J.R.R. Tolkien: A Simplicity Between the ‘Truly Earthy’ and the ‘Absolutely Modern’

The letters of J.R.R. Tolkien provide us with the premise from which we would like to once more penetrate the work of this great 20th century inventor of a world. Let us remember that his correspondence reveals the birth of The Lord of the Rings and of other less famous texts and also that his letters can be classified into three main groups. The first group consists of the letters sent to his children – they would be his first readers – and particularly to his son Christopher. In these letters, he evokes the adventures taking place in Middle Earth and also begins a conversation that centres on the meaning of life. The second group consists of letters sent to his editor Sir Stanley Unwin and to the latter’s son Rayner. They essentially deal with practical issues linked to the publication of his writings. Finally, the letters of the third group were sent to his fans or to different kinds of persons – journalists for example – with whom he discussed several questions concerning details of his writings, or the importance of certain episodes or significant facts in his work.

Linked to his fictional writings, the author’s correspondence allows us to catch a glimpse of ‘Tolkien’s thinking’. He was, of course, first and foremost, an author of romance, even though he had a distinguished and acknowledged part to play in his field of specialisation, Philology. He therefore did not develop a ‘thought’, as other intellectuals of his time did. Nonetheless, by creating an imaginary world and by reflecting on his own creation, Tolkien indeed provides us with the fruit of his ‘thinking’ and it is the latter which will form the core of these few pages. First of all, it has the remarkable feature, compared to most other authors’ ‘thoughts’, of having been ‘offered’ to and shared with millions of people throughout the world: The Lord of the Rings has experienced considerable success in both its literary as well as cinematographic form. It has to be said that Tolkien did not content himself with simple stories: he created a genuine secondary world with languages, legends and a mythology that constitutes an inexhaustible reservoir of questions and interests. Entering the work of Tolkien’s thought is like going into a house which we realise is inhabited: each door enables us to see a bit more of its extent and wherever the eye looks, it encounters the ‘presence’.

Like the majority of works that marked their time, Tolkien’s carries a message of a universal nature. What is necessary here is to grasp a part of it and to understand how it was shaped. In fact, Tolkien’s designis above all modest. It was little by little and without him realising it that his work was sublimated, almost in spite of himself. He elaborated his work to satisfy his most simple desires. But because he was ‘from this world’ and firmly anchored in it, he naturally addressed the world. Thus, technical issues are largely present in his work because he was part of the generation that experienced the advent of the era of mechanisation. However, something which will attract our attention even more is Tolkien’s great devotion to simplicity – the simple, the common as opposed to the sophisticated and the cultured – which, in his own words, is greatly due to the capacity of the latter to ‘ennoble’ itself, in other words to surpass its mediocrity in order to produce something greater and almost divine. This eulogy of the simple is shown in the emphasis on the Hobbit people, a rural society of authentically earthy peasants whose members accept and face their destiny and history with great nobility. But what is meaningful for our time is a new form of simplicity that transpires through his work and life. It is different from the simplicity of the Hobbit, which reigned during the golden age, because it is adapted to the human being of modernity. This new simplicity as outlined by the author of The Lord of the Rings takes its place in the middle between what we shall call the ‘truly earthy’ and the ‘absolutely modern’.


Tolkien was a creator of a world and thus a dreamer, a thinker. But, before being able to withdraw in peace to let his imagination have free rein, and to immerse himself in his poetic universe, he had to free himself from everyday events, from worries in his professional and family life. Thus, his correspondence reveals how heavily “vital necessities” weighed on him and how “domestic and academic troubles” (Tolkien 1981:117) slowed him down in the accomplishment of his work, the fruit of his meditation. Similarly, his letters are a succession of evoca-tions of gruelling times inherent in every person’s existence, but which seem to have had a particular importance for the author. Indeed, he seems to go through these periods – notably his wife and son’s health problems and the papers he had to correct to earn a living and at which he never stopped fuming – without even for a second considering to escape them, which would no doubt be a grave temptation to many others. One feels that he conscientiously faced all tasks inherent in every- day life, that he could not free himself from necessity without having given it the attention it deserves. This inventor of a world, despite the strength of his reveries, never seemed to gaze on the concrete world with lightness. For this reason, as is evident from his correspondence, year after year one sees him bent over his literary work – over the “serious work” (Tolkien 1981:131) – after having conscientiously fulfilled the tasks he had to carry out. He seems always to have been incapable of, for instance, dedicating himself body and soul to his stories and of only scantily addressing his pressing and heavy work, or of neglecting his duties, and if he was behind in things that he should do, notably because he was busy with The Lord of the Rings, it was always his conscience which told him not to neglect them for too long. Tolkien resembles his fairy tale hero Niggle, a painter whose mind is engrossed in the realization of a painting gradually taking on colossal dimensions – Tolkien himself likens this hero’s situation to his own, the painting representing The Lord of the Rings2. Unfortunately, incessant ‘interruptions’ come to disturb his creative work, forcing him to abandon his brushes to fulfil tasks he cannot escape from, whether he thinks them duties or not, or he is compelled to do them whatever he thinks.3 Therefore, the tale stages a character torn between two types of incompatible activities because each calls for exclusive attention to it. The hero is therefore obliged to alternate in space and time between a chosen activity and a necessary activity; the latter he would pass over if he was not forced to face it.

This concern for the concrete realities from here and now also appears in Tolkien’s obsession for details: he says himself that he is “a pedant devoted to accuracy” (Tolkien 1981:372). It is thus that one sees him very often occupied with searching and correcting the slightest errors or incoherencies within the hundreds of pages of adventure in Middle-earth. When he realised that the movements of the moon did not fit in with the sequence and the rhythm of the scenes, he reconsidered his entire text. Thus, the immaterial pleasure he would get from building his mythology and creating a breathtaking story would always be weighed down by the necessities of a world made up of limits and rules. This is certainly the reason why the birth of The Lord of the Rings, from when it first started being written to when it was published, was so long and painful.


