More Light than Shadow? Jungian Approaches to Tolkien and the Archetypeal Image of the Shadow

Thomas Honegger - 2012
Theoretical ArticlesTheoretical Articles: A comprehensive knowledge of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is needed to fully understand articles in this category, the subjects treated being studied in minute detail by their authors.
This article is a revised version of the article published in 2011 on LotRPlaza Forum.

Une traduction française de cet article a été publiée dans Tolkien 1892-2012, le numéro hors-série de L'Arc et le Heaume.

Tolkien 1892-2012

A french translation of this essay was published in Tolkien 1892-2012, a special issue of Tolkiendil's magazine, L'Arc et le Heaume.

‘In a hole in the ground there lived a somewhat retarded, orally fixated pre-adolescent who was almost pathological in his refusal to interact in a socially responsible way with the outer world. This is the story of how he overcame, with a little help from his psychologist, some of his neurotic compulsions.’

This ‘Freudian’ summary of The Hobbit is, of course, a blatant oversimplification, but it serves exactly because it highlights the salient points in an exaggerated fashion. Anyone inclined to pursue a Freudian line of inquiry any further would find a plethora of suitable items that lend themselves to an interpretation within such a framework. Bilbo, for example, acquires a phallic sword, which he does not hesitate to stick into hairy spiders when the occasion arises… The reader soon realises, after the first shock of outrage and/or amusement (depending on one’s disposition), that such a popular ‘pseudo-Freudian’ analysis of Tolkien’s work is based on a misconception of both Freud’s original intentions and of Tolkien’s literary work. Freud’s approach is primarily a method used to treat real-life patients with psychological problems. Nevertheless, Freudian methods and concepts can be and have been applied to literary texts1) and their protagonists in order to shed some light on some of the underlying issues or, indirectly, on the psychological setup of the author. Yet, as C.S. Lewis has pointed out some time ago, the latter does not really constitute literary criticism.2)

Furthermore, an analysis of the literary protagonists presupposes a certain degree of psychological realism – and here Tolkien refuses to co-operate. Bilbo and Frodo are the most ‘modern’ characters (see Shippey 2000:7) in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and might thus be successfully subjected to a Freudian analysis. However, most protagonists are simply lacking the minimal requirements needed for a meaningful discussion within a Freudian framework – as Peter Jackson’s treatment of Aragorn illustrates. Tolkien’s Aragorn changes and develops merely in the way he presents himself to the world – from Strider to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, to King Elessar. The basic ‘psychological’ setup (if we are to use this rather ill-fitting category) does not change (see Veugen 2005) and Aragorn is, in my view, an intentionally ‘flat’ character. Jackson obviously felt uncomfortable with presenting such a protagonist. He therefore changed him into a ‘modern’ character haunted by self-doubts and insecurities which he is finally able to overcome, and this way re-shaped Aragorn into a protagonist with whom the audience can identify.3) As a result, Jackson’s Aragorn is psychologically more realistic and appealing to modern readers, and, in contrast to Tolkien’s protagonist, it makes sense to discuss his development within a psychological framework. Thus, a (Freudian) psychological analysis of Tolkien’s literary protagonists is either bound to be pointless in most cases or, if it were to be meaningful, requires a re-writing of the text – neither of which makes sense to me.

There are, of course, other approaches based on the theories of Freud and other psychologists. We have, on the one hand, post-Freudian (literary)4) critics such as Jacques Lacan, whose ideas and theories have proven highly attractive to literary scholars. Applications of their ideas on Tolkien’s work are rare, though not impossible (see Nagy 2006), and they yield ‘meaningful’ results. On the other hand, we have a number of literary critics who look at Tolkien’s writings in a Jungian light, and it is their approach that I am going to discuss in greater depth in this paper.5)

