Suite101: The Over the Bree-hill Gang Rides Again - Michael Martinez' J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

In his latest Suite101 article, Michael Martinez observes that the problem with creating any sequel to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is that you can't bring in a new Dark Lord. A successor to Sauron invalidates the whole mythology.

Here is an excerpt:


The Lord of the Rings is not the kind of book which lends itself to a sequel. J.R.R. Tolkien realized that after making his first attempt to write The New Shadow. Today's fantasy audience has been denied the sense of finality which one experiences upon reading the words, "Well, I'm back". Not that this was the original ending for the story. Tolkien wanted some closure. He wanted to assure the reader that Sam would come out of his blue funk. He wanted the reader to understand that some of the High Elves had stayed behind.

But something final had been achieved in the War of the Ring: the last physical incarnation of evil had been overthrown. From that point forward, evil would manifest itself in the petty ambitions of men, not in the physical shapes of Dark Lords. Anyone writing about Middle-earth today would probably have a green hand climbing out of the slime in one of the last scenes. Glowing eyes would maliciously watch the White Ship vanish into the night from the woods. Someone would fail to notice that the King of the Barrow-wights had escaped Bombadil's careful watch.

Something would scream out, "Hey! Buy enough books, and we'll be back for more of the same!"

Tolkien gave us three fundamental evils which were all, in their own ways, defeated: completely defeated, finally, totally, without hope of eventual resurrection. First came Smaug. He was The Dragon. The ultimate monster. Smaug is not a paean to "Beowulf", he is a statement of what most fascinates us about monsters: they are big, mean, and ugly. Before the Japanese gave us Godzilla and his flying friends, Tolkien gave us Smaug cruising out of the skies, raking the pined slopes of Erebor with fire, and sending masses of screaming Dwarves to their doom. Dale was trashed before Tokyo.

Smaug is evil. No one doubts that. When Bilbo creeps down the tunnel to steal his little cup, he has no real idea of what a terrible power he is about to awaken. The dragon hasn't just kept men and dwarves from flourishing in the North. He has held back the forces of evil, too. Smaug is so powerful no one dares venture near him: not birds, not squirrels, not Orcs, not Wargs. Not no one.

But, like all good dragons, Smaug gets his comeuppance. A mere man slays the beast and saves the day, and though the Battle of Five Armies is a tense moment the reader is permitted (with Bilbo) to sleep through the worst of it. We only learn how things fared afterward.


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