Tolkien was therefore a landsman, a human being firmly attached to the concrete, like the trees he loved so much and of which the roots penetrate deeply into the ground. His work would be marked by this earthy inscription: his literary intentions were very down-to-earth as well. We have to remember that Tolkien was passionately fond of languages, words and their origins. One of his primary passions was to invent languages. However, for him a language requires “a suitable habitation” (Tolkien 1981:214): it must be inscribed in a concrete world, open itself up in a singular land. This is why he created a story for the languages of his own invention – a story steeped in a universe of myths and legends and capable of giving consistency to them. However, as the attachment to a land only has meaning in the specific and not in the general, Tolkien adapted his imaginary world to his “beloved country” that has,and it is this which he found very depressing, “no story of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil)” (Tolkien 1981:144) such as the Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Scandinavian or Finnish legends. He was not even satisfied with the Arthurian world because it is “imperfectly naturalized” and “associated with the soil of Britain but not with English” (Tolkien 1981:144)! No doubt, for Tolkien, each man is deeply rooted, even incarnated in an immaterial, cultural and social body, from which he unfolds his humanity. Tolkien liked significant spaces and raged against a world making itself uniform and being on the way to become a unique small and dry suburb of province. When others were delighted at the English language becoming “the biggest language group”, the author called for the “curse of Babel”, finding “this Americano-cosmopolitism” (Tolkien 1981:65) terrifying. Like a language, a human being has roots as a result of which they are in the world. In his letters, Tolkien states that he likes, “loves”, England not because he thinks that it is above or better than another, even less because it could be a universal model, but simply because it is his and therefore its perfume inebriates him and moves him like no other. It is no doubt like this for any person regard- ing their relationship with their ‘soil’. Also, people were evidently not allowed to speak to Tolkien about Great Britain and still less about the Commonwealth, which, one can deduce, were for him only vast spaces artificially edified above human realities and by this very fact insignificant by nature.4 One might find his supposed contempt for the ‘French mind’ in his denunciation of this form of universalism “without foundation”, the latter according to him therefore being unreal and hazy. It is not by accident that Tolkien became passionately fond of Old English, Anglo-Saxon dialects and old Germanic languages: the study of these idioms, which for such a long time imbued his native land, is able to reveal today what this land authentically was and what it still is in thedepths of itself. In Middle-earth, all the characters come from somewhere, are ‘connected to a specific land’, which explains why so many of them are suffering in exile. Their characters are the result of an alchemy between the respective contributions of their native lands, their race, their lineage and their individual personalities. Evil jostles the balance of power, dislodges creatures from their setting. Having deviated from their course, all things move concurrently and in a motion of disordered appearance slowly tend towards finding their place again and restoring the world to a point of balance: the ring is attracted to its master, the Hobbits to the Shire, the Elves to the land of the Valar and the errant king to his throne – each being to its own setting.


One can see why Tolkien was so close to his most illustrious creatures: the Hobbits. Who are they? Peasants full of ‘Englishry’ to all of whom Tolkien would have given English surnames if he had done more detailed thinking and planning on the subject.5 They are ordinary people close to nature, simple beings living in “settled home(s)” (1981:240). They have the kind of failings that all ordinary, dull-witted people who were ‘born- somewhere’ have, and also exhibit a spirit of parochialism. Above all, and it would be wrong to think differently, they do not much appreciate adventure: the limits of the Shire are overstepped only in the case of necessity. This is why during their quest, as Tolkien says, the Hobbits will think “first of the Shire”: it is after all quite natural. Nevertheless, their dreams can sometimes take them outside of their small universe: one of Sam’s grandest and simplest desires, he himself is a true hero, is “to see the Elves”. Only the Frodo and Bilbo Baggins lineage has a predisposition for adventure: as if the latter ran through their veins.6

But this singular lineage is an exception. In any case, despite the mediocrity of the average Hobbit, these people have an essential quality: they have both feet firmly on the ground, which gives them a sense of reality that is particularly well developed. This good sense and ability to face life’s challenges head on is no doubt at the origin of their aptitude to, when the situation requires it, transcend the mediocrity that they are usually made of. A heroic force lies dormant in each Hobbit: here we touch upon one of the main reasons that explain Tolkien’s love for simplicity.

“I am in fact a Hobbit” (Tolkien 1981:288) Tolkien says in a letter to Deborah Webster in 1958. The author’s ‘Hobbitry’ transpires throughout all of his correspondence, which is not surprising considering what has been discussed above regarding his ‘earthy’ anchorage. His intentions as an author of Romance remarkably reflect this character trait: in writing The Lord of the Rings, he wanted to give shape to a gripping story taking place in an atmosphere and a context that personally at- tract him. He repeatedly states the simplicity of his intentions: to let his tastes express themselves. He wrote The Lord of the Rings for his “personal satisfaction” (Tolkien 1981:211) and to stimulate literary pleasure, just as he had written The Hobbit to entertain his children. It is pointless to seek complicated explanations or to intellectualise his ap- proach. In his letters, he never stops telling his correspondents, who sometimes see the denunciation of Stalinism, and at other times that of atomic power in his work, that he had no allegorical intention. He makes his interlocutors understand that the allegorical process is foreign to his way of thinking. Allegory is too sophisticated for his purpose, which he desires to be simpler, almost naïve. It is no doubt the symbol of the very kind of ambitious and exquisite processes he condemns all the more strongly since he used to be interested in them at a certain point in his life. In fact, he used to have the ambitious and inordinate plan to build a body of legend “high and purged of gross [...] ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy” (Tolkien 1981:144), a sort of immense and majestic painting valuable in itself because of its own artistic qualities and because of what it would be capable of inspiring in other artists who would be able to make use of its contents to ‘continue’ it. He quickly gave up this ambitious plan and put all of his energy into the “mere stories” (Tolkien 1981:144), those that apparently came to him from nowhere and that he spontaneously put down on paper.7 But in reality he did not entirely discard his initial project or rather, he discarded it only as a project. It is possible for this grandiose painting to be realised, but if this is the case, it will only be through the inner force of stories. In other words, if it is to take shape, it will generate itself. It will happen spontaneously – or never – and no one can tell its shape and contents in advance, so no one can plan it. Tolkien thus adopted his character Niggle’s artistic manner who paints “leaves better than trees” (Tolkien 1975:81), leaves that he carries within himself and that he paints marvellously well. The spontaneous gathering of multiple leaves soon results in the formation of a tree with numerous branches and “fantastic roots” (Tolkien 1975:81) to which a background adds itself, the whole thing becoming “Niggle’s country” (Tolkien 1975:99). Tolkien was thus converted to a new kind of sim- plicity: from that point on he would serve this intimate ‘creative surge’ ready to jump out of himself and would put all his confidence in its capability to produce a painting of greater scope. Therefore, Tolkien combined the simplicity that is ‘related to the land’, that constitutes the basis of his stories, with a simplicity of the artistic process, that of the ‘creative surge’. Nonetheless, an ambiguity remains in the real simplicity or naivety of his intentions: several writings seem to be much more thought out than he often says, as is shown in this passage in a letter to Robert Murray:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. (Tolkien 1981:172)

The Lord of the Rings is at first glance a fundamentally Catholic work simply because it has been written by a Catholic: the author’s Catholicism stands out from the text – we will soon come back to this point. Later, however, the author intentionally introduces his Catholicism: Tolkien thus proves that he could not free himself from all sophistication, from his ‘reflective’ capabilities. Nonetheless, this should not be a reason to call into question the sincerity of his conversion to simplicity. He was deeply ‘converted’ to it, yet it remains obvious, and this forms the subject of the article, that because he was a man of his time it was impossible for him to be converted to it entirely. In any case, his words stress that his writings are mostly guided by a ‘non-reflective’ thought.