The immediate motivation for such an investigation comes from the publication of two books. The first one is Skogemann’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings within a Jungian framework. It was originally published in Danish in 2004 and has become available in English translation in 2009. The second is the Red Book (Das Rote Buch, originally entitled Liber Novus), a facsimile edition (with transcription/translation of the handwritten text) of Jung’s notes on his dreams and visions, which he started to write down in this folio-sized, illuminated volume from 1913/14 onwards. The fact that both Tolkien and Jung wrote ‘Red Books’ and that both shared a kind of ‘Great Wave Dream’, struck me as noteworthy.6) These events may not constitute an example of pure synchronicity,7) yet they intrigued me sufficiently to take up once more the thread of a possible ‘Jungian’ connection in Tolkien’s work. I had first come across concrete evidence for Tolkien’s acquaintance with Jung’s concept while working on the Professor’s academic papers in the Bodleian in Summer 2006. Two references to Jung are to be found on a single sheet of paper among his notes for the lecture ‘On Fairy-stories’ (Bodleian Tolkien MS. 14, Folio 55 recto; facsimile in Tolkien 2008:170), consisting of the single name ‘Jung’ in a list of authors and scholars to be mentioned, and the note ‘Jung Psych of the unconscious’ on the same page (see also Tolkien 2008:129). What Tolkien thought about Jung and his theories is, however, not known. In the end, he did not comment on Jung in his ‘Fairy-stories’ lecture. Neither do his published letters and other writings make any direct reference to Jung’s ideas and theories, even though other members of the Inklings, notably C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, were acquainted with Jung’s writings.8) We can only speculate about why Tolkien seems to have avoided any direct and prolonged examination of Jung’s ideas. In the case of Freud we may blame a temperamental incompatibility for Tolkien’s dislike of psychological (and especially psycho-sexual) interpretations, yet with Jung the opposite is more likely: the two were drawing water from the same enchanted well. This might very well be the reason why he instinctively tried to keep a certain distance. Tolkien, if we are to believe his retrospective account of the (often nocturnal) writing process, was guided and inspired largely by his ‘unconscious’9) – and images and concepts that originated in the ‘collective unconscious’.10) The emergence and development of Strider/Aragorn, one of the most ‘archetypal’ human figures in The Lord of the Rings, is a good example, as is the slow unravelling of the true identity of Bilbo’s ring as the Ring.11) This creative symbiotic communication between Tolkien’s unconscious layers and his writer-persona might have been severely disturbed if he had started to investigate the underlying processes and impulses.12) Tolkien’s stories and tales might have, in the end, helped him to come to terms with some of his ‘unresolved’ psychological issues and brought him forward on the path of individuation, yet there is the very acute danger that they would, at the same time, lose their primary status as works of literary art.13) The Legendarium, as a consequence, would have become merely a personal (though rather extensive) footnote in the history of Jungian analysis. We can therefore be grateful that Tolkien refrained from using his tales and stories as ‘therapeutic tools’ and treated them as works of art, polishing, refining and, in the end, sharing them with a wider audience. Thus they have lost some of their immediate personal relevance yet, in return, gained greatly in general importance and fulfil one of the functions of art, which Jung, in an essay written in 1922 (quoted in Walker 2002:100-101), defined as “educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present.”

I have briefly touched upon the dangers of ‘Freudian’ literary criticism, which focuses almost entirely on the linguistic dimension of the text and on its personal relevance for the author’s psyche. Jungian criticism, by contrast, privileges the psyche’s imagery and its archetypal relevance. It avoids the ‘Freudian’ pitfalls, yet is not entirely devoid of other weaknesses. Steve Walker, a professor of comparative literature, summarizes the dangers of Jungian literary criticism as follows:

In the eyes of its detractors, Jungian criticism may fail to draw a clear enough distinction between intrapsychic imagery and aesthetic imagery. Intrapsychic imagery is a spontaneous product of the unconscious. Aesthetic imagery, for all the analogies it presents to intrapsychic imagery, is a product of literary tradition and conscious literary elaboration. To put the criticism bluntly: a literary text is not an archetypal dream and should not be interpreted as though it were one. (Walker 2002:145-146)

It cannot be the function of psychological literary criticism to provide a psychoanalytical discussion of the author’s or the protagonist’s psyche, but like all other literary criticism, it “must meet a criterion of usefulness. It must enrich the understanding of a text and increase the fund of perceptions associated with our reading. […] Reductive interpretation may be useful in discussions of psychological matters, but it does not make for good literary criticism. A literary critic’s first duty is to the text” (Walker 2002:148). Furthermore, a “psychological reading of the text does not, however, displace other readings; rather, it enriches the interpretation of the text in unexpected and original ways” (Walker 2002:146). If O’Neill’s (1979:16) characterisation of Tolkien’s work as “probably the clearest repository of Jungian themes in recent literature” is correct, then we can expect some results from a Jungian analysis. In the following paragraph I will briefly survey in how far Jungian criticism of Tolkien’s work lives up to these criteria.

I would like to start with the most recent monograph, Pia Skogemann’s 2009 Where the Shadows Lie. It is written in an almost jargon-free, easily understandable English – almost too ‘easy’ for my taste, yet maybe perfect for the main (American) target readership. Although Skogemann introduces and explains the main critical terms (archetype, archetypal image), she does not place her approach into the larger framework of Jungian studies. The book more or less retells the story of the central characters and provides ‘psychological notes’ and explanations. We learn that the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin) represent the four psychological functions (thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition respectively), that Tom Bombadil is a trickster figure and Goldberry a typical anima figure, and that Boromir is the shadow to Aragorn the hero figure etc. The interpretations proposed by Skogemann are, within a Jungian framework, understandable and easy to follow, but the ‘net profit’ from reading the 200-odd pages is very slim indeed. Too much of the text consists of a simple re-telling of the story and the actual critical analysis often takes up only a fraction of the space and does not penetrate deeply enough. I could not help getting the impression that the book is aimed mainly at Jungians who have not read The Lord of the Rings yet who want to know more about the occurrence of archetypal images in this popular work. Furthermore, there are no references to secondary sources within the text (a short bibliography at the end lists the most important studies referred to) and only a meagre handful of studies on Tolkien have been used. This lack of Tolkien-expertise – and simple care – is also reflected in the fact that some of the Danish names have not been ‘backtranslated’14) or that Skogemann (resp. her translator), when discussing the function of fairy stories according to Tolkien, talks about ‘escapism’ instead of, correctly, ‘escape’ (Skogemann 2009:1). Where the Shadows Lie is, therefore, an example of a rather mechanistic and limited ‘application’ of a Jungian grid to The Lord of the Rings and Skogemann fails to put her findings into a wider (literary) critical context. The analysis remains reductive, merely illustrating the truth that complex literary texts are more than archetypal patterns.

