Aug
25

Final Update: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost (I Hope)

Well, while I now know far more about Middle-earth than is probably healthy (although, not going to lie, Stephen Colbert probably still knows more), I can say that this summer has been productive. I’ve read countless scholarly books and articles, written a heck ton of (hopefully useful) notes, and highlighted the bejeezus out of my copies of The Lord of the Rings and American Gods, as well as the Silmarillion. And yet, with every article I finish, I discover three more in the references to add to my ever expanding list of sources, my own personal Hydra. I’ve spent the last week or so going through my marked passages and margin notes and typing them up into something semi-organized, a foundation for the actual writing of my rough draft.
My thesis has slowly been taking shape, balancing tenuously on strands stretched between my targeted works: migration, politics, genealogy and family, language, history, legend. How do these things affect the way in which the characters group themselves, whom they follow, and where they call home? How do Tolkien, a South African born British man of German descent in a time when anything German was often equated with evil, and Gaiman, a British expat transplanted in today’s troubled America, differ in their expressions of national identity in their fantasy? I make no claims to be answering all of these questions definitively in the near future, but I can feel some answers taking shape. One such answer points to an emphasis on cooperation between very different people or groups. (When it comes to Tolkien, however, this cooperation is often coupled with what one could call a fairly straightforward enthusiasm for kicking fundamentally evil orc butt).
I am glad that I chose American Gods as a postmodern foil for Tolkien’s groundbreaking fantasy, as I can see in these works how certain fantasy motifs have developed over time. Gaiman’s novels reflect a recent shift in fantasy literature toward multiculturalism and greater representation of female characters, which comes greatly appreciated. (The film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings reflects this shift as well, with Arwen actually showing up once in awhile and doing things other than being Aragorn’s tragically beautiful love interest). However, after this summer I’m beginning to form a more complicated view of Tolkien’s supposed lack of diversity in his works, as well as his feelings towards nationalism and war. Is he really so different from Gaiman and his POMO, cosmopolitan, metanarrative questioning ways? Well, yeah. But maybe not as different as I initially thought.
Once again, this Hydra of a thesis grows three more heads, and I end up with more questions than when I started. But hey, I’m an English major; I’m used to it.