The explanation of the fundamentally simple nature of the author’s artistic process is always accompanied by the assertion of his personal simplicity. He likes to present himself as an ordinary man:

I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food [...] but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome). (Tolkien 1981:288-289)

Thus, he delights in defending the “dull stodges”: “Yorkshire’s young men and women of sub-public school class and home backgrounds bookless and cultureless”. He prefers, like he says to his son Christopher to

spend [him]self on removing the ‘dull’ from ‘stodges’ [...] – a hopeful soil from which another generation with some higher intelligence could arise [...] – rather than waste effort on those of (apparently at any case) higher intelligence that have been corrupted and disintegrated by school, and the climate of our present days. (Tolkien 1981:403-404)

Tolkien is very aware of the failings of the simple, which he likes to describe and mock in his adventures. However, he likes the simple for its potential: the simple – a stodge from England, a leaf by Niggle, a fascinating story – is ‘a hopeful soil’ because it does not cheat, it is present in the world in the form of a primeval innocence. The relevance or power of the simple does not lie in itself but in what it is able to generate. Because it is anchored in true reality, because it is neither corrupted nor sullied, it can grow only healthy fruits. It is very uncertain whether this is possible when it comes to the products corrupted by sophistication and the artificial excess of modern society: they lack a solid and stable basis to ensure steady growth and an innate and natural sense of balance. Thus, The Hobbit – Tolkien realised this with hindsight – is a “study of simple ordinary man neither artistic nor noble and heroic (but not without the undeveloped seeds of these things) against a high setting – and in fact (as a critic has perceived) the tone and style change with the Hobbit’s development, passing from fairy tale to the noble and high and relapsing with the [Hobbit’s] return” (Tolkien 1981:159). Therefore we understand why “the inter-relation between the ‘noble’ and the ‘simple’ (or common, vulgar)” (Tolkien 1981:220) and above all the ‘ennoblement of the humble’ particularly move him.8 Humble people reveal themselves through their contact with the world and history: the events that emerge and challenge them unveil their superior qualities, which previously lay hidden beneath their inertia. Tolkien experienced the small people’s heroism and courage – he recognised these as superior to his own – in the trenches of the First World War (Carpenter 2000:180). These people do not try to defy the world, but are able to, when the situation requires it, face it with heart and an unrivalled nobility, “there is no horror conceivable that such creatures cannot sur- mount, by grace [...] combined with a refusal of their nature and reason at the last pinch to compromise or submit” (Tolkien 1981:120-121). For him simple and noble are closely intertwined, “without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless” (Tolkien 1981:160).


According to Tolkien, the capacity of the simple to transcend itself partly explains the universal reach of his work: the sublimation of the message is a ‘natural phenomenon’. This is the reason why, in their letters, many of Tolkien’s correspondents misinterpret the situation, as they believe in his use of the allegorical process, though, as we have seen, their misinterpretations are not totally unfounded. The author says that he had no allegorical design, but on the other hand does not refuse the notion of ‘applicability’. His story was applicable to the world he was living in because his work sprang from life: in that sense, it was impossible to “write any ‘story’ that is not allegorical” (Tolkien 1981:212). His story cannot be allegorical, however, because it does not support any intentional messages. Said differently, its applicability was not wished for – at least initially – even though he was well aware of the fact that “all this stuff (his creation) is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality and the machine” (Tolkien 1981:145). As fascinating stories, which tell of the encounter between the simple and historical events, are in the process of weaving themselves, messages of universal reach are outlined and gradually take shape. The following passage from a long letter to Milton Waldman, which evokes the legends of the Silmarillion, sheds light on this ‘self-creating’ process:

Its centre of view and interest is not Men but ‘Elves’. Men came in inevitably: after all the author is a man, and if he has an audience they will be Men and Men must come in our tales, as such, and not merely trans- figured or partially represented as Elves, Dwarfs, Hob- bits, etc. (Tolkien 1981:147)

Indeed, what has to ‘come in’ will ‘come in’. Simply because the author is human, his humanity ‘comes in’ the narrative. Somehow, it forces its way through without announcing itself. Without the author knowing it, his work ‘drinks’ him or rather ‘drinks’ the immateriality of his person, as a piece of blotting paper would. Each stratum of Tolkien’s immaterial body is in turn subjected to this absorption. Thus, in turn, he passes on his humanity to his readers – the fact that he belongs to the human race and is attached to his condition – his ‘Christianity’, his ‘Anglicity’, his ‘Suffieldity’ – Suffield is his mother’s maiden name – and so on. Also, because the author is ‘from this world’ and ‘of his time’, the atmosphere of the age in which he lives transpires in his creation. Finally “each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life” (Tolkien 1981:212). Under these conditions, the work escapes from its creator and becomes autonomous, “[t]he stories arose in my mind as given things” (Tolkien 1981:267) Tolkien says. It was in re-reading his work that the author became conscious of the themes and messages that it contains. The work itself was partly unfamiliar to him and it is for this reason that he was moved to tears when writing certain passages9 and that his interpretations of the Middle-earth adventures were given with-out any certainty: he often writes that he ‘thinks’ that such or such an element has such or such a significance. In the same way as his readers, he was a spectator of his work. In order to help his fans – and himself – to understand his work, the only thing that he could do was to reveal fundamental facts that were true of him, to inform them of the ‘specific’. To this end, he would, for instance, say to Déborah Webster that he was “born in 1892” and that he “lived for his early years in ‘the Shire’ in a pre-mechanical age” and more importantly that he is “a Christian [...] and in fact Roman Catholic” (Tolkien 1981:288).