As a consequence, Timothy R. O’Neill’s 1979 study The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-earth still remains the unsurpassed standard work on the topic. O’Neill first provides a brief yet clear and succinct introduction to the main theories in the study of the human mind (notably behaviourism, psychodynamic theories, and humanism) before discussing and placing Jung’s approach within the field. He then attempts (competently, as I think) an outline of the Jungian theoretical framework and gives definitions of the key-terms such as ‘archetype’,15) ‘anima’,16) ‘shadow’,17) ‘(collective) unconscious’, ‘individuation’,18) etc. with definitions – in contrast to Skogemann, who merely provides a link to a website where the reader may find further information. O’Neill (1979:153) is also very much aware of the limitations of a ‘Jungian reading’ and writes: “The point of this book has not been that The Lord of the Rings is about Self-realization. […] It would be unfair (and, I think, inaccurate) to suggest that Professor Tolkien was trying to teach us a lesson about theory and construct in analytical psychology, nor yet to present an allegory, a sort of psychological Pilgrim’s Progress.” He (1979:xiv) merely hopes that his study “will deepen the effect of the story, make its message more lucid and personal.” And this he accomplishes beyond any doubt – not least since he does not limit his analysis to the ‘epic-novelistic’ The Lord of the Rings, but puts a major focus on the ‘mythical’ narratives of The Silmarillion (1977). Myths, next to ‘archetypal dreams’, are the best gateways to the collective unconscious. They are, as Walker (2002:19) argues, “narrative elaborations of archetypal images (the conscious representations of the unconscious instincts) [that in turn are representations of archetypes, i.e.] imprinted patterns of behavior left behind by untold ages of human evolution.19) Seen from this perspective, myths are culturally elaborated ‘representations of situations.’ They enable us to re-experience consciously the unconscious instinctual processes of the psyche.”

O’Neill’s analysis, in contrast to Skogemann’s, succeeds mainly because he wisely decides to discuss The Lord of the Rings within the ‘mythical framework’ established by The Silmarillion. This means highlighting elements and aspects that are, from a ‘conventional’ literary critic’s point of view, marginal. Thus, the exact relationship between Elrond Half-elven and his mortal brother Elros, first king of Númenor, and his descendants is, from a narratological point of view, of minor importance. Within a Jungian framework, however, it acquires prime significance so that, as O’Neill (1979:129-152) illustrates, the marriage between Aragorn Elessar, the descendant of Elros, and Arwen Undomíel, daughter of Elrond, comes to signify the achievement of the Individuation of the West. As a consequence, The Individuated Hobbit provides not so much a discussion of the literary qualities of The Lord of the Rings but explores and discloses its mythic and, by implication, archetypal dimension. It therefore does not displace other readings but rather “enriches the interpretation of the text in unexpected and original ways” (Walker 2002:146).

There exists, to my knowledge, only one paper on Tolkien and Jung that was published in a generally accessible form before O’Neill’s study appeared in 1979.20) This is Dorothy Matthews’s ‘The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins’, which appeared in Jared Lobdell’s A Tolkien Compass (1975; reprinted in the 2003 edition of the same book). Matthews starts out with very general parallels between traditional fairy tales, The Hobbit and other children’s literature classics (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Rabbit) – parallels such as ‘falling into a hole’ etc. Interestingly, Matthews also argues for seeing Freudian symbolism in the naming of the swords (phallus, coming to manhood) and in passing makes reference to a plethora of sexual symbols such as locks, keys, caves, cups, chalices etc. Luckily, she leaves it at that and does not pursue this ‘Freudian’ approach any further, but continues with identifying monsters and adversaries as externalizations of psychic phenomena and Bilbo’s journey as a metaphor for the process of individuation. The hobbit has to leave the Shire, where his masculinity has been suppressed, in order to find a new balance between his male and female sides. The ‘usual suspects’ in matters of archetypal images also make an appearance: Gandalf as a personification of the archetypal image of the Wise Old Man, Gollum (more debatably) as that of the Devouring Mother and, finally, the Ring as the archetypal image of the Self. Matthews also makes a few good and original points, e.g. when she interprets the spiders of Mirkwood attacking Bilbo as psychic fixations that have to be resisted, or that Smaug is not killed by Bilbo since Tolkien wants him to remain ‘Everyman’ and therefore prevents him from passing into the epic hero category. This point illustrates how psychoanalytical criticism can contribute successfully to a deeper understanding of structural-narratological points.

On the whole, Matthews’s paper is a good example of the strength and weaknesses of the Jungian approach, which is why I have given her so much space. Her discussion illustrates, on the one hand, that the application of Jungian categories can provide some new insights and, especially, is able to highlight those ‘archetypal motifs’ that The Hobbit shares with folk tales and fairy stories. On the other hand, it (unwittingly) brings to the fore some of the more problematic aspects of Jungian literary criticism. The most obvious danger, in my view, consists in the critic’s ‘uncritical’ identification of archetypal images and motifs. I would like to discuss this by means of three slightly differing examples: the Ring as the archetypal image of the Self, Gandalf as the embodiment of the archetypal image of the Wise Old Man, and the question of who or what represents the (or a) Shadow.

