Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Jeffers, Susan. Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in the Lord of the Rings

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Jeffers, Susan. Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in the Lord of the Rings

Article excerpt

Jeffers, Susan. Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in The Lord of the Rings. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2014. 156 pp. hb. ISBN: 9781-60635-201-4. $34.95.

Risden, E. L. Tolkien's Intellectual Landscape. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2015. 232 pp. pb. ISBN: 978-0-7864-9865-9. $35.00.

These two monographs purport to analyze Tolkien's landscapes, ecological and intellectual, respectively. Jeffers argues that Tolkien's characters' interactions with environment are moral endeavors, while Risden claims that Tolkien is a writer of ideas rooted in the intellectual terrain of the twentieth century. Both Jeffers and Risden ultimately, however, reveal a shared primary interest not advertised: Tolkien as a charitable geographer of Christian landscapes.

Jeffers's Arda Inhabited seeks to demonstrate how ecocriticism and Tolkien's fiction can illuminate each other. A brief book, it does this by way of an introduction, four complementary chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction, "The Professor and the Ecocritics," explains Tolkien's love of the natural world and his corresponding attention to settings. No mere backdrop, Tolkien's natural settings reveal value, as Jeffers explains while providing a survey of the basics of ecocriticism--especially its emphasis on the value of the nonhuman--and describing previous scholarship on Tolkien and nature. In short, the book "explores how characters interact with elements of the environment in The Lord of the Rings, suggesting that this interaction reflects the moral paradigm within the text" (2). At their best, such interactions are "nonhierarchical" (8). Tolkien's characters are more or less good depending on how they connect with their environments and whether they act in ways that benefit their environments and others, not just themselves.

The first three chapters thus group characters in terms of their power relationships relative to their environment. Chapter 1, "Community, or 'Power With'," investigates the first and best of the power relationships. Characters who live in power with their place form a diverse but interconnected and lasting community, "an alliance of equals" working for mutual benefit (20). In a power with relationship, Self and Place synthesize and harmonize. As part of this community, hobbits and ents are "cultivators" (23) and sometimes "protectors" (30) of Middle-earth, while elves are "knowers" (39) and "preservers" (45). The earth has intrinsic value that these power with characters recognize, respect, and steward; for example, hobbits forgo shoes, take interest in growing things, and replace the natural resources they consume, such as strawberries. These groups, in communities and without selfishness, responsibly "act out of love and delight for their places" and benefit their communities (48). Indeed, the ents "view themselves as a part of the natural world," not just as existing and acting in alliance with it (23).

Chapter 2, "Dialectic, or 'Power From'," examines the second kind of power relationship, a more complex but overall still positive one. While ents, hobbits, and elves live in community with place and hold power with it, dwarves and humans--including the Rohirrim and the people of Gondor--live, hierarchically and symbolically, in dialectic with place and derive power from it. For these characters, environment has symbolic rather than intrinsic or autonomous value. They straddle a borderland between power with (community) and power over (oppression), occasionally wavering to one side or the other. The power from groups connect to their environments dialectically in terms of Self and Other, People and Nature. Nature, for them, mostly serves their needs and has the meaning they assign to it symbolically. Dwarves identify with stone and mithril; the Rohirrim and people of Gondor view the world as a metaphor for themselves. The Rohirrim, for instance, see the flower simbelmyne "as a remembrance or as something to signify comfort in times of grief," and thus they gain power from it (62). …

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