The ills generated by the industrialized and modern society that would never stop worrying Tolkien are certainly at the origin of his highlighting of the simple. He was preoccupied with the hold that the technical has over the world, be it in the material or in the immaterial sphere. Technical issues constantly feature in his correspondence and lurk in the background in his books. As a “reactionary back number”, he fumed against “American sanitation”, “moral pep”, “mass production” and the “scientific materialism” (Tolkien 1981:65) that are running off with the world. In his correspondence, Tolkien often gives the impression of a hunted man fleeing the noises and ugliness of the world and especially the internal combustion engine he seems to be relentlessly hounded by. One follows him page after page in his retrenchments and in the com- pany of his work, sheltered from a world, which sometimes takes on characteristics of Mordor.10 He does not really condemn the technical as such, but rather its propensity to overrun all spheres of human life and facing the spirit of the machine which is seizing the world, Tolkien only senses the obvious force of that which has stood in its simplicity from time immemorial and continues to do so. From his relationship with the earth, from his presence in the world, he draws his love for the trees, for nature that in its bareness contains a force surpassing everything. This force that bears witness to the fact that “there was an Eden on this earth” (Tolkien 1981:110) would be revealed to him like nowhere else in the heart of the land bearing his lineage and which consequently saw him coming into the world, if not his birth: the land of the Suffields – his maternal ancestors. What also influenced him was his father’s adoptive land, the Orange Free State’s “high stony wastes” (Tolkien 1981:91) in South Africa, where he only lived for a short period of time, yet long enough for the land to pass, by capillarity, a piece of itself onto him. His thought on the technical is summed up firmly in these few words written to his son in 1944, “I especially noted your observations on the skimming martins. That touches to the heart of things, doesn’t it? There is the tragedy and despair of all machinery laid bare” (Tolkien 1981:87).

The critique of the technical by the author of The Lord of the Rings can be linked to the thought of other 20th century authors. In fact, Tolkien’s reflections on the matter often echo the thoughts of other philosophers criticising the technical and can particularly be linked to the ideas of Heidegger. In the great German intellectual’s philosophy, one finds the despair of seeing calculating thought exclusively invading the being of humans. Being opposed to calculation, which inspects every single thing, he, like Tolkien, praises the simple.11 The most powerful characteristic of the simple discloses itself when a man takes up with his origins or, like Heidegger says, when he comes back to his natal land.12 Therefore, the philosopher shows his affection for the soil, the homeland, the national, which, sublimated, reveals a certain form of the absolute. The finite contains the infinite, the sensible contains the insensible and the spirit. Heidegger is attached to Hölderlin’s poetry, which exhales this passage from earth to ether made possible through the mediation of language, speech and poetry. This speech does not re- veal anything concrete but appraises that which is keeping us separated from heaven and from the eternally unknown sense it contains. Tolkien’s work is marked by the same sensibility towards the world. There is obviously his love for the ‘soil’, the primordial place for poetry and languages, but also his interrogation of that which forever remains unanswered. Tolkien deliberately leaves us with shadowy questions, unexplained episodes in his work. These mysteries that are played out in his work echo those that remain linked to the human existence, the real existence. At the heart of these mysteries of course stands that of mortality, which is one of the major themes in his stories – “that is to say they are written by a human being”, Tolkien would say. The immortal Elves call it “men’s gift”, a curious thing that remains unexplained by the myth, “what God has purposed for Men is hidden” (Tolkien 1981:147). It is parallel to this meditation on the world and even in opposition to it that Tolkien tends to criticize the technical and its proclivity towards fabrication (as in ‘making’ things), which is, in a sense, a refusal of the world and a corruption of what is most cherished within the human being.


We now have to go further in order to understand the significance of highlighting the simple in this first and turbulent part of the 20th century, in the context of a modern and post-industrial society. In fact, the question is, “What can the significance and pertinence of the simple be in societies that are no longer simple?” Tolkien is perfectly aware of this fundamental loss that is a trait of modernity. We see modernity as a fundamental ‘state’ of enfranchisement in relation to the ‘given’ or the ‘received’. Modernity has distanced itself from tradition, religion, transcendence, nature, from all things that give meaning from the outside and that give a sense of limitation. In a modern context, human existence is autonomous; it is a part set free from the whole as opposed to having been integrated before, ‘taking part’ in a natural or divine superior order. Modern human beings do not belong to the world as peasant society did because they embody the loss of the ‘unique existence’ that partly marks ‘the fall’. The ‘disunited’ man looks at the world through a third eye, the eye of knowledge and reason, the eye that reflects the world and distances it from him, separating it completely. This is why the modern man is no longer fundamentally simple: because he has introduced a distance between himself and things, a distance filled with reason and ‘reflective thought’, which Tolkien refers to as the ‘intelligence’ of our time.

At the same time, however, this ‘no longer belonging’ allows the ‘separated’ man to see what he did not see when he was integrated in the world. It is a comfort for Tolkien, “[o]therwise we should not know, or so much love, what we do love. I imagine the fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water”. Like any ‘separated man’, Tolkien appreciates the simple, the beauty of the martins, because he is no longer really a simple being, but an ‘after the fall’ man. The truly simple man would not appreciate the simple but would merely content himself with being thus. He would thus be unable to praise the simple, as Tolkien does, because he lacks the indispensable detachment which this kind of process requires.

In spite of this consolation, Tolkien cannot rid himself of the feeling of having been born “out of due time” (Tolkien 1981:64), because the new situation that modern men have ended up in and that opens new prospects, at the same time alters their relation with the world. This alteration is of the same nature as that which takes place when an individual passes from childhood to adulthood. In his text On Fairy Stories, in which he talks about his boyhood, he starts a particular sentence as follows: “In that (I nearly wrote ‘happy’ or ‘golden’, it was really a sad and troublesome) time I liked ...” (Tolkien 1975:42). In spite of the sorrowful memories of his childhood, the first word that comes to his mind when describing this period is ‘happy’. This hesitation demonstrates that the state of ignorance which characterizes childhood shelters man from a type of knowledge that disrupts the ‘peaceful’ course of existence. Pre-modern times were also plunged into such a state of ignorance that the ones being ‘born out of due time’ are de- prived of: gaining knowledge also means seeing one’s misfortune. This misfortune is that of one’s condition not that of one’s daily life. All beings – like the young Tolkien – have a sense of their own daily misfortunes but not all are able to perceive the misfortune of their condi- tion with the same accuracy – the young Tolkien, unlike the mature Tolkien, is still ignorant of this. The alteration of modern man’s relationship with the world – compared to that of the childhood of humanity – certainly comes partly from the loss of ignorance, as ignorance used to mask the misfortune of the human condition.