Rings, just like jewels, often symbolise the archetypal image of the Self. Yet whereas jewels occur quite frequently as obvious symbols of the Self in the Tolkien’s writings,21) rings are a bit more problematic in the context of his universe. Melkor coveted and stole the Silmarils, but neither he nor any of the other Valar has ever been able to create anything like the Silmarils (read: to attain Selfhood). They are the product of elvish craft working in harmony with the divine light of inspiration. Rings, by contrast, seem associated less with inspiration and divine light than with enslavement and power. Jung has noted that rings often function as embodiments of the archetypal image of the Self because of their perfect round shapes, which stand for the ‘wholeness’ and self-sufficiency of the Self. Most of Tolkien’s rings, and especially the Ring, have a different meaning and it takes a good deal of blindness towards the narrative context to equate the Ring with the Jungian symbol for the Self – as Matthews (2003:32) does.22) One is tempted to repeat Tolkien’s famous dictum concerning the relationship between ‘his’ ring and Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs: ‘Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.’ The same is very much true for ‘Jungian rings’ in Tolkien’s work. The lesson to be learnt from such blatant misidentifications is clear: Jungian archetypal images are universal, but the symbols representing them are not. Rings may symbolise the Self – or they may not. It depends, as so often, on the context and the author, and a responsible critic must crosscheck his or her interpretation of the symbols against the actual textual evidence; otherwise we are running the grave danger that everything becomes everything.23) Let us now turn to Gandalf as my second example.

The wizard, as most Jungian critics agree, exhibits the typical traits of the Wise Old Man archetypal image, both in his outward appearance and in his behaviour. Indeed, Gandalf would be an ideal choice if one were asked by someone unfamiliar with Jung’s ideas to provide a typical example of this archetypal image; to try and expound the similarities between the Wise Old Man and Gandalf is likely to produce tautologies – Gandalf is the Wise Old Man, and the Wise Old Man is Gandalf.24) However, Gandalf is not only the Wise Old Man archetypal image! It would be more accurate to describe him as the one protagonist in The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) who comes closest to the archetypal image, that it is so prominent in him that we are sorely tempted to disregard all the other traits and see him solely as the Wise Old Man. Yet, literary critics must not yield to such a temptation – their duty is first and foremost to the text, which presents us, in this and in most other cases, a literary character that is more than an archetypal image. It is Gandalf, the literary character, who undergoes the process of individuation, who ‘meets’ his Shadow in form of the Balrog of Moria, confronts and ‘incorporates’ it so that he is able to return as Gandalf the White.25)

The archetypal image of the Shadow just mentioned is one of the most central and, in Jung’s own view, one of the most important archetypes.26) It contains the repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and socially not acceptable (primitive) instincts and impulses. Jung describes his first encounter with his personal Shadow in a dream as follows:

It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was lying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers. (Jung quoted in O’Neill 1979:27)

Jung awoke with the realization that the dark follower was nothing more than his own shadow cast on the mist by the flickering candle and interpreted it as the archetypal image of his personal Shadow, whereas the candle represents the light of consciousness. Coming to terms with one’s Shadow is one of the most crucial tasks in the process of individuation and Shadow figures play a prominent role in literature27) – which is why critics have been ready to identify ‘Shadow figures’ in Tolkien’s work. They often make only a brief yet crucial appearance, such as the Balrog of Moria or the Oathbreakers on the Paths of the Dead. Tolkien presents the latter as a shadowy mass, and it is only in Peter Jackson’s interpretation that the Shadow becomes more personal by means of the confrontation between Aragorn Elessar and the nameless King of the Dead. This is part of the aforementioned ‘psychologisation’ of Aragorn in the movies and fits the Jungian pattern of individuation nicely. The identification of additional Shadow figures is more controversial, not least since most of them are autonomous characters and no mere spectres or ‘demons’. Nevertheless, several critics have pointed out that many of the protagonists in The Lord of the Rings possess a kind of ‘shadow figure counterpart’: Frodo vs. Gollum, Théoden vs. Denethor, Aragorn vs. Boromir, Gandalf vs. Saruman, Sam vs. Ted Sandyman, Tom Bombadil vs. the Barrow-wight, Galadriel vs. Shelob etc. Of those, only the pairing of Frodo and Gollum as his ‘dark alter ego’ is undisputed and alternative groupings have been offered for some of the other characters, such as Aragorn vs. the Ringwraiths (Grant 1981/2004:97/174) or Aragorn vs. Denethor (Kotowski 1992:149).28) The listed examples give a good idea of how vaguely the term ‘shadow’ is used. None of these ‘shadowy figures’ could possibly be identified with the Jungian Shadow proper, even though all of them contain (to varying degrees) some shadow energy, i.e. aspects of the Jungian Shadow.

