Your Name Prof’s Name Date Title JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has been one of the most beloved books written in the last hundred years, and is certainly one of my favorites. It is a seminal text that forever changed fantasy writing, and had so many original elements that it is easy to imagine that it came to be simply through inspiration and through the personal genius of its author…
Repeatedly through the course of the story character’s lineages are referenced: sometimes they are used as explanations for their inherent character, sometimes to exhort responsibility (as in to undo the sins of the father) and other times as explanations of their actions. Tolkien’s focus on heritage as central to constructing identity and behavior actually harken back to medieval understandings of family and identity, and are thus not really new at all. Tolkien was more than simply an excellent author, he was also a linguist and a historian (Carpenter 18). His special area of study was medieval history – he was a professor of old Norse and Old English at Oxford (Carpenter 8), and was thus familiar with many of the seminal works of that age. Critics argue that Tolkien had many sources of literary influence that emerged from the middle ages, which included “not only classical texts such as Beowulf and Piers Ploughman, but also obscure sources such as recorded riddles, lyrics and so forth” (Livingston 130). These sources make up a great deal of the mythology of lord of the rings, and can be seen variously throughout, in everything from the riddle game that Bilbo describes (Tolkien 138) to the very structures of the world Tolkien created. The theme of family as a central aspect of defining personal characters appears, as mentioned previously, in many places throughout the work, but perhaps never so strongly as in the sections on Rohan. Rohan is an area inhabited by a warrior people who ride horses, and seem to place great importance on family. Characters identify with each other through familial relationships. The king of Rohan, for instance, calls his second in command his “Sister Son,” because he is a nephew, never referring to his rank, but only his familiar relationship (Tolkien 348). Furthermore, the king consciously places himself in line with his ancestors, calling himself the “lesser son” of a great line, but knowing that he must act in certain ways to defend his family’s honor. Finally, the very landscape they live on has been modified by familial ties, with the path up to the main city, Edoras, having massive burial mounds flanking either side, one for each of the Kings that has died (Tolkien 317). This concern with family, and many other parts of the culture of Rohan, seem to directly mirror Anglo-Saxon texts that Tolkien was well versed in. One of the most famous Old-English stories, for instance, Beowulf, opens with a long description of genealogy: “There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes …. Shield had fathered a famous son: Beow” who fathered Halfdane, who fathered Hrothgar, and so on and so forth (Heaney 5-7). A similar genealogy is presented for Beowulf, the titular character, when he is first described (9). The characters, similarly to the Lord of the Rings, associate with each other through familial relationships: when Beowulf meets Hrothgar, he points to their familiar relationship as a way of establishing trust and so forth (19). The Lord of The Rings is clearly a work of genius, but like any amazing literary endeavor it rests on a massive host of influences that shape many aspects of its nature. One of the most important themes in The Lord of the Rings, the defining role of familial relationships and heritage in shaping personal identity, can be traced back not ...
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