In the present time, other signs that accompany the new high consciousness of what makes the misfortune of the human condition can be testimonies of this alteration. Tolkien realises for instance that values such as honour and fidelity have not passed from heroic times to the present without having been damaged. Luckily they have not disappeared; yet they have been corrupted by the atmosphere of the present, simply because their validity can be, at every moment, reconsidered, discussed and put into question by the reason of the man who, from now on, is outside the world. These values are vested with infi- nitely less conviction because humans have distanced themselves from everything and thus their way of being in the world is not authentic anymore. Tolkien’s poem The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil partly seems to be an account of the great emptiness which the Oxford professor felt as a modern man:

At plenilune in his argent moon
in his heart he longed for fire:
Not the limpid lights of man selenites;

for red was his desire.
For crimson and rose and ember-glows,

for flame with burning tongue,
For the scarlet skies in a swift sunrise

when a stormy day is young.

He’d have seas of blues, and the living hues
of forest green and fen;
And he yarned for the mirth of the populous earth

and the sanguine blood of men.
He coveted song, and laughter long,
and viands hot, and wine,
Eating pearly cakes of light snowflakes
and drinking thin moonshine.
(Tolkien 1995:38)

The character in the poem is outside the world: he does not live on earth but on the moon. His lunar every-day environment, marked by inconsistency, leaves him in an unsatisfied state. He lives in a world which is as pure, beautiful and limpid as it is elusive, vaporous and insipid: pearly cakes, snowflakes and moonshine. Dreaming of hearty meals, he is only being served light snacks. Then, he is eager to come down to earth as this is for him the place of tangible realities. Down there, he could meet the ‘firmness’ and rough reality with which he wants to feed and fulfil himself: he dreams of viands, of sanguine blood, of laughter long. Therefore, he would like to exchange the coldness for heat, the limpid lights for ember-glows, the barren moon for the nourishing earth. In a sense, he wants to become ‘consubstantial’ to the world, penetrate its substance and feed himself with it until he is pleasantly full. This desire will, of course, remain unsatisfied. Like other ‘poets of modernity’ such as Rim- baut, Tolkien here puts into verse the gap that modern men are con- fronted with: they are constrained to inhabit a dimension disconnected from the genuine world which leaves them in a permanent state of ‘disunion’ and puts them in a situation where they are only able to exist “at the surface of things”13 (Bonnefoy 1992:12).

This assertion of ‘division’ that gives Tolkien the strong feeling of being born ‘out of due time’ is reinforced by the effect that ancient languages and texts have on him. He is seized by something like a clamour coming from the depths of time and earth. A clamour – or a song – with singular tones which his own epoch has not been able to produce and which seem to be made of a higher essence. Where does this tenacious impression come from? No doubt from the fact that the ancient languages and texts that are the substance of this clamour, rather than talking about the world as it is seen through the objective and critical eye, make the world speak through them. They utter the world’s ‘heartfelt cry’. It is by means of this cry torn from the world that the latter shows itself in the Truth. The world exists through its cry and not only through what science and reason can explain to us about it. The author’s vocation for philology lies in the discovery – or rediscovery – of this earthy heartfelt cry and in his will to re-engage with that which has made it possible.

Apart from the literal power of ancient languages and texts, the ‘superiority’ of the pre-modern simplicity or authenticity also seems to be strengthened by its ability to properly face the grim realities of this world. Today, as shown for instance by the products of the technical, calculation and ‘reflectivity’ are dragged into a permanent re-evaluation or reinvention of the world that veil what it truly is. Excessive intelligence and reason, when investigating the real, end up ‘mis-evaluating’ it or rather – and this amounts to much the same – evaluating it too harshly: this makes it unnecessarily complicated and results in the presentation of an ‘uninhabited’ real. The world is full of difficulties, hardness, dangers; its realities call for quick, sensible, adapted responses. However, the sophistication of structures and thoughts complicates the development of responses, weighs down the efficiency of reactions and ultimately jeopardizes the societies from which these originate. This conviction of Tolkien’s is probably derived from his encounter with history; he experienced its most symptomatic manifestation: war. In the face of this kind of recurrent event, he was able to conclude that the attitude of the simple people – the only ones who conserve qualities from the heroic period in the present time – was best adapted to face the agitation of the world and therefore to guarantee the preservation of favourable conditions for happiness. One particular question would haunt him for a considerable part of his life, “Would we have survived had we solely been armed with the ‘intelligence’ of our time, without the con- tribution of simplicity?” Stated otherwise, “Has progress made a decisive contribution to improve our relationship with reality?” According to him, this has not been the case.

Therefore, Tolkien was torn between two antinomical convic- tions. The first is that the pre-modern way of being-in-the-world, thanks to its simplicity or its authenticity, is superior to the modern way in terms of at least two aspects: the reach of its artistic productions and its ability to propose answers that are ‘opposable’ to the ‘real’. The second is the fundamental and irremediable distancing of the majority of men from this authentic form of simplicity. From this time onwards, all of his thinking would be committed to solving this equation: recovering, without denying the new situation of the modern age, a more authentic way of being-in-the-world to enable one to give appropriate answers to the concerns of daily life and reviving, within the artistic sphere, the world’s heartfelt cry. In order to solve this equation within this new context, a redeployment of simplicity is needed. In fact, Tolkien’s eulogy of the simple, which we have tried to describe here, is not a purely gratuitous act with the sole aim of stressing what contemporary men have definitely lost, contributing to their misfortune. Humans have lost true simplicity but can adopt a new form of simplicity which has been adapted to the present time.