Let me illustrate this point by means of Gollum, whom I see as ‘Frodo gone wrong’ rather than as his personal Shadow. Gollum, when we first meet him, represents a person who has been taken over by his Shadow, but whose former self (Sméagol = Stinker) is still around and able to re-establish itself, at least temporarily, under favourable circumstances. He is thus obviously an autonomous character with individual personal traits and no mere archetypal image.29) The same applies more or less to all the other figures.30) Galadriel, for instance, is clearly a personification of the benevolent side of the Anima, and as such structurally related to the White Goddess and her ‘Christian’ personification, the Virgin Mary.31) Yet even so she still possesses her ‘threatening side’, as becomes evident in Frodo’s vision of the elven queen as “tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful” (LotR 366). Gollum and Frodo, looked at from a distance, come close to being ‘Ego’ and ‘Shadow’, but they are always more than that. This is born out by the climactic confrontation at the Sammath Naur on Mount Doom. Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger with the Ring on it, slips and falls into the Fire below, where both Gollum and the Ring are destroyed. Critics interpret this dramatic event different ways. Kotowski (1992:149), for example, argues that the destruction of evil and the lack of a happy ending for Frodo illustrate how Jungian Tolkien’s thinking is. Frodo has failed to ‘integrate’ his Shadow (i.e. Gollum) and the resulting fits of depression are the consequences of a miscarried individuation and the loss of an important part of his personality. Such an interpretation makes sense only as long as one does not stick to the text too closely. In my view, it is Frodo’s actual personal Shadow that has finally taken possession of him when he claimed the Ring by putting it on his finger.32) Gollum has been and remains an external agent, linked to Frodo through their shared experiences and their special relationship. He ‘rescues’ Frodo from the dominance of his Shadow, and in doing so he cripples him physically as well as psychologically.33) Flieger’s comment on the passage is also of interest. Frodo’s battle, she argues, is thus “not against darkness without but against darkness within” (Flieger 1981/2004:59/144). She continues:

It is characteristic of Tolkien, however, that he does not end on this note [i.e. with Frodo defeated, as Beowulf is]. Frodo loses, but in losing he wins a greater victory. The climax is designed to show that just as surely as Frodo’s action is inevitable, so is Gollum’s. Frodo will put on the Ring, and Gollum will be driven to seize it. In so doing he saves Frodo and destroys the Ring. Frodo’s dark side, externalized as Gollum, destroys the actual dark within him, and the maddened Gollum, exulting in possession, falls with the Ring into the fire. Evil destroys itself. (Flieger 1981/2004:60/144)

The problem here is that Flieger mixes categories. She no longer sticks to a purely Jungian framework but introduces ‘moral’ categories, so that we end up with a ‘Manichean’ dichotomy. The Shadow, a non-moralistic category in Jung, is turned into the moral-religious category ‘evil’, which cannot, of course, be ‘incorporated’ but must be vanquished and, if possible, destroyed. By doing so she is probably closer to Tolkien’s original intention than a purely Jungian interpretation, but the analysis is not without internal contradictions.

Tucev (2005), as the most recent critic34) to comment on the climactic confrontation between Frodo and Gollum, argues for making the important distinction between Gollum as the embodiment of the power shadow and Sméagol, the ‘gold in the dark side’, who becomes Frodo’s ally. Her interpretation of events follows Robert Bly’s concept of the five stages in the development of one’s relationship with the shadow. In the fifth and final stage, “we attempt to retrieve or, as Bly poetically puts it, to eat our shadow. At the physical plane, it looks as if Gollum has eaten Frodo’s finger; at the inner plane, it is actually Frodo who has eaten his shadow, so that its outer manifestation no longer needs to exist and therefore disappears in the chasm” (Tucev 2005:103). The result is a sadder but also wiser Frodo.

The text supports Tucev’s analysis as far as it goes, yet I’m not sure whether Frodo could be considered an example of a successful individuation – the confrontations with the various Shadow figures (Ringwraiths, Shelob, Gollum) have left him not only a wiser and sadder man, but also maimed and no longer at ease within this world.

As the discussion of these studies has shown, literary critics using a Jungian approach often run into self-contradictions and problems as soon as they neglect to differentiate between archetypal images, moral-religious categories, and literary characters or protagonists. The latter may very well participate in the process of individuation or can be assessed within a moral framework, whereas an archetypal image constitutes a non-moral and a-personal category.35) Literary critics – or Jungian psychoanalysts working in the field – must take care to distinguish clearly between these levels. At the same time it is absolutely necessary to relate the results of an analysis of the archetypal images and motifs to the larger literary framework of the story, which includes protagonists, plot, and ethics. It is simply not enough to demonstrate that, for example, Gandalf is a personification of the Wise Old Man. The identification of archetypal images and motifs is a necessary first task to be done in the analysis of a text. In a next step, the results have to be made relevant for the discussion of the aesthetic, ethical and literary dimension of the work – and this is where most critics falter. Skogemann’s study is a good example and represents, to my mind, a failure because she has not related her ‘psychoanalytical (Jungian) reading’ to the literary dimension of The Lord of the Rings. Even O’Neill does not do so; but in his case this is due to the conscious decision to focus on the mythical dimension of Tolkien’s fiction. His book is primarily concerned with uncovering the overall mythical structure of the Professor’s work, to place the more ‘novelistic-epic’ narratives within the overarching and larger context of the Legendarium and, thus, to contribute to a deeper understanding of the creative ‘mythopoetic’ impulse. His ‘reading’ does not replace or make redundant – or even pretend to be – a literary critical analysis but is best seen as an enriching, complementary approach.

