Alfred the Great, British history, Cold War, Edwatd VIII, Elizabeth II, Fairy Tale, George I, George III, George V, George VI, Great Britain, Ireland, James I, Kings, Monarchies, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Tolkien, Transvaal War
Welcome, as always!
In this posting, we want to talk about a larger issue than usual.
JRRT had always thought of The Lord of the Rings as a single work and had been forced to break it up into three parts by his publisher, Allen/Unwin, for financial reasons. The third part of this became “The Return of the King”. If you’ve read us for a while, you have probably decided that, although we are passionate Anglophiles (and Francophiles and Germanophiles and—well, we are World Civ folks—we love every country, young and old, and one of us has spent years very happily teaching World Civilizations, in fact), we are North Americans and, to narrow that, citizens of the USA. This means that we grew up in a democratic republic, the descendants of people who separated themselves from control by the 18th-century monarchical government of George III of Great Britain by violent means.
Thus, the idea of “king” is rather an abstract one for us, rather fairy-talish, in fact, as distant as the traditional opening of Irish fairy tales which began “A king there was, over all of Ireland”.
So, what might the idea of that title, “The Return of the King” have meant to JRRT, when he chose it?
When JRRT was born, in 1892, Victoria had been the ruler of the UK since 1837.
She was a grandma in 1892.
The Queen could easily trace her descent back to George I (1660-1727), and, through him, back all the way to the eldest daughter of James I, Elizabeth (1596-1662).
Because JRRT lived until 1973, in his lifetime, the English monarchs were:
(whose death brought together all of Victoria’s grandsons, monarchs of various sorts—see the FILM CLIP)
During his lifetime, there had been a great colonial war (the Transvaal War, 1899-1902), two world wars, and the Cold War, and yet Britain survived them all under this succession of monarchs. “The King” in “The Return of…”, then, might be thought to have a very special meaning, one of unwavering stability. In the Shire in Middle Earth in the 3rd Age, for example:
“There remained, of course, the ancient tradition concerning the high king at Fornost, or Norbury as they called it, away north of the Shire. But there had been no king for nearly a thousand years, and even the ruins of Kings’ Norbury were covered with grass. Yet the Hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king. For they attributed to the king of old all their essential laws; and usually they kept the laws of free will, because they were The Rules (as they said), both ancient and just.” (The Lord of the Rings, 9)
And that “nearly a thousand years”, in terms of British history could easily be taken in reverse, with the foundations of the modern British monarchy—the one Tolkien spent his life being ruled by—appearing with Alfred the Great (849-899AD—and interesting to think that Alfred’s name may be spelled, in Old English, “Aelf-raed”, which means something like “elf counsel” or “wise elf”)—that is, about a thousand years before Tolkien’s birth in 1892.
This is, of course, a secular monarch. Tolkien being a devout Catholic (as well as one who wanted great depth in his Middle Earth), could there be another dimension? We’ll talk about that in our next posting…
Thanks, again, for reading.