The uncompleted fall

Our time is marked by the feeling that Eden has been lost and by the certitude – for every reasonable being – that it will never be recovered, but also by the sensation that it is sometimes possible to perceive its lightness; “[w]e all long for it (Eden), and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’” (Tolkien 1981:110). As Tolkien says, we may “recover something like it” but in a peculiar way, we are “just as [...] the converted urban get[ing] more out of the country than the mere yokel, but [who] can not become a real landsman” being “both more and in a way less (less truly earthy anyway)” (Tolkien 1981:110). We are no longer truly earthy, we no longer belong to the world in the same way, even if we still belong to it. Being simple, for a modern man, is already admitting that he no longer truly is so: this is the first lesson that can be drawn from Tolkien’s thought and the first draft of a new kind of simplicity. Being simple means accepting the evidence that we are fallen and that we cannot fill the emptiness that results from this. It is precisely what men seem not to accept. Tolkien feels – and that is here where his critique of the excessive nature of all things technical originates – that “the whole human race” is carrying out “the fall to its bitter bottom” (Tolkien 1981:110) and in a way putting the fin- ishing touches to the latter’s work. He argues that with the aid of tools like the machine and scientific materialism, humans are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the illusory and unhealthy project of world reification.14

The continuation of the fall is the attempt to accomplish absolute modernity: the recovery of Eden not by going back to the golden age or the truly earthy but by means of the temptation of constructing it. The modern plan, we have said, is founded on the autonomy of men and in- dividuals in relation to nature, tradition and religion. Thanks to the development of knowledge and the instrument of reason, they have the ability to construct new from old and to free human beings from certain contingencies and determinations. Absolute modernity, which is t h e most successful form of this ability, pushing the latter’s logic to its height, aims to finally reach the ‘genuine life’, a form of the absolute. This form of the absolute therefore is the result of a wilful act which is in opposition to the ‘genuine life’ waiting for humans after death, that in the garden of Eden which has been given or created but not con- structed. The temptation of the ‘absolutely modern’ comes from the incomplete character of simple modernity that leaves humanity in the middle of the ford, burdened by an uncompleted, therefore unsatisfying, existence.

Tolkien’s words on the fall emphasize the necessity of not going beyond the first stage of modernity. Humanity – at least a part of it – has been dragged down. The setting in motion of this movement has opened up a new perspective from which it is possible to envision the realisation of all ‘possibilities’. But the promises of such a transformation of the world are largely the fruits of an illusion. Of course, following this direction may well bring about a profound change in life and the world, but it is vain to think that happiness can be perfected. Even worse, this attitude can keep humans separated from what is most ‘cherishable’: the beauty of the world as it has been given to us, the one revealed to us after the fall. Therefore, Tolkien pleads first for a human being capable of accepting this place in the ‘middle’, which has been allocated through the uncompleted fall.

The humility before the ‘given’

In the face of the temptation of absolute modernity the author pro- motes this new form of simplicity, which is based on the acceptance of the definite loss of authentic simplicity. In order to continue this primeval acceptance, being simple means, first and foremost, not rejecting what comes naturally from oneself: sometimes, one has to be without looking back on oneself with hindsight. Thus, the fact that Tolkien says that he likes wearing ornamental waistcoats is not a way of being falsely simple, but rather of revealing, in a somewhat theatrical way, what in him is the simple. Similarly, the author saying that he detests French cooking probably does not relate to the latter’s lack of gustative delights. Besides, a simple ‘being’ would not ‘detest’ French cooking. With this remark, he most likely intends denouncing the sophistication and excessive and conventional ecstasy that are sometimes provoked by the refinements of French culture. We also understand that this particular way of campaigning for simplicity shows that Tolkien himself was not an ‘authentic’ simple being like the ‘dull stodges’ or genuine Hobbits are. For him, simplicity cannot be anything but imperfect – as shown by his ambiguous relation to allegory – because conspicuously wanting to be simple or authentic already means not truly being so.

To be simple today is also to accept a part of oneself, somewhat less anecdotal than what has been discussed above, that links each individual to their culture and that is ‘irreducibly’ attached to each human being. This acceptance was unfailingly anchored in Tolkien. It was not the result of a deliberate choice or of a conscious act, but the testimony of an immaterial heritage which formed an integral part of his person in the same way his ‘carnate’ body did. Having been born English, he naturally liked England and that which makes up the country’s character and identity. He did not seek to be rid of his historical and cultural heritage, to deny it just because it had not consciously been chosen. He took it as an inalienable context through which he could delve into the heart of things and, no doubt, into his own heart as well. This is where his passion for ‘languages rooted in the land’ – such as Anglo-Saxon and Middle English dialects and also Icelandic, which over the centuries has retained a true authenticity – came from. One notes on that subject that he was not interested in the very important French language influence on English – he did not like French. French, introduced by the Normans, was the literary language, that of the nobility. It came from the top and was artificially imposed on a pre-existing base that was in no way related to it. In those days the languages spoken by the common (native Saxon) man were the English dialects, which Tolkien would never stop loving.

Thus, through his eulogy of the simple pleasures of existence and through showing his attachment to his cultural identity, Tolkien went against the stream of dominant thought. He was opposed to a strong tendency of his time – and ours – which Tom Shippey (2000:11) refers to as that of the “cosmopolitan intelligentsia” that likes “re-inventing” itself and adopting “glamorous pose”. He remained distanced from this kind of pretence and never thought of denying his middle class English roots. Thus Tolkien did not contemplate breaking with what preceded and surpassed him. He would try to hold on to this humility in the presence of the ‘givens’ of life, even if they seemed, on the outside, most insignificant.

A distrust of creative activity

Tolkien’s concern for simplicity ultimately took on the shape of a dis- trust of literary work. In fact, as we have already mentioned, one of his major preoccupations was to remain sensitive towards the realities of this world. However, his creative work was prone to keep him distanced from it. He warned himself against the pride and passivity of the Elves, which he criticises in his tales and which originates from their almost exclusive vocation for creating the aesthetic, an activity that does not require them to be aware of the real. Thus Tolkien – like anyone else – had to know how to silence his Elvish part; by means of making a concerted effort, he had to constantly remind himself of the real and answer to its ‘demands’. It is here that we find the explanation for the author’s focus on ‘necessity’, as described in the introduction of this essay, but also for his servitude to the ‘creative surge’.

In fact, by first relating his daily worries to his correspondents before turning to a discussion on his stories and mythology, he seems to give thanks to the world. Also, he often mocks – or apologises for – the serious way he talks about his histories and creation. He always relativises the importance of his literary work that may take him away from the real. In doing so, he lets his interlocutors know and reminds himself that the only thing that deserves substantial attention, for the time being and as long as we are on earth, is the concrete world and that it has to be cherished for what it is and not for what we believe it to be or would like it to be.