There is undoubtedly something in Tolkien’s work that invites a reading within a Jungian framework and most of his writings have a distinct ‘mythic’ quality, as can be most clearly perceived in The Silmarillion. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, too, partake in this ‘mythic discourse’, although to a somewhat lesser degree. Many of his protagonists are closer to the ‘flat’ characters of myths or fairy stories, which Jungians consider reflections of the collective unconscious. As a consequence, the ‘novelistic veneer’ on most of Tolkien’s figures is very thin indeed, and the archetypal image – or its archetypal component – is often so close to the surface that it is shining through. It is therefore tempting to forget that one is not dealing with a myth per se, but with a consciously and artistically elaborated piece of fiction.36) Of course, Tolkien would have been exceedingly pleased by the ‘mythic’ effect, interpreting it as proof for the efficacy of his little scheme of passing off his writings as ‘editions and translations’.

Why, then, do critics often stop as soon as they have identified the archetypal images. For many of them, the simple identification of Jungian archetypal images is the answer indeed – often forgetting to tell us the initial question, which must be something like ‘Why does The Lord of the Rings have such an overwhelming emotional impact on me and on others?’

This ‘emotional response problem’ is not, unfortunately, limited to the Jungian approach and has hampered the development of Tolkien criticism for decades. It is one thing to like a book, but another to analyse and assess it as a piece of literature. One may discover that one does not like a book of undoubted literary quality, whereas one responds enthusiastically to a trashy novel (the reverse is, of course, as likely). The Lord of the Rings especially seems to have ‘spoken’ to many of its readers via its archetypal images and motifs and elicited, as is to be expected from archetypal images, a strong emotional response. This emotional response has baffled many critical readers, not least since they are aware that this effect cannot be explained by style, plot-structure or other ‘conventional’ literary categories – and instigated an investigation into the origins of this phenomenon. However, emotional involvement and its explanation do not constitute legitimate literary criticism. They may have a place in reader-response studies, but they should not make up the end-point of a literary analysis. Unfortunately, a great part of ‘Tolkien criticism’ seems to have its origin in the understandable desire to prove that the book so ardently loved is also a ‘good’ book in a literary sense,37) and ‘literary criticism’ becomes another way of exploring the reader’s psyche.

I have taken Matthews’s paper as an early (flawed) example to discuss some of the problems and challenges posed by a psychoanalytical approach, and we may expect matters to improve with time. This has been, unfortunately, not the case. As mentioned, O’Neill’s monograph of 1979 constitutes a major landmark in the uncovering of the Legendarium’s mythical-archetypal structure. After that, only a handful of papers on the topic have been published. Most of them focus on clearly limited aspects of Tolkien’s fictional output and although the findings often constitute valuable additions to our growing knowledge about the Professor’s work and contribute to a better understanding of the texts, they seem to have made (comparatively speaking) little impact on the overall development in the field. I see three reasons for this. Firstly, literary criticism within a Jungian framework has a long tradition (going back to Jung himself), but it never became as widespread or influential as its ‘Freudian’ counterpart.38) Secondly, scholars working in this tradition seem blissfully ignorant of their predecessors’ work and, thus, prone to begin their analysis each time from scratch. Of all the scholars known to me, only Skogemann makes a reference to a predecessor.39) As a consequence, we lack the critical dialogue that is necessary for the establishment of a tradition. Thirdly, many of the scholars working with a Jungian approach seem to be not very conversant with the state of the art in Tolkien criticism, to say the least, and even their grasp of the primary texts of the Legendarium is sometimes doubtful.40) This is, of course, detrimental to their work and lessens their impact considerably. What we need are competent Tolkien scholars who study Jung’s ideas and use them in their discussion of the Professor’s work rather than Jungians sauntering for a brief spell into the field of Tolkien studies.

My discussion of Tolkien’s work within a Jungian framework may have given the impression that I am somewhat critical of such an approach. In truth, my critical stance is the result of disappointment rather than basic opposition. Jungian literary criticism is, in my opinion, a method very well suited for the exploration of the psychological dimension of Tolkien’s fiction. The Professor has obviously succeeded in creating a work of art rooted in the Western tradition that ‘speaks’ to millions of readers, and a Jungian approach can give a reason for this success, namely that The Lord of the Rings constitutes a compensatory set of archetypal images that our age and culture requires for greater balance.41)

Yet, the ‘congeniality’ of the Jungian framework also harbours some grave dangers – as the preceding review has shown. To wit, it is not always easy to talk meaningfully about the mythical structures and elements by means of equally ‘mythical’ language and images, as habitually used in Jungian criticism. The subject of the analysis becomes too easily confused with the concepts and terminology of what should be the meta-language; the ‘critical’ distance between ‘theory’ and ‘object’ is often dangerously small and causes scholars to confuse and mix the two levels. To make matters worse, Tolkien’s protagonists often oscillate between mythical archetypal images and ‘flat novelistic characters’ – a phenomenon which, of course, invites such a confusion of levels. Although the effect on the critics is deplorable, it is this ‘hybridisation’ of archetypal characteristics and ‘realism’ (lacking a better term to describe the ‘realist traits’) that contributes to the fascination of Tolkien’s work. Future studies must build on the works of past critics and, as some have already attempted, go beyond the mere identification of archetypal images and motifs and explore the complex relationship between archetypal elements and their literary presentation and functions in Tolkien’s work. The situation in the field is comparable to the one in ‘medieval source studies’ some decades ago; it took some time until critics left the positivistic approach of merely listing the sources, parallels and analogues behind and dared to tread upon new critical ground.

