The Spirit of Tolkien



Drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien and published
in the first impression of The Hobbit,
in Chapter 4 (Over Hill and Under Hill).
The Heraldic Device of the
House of Hador,
as drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien


What I believe to be the guiding principle behind and purpose of the Fantasy Genre at its best, the Spirit of Tolkien is the optimistic spirit and integrity which the books try to impart upon the reader; a sense of moral high-minded optimistic realism. Characters like Gandalf[1] all show the value of deep knowledge and wisdom along with the fact that such lofty things are not exclusive to the old but may be attained with experience and general cleverness; the Hobbits, after all, along with Harry Potter, Eragon, and so many others grew into wisdom probably without realizing it by the end of it all. Most importantly though, the Spirit of Tolkien teaches selflessness in the face of evil and that virtue can and often will be victorious in the end. It stands for the idea that it is the everyday deeds of ordinary folk which keeps the Dark at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love and a refusal to give in and abandon personal integrity when there is an easy but amoral solution to various kinds of trouble.

On this vein, I think that among the most vital lessons Fantasy literature has to offer is the value of friendship. Think about it – the protagonist, if indeed there even is only one, always relies on her/his friends and allies for support both personal and military; the lesson being that, in the immortals words of Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender, that "there is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you."
Gandalf the Gey

In short, friendship and the ability to make friends is more valuable than any magic sword. If you do not believe me then just ask Gandalf, who is without question one of (if not the) greatest wizard in Fantasy literature. In his Book of Unfinished Tales more properly called the Unfinished Tales of NĂșmenor and Middle-earth Tolkien describes him as such:
"The Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and beloved among those who were not themselves proud. Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, 'the Elf of the Wand'. For they deemed him (though in error, as has been said) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times works wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear."

This being the case, and as is known from the mostly accurate movies, Gandalf Greyhame is a wellspring of wise quotes and his counsel quite literally saved Middle-earth. Still, I have recently come to the conclusion that possibly the most important thing he whom the Elves call Mithrandir uttered was a line we only heard twice and secondhand: "Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee."
That simple line, coupled with his love for Frodo, kept Sam with the Ringbearer through fire and fear, darkness and death, and a giant spider whom  – though a black terror to all  – he bested per the strength of overpowering friendship. A friendship and companionship that Frodo needed and would have ultimately failed without; hence, by extension, making it the quote that saved Middle-earth from a second darkness. Yet, interesting, Gandalf himself did not appear to recognize the power those words wrought upon Sam.

"Then you know about Frodo!' said Gimli. "How do things go with him?"
"I cannot say. He was saved from a great peril, but many lie before him still. He resolved to go alone to Mordor, and he set out: that is all that I can say."
"Not alone," said Legolas. "We think that Sam went with him."
"Did he!" said Gandalf, and there was a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. "Did he indeed? It is news to me, yet it does not surprise me. Good! Very good! You lighten my heart. You must tell me more. Now sit by me and tell me the tale of your journey."
Well, perhaps in typical Gandalf manner he knew and did not know simultaneously. I certainly cannot truly fathom the mind of the White Rider. Still, I think the consequences of his saying "Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee" proved true another of his sayings, this time and poetically applied directly back to himself: "Even the very wise cannot see all ends.

Hence Fantasy is about compassion, courage, curiosity, and a refusal to give up hope even when all seems lost and world is burning up around you. It is about the fact that, deep down, there is more Good in the world than Evil and that even the smallest candle can keep the Dark at bay. It is the spirit that teaches us to seek to make the world a better place, to value the simply joys in life and not seek power for ourselves. It is the spirit that recognizes evil and foulness, but retains optimism about and with the world at large and fights for the best and brightest future possible. It is the spirit of the idealistic realist.
Thus the Spirit of Tolkien is what I believe Fantasy is all about – it’s clear and bright purpose – and the man himself describes it best of all:


"Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?...If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!"
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“I do not love the bright sword for it's sharpness, nor the arrow for it's swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“Fairy tale does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat...giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien ("Beren", 1892–1973), author and academic, together with his wife Edith ("LĂșthien", 1889–1971)















































[1] Dumbledore, Allanon, Obi-Wan Kenobi & Yoda, Aslan, Halt the Ranger, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Brom & Oromis, Merriman Lyon, Cadvan of Lirigon, Belgarath the Sorcerer, and Luthe.

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