Tolkien Home Page
External Links
Kleinman Home Page


Cultural developments since the end of the Middle Ages had made little impact on the face of the English landscape. The major change was the loss of the great, ancient forests, sacrificed to the building of the largest naval force in the world. But the nineteenth century brought the Industrial Revolution, the building factories, new houses, quarries, and coal mines, as well as new roads and railways cutting through the countryside. Much of the population moved to the urban areas, many which grew as large as London had once been. The changes, encouraged by rapid advances in technology, were not embraced eagerly by everyone. As early as 1812 workers in the textile mills of Leicestershire erupted in violence in protest over their replacement by labour-saving machines. The rioters were called Luddites (named after a farm labourer who had destroyed such machines in the late 1700s), a word which has since become synonymous with opposition to industrial change. Despite such reactions, the pace of change could not be stopped. The English countryside had been largely transformed by the time of Tolkien's birth in 1892, and, although it was still possible in places to experience England as it had once been, these places were rapidly disappearing.

Tolkien has been called by the Los Angeles Times a "a neo-Luddite who never owned a car" (19 December 2001). Of course, only an Angeleno could connect not owning a car with Ludditism. In Tolkien's Oxford, nearly everything was within easy reach by bicycle or bus. To add to the irony, the name of the dragon Smaug in Tolkien's The Hobbit is frequently mispronounced by readers as 'smog' (a word which first came into being in 1905, only about 30 years before Tolkien began the book). But the charge has some truth. Tolkien bitterly resented the effect of industrialism on the countryside, as well as on its traditional way of life. This is nowhere more evident than in his representation of the Shire, the culture of which is deliberately evocative of the England of the late 1800s. The chapter on "The Scouring of the Shire" is Tolkien's response to the effect of industrialism and its lifestyle. However, Tolkien's attitude may be detected more subtly in his portrayal of Saruman's Orthanc ('cunning mind'). However, the heavily archaic nature of Tolkien's interests and writing may also be seen as a typically Victorian response to the social and physical changes England underwent as a result of industrialism. For instance, the Gothic style, which represented the high-point of medieval art and architecture, was extensively copied during the nineteenth century, including the famous Houses of Parliament in London. Artists and writers turned to medieval stories for their inspiration, notably Tennyson in his poem "Idylls of the King" and Pre-Raphaelites like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones in many of their paintings. The decorative arts were influenced by medieval designs, most notably in the work of William Morris, also a translator of Old Norse sagas. In general, the retreat into archaism typified the arts of the late nineteenth century. The advent of Modernism in the 1920s changed all that, and it is Tolkien's refusal to jump on the bandwagon which has opened him up to criticism.

Wake Green Road -- The Dell

Tolkien's dislike of the effect of industrialisation on the English landscape is particularly worthy of note, evident as it is in his creation of the prehistoric forests of Fangorn, Mirkwood, and the Old Forest. The conflict between the Ents and the Entwives may also be approached from this direction. However, it must be said that the primaeval mountains and forests of Middle-Earth are not representative of the English countryside, either as Tolkien knew it, or as it had once been. These we must attribute to his imagination, though perhaps also to dramatised American landscapes (Tolkien had an boyhood devotion to tales of 'Red Indians'). It is thus perhaps no accident that even Tolkien's worst critics have praised him for his description of landscape, and that the makers of the recent film of the The Lord of the Rings felt that reproducing it was one of their primary responsibilities. Tolkien has also been embraced by the environmental movement since the sixties; in this he may connect with our own turning from industrialism and longing for an older, more 'natural' existence.

[Return to Top | Return to Topics Page]

Home Page | Introduction | Syllabus | Assignments | Bibliography
| Topics | External Links | Credits | Kleinman Home Page
Last Update: 30 January, 2004