Jungian readings have to offer more than ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a halfling who, together with some helper-figures, became a wiser and individuated hobbit’ – even though such a reading is not incorrect.

On Tolkiendil

1) Most prominently by Freud himself, e.g. in his essay ‘The Uncanny’ (1919) where he discusses E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale ‘The Sandman’. See also Freud’s discussions of works by Shakespeare, Goethe, and Dostoevsky in Das Unheimliche. Aufsätze zur Literatur.
2) See Walker (2002:145), who comments: “Such reductive criticism attempted to explain the text primarily in terms of the author’s psychobiography.” See also Vladimir Nabokov’s numerous and forceful attacks against the ‘Viennese witch doctor’.
3) See Flieger’s perceptive remark on Aragorn: “We are not like him, and we know it. We admire him, but we do not identify with him.” (Flieger 1981/2004:41/124).
4) Many of these are no literary critics per se, nor are their versions and theories primarily intended for literary criticism (pace Lacan). Nevertheless, literary critics use their theories, whatever their original intention was.
5) I will limit my discussion to Jungian approaches proper and disregard studies that use related (yet differing) theories, such as Anne C. Petty’s books that make use of Joseph Campbell’s ideas. I have also disregarded books like the one by Schwarz (2003), who simply cannot be taken seriously.
6) Jung’s dream-vision of Europe being inundated by a great flood occurred in October 1913 (see Jung 2009b:196) and could be interpreted as a foreshadowing of WWI. Tolkien mentions his dream of the “ineluctable Wave” in Letter 257 (Tolkien 1981:347).
7) Synchronicity is defined as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated, yet that occur together in a meaningful manner.
8) See especially Lewis (1969) and Barfield (1988:133-141). See also Grant (1981/2004:89/165).
9) I use the term in a Jungian sense of the word. For a discussion of the structure of the psyche according to Jung, see Jacobi (2008:17-27).
10) “The collective unconsciousness, being the repository of man’s experience and at the same time the prior condition of this experience, is an image of the world which has taken aeons to form. In this image certain features, the archetypes or dominants, have crystallized out in the course of time. They are the ruling powers, the gods, images of the dominant laws and principles, and of typical, regularly occurring events in the soul’s cycle of experience.” (Jung quoted in Walker 2002:10).
11) Bilbo’s ring was, in the first-edition text of The Hobbit, merely a magic ring. Its re-conceptualisation as the one Ring led to the alterations in the text as found in the second and subsequent editions of The Hobbit. See Anderson (2002, especially 128-136).
12) Exploring the unconscious is no trifling matter. Jung (2009b:199) is very clear about the risks involved, and Tolkien’s comments (voiced via his ‘spokesperson’ Ramer in ‘The Notion Club Papers’) on the dangers of myths read almost like a description of archetypes gone wild: “I don’t think any of us realize the force, the daimonic force that the great myths and legends have. […] from the multiplication of them in many minds – and each mind, mark you, an engine of obscured but unmeasured energy. They are like an explosive: it may slowly yield a steady warmth to living minds, but if suddenly detonated, it might go off with a crash: yes: might produce a disturbance in the real primary world. / […] we may have all been helping to stir something up. If not out of history, at any rate out of a very powerful world of imagination and memory. […] perhaps of both.” (Sauron Defeated 228/253). See also Bachmann and Honegger (2005) for a detailed discussion of the historical context of this passage.
13) Jung (2009b:206-207) discusses the question whether his ‘fantasies’ constitute ‘art’, as his ‘Anima’ is suggesting, and reaches the conclusion that they are not to be considered ‘art’.
14) Thus, we find ‘Torben’ (p. 36) for English Ted Sandyman, and ‘Dysterharge’ (p. 114) for English Dunharrow.
15) I give Walker’s (2002) definitions since they are, to my mind, both concise and accessible to the layperson. Archetype “designates an unconscious and unrepresentable element of the instinctual structure of the human psyche, and the more proper term to use for one of the pictures of an archetype that the human mind is capable of representing is archetypal image. […] From the treasure house of archetypal images are drawn the elements, the archetypal motifs, of mythology” (Walker 2002:4). “There are as many archetypes as there are “normal human situations” and relationships over which they preside, from getting into a fight […] to falling in love like Romeo and Juliet. […] The list of archetypes is nearly endless.” (Walker 2002:10).
16) “The anima, the archetype of the feminine, [… is the] psychic representation of the sexual instinct [in man]” and compensates for man’s conscious masculinity (Walker 2002:41).
17) The Shadow is part of the unconscious mind, consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. It may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.
18) “In individuation the individual integrates, at least to some degree, the inner world of split-off personalities based on unconscious identifications, withdraws projections, and realizes to some extent the archetype of the Self, the foundation for the secure sense of self-identity.” (Walker 2002:33).
19) Walker’s use of ‘evolution’ obviously differs from the Darwinian sense of the term.
