Tolkien: A Dark Fantasy Author? (Part II)


In the previous post, I tried to explain and understand the meaning of “dark fantasy” and whether it can be applied to Tolkien’s works.

Having briefly gone through ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, I will try and tackle the enormous complexities of ‘The Silmarillion’ in a very brief and simple manner (I hope).

Okay, here it goes …

In Part I, we’ve already established that “dark fantasy” can incorporate elements of horror, dread, gloomy and dark atmospheres and anti-heroic actions carried out by the protagonists of a story.

Image‘The Silmarillion’ is a book of two extremes: on the one hand you have the most beautiful and illuminating descriptions of the World’s creation, the Valar’s (the angelic powers) descent into an earthly paradise and the peaceful habitation of the Elves there.

On the other, Tolkien presents us with graphic images of the horrors of war that follows soon after (well a couple of thousand years later, actually) and the desperation of Elves, Men and Dwarves in fighting a common enemy. Furthermore, one can find dozens of references towards betrayal, persecution, theft, murder … within the “good side” itself.

Characters lust after jewels and artefacts, disposing of anyone who comes in-between; kings and lords succumb to bitter feuds with loved ones; entire settlements are devastated by the wrath and treacheries of well-loved characters … and the list goes on and on.

It is interesting to note how Tolkien gradually plunges his own narrative from a high point, down to a dark pit. The atmosphere that settles upon the western regions of Middle-earth and Beleriand is one of decay and savagery; mistrust amongst friends and uncontrollable anger and recklessness in desperate circumstances.

Pretty dark, see?

Yes, ‘The Silmarillion’ does thread the fine line between dark and high fantasy – most of the times, however, Tolkien combines both of them together – to create something unique, something different and unexpected. It’s ironic though to think that Tolkien was (if not the “creator”), the individual who propelled the fantasy genre to the status it is today, to have “applied” elements from two sub-genres that were crafted years after his death.

ImageIt has to be noted that even though many characters act in extreme ways, Tolkien is always quick to clarify that the reason for so many struggles and contempt between the “good guys”, is blamed on the evil influence that is spread by the main villain (Túrin‘s tale is a clear case in point).

Sure, some characters act out of their own pride and selfishness, but a lot of the repercussions are a result of the nature of evil itself – working its way through the weaknesses of these noble figures.

I won’t go specifically into the stories in ‘The Silmarillion’ themselves, in case some of the readers have yet to tackle that book.

So I’ll rest my case for now and ponder a bit more on what I said (which might be complete gibberish, mind you).

Again, whether you agree or not, feel free to comment below!

(Copyright to the Tolkien Illustrations shown here belongs to Ted Nasmith)

3 thoughts on “Tolkien: A Dark Fantasy Author? (Part II)

  1. A nice post. The darkness of Tolkien gets even starker when you consider he views history as “a slow defeat, with occasional glimmers of the final victory” (a rough paraphrase of his own words), and he started the art of eucatastrophe, even if its application is questionable (I get so fed up with the eagles rescuing everything!). This means that Tolkien’s work has to be dark, because most of it is a downhill slide. However, in Middle-earth we get the very Catholic knowledge that everything will be alright in the end, as we’ve already seen the music of the Ainur and know its course. That foreknowledge is pretty much all that stops it from being dark, in my opinion.

    That and I think his tragedy writing is better than the rest of it; the cloying sense of a malign destiny gets so well done.

    1. Many thanks for your very insightful comment! It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned the “slow defeat” quote and the eucatastrophe concept.

      I believe what you state about it not being dark due to issues such as the Music of the Ainur is certainly a very valid statement.

      One of the fascinating things about Tolkien is the sheer amount of interpretations and levels of notions to be found in any of his works – which is what, I think, distinguishes him from many contemporary (and modern) authors.

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