Thanks to a passing remark in the comment by a regular visitor about my recent post on ‘The Hobbit’, I realized that a number of people still believe ‘The Lord of the Rings” to be an allegory of World War II.
It is a total misconception that led some critics to think and then authoritatively say that LOTR is about WWII. It is not, and has never been.
1/It was already fully in JRRT’s mind long before WWII, and most of it was actually written before WWII even started. The strange truth is, it was the other way around:
Both himself and his then best friend CS Lewis, one of the only few persons to have read the ongoing, but already existing manuscript of LOTR, were astonished to see how WWII started unfolding, as if Tolkien’s story was horribly becoming the current reality of this ‘primary’ world too.
Tolkien has written many times to point that fact out and correct the mistake in people’s minds, but still too many believe as you do because of that wrong assumption.
Same thing for the affirmation by some that the Ring was a metaphor for this, that or the other.
Tolkien hated allegories, and it was the worst thing you could tell him about LOTR, that it stood as an allegory for this or that. It is exactly the contrary: the story has a deep, eternal truth behind it, so that makes many situations we know in ‘real life’ resemble it…
2/Probably the publishing date too is misleading: 1954 for the first two volumes, and 1955 for the third volume, may give the impression that the writing too must have been done just before those dates, while in reality, due to JRRT’s endless various professional duties eating up all his time, the actual writing took him from 1938 to a few years later, with the ending having to wait till 1948 to get at last written down. And then it was such a big book, just after the impoverishing war no editor would take up such a monster, so it is only in those later years and in three volumes that Allen & Unwin finally agreed to give it a try…
To the answers copied above, I want to add the following important overall observation:
What should always be kept in mind is that from his very childhood on, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien harboured in himself a deep inner link with the far past of the Earth (see my much earlier post on his ‘far memories’ of Atlantis) and a total fascination for mythologies and languages and the correlation he instinctively discovered between those two as the essential expressions of any given culture.
It is this innate passion (for dragons too…) burning forever in him that led him to become a philologist as an adult, and not the other way around as people may imagine: he was lucky enough to be able to convert what was his genuinely central interest into the best possible equivalent he could find as a career in the academic world: Philology.
But although his research and teaching work in that field earned him much appreciation and renown, in truth he was not so much an academic as an artist, a poet, someone who lived in the outer world all right, but with all the time also the secret dimension and overflowing richness of his own inner world as well, the world created – or recreated – by his own imagination or actual memories, and his ardent aspiration for a better, perfected outer world.
In such an intense personality, it is not surprising to find from an early age the need to express that inner world through the medium he was most in love with and gifted for: words, words whose very sound would be like music to him, and would evoke for him stories and deeds of entire civilizations that spoke the ancient, forgotten languages those words belonged to.
We should never forget that as a young adult, together with three other idealists who were his closest friends among the other students, JRRT made the vow of writing for their cherished country, England, the Mythology it didn’t have, or didn’t have any more after having been invaded for so long by foreign cultures from other lands.
The death of two of his friends during WWI put the hopes of the third entirely on the one who, of them all, was the most truly capable of realizing their shared dream: Tolkien. And indeed, right in the horrible, muddy trenches of WWI, JRRT had already started writing beautiful stories of long past high deeds by tall, strong forgotten Elvish and Human heroes in their great gemlike cities, pitted against terrible dark lords of supernatural origin and power who wanted to dominate their world, our very own planet Earth, but as it was in those very ancient times, and in the central part, ‘Middle-earth’, where the main species dwelt then, who since long are no more.
For decades Tolkien worked secretly on those stories and on his own Genesis-like tale of the beginnings of it all, starting with the creation of the physical world, with gods and goddesses similar in many ways to those of pagan mythologies, but with the major difference that in Tolkien’s myth they themselves were emanations of Eru, “The One”, all invited to participate each one in his or her own way in making the Universe and particularly the Earth, ‘Arda’, habitable for the further Children of Eru that would come later: Elves and Men, but also Ents and Dwarves… and, down the line, this most interesting subspecies of Men, the Hobbits.
For Tolkien himself, all those beloved but yet unpublished first tales constituted the indispensable overall background and were as important as those later tales that got published, first ‘The Hobbit” and then the continuation of it that became ‘The Lord of the Rings’, including now the funny and also very meaningful role played by the newly-found Hobbits, but all within the enlarged, fuller context provided by the older stories. As a whole he called those older stories ‘The Silmarillion’, for they told of the Silmarils and of the still pure divine Light they contained, in that First Age of Arda.
Tolkien tried in vain to have his dear ‘Silmarillion’ published at the same time as ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but the editors felt the public wouldn’t appreciate those more austere and epic tales with no Hobbits yet in them, so it is only after Tolkien’s death that his dream of having ‘The Silmarillion’ published was at last realized, by his youngest son Christopher, ever the closest to him regarding his writings.
It is only when, after many years, I read ‘The Silmarillion’, that I fully measured the incredible vastness and depth underlying also ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in the total vision their author had had of them while writing them: a most beautiful Mythology not only for England, but actually for the Earth.
Then I read also the biography of Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter, and finally JRRT’s own ‘Letters’ as well, and the more I read the more grew my respect and admiration for Tolkien the human being, who intuitively reached such an extraordinary understanding of Evolution, its divine Purpose and the divine Result it will achieve, that seemed an utter impossibility…