Tolkien, Rowlings and the boy hero

loupaulsen at loupaulsen at
Mon Dec 16 09:33:20 MST 2002

Actually, there is an important way in which Frodo is very different from
Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker and Kim Kinnison and Rand al-Thor and Clark
Kent and the Christ Child.  All of the latter have super powers from birth:
they are genetically superior, as it were.  They have the powers they have
because of who their parents were, or because they are the reincarnation of
someone, or are from a different planet, or are really God, or whatever.  This
really IS the feudal view: it is 'noble blood' at work.  For that matter
Tolkien's analogue to Rand al-Thor is really Aragorn son of Arathorn, who has
super-powers (hands of a healer, can use a silmaril, can summon the Dead, has
long life) precisely because his descent from Elendil.

On the other hand Frodo has no super powers whatever.  He is just a good-
hearted simple soul, who, if he is predestined to succeed, does so not through
super powers but by following the righteous path.  Really he is prefigured by
Christian in Pilgrim's Progress.  This is not feudal in nature; this is the
early-bourgeois/Protestant view of the individual, the humble soul blessed
with God's grace.

So actually, since we're back on the topic, let me partially take back what I
said about Tolkien's world view being pre-capitalist.  It's actually a very
English mixture.  The Shire is an early-capitalist utopia - an idealized
English county, with inequality of wealth, a market economy, a benevolent
landowning aristocracy who hire labor, shopkeepers and craftspeople, a legal
system, town meetings, and no king at the start of the trilogy.  This is one
ideal pole, but then you also have the restoration of the kingship as the
other ideal pole; the ideal is to have a nonintrusive king for the peaceful
Shire-dwellers, but he has to govern the peoples of the South and East in a
more hands-on way.  Aragorn creates Empire in the south (this is not the Hardt-
Negri Empire), and under the benevolent aegis and security umbrella of this
Empire the hobbits can safely govern their affairs and enjoy prosperous
agriculture and trade, happy to get an occasional state visit from Buckingham
Palace, er, Minas Tirith.  Of course in the real world the 'sanatic mills' are
owned by exploiters among the Shirefolk, not by wizards' tools, and the noble
blood yields someone like Prince Charles.

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