Review of The Peace of Frodo: On the Origin of an English Mythology by Simon J. Cook

 

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The peace of Frodo is published in Tolkien Studies XII, West Virginia University Press (pp 59-76).  I am working from Simon’s online version, HERE

The main proposal of the paper is that ‘an early engagement with Hector Munro Chadwick’s

‘The Origin of the English Nation’ was strongly instrumental in shaping Tolkien’s view of what his desired mythology dedicated to England might look like.  Within this thesis, Simon further argues that while many of the defining characteristics of Tolkien’s mythology can be traced back to Chadwick, Tolkien also challenged some of Chadwick’s methodology and conclusions as his legendarium evolved.

Tolkien was one of the first generation of students to benefit from the shift in Anglo-Saxon scholarship that Chadwick’s Origins brought about.  Simon J. Cook is convinced that its effect upon Tolkien’s mythology was deep and lasting.  The fourfold elaboration of this thesis in the paper begins by reviewing Chadwick’s interpretation of proto-English traditions, in which he linked the English with the Scandinavian rather than the Germanic peoples. It goes on to discuss the imaginative stimulus of Chadwick’s ideas upon Tolkien from the earliest stages of his mythologizing, particularly focusing on the derivation of the concept of the half-Elven from (and away from) the tradition of the goddess Nerthus taking a mortal consort and on the figure of Ing that appears on some of Tolkien’s earliest tales.  Then Cook covers the development in the 1920s of the Tolkien’s idea of Elf-human marriage, together with the story of King Sheave from the 1930s.  The final section of the paper shows how these ideas were brought together in the concluding chapters of The Lord of the Rings, which conflation is described by Cook as arguably a ‘Catholic’ reappraisal by Tolkien of Chadwick’s ‘Protestant’ interpretations of Northern paganism.

Cook’s presentation in these sections of the paper is persuasive, based upon careful and detailed research and accessibly written.  The interweaving of his discussions about Fróði, Scyld, Sheaf, Ing, Nerthus and their various stories and cults could have become confusing, but Cook maintains clarity throughout.  His examination of the Book of Lost Tales recapitulates the growth of Tolkien’s ideas from the discovery of Eärendil in Crist I in 1914 and adds his own emphasis; ‘I suggest that Chadwick’s Origin may illuminate the inner workings of the imagination that conceived the genealogy of Eärendil.’

In the course of the 1920s and 2930s, Cook argues, Tolkien developed first one and then the other of the two themes from Northern tradition that he derived from his reading of Chadwick; mortal and immortal intermarriage and the coming of the King from across the sea.  Before the story of Aragorn and Arwen, Tolkien separates these two strands, assigning the Elf-human marriages to the second Age, and the arrival of the sea-kings to the Third, thus diverging from Chadwick’s attempt to merge the two traditions.  Then ‘In the figure of Aragorn…are united most of the Northern traditions chartered by Chadwick.’  Tolkien’s story can be considered the asterisk story that is the source of the ‘later’ tales of Ing, Sheaf and Nerthus.

In an Addendum, Cook refers to Tolkien’s commentaries on Beowulf, published by Christopher Tolkien in 2014 in Beowulf, a translation and commentary.  Here, he says, ‘a divergence with Chadwick comes more clearly into view’ and ‘Tolkien’s commentary brings into view an unexpected connection between his study of Beowulf and his creation of an English mythology.’  Cook’s conclusion strengthens, for me, the realisation that has been growing over the years of Tolkien scholarship, as to how Tolkien set up his ‘feigned history’ as a believable source for the later legends, beliefs and cults of Northern Europe.

Note; This brief notice does not claim to be more than a kind of proto-review, and will shortly be followed by longer and deeper assessments.  However, I enjoyed and admired the article so much that I wanted to ‘get something out there’ as soon as possible.

(Sue Bridgwater, January 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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