The Lord of the Rings: An Unreliable Narrative. Part I


Everyone who enjoys fantasy stories thinks they know the world and narrative structure depicted in The Lord of the Rings (LotR) by J.R.R. Tolkien. The real fans and obsessives are intimately familiar with Middle Earth, not just in the details depicted in LotR, but also in the arguably equally canonical work The Silmarillion (S), never mind of course The Hobbit (H). However, even if one takes the world as presented by the author for granted on its own terms, it is by no means certain that this is the case. What I want to propose is that one can read the world of Middle Earth in a different way, using the materials presented to us by Tolkien in the canonical works mentioned above, but in a way that he did not himself consider. That is to say, a number of central theses can be applied to the world with some critical plausibility that would change the whole perspective on the nature of Middle Earth. These are that the central narrative of LotR is an unreliable narration; that this narration is made unreliable by the combination of ignorance and bias on the part of its central narrators, which can be established plausibly from the text itself; that in recognizing and correcting for this according to philological and anthropological procedure, one can derive a different perspective on Middle Earth, its central figures and motivations as presented in LotR and the other works; that this affects not just the view of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the main narratives from Middle Earth, but also the status of the different higher and lower order narratives themselves; and that finally, this can be done by using the criteria of canonicity presented by the world as depicted in the narratives themselves. Continue reading “The Lord of the Rings: An Unreliable Narrative. Part I”