Most critics of The Lord of the Rings correlate Tolkien's work to ancient texts, like Beowulf, the Elder Edda, and medieval romances. While the connection between these traditional materials and Tolkien is valid, it neglects a key feature of Tolkien's work and one of the author's desires, which was to fashion a sort of history that felt as real as any other old story. Moreover, it glosses over the rather obvious point that Tolkien is writing a novel, or at any rate a long work of prose fiction that owes a good deal to the novel tradition. Therefore, through careful attention to the formal textures of Tolkien's work, melding together both genre criticism and formal analysis (and with a sound understanding of literary history), I argue that Tolkien's work follows a more modern vein and aligns with the nineteenth-century historical novel, the genre pioneered by Sir Walter Scott. The projects of Tolkien and Scott parallel one another in many respects that deserve critical attention. This essay begins the discussion by addressing just one, somewhat surprising, point of comparison: the writers' use of poetry. I observe that Tolkien and Scott utilized poetry in similar ways, and I parse the poems into three distinct categories: low culture poems, high culture poems, and poems which straddle the divide between the two. All of this demonstrates how each piece of poetry, written in an antique style, saturates the texts with historic atmosphere and depth. This lends a sense of authenticity and realism to Scott's works, and later it buttresses Tolkien's attempts to foster "the dust of history" and create an illusion of authenticity and realism for Middle Earth's (imaginary) past.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Spooner, Kaleigh Jean, ""History Real or Feigned": Tolkien, Scott, and Poetry's Place in Fashioning History" (2017). Theses and Dissertations. 6476.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Walter Scott, History, Historical depth, Romance, Novel, Poetry