Afterwards, he attempts, within the creative realm, not to speak about the world, but as an heir of the authors of heroic times, to make the world speak through him. The process of creating The Lord of the Rings is penetrated by his willingness to let himself be carried away by what we have called the ‘creative surge’. His most determined wish, according to his letters, was to free his work from any kind of sophistication and from too much ‘reflective’ thinking, as these were suspected of transferring the power of reason to the immaterial artistic realm, reason, under the control of the technical, already being prevalent in the material or physical spheres. Sophistication in the artistic sphere is an added sign of the omnipotent tendency of calculation to overrun human existence: it is for this reason that when writing his creative works Tolkien suppressed his vague desire to make use of allegory. His insistence on tirelessly repeating that his work is not allegorical was due to his intentionally preventing himself from making use of allegory. And if he did so intentionally, it is because allegory threatened to introduce itself into his work at any time. Thus, his irritation when encountering allegorical interpretations of his work was matched only by his determination to oppose allegory as such. This emphasises again what makes modern writers radically different from those of ancient times: the latter sang of the world naturally, their ‘creative surge’ was not impeded by any kind of ‘reflection’. Today, to utter again the heartfelt cry discussed above, or something close to it, the ‘creative surge’, has to clear a path for itself despite numerous obstacles; this path can only come into existence through a preceding intervention of the will. This is the author’s will to revive simplicity, to be ‘incarnated’ into the world and its realities that have shaped the great ‘Tolkienian’ poem. The latter is also – which partly explains its success – a heartfelt cry: that of a world jeopardised by the power of the machines that needs to be balanced out by an equivalent amount of song and poetry.

Through various aspects, Tolkien’s tale Leaf by Niggle sums up all of the author’s morality, as studied in the last pages, that aims to enable the cohabitation of the desire for sub-creation and concern for the real. Niggle, like Tolkien – the allegory is obvious even if the author tries to minimise his intention – is an artist who spends most of his time paint- ing a picture by using the ‘creative surge method’. This is the reason why its dimensions never seem to stop growing. Niggle would like to devote himself entirely to this work of the spirit but is regularly interrupted by calls from the outside world. Thus, Niggle’s neighbour, Parish, often comes to disturb his creative work because he needs help from him – for instance to repair his roof – or because he feels that he ought to tell Niggle to make more of an effort to maintain his garden, which is overrun with weeds – as Niggle clearly has better things to do. Evidently Parish represents the truly earthy man, who does not understand the first thing about why Niggle is spending so much of his time on this painting. In response, Niggle tries to answer as best he can – without any bad will but also without any peculiar fervour – to these solicitations coming from the outside world. This is how Niggle’s life progresses until the day when he is judged by his ‘voices’ in what seems to be the purga- tory at the end of the journey that has been promised him since the be- ginning of the tale and that is representative of death.15 On what basis is Niggle judged? On the importance he has accorded to the tangible reali- ties of this world, which his judges refer to as ‘laws’. For instance, maintaining one’s garden is prescribed by such a law, so is giving greater importance to helping one’s neighbour repair his roof rather than to spend time on an artistic activity. Niggle is clearly being reproached for his involvement in an activity that is evidently useless. However, two things finally save him in the eyes of his judges. Firstly, he was disposed to painting, thus by engaging in this activity he has responded to a call of nature – which in itself is a kind of law – and has also not accorded it any real significance since “he never thought that that made him important” (Tolkien 1975:91). Therefore he remains humble before his creative work. Secondly, he has not totally neglected the ‘prescriptions of law’ and the call from the outside world. He tries as best he can to respond to them though he is reproached for calling them ‘interrup- tions’. And perhaps one of the decisive points for the judges is that he has never pretended “even to himself that” his commitment for paint- ing “excused his neglect of things ordered by law” (Tolkien 1975:91): here probably lies the final reason why the voices apparently show leniency towards him. There is no doubt that Tolkien imagined the course of his own last judgement in a similar fashion and that some simple rules stated in the tale guided his decisions and actions throughout his life: keep, as far as possible, a constant focus on the realities of this world, respect the ‘laws’ that have been imposed on us, give priority to the tangible rather than the abstract, give priority to facing the real rather than escaping with the help of thought or imagination.16 Here again, we notice the new role that a strong will can play: for Parish bowing before the real is a natural act, as the real is all that he is aware of, but for a man ‘separated’ from the world, sophisticated, like Niggle, doing so is a duty and thus an act of will. Such an act is the only way, in a modern context, of preventing human beings from trying to construct an illusory ‘elsewhere’ for themselves.


Ultimately Tolkien gives out another lesson: just as it is illusory to attempt to construct a heavenly ‘elsewhere’ during one’s terrestrial sojourn, the desire to rediscover it here on earth is equally pointless. In other words, we cannot go back to the earth – or to the truly simple – without at the same time betraying the authenticity of the act of doing so. We cannot recover the primeval innocence, the primeval simplicity; this is only outwardly possible through the intervention of pretence, because the loss of this innocence and simplicity has become a given of contemporary existence. Tolkien could have gone back and settled on the Suffields’ land or in another area resembling it. We have to remember that according to him this is the Shire. Thus he could have fled the combustion engine he hated, as well as the factories, power stations and big flat modern buildings. But he did nothing like this. To the amazement of many, because this fact apparently contrasted with the evocative power of his work, he led “an ordinary suburban life [...] bringing up his children and tending his garden” (Carpenter 2000:118). He lived in a modest suburban house that W.H. Auden described as “hideous”, exactly like the pictures on the walls (Tolkien 1981:373). He probably never thought of going back to the ‘Shire’ because he could no longer ‘be’ in it authentically: like the city dweller we mentioned earlier, he is aware of no longer being ‘truly earthy’. Returning to the native land to live in the Shire, for an after-the-fall man like himself would be betraying the new simple, which accepts the definite loss of the simplicity of primeval men. This process of going back can today only be the result of an act of will, of a reflective and sophisticated act not related to the reality of the present time, which assigns humans a new and uncomfortable position. The temptation of the truly simple like that of the absolutely modern does not give any answers: like the former it is a refusal to ac- cept our condition and the world as it is.