20) Patrick Grant’s more balanced paper was first published in the winter 1973 issue of Cross Currents (and is now available online on the Cross Currents website). However, it did not reach a wider public until Isaacs and Zimbardo selected it for their volume of Tolkien criticism, which was published in 1981.
21) To mention only the most prominent ones: the Silmarils, the Arkenstone, Elessar the Elfstone, and Aragorn attaining Selfhood as Elessar = Elfstone.
22) Tucev (2005:99) gives a more convincing interpretation of the Ring: “The power with which the Ring endows its bearer is apparently shadow energy, inherent in the suppressed contents of the psyche, which the Ring seems to be able to reclaim. In other words, the Ring seems to act like an evil matchmaker, arranging a marriage between the ego and the shadow on the unwholesome ground of a power trip. Soon enough, in such an alliance, the ego finds itself under the sway of the power it wanted to wield.”
23) Thus, Matthews (2003:36) identifies Smaug’s treasure as yet another symbol of the Self.
24) Gandalf’s first appearance in The Hobbit is that of “an old man with a staff” (Hobbit 5), the archetypal image of the Old Wise Man, and it is only later that we (and Bilbo) get to know his name. Even Gandalf’s self-identification plays with this: “I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!” (Hobbit 6) He is, however, not so much a helper-figure than a leader.
25) I have reformulated the description of this ‘process’ in Jungian terms in order to bring out this aspect more clearly. The original text draws its imagery and motifs from the Christian tradition of the angelic battle against the devils, which would suggest a confrontational dualism and thus an elimination rather than an ‘incorporation’ of the dark side. My thanks to Damien Bador for pointing this out to me.
26) Cf. Walker (2002:34).
27) See, for example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and the Monster, or Valentin and Orson (in the Middle English romance of the same name).
28) Unfortunately, Kotowski does not provide an explanation for her (not really self-evident) choice. Presumably, the connection is to be made via Denethor’s ‘shadow-kingship’ (i.e. stewardship) vs. Aragorn’s legitimate kingship.’
29) See Flieger (1981/2004:58/143) who identifies Frodo and Gollum as “what psychology calls the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, the overt personality and its opposite, the light and dark sides of one’s nature. Jung calls this other side of mankind the ‘shadow’ as contrasted with the overt and recognized ‘ego.’” However, Flieger (1981/2004:59/143) also warns us not to read Gollum as an allegorical personification, but points out that he is “a full realized character in his own right, with a considerable part to play in the story. But he can suggest these other things as well.”
30) Shelob being the notable exception: as a descendant of Ungoliant, she has her origin outside Arda.
31) See Tolkien (1981:172) in Letter 142, where he indirectly confirms Robert Murray’s (Societas Jesu) opinion that Galadriel is a representation of the Virgin Mary. Tolkien was trying to come to terms with the nature of Galadriel almost all his life, and changed his opinon on her motivation and character several times. My claim to see her as an Anima figure pertains only to her appearance in the Lothlorien episode, and not to the 'historical' Galadriel figure in her entirety.
32) This interpretation is in agreement with Shippey’s (2000:140-142) analysis of the situation.
33) The rather obvious ‘castration symbolism’ has been pointed out before. Flieger (1981/2004:60/144), moreover, associates Frodo of the Nine Fingers with the Maimed King of the Grail legend.
34) Skogemann’s (2009:32-34) ‘discussion’ of the passage does not get beyond a mere summary of the action.
35) Jung (2009:208), however, argues explicitly in favour of a personification of contents of the unconscious, which makes Walker (2002:17) comment as follows: “Jung’s willingness to personify the archetypes of the unconscious is perhaps the most controversial dimension of his theory. It is one thing to describe archetypes as mental expressions of instincts. It is something else to describe them as animated beings with a consciousness of their own.” The implicit question being whether such a ‘personified’ archetype is able or even supposed to partake in the process of individuation.
36) The literary critics working with a Jungian approach are not the only ones to forget this. The lack of a competent, comprehensive and sustained in-depth analysis of Tolkien’s style (pace Walker 2009) is rather telling.
37) This is not the place to enter into an extended analysis of Tolkien criticism, and I can merely point to the other popular trend in the field, i.e. that of defending The Lord of the Rings as a morally good book – which is not really literary criticism either.
38) This is primarily true for Europe. In America, Jung has had a much greater impact on literary studies.
39) The situation is as follows: Skogemann (2009) lists O’Neill (1979), but neither Tucev (2005) nor O’Neill (1979) nor Grant (1973/1981/2004) list or mention any secondary literature on Tolkien and Jung. Matthews (1975) does not list any secondary literature at all.
40) O’Neill being the laudable exception to the latter.
41) See Walker (2002:21).
essais/tolkien_1892-2012/thomas_honegger.txt · Dernière modification: 06/04/2020 18:47 (modification externe)
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