Harmony and folklore: the function of the forest in Middle Earth
Much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, is taken up with the natural world, paying significant attention to the trees. The forests of Middle Earth are given a clear consciousness and personality, often reacting violently to those who cross or violate their borders. Tolkien’s ideology has been defined by scholars as neo-medieval and conservative, meaning Tolkien used the Middle Ages to criticise modernity and offer a nostalgic vision of a medieval past. What scholars have not considered are the connections between the forest imagery in Middle Earth and how these can help reveal Tolkien’s conservative, neo-medieval ideology. This thesis will consider how Tolkien’s approach to nature in his texts was shaped by his relationship to two changing time periods: Victorian England and post-war twentieth century England. I will argue that forests in Middle Earth are a reimagining of a 'lost' England, juxtaposed against Tolkien’s critique of an industrialising and modernising world. The recreation of a ‘lost’ England required a reconnection with nature that had been lost amongst industrialisation. Tolkien’s belief that the world had experienced a disenchantment with nature inspired the shaping of his forest worlds in order to inspire a reenchantment. In creating living, breathing forests Tolkien incorporated elements of the Celtic Otherworld and Gothic visions of the forest to reaffirm his nationalist and environmental goals in creating Middle Earth. This topic will be analysed through a close reading of the texts to track how forests function within the medievalism of Victorian England, and the changing medievalism of the twentieth century. The incorporation of the Celtic Otherworld worked to reenchant the world with nature to fit Tolkien’s vision. By reading the texts in such a way this thesis aims to uncover new understandings of the contemporary conservativism that shaped the most successful fantasy series of all time.