This lesson also lies in the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings. At the end of their adventure, the ring bearers can no longer stay within the confines of the Shire: they cannot be “one and whole” (Tolkien 1993:309) in it anymore. They have reached a condition similar to that of modern men: they are ‘divided’ and have experienced the fall. It is evident that of all the races inhabiting Middle Earth, that of the Hobbits is the one that is not yet ‘fallen’. The Hobbits are still innocent and ignorant, ‘one and whole’; they have remained sheltered from the primeval fall. The exception, no doubt, is the lineage of Frodo and Bilbo that has been differentiating itself from the rest of the Hobbits even before the ring saga begins: Bilbo has already encountered the ‘vast world’ and because he wants to leave, knows that he no longer really belongs to the land of the Hobbits. The arrival of the ring in this sense only increases the motion of the fall that has already begun. Frodo goes a step further in experiencing the fall, as he is entrusted with the burden: he is forced to encounter the vast world and to face it, while also being tempted with access to evil and power. He is compelled to leave the ‘space-time’ of the Shire, where the unchanging and cyclical simple life has thus far ‘enshrined’ him in sufficiency. As he faces his destiny alone and finds himself for the first time in an unknown world without the possibility of holding on to a ‘paternal’ figure – unlike Sam – he inexorably heads for the point of no return. He can no longer return to the time and place where he could be without seeing and knowing and where he used to be truly simple. Frodo cannot go back in order to live again in the happiness and unity of yesteryear. With Bilbo, he will leave for the Grey Havens – a paradise usually unreachable for mortals – for “a period of reflection and peace” (Tolkien 1981:328) where they will be cared for until it is time for them to die. Only Sam can remain in the Shire – though this will only be for a short period of time – to live there as a simple man. This is because during the entire adventure he does not focus on the ring – except for a short period of time that will finally prove to have been too long after all – but on serving Frodo. His love for his master and the trust he puts in him protects him: his true devotion keeps him from seeing the ring. He is only the bearer of the ring bearer. The latter has been sacrificed for a greater purpose. This is what lies in the Sam and Frodo exchange at the end of The Lord of the Rings:

‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. (Tolkien 1993:309)

The Shire has recovered its lustre of yesteryear but those who have lost the truly earthy at the same time have lost the ability of enjoying it. Frodo is a man who is changed, differentiated, separated and who cannot step in the same river even if its current has been restored. Frodo is like his creator and a modern man: he is condemned to wander between ‘two waters’, the water of childhood where the truly simple man baths and the boiling bathwater of the ‘absolutely modern’.


Tolkien’s entire work is marked by this duty to simplicity or humility in the context of this fundamental and constitutive loss of his time: the loss of true simplicity which is linked to the loss of the unity of existence. It is the testimony of an author who engages in an inner search and who longs to make this new feature of the human condition his own. As Tom Shippey says, Tolkien’s tales contain many anachronisms: mixing the ancient and the modern, the Christian and the pagan, the civilised and the savage. This reflects the life of the great Oxford professor, who went back and forth between the heroic pre-Christian age he visited on a daily basis when studying ancient languages and texts and the modern age he happened to live in. His closeness to the ancient time would allow him to become aware of the original qualities of the time he had been born in as well as the discomfort imposed on those living in it. This is where his regret comes from of not having been born in ‘due time’. Still, he knows his regret to be irreducible despite the ultra-modern logic that does not lead to an absolute but to world destruction. Thus, we have to accept this uncomfortable position of being between two waters or being ‘out of the water’. Of course, while we are on earth, we can set up artificial ‘space-times’ that are like many theatrical stages where the hammer and the anvil clumsily work the truly earthy or the absolutely modern. However, these two extremes cannot be constructed; they can either be lived or regretted. The second option is the one assigned to us, but would this mean that ‘genuine life’ is absent? No, ‘genuine life’ is the one which has been given to us, which intervenes ‘in between’: let us have the humility and simplicity to acknowledge it.

Tolkien was never a globetrotter, a tourist taking in exotic attractions: he did not travel a lot. Nor did he purchase a cottage in the country in order to cultivate an art de vivre which had disappeared or which had possibly never even existed. He managed to protect himself, thereby going against the general current of his time, against leading a life made up of illusions. He remained aloof from the ludicrous mises en scènethat, due to the inappropriateness of their casting, reflected nothing of real life. He lived humbly in the suburbs of his time without either consuming the present time or attempting to construct a new one. Thanks to the Christian faith and his innate sense of creation or ‘subcreation’, as he preferred to call it, he managed to keep himself at a distance from the mirages that caught the attention of his contemporaries. He created an immaterial artistic work, the fruit of his thought. He cultivated the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of human nature and like the Elves had a “devoted love of the physical world, and the desire to observe and understand it for its own and as other – i.e. as a reality de- rived from God [...] – not as a material for use or as power-platform” (Tolkien 1981:236).

Tolkien’s work, the myths he created, are significant for the present time and might be better adapted to it than those written by authors before him. Some have criticised The Lord of the Rings because “all the good boys came home safe and everyone was happy ever after”. This demonstrates how many critical analysts have a simplistic view of Tolkien’s work: they see it as a classical confrontation between good and evil. This confrontation is omnipresent in his work and its main aim is to stimulate literary pleasure. Any sophisticated convolutions used to realise this aim are useless. Besides, does complexity better reflect the order of the world than simplicity? Has good not been confronting evil on the chessboard of the world since time immemorial? Simplicity is not necessarily simplistic: in Tolkien it is deep and detailed. However, as we now know, there is more than this in the Oxford professor’s work. Un- fortunately – since his tales are applicable to the world – the good boys do not come home safe and sound. They have to adopt this land, in reality unchanged but new for them, a land that at the same time is foreign and familiar, close to them and distant. They have to learn how to love, Middle-earth.

2. See Letters (Tolkien 1981:257 and 320-321).

3. See Tree and Leaf (Tolkien 1975:82).

4. See Letters (Tolkien 1981:65).

5. See Letters (Tolkien 1981:88).
6.This is clearly explained at the beginning of The Hobbit.

7. For further information on this grandiose project, see letter No. 131 to Milton Waldman (Tolkien 1981:144).

8. See also Letters (Tolkien 1981:232 and 237)

9. See Letters (Tolkien 1981:321).

10. See letters No. 53, 58, 64, 96, 100, 102, 257 in Tolkien 1981.

11. For instance in his short poetic text ‘The Pathway’ in Philosophical and Political Writings (Heidegger 2003).

12. See ‘Discourse on Thinking’ in Philosophical and Political Writings (Heidegger 2003).

13. Personal translation of the French poet Yves Bonnefoy’s words, in L’Arrière Pays.

14. See Letters (Tolkien 1981:110).

15. For a detailed analysis of Leaf, by Niggle see Shippey (2000:266-277).

16. On the idea of ‘escape’ see On Fairy Stories, the part about ‘Recovery, escape, consolation’.


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Carpenter, Humphrey, 2000, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, (first edition 1977), London: Unwin Hyman.

Heidegger, Martin, 2003, Philosophical and Political Writings, (edited by Manfred Stassen), New York: Continuum.

Shippey, Tom A., 2000, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Boston: Hough- ton Mifflin.

Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, 1975, Tree and Leaf, London: George Allen and Unwin.

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