Perilous Realms

Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth

MARJORIE BURNS
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1287rv1
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  • Book Info
    Perilous Realms
    Book Description:

    Perilous Realmsgives this advantage to all readers and provides new discoveries, including material from obscure, little-known Celtic texts and a likely new source for the name 'hobbit.' It is truly essential reading for Tolkien fans.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2725-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on Spelling
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Profundity, complexity, and depth of character are not usually associated with J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary works. Tolkien was, after all, a writer of fantasy, a genre where good and evil are clearly delineated and easily recognized. Readers have no difficulty separating Tolkien’s ideal characters from his morally weak or outright malevolent ones, and even his longest plots move along directly with no flashbacks or troubling structural twists. Nonetheless, Tolkien’s writing is far from simplistic and far from lacking depth or structural intricacy.

    On the most elementary level Tolkien reveals his complexity through double attitudes. Again and again he seems to offer...

  7. Chapter One Two Norths and Their English Blend
    (pp. 12-29)

    J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is conspicuously and intricately northern in both ancient and modern ways. The nameMiddle-earthitself, as Tolkien is quick to explain, is not his own invention; it comes from ‘the northern imagination’ of the Germanic peoples, those inhabitants of Northwestern Europe, Scandinavia, and England who saw their world as existing ‘between ice of the North and the fire of the South’ and encircled by the ‘Seas’ (Letters,283). There is no question that Tolkien saw England as rightfully part of this North; he concludes his essay, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,’ by reminding us thatBeowulf...

  8. Chapter Two Skin-Changing in More than One Sense: The Complexity of Beorn
    (pp. 30-43)

    The most persistent criticism made of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction is its moral simplicity, its tendency to follow firmly delineated lines of characterization, to slip into what Diana Wynne Jones would call a ‘Goodies v. Baddies story.’¹ And certainly fantasy – freed, as it is, from ‘the domination of observed “fact”’ – has a particular capacity for unequivocal characterization and moral certitude (‘On Fairy-Stories,’ 45). Fantasists are more at liberty to fortify or justify their own biases; they can rig the game in ways less easily defended in other literary forms. They can more comfortably create a world where everything and everyone is...

  9. Chapter Three Bridges, Gates, and Doors
    (pp. 44-74)

    It was C.S. Lewis who entitled his book of collected fantasy essaysOf Other Worlds, but fascination with otherness – with other beings, other times, other states of mind – was, if anything, more a part of Tolkien’s character than it was Lewis’s. The worlds Lewis creates are both convincing and compelling; they are, however, strongly connected to the present. Without exception, Lewis’s adventurers belong to the twentieth century and look upon the other worlds they encounter through twentieth-century eyes. This is clearly so in his science fiction trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, et al.), but even in his Narnia books,...

  10. Chapter Four Iceland and Middle-earth: Two Who Loved the North
    (pp. 75-92)

    The influence of William Morris’s romances, translations, and poetry on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien has long been recognized. But what has not been properly considered is the effect of Morris’sIcelandic Journalson Tolkien’s Middle-earth. InThe Lord of the Rings, influence from theJournalsis mostly a matter of similarities in wasteland or mountain scenes. InThe Hobbit, however, certain of Bilbo’s adventures not only come remarkably close to experiences Morris described during his first Icelandic visit but Bilbo himself, in a number of ways, closely resembles theJournalpersona that Morris chose to assume.

    TheJournalsare...

  11. Chapter Five Spiders and Evil Red Eyes: The Shadow Sides of Gandalf and Galadriel
    (pp. 93-127)

    Though Tolkien’s fiction is by no means as unsophisticated as critics often believe, it is still true that Tolkien preferred to separate his good characters from his bad. We have no doubt that Aragorn, even as Strider, is a man to be counted on and that Gollum, though ‘he may yet be saved,’ is a doomed and untrustworthy wretch. It is equally clear that Théoden belongs on the side of the good though he initially appears weak and floundering. Even Boromir, Tolkien’s most deliberate attempt to create a morally troubled personality, gives us little difficulty. As the picture of a...

  12. Chapter Six Wisewomen, Shieldmaidens, Nymphs, and Goddesses
    (pp. 128-155)

    There is no doubt that Tolkien idealized the masculine world of camaraderie, fealty, and fellowship, a world best depicted through high-minded adventure, through battle and quest and united opposition against evil in all its guises and in all its various extremes. Though hearth and home are idealized within this world as well (and are idealized all the more in their absence), they represent an ideal which the hero must relinquish in order to protect those who are in need or unaware and in order to gain, through individual sacrifice, the higher spiritual perception that Tolkien’s heroes achieve. This means that...

  13. Chapter Seven Eating, Devouring, Sacrifice, and Ultimate Just Deserts (Why Elves Are Vegetarian and the Unrefined Are Not)
    (pp. 156-171)

    Twenty-eight days after conception, before we have gained features or limbs or any indication of lungs, while we are still only half a centimetre in length, our embryonic selves – in anticipation of a lifetime of eating – have already developed a beginner’s digestive tract. It will lie there for eight more months before we face the world, a clear indication that we are, in essence, creatures of appetite almost from the first, little Shelobs and Gollums, waiting for a meal.

    There are few matters in life more elementary than food and few that so neatly cut both ways. We are eaters...

  14. Chapter Eight Three Questions by Way of Conclusion
    (pp. 172-178)

    I began this book by saying Tolkien is far more complex than people mostly assume; my conclusion will only confirm that belief. The more I work on Tolkien the more I realize there is no easy list of Tolkienian truths that I can print up and pass on with equanimity. But – by way of conclusion and putting a cap on things – let me set out three questions that should help address the nature of Tolkien’s genius and his complexity. The questions are:

    1. Who wins, Norseman or Celt?

    2. Is it fusion or confusion we come to in the end?...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 179-200)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-208)
  17. Index
    (pp. 209-225)