Reading Day

In lieu of our Reading Day meeting, here are a few thoughts about the official topic: Nature and Industrialisation. Please comment if you find anything that interests you. We can then all read the comments and respond. It’s a bit longwinded but at least we can share our thoughts.

It has been suggested that we should finish our reading of The Hobbit in a similar way for our next meeting. I will try to post some thoughts of my own for that meeting which would be the first in April. Meanwhile, here are some ideas about the Reading Day topic:

Reading Day 2020

 Nature and Industrialisation

 A few ideas gleaned from The Return of the Rings Proceedings.

Larissa Budde argues in her essay that rather than a complete dislike of Industrialisation Tolkien actually takes a nuanced view it. At its worst it is equated with ‘domination and infertile uniformity’ and with actions that cannot be healed.

He doesn’t object to ‘moderate, useful technology’.

I would ask – is technology the same as Industrialisation, and don’t we need to define ‘Industrialisation’ when discussing its evocation in Tolkien’s work?

Can we say why exactly Tolkien objects to Industrialisation, because nature always takes things back, as he obviously knew. Is it just that the romanticised view of nature and the bucolic environment was part of his own cultural environment that became enhanced by personal experience?

If we look carefully at his work, isn’t nature shown to be just as difficult to live with, and dangerous because of its objective relationship to mortal-type life forms, as industrialisation, only in different ways?

And how do things like the dragons and the trolls fit into the topic?

Jim Clarke took a radical view of Tolkien and Industrialisation by looking at Russian plagiarised versions of Tolkien’s works. By doing so he opens up other questions:

Clarke asks ‘are the Elves frightened by enlightened scientific progress so that the frighten Men into destroying it?’

Clarke draws on Kirill Yeskov’s work to consider the extent to which Industrialisation is aligned with the vexed question of racial stereotyping in Tolkien’s work, so that it becomes linked to orcs because they are the slaves of Saruman and Sauron.

Does Tolkien wilfully ignore the view of nature that Tennyson described as ‘red in tooth and claw’, and the reality of rural life which had always been blighted by poverty, although mid-19th century depictions had largely glamorised it?

Do we learn something about ourselves if we examine our own willingness to go along with Tolkien’s investment in nostalgia and his opposition of the natural world to Industrialisation and ‘progress’?


5 thoughts on “Reading Day

  1. Concerning the definition of technology and industrialisation I would
    define technology as being equal to knowledge i.e. the
    theories/information required in order to develop an idea into a
    practical reality. If this development turns out to be useful to a
    particular section of society or, indeed, to everyone it then needs
    industrialisation in order to produce it in sufficient quantities. It
    goes without saying that these ideas can be put to both good and bad
    purposes. This can be seen throughout Tolkien’s works. For instance,
    Fëanor uses technology i.e. knowledge to create the Silmarils and the
    Palantíri. Sauron similarly uses technology to create the One Ring and
    the Númenóreans build Orthanc with impenetrable stone. However, these
    technologies do not by themselves require industrialisation in any big way.
    Where industrialisation does take place in Tolkien’s works it generally
    concerns the requirements of warfare. Saruman, Morgoth and Sauron all
    create vast industrial complexes to build weapons and armour for orcs
    and other beings. These industrial complexes destroy the natural world,
    for instance by using trees to fire the furnaces and leaving the
    industrial landscape bare of life and toxic (if you have seen the recent
    film Dark Waters it shows how the toxic waste produced by chemical
    plants poisoned local inhabitants and destroyed wildlife just as Frodo
    is warned not to drink the water coming out the Morgul Vale). I am sure
    Tolkien could see that the growth of factories and other industrial
    complexes was ruining nature, poisoning rivers and much worse. The
    picture of the Shire under Saruman’s control possibly highlights this as
    it more easily reflects what happens in the real world where
    industrialists have no care for the natural environment and so turn a
    rural idyll into a filthy polluting eyesore.
    Regarding dragons and trolls these were made by Morgoth who used
    technology to either alter or corrupt existing beings. By definition
    these are not natural so are an offence against nature.

    Tolkien does appear to like the rosy coloured picture of a healthy rural
    life. He is clearly in favour of nature, especially trees, and only
    small scale industries such as wine making and tobacco factories. In
    many ways Tolkien did live in the past and would probably not have been
    an early adopter of modern technology if alive today. However Tolkien
    must have been aware that nature can also hit back with floods, droughts
    and much more so that an existence in a small farming community can also
    be precarious and that life was not always idyllic. Treebeard’s attack
    on Saruman is a clear example of the natural world hitting back and this
    could be seen as a precursor to the current climate change crisis where
    natural forces are reacting to years of industrial pollution.
    Nevertheless I am sure that Tolkien yearned for a Shire-like existence
    even if he thought such a way of life was not really possible.


    • Chris makes an interesting point that I don’t think we’ve ever discussed in the group in quite the way put forward here, when he connects technology and manufacturing with the scale on which they are used to produce things. So whatever the processes Feanor used to make the Silmarils, they are not scaled up to become industrialised even though they might have been such as informour understanding of industrialisation. This seems to me like a useful distinction. There are others here, but I’d like to see what everyone else has to say.


  2. Hello Lynn; and Chris , for your very engaging discussion above. Sitting here in a semi-industrial society probably like Tolkien’s , and going through the covid-19, I cannot but help feel the sheer and immediate relevance of Tolkien , here and now.

  3. Posting on behalf of Eileen,

    My take on the above:
    I believe one of the ways Tolkien revealed his attitude to both nature and industry was through the characters of Legolas and Gimli. These two, one an elf, the other a dwarf became separated from the main group, and had to depend on each other for a safe outcome. Tolkien portrayed them as characters with differing viewpoints. Legolas extolled the beauty and beneficial aspects of nature, while Gimli wanted to introduce Legolas to the different beauty of the skilled and detailed workmanship of his people, to the great halls, floors, walls and caves. Here Tolkien is giving us food for thought, and to inspire us to question ourselves. As readers did we appreciate the professionalism of the dwarves sufficiently, in their skill and pride at their achievements, detailed and skilled industry. I would argue that both Legolas and Gimli are an integral part of their society. In fact each has similarities, one loves and lives through nature, but of course Legolas would also have lived through the natural cruelty of nature, yet still admired and felt its beauty. Gimli came from a race that was probably cruelly treated at times yet built works of beauty and skill, which was their industry. Tolkien is showing us there is room for both nature and industry here. Legolas.and Gimli, throughout their journey agree to listen to each other’s viewpoint, and crucially to see,to empathise with each other. Workmanship like that of the dwarves is perhaps not on a par with industrialization but their industry mattered and was significant to that society.


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