J.R.R. Tolkien and the morality of monstrosity

Fawcett, Christina (2014) J.R.R. Tolkien and the morality of monstrosity. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3031910


This thesis asserts that J.R.R. Tolkien recreates Beowulf for the twentieth century. His 1936 lecture, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ sets the tone not only for twentieth century criticism of the text, but also Tolkien’s own fictional project: creating an imagined world in which ‘new Scripture and old tradition touched and ignited’ (‘B: M&C’ 26). At the core of his analysis of Beowulf, and at the core of his own Middle-earth, are the monsters. He creates creatures that are an ignition of past and present, forming characters that defy allegory and simple moral categorization. To demonstrate the necessity of reading Tolkien’s Middle-earth through the lens of his 1936 lecture, I begin by examining the broad literary source material that Tolkien draws into his creative process. I assert that an understanding of the formation of monstrosity, from classical, Augustinian, late medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Gothic sources, is fundamental to seeing the complexity, and thus the didactic element, of Tolkien’s monsters.
As a medieval scholar and professor, Tolkien’s focus on the educational potential of a text appears in his critical work and is enacted in his fiction. Tolkien takes on a mode
of writing categorized as Wisdom Literature: he writes a series of texts that demonstrate the imperative lesson that ‘swa sceal man don’ (so shall man do) found in Beowulf.
Tolkien’s fiction takes up this challenge, demonstrating for the reader what a hero must do when faced with the moral and physical challenge of the monster.
Monsters are a primarily didactic tool, demonstrating vice and providing challenges for the hero to overcome. Monsters are at the core of Tolkien’s critical reading; it must be
at the core of ours.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: J.R.R. Tolkien, Monsters, Beowulf, Medieval Literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Maslen, Dr. Robert and Smith, Professor Jeremy
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Dr. Christina Fawcett
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-4993
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2014 07:46
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2014 07:51
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/4993

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