How to Read J.R.R. Tolkien
Lecture by Michael D. C. Drout
Given at Carnegie Mellon University on October 3, 2014
Michael Drout, a professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of the Medieval at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts believes that Tolkien’s immense and lasting popularity can be explained by a “perfect storm hypothesis.”
“Tolkien took very powerful medieval legends that are inaccessible to people because of language, remixed them, and put them in the point of view of hobbits representing ordinary, middle class people in an otherwise heroic world,” Drout said. “Tolkien also dared to go where post-war literature had given up. Mainstream literature had given up on talking about power, evil and what to do about it. There was clearly a hunger in people to talk about cosmic problems, and Tolkien’s work allows readers to think and feel about these central issues, but slightly abstractly.”
Drout continued, “Tolkien wrote a text that feels like an old text, back by a long tradition. And, finally, he writes from such a point of view that you experience what the characters are experiencing. Readers feel like they’ve had an experience – not read a book.”
His lecture focuses on this hypothesis in an attempt to explain why Tolkien’s many imitators have never been able to duplicate his successes and why the books remain beloved.
In addition to editing the “J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia” and founding and co-editing the journal “Tolkien Studies,” Drout leant his expertise and consulted for “The Lord of the Rings On-Line,” a multi-player on-line game based on the book. His other research involves developing “lexomic” methods of computer-assisted statistical analyses that have led to discoveries about Angle-Saxon, Old Norse, Latin and Modern English texts.