Sunday, April 24, 2016

Time-Travelling Hobbits

CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien agreed in 1938 to each write a work of speculative fiction, Lewis's to be about space travel, and Tolkien's about time travel. Lewis's became Out of the Silent Planet, and eventually the entire Perelandra series. Though he did work up a beginning for something called The Lost Road , Tolkien never completed his end of the bargain.

Or did he? The food anachronisms in The Hobbit caused me to speculate recently about what supposed historical or prehistorical period LOTR actually represents in Tolkien's Time Periods. (I mean for you to glance at that again.) Reconsidering  that essay these last two weeks, I am more convinced that the Hobbits are something of outsiders in Middle-Earth.  They didn't time-travel to get to their spot in the Shire, of course - that would have entirely the wrong feeling in the mythos. But there they are, Leicestermen from the age of Victoria somehow voting, growing barley and tobacco, and erecting mills by the waters of a more ancient world. I very nearly said that clearly in the previous essay, but only got about 80% there.

It may have been traveling through Bridgeport yesterday, which always reminds me of Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, that nailed it down for me.*  Subsequent fantasy authors seem to have adopted the same device because it works so well.  Narnia is not a land of trains or boarding schools.  Even without an exact correspondence between the worlds, it is clear that in spirit the Pevensie children are going back in time.  Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, and Stephen Donaldson all use it.

*"Bridgeport" is an early punchline in the book.


james said...

Middle Earth is populated with relics of bygone empires and glories. "They carved hills as hunters carve beast-flesh. Wild Men think they ate stone for food." Almost every time you turn around there's something from ancient or prehistory hanging around, except perhaps in Rohan and the Shire.

Suppose the Shire is a relic also, where the remains of technologies from the Dark Years still survive.

Earl Wajenberg said...

Tolkien made a couple of stabs at a time-travel story proper. The longest is "The Notion Club Papers." It is science-fictionally set in the distant year 2012. The Notion Club is a fictionalization of the Inklings, and the characters are very loosely based on them. There is no physical time travel, but rather experiments in psychic, visionary time travel, with some of the characters being haunted (as was Tolkien) by dreams of the sinking of Atlantis, with details clearly presaging Numenor and other details of Middle Earth. You can get a PDF of it by Googling.

Texan99 said...

Pastoral fantasies generally remove the icky modern stuff but retain many of the conveniences without explanation. It's like enjoying Jane Austen without thinking about dental care or anesthesia for appendicitis.