Those of you who also follow me on Medieval Otaku know that I’ve placed that blog on hiatus. Of course, that need not mean that I shall quit blogging here–though, the thought did cross my mind. That blog was placed on hold so that I might read more, and how better to may one understand what one reads more than by writing about it–especially if people comment on my ideas?
The following passage of The Two Towers occurs after Samwise’s fight with Shelob and the apparent death of Frodo. Some people accuse Tolkien of not having very interesting prose or prose which obscures his personality–as Neil Gaiman writes. While it is certain that Tolkien’s work shines more in conversion and when he wishes to give a place a mythic feel, he can create very powerful prose descriptions which have a direct link to his experience. Read the following perfectly constructed sentence:
And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.
How many better images of utter despair are there in literature? How many of these are as succinct? In a single sentence, images of crushing darkness are added upon one another until the light of the intellect is extinguished. Black despair presses down on Sam from without, the drawing of the grey hood over his head shows that despair has taken a hold on his mind, and lastly the night coming into his heart saliently conveys the image of darkness as all-encompassing and pervasive. How much more so when one recalls that this takes place in a lightless tunnel?
Anyone else like how Tolkien names the two traditional seats of thought in this sentence? The heart and the head are also the two traditional seats of the soul. The heart and the head, in that they point to the soul or the form of man, show the immersion of his mind in black despair.
Tolkien admitted that Samwise was supposed to represent the average doughboy of WWI. Tolkien lost all save one of his friends in that awful conflict, and one can’t help but think that this image of despair relates to his tragic experiences in this war. Perhaps, Tolkien even imagined–like Sam–that his last close friend had died at one point. Then, all the sense and meaning was taken out of life: “and he knew no more.”
Well, I found this passage really cool, but what do my dear readers think? Any other ways such grim despair might have been present in Tolkien’s life?