Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Sara Deats, Ph.D.

Keywords

British literature, Middle Earth, Formalist, The great chain of being, Opposites

Abstract

My thesis reflects an assessment of The Lord of the Rings centering on the idea of a structure of opposites. For each place, race, character and object in The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien included an element which serves as an antithesis. In addition, the style, pacing, and language of the work also contain antithetical pairs which continually engage and propel the reader to the work's conclusion. I contend that this deliberate pairing of opposing elements adds depth and verisimilitude to the work. Tolkien was an avid student of what his contemporaries would have called "fantasy" or "fairy tales." While dismissed by many scholars as juvenilia, Tolkien and his predecessors the trailblazing folklorists and philologists the Grimm brothers took these works seriously as both serious narratives and fragments of a time for which the historical record is spotty.

In examining these Old English, Old Norse, Old Germanic and folkloric works, Tolkien built a professional reputation as a literary critic. He studied the formalist elements of these tales such as plot, diction, characterization and pacing the same way other literary critics studied contemporary or "mainstream" historical works. I contend that Tolkien's work as a critic informed Tolkien as a writer in form and structure. My thesis highlights the deliberately shaped formalist element of antithetical pairs of races, places, objects and characters. In addition, the narrative pacing and style of the works reflect and author concerned with a deliberate paring of polarities. As my thesis examine the text for elements of plot, setting, pacing and characterization I primarily approach Tolkien from a formalist and narratological standpoint.

Many of the points I mention are not new; critics have noted in passing some of the elements before essays or books that focus on another method of criticism. However, I believe that in pulling together a final tally of Tolkien's structural polarities I can explain how a work derided at its publication by critic Edmund Wilson as "juvenile trash" has endured to become the best selling work published in England, aside from the Bible.

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