December 21, 2003

Allegory versus Fiction

People. This is a public service announcement. Please read carefully. In order to prevent the administrator of this website from inflicting further ire upon well-meaning but (grinds teeth) mistaken persons who keep (Grrrr!) missing the point whenever she expresses criticism of those who insist upon calling the fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings an "allegory" when they mean, well, a work of fiction, please first memorize these definitions:

al·le·go·ry: The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.

fic·tion: An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.

And then read this essay, Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic, The Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson's films, which is so far the best-written and clearest explanation of what Tolkien's work really means in the context of his religious beliefs, and most important, why the book he wrote is not and never will be an allegory.

(Link to the essay via a reader who is probably shaking singed fingertips and muttering "Damn? What the hell did I do?" My apologies, binkley.)

Posted by Andrea Harris at December 21, 2003 08:25 PM

I read that as allergy versus fiction. I was thinking that you had such a stuffed up head it was hard to read.

Turns out that what you are allergic to is people who try too hard to find what they want in something which sould first and foremost be enjoyed.

Posted by: triticale at December 21, 2003 at 09:12 PM

Tolkien said he hated allegory. IIRC he mentioned this in his essay on Fairy Tales. In that case he would hardly have written one himself.

Posted by: Michael Lonie at December 21, 2003 at 10:50 PM

Tolkien did write an allegory, Michael, it just wasn't LOTR; rather, it was his short story "Leaf by Niggle," which was allegorical of his own life and primarily of his perfectioniistic failure to ever satisfactorily finish the Silmarillion.

Posted by: Dave J at December 22, 2003 at 01:53 PM

After a thorough study of the definitions of allegory, and fiction, I have concluded that LOTR is...(drum roll please): FICTION

Now, wasn't that easy?

Posted by: rinardman at December 22, 2003 at 10:42 PM

Quoting from "A Letter by J R R Tolkien to Milton Waldman, 1951," found as a Preface to your copy of the Silmarillion:

"I dislike Allegory-- the conscious and intentional allegory-- yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more `life' a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story.)"

In other words, it's not an allegory. Yet, a good story tends to be good because it contains Truth; it reflects reality in some way. However, this of course makes it easy to find an allegorical interpretation, since it's easy to find things in history and reality which also reflect the truth and lessons contained in the story.

Posted by: John Thacker at December 23, 2003 at 12:42 AM