: she writes in December 1949 that she's been told the ration is 2
ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month, which
I suspect may be an exaggeration, but the gratitude in the letters sent her
by the staff when she sends them a Christmas parcel containing a 6lb ham
(between five or more of them) is staggering, and the tins of tongue and
the whole box of shell eggs (probably a dozen) in a parcel in April 1950
also makes everyone delighted ('with the raisins and egg I was actually
able to make them a cake!' writes the mother with two children aged 4 and
5).  Eggs were still on the ration in 1952, and a tin of ham was an Easter
treat.  So it isn't really surprising that people who had been used to
having more to eat than the basic nutritional requirement should wish and
wish for things to get better, back how they used to be.  Probably for five
years of war, and then at least seven years of peace, Tolkien had been
wistfully longing to have back what "used to be", and for him to put it
into his book, a miraculous restoration, is very plausible.

(I just found a mention of a food-parcel in Tolkien's letters, too: 10
February 1952, to John Tolkien: "We had a 'ham-feast' with C.S. Lewis on
Thursday (an American ham from Dr Firor of John Hopkins University), and it
was like a glimpse of old times...")

Minnow


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