Academic journal article Mythlore

Song as Mythic Conduit in the Fellowship of the Ring

Academic journal article Mythlore

Song as Mythic Conduit in the Fellowship of the Ring

Article excerpt

Elrond knew all about runes of every kind. That day he looked at the swords they had brought from the trolls' lair, and he said: "These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made for the Goblin-wars. They must have come from a dragon's hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago. This, Thorin, the runes name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin; it was a famous blade. This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-Hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore. Keep them well!" (Tolkien, The Hobbit 3:62)

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WHAT REMAINS FASCINATING about the above passage is not that Tolkien's initial readers--and the majority of his readers today--could have no idea what "Gondolin" was, but that within the narrative of The Hobbit itself, none of the Company asks Elrond, "What is Gondolin?" Rather, the Company--including the sheltered hobbit Bilbo Baggins--appears to be familiar at least in some way with Gondolin and its history. Indeed, Bilbo later takes courage in the connection of that fabled city to his own situation, when he informs Gollum that he holds "A sword, a blade which came out of Gondolin!" (5:83). Subsequent publication of Tolkien's The Silmarillion (1) has revealed that the tale of Gondolin was one of the earliest stories crafted concerning his "sub-created" world of Middle-Earth, and his reference to it in this later narrative about hobbits in the Third Age provides an example of Tolkien's concern with layering stories of the ancient mythology within his later narratives. (2) While such references as these clearly provide a sense of history, or layers of "reality," to his created or "Secondary" world, some references appear to go beyond such a purpose to suggest a deeper connection between the stories of an ancient past and the "now" of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings [LotR]. Even in this reference from The Hobbit, the characters learn that Turgon High King of the Noldor's sword has passed from the First Age to Gandalf, a central figure in the narrative of the Third Age. Tolkien's text makes clear that the Company and Elrond realize the importance of this "inheritance" even if most readers could or do not.

On the whole, the relationship between J.R.R. Tolkien's two major narrative strands--the Third Age account of The Hobbit and LotR and the First Age accounts of The Silmarillion--has led to explorations of the effects of the allusions and references to the First Age on readers or on the structure of the text. Tolkien himself notes, in his letter to publisher Milton Waldman, that "I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story," and although he initially "independently conceived" of The Hobbit, "it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole" (The Silmarillion xii-xiii). Notably, critics such as T.A. Shippey, Verlyn Flieger, and Gergely Nagy have explored Tolkien's general use of source material for clues to his secondary world and mythology, and have explored the sources particularly for examples of the sense of layering or depth that Tolkien saw as so vital. (3) Even if readers never read the entire "symphony" of mythology behind LotR, the references themselves provide depth and layering to the "world making" that Tolkien undertakes. As with the above reference to Gondolin, as Paul Bibire explains, "[such an allusion] implies a wider world, the unbounded horizon of space and legend beyond Bilbo's journey There and Back Again" (215).

Through Tolkien's complex process of developing a legendarium with many "versions" of central stories, Flieger concludes that "the entire structure came to resemble real-world mythologies in the cumulative process and temporal span of its composition, as well as in the scope of its subject matter" (Interrupted Music xiv). In what Flieger refers to as "temporal layering," Tolkien's "mythos, like Arthur's, has its own extended history," which she parallels to French and Welsh versions and recastings of Arthurian legends (40). …

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