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Narrating England: Tolkien, the twentieth century, and English cultural self-representation.

Jackson, Aaron Isaac (2015) Narrating England: Tolkien, the twentieth century, and English cultural self-representation. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis addresses the representation of England and Englishness in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham (1949), The Hobbit (1937), and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). Primarily questioning Tom Shippey’s interpretation of the same themes in The Road to Middle-Earth (1982, 2005) and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (2000), and offering a sustained analysis and evaluation of Shippey’s position and critical methodology as well as their endorsement by subsequent criticism, this thesis argues that Tolkien’s work does not position its representations of England as the unchanging pastoral idylls Shippey suggests. Rather, it proposes that through their prolonged examination of the importance of the relationship of location to narratives of English history, identity, and cultural self-representation, these texts self-consciously engage with the ways in which ideas of Englishness are serially made and remade. While focused on Tolkien’s treatment of England and Englishness throughout, the thesis takes the following trajectory. It begins by examining Shippey’s contention that the representation of these themes by Tolkien’s fiction was recuperative, idealising, and enshrining, investigating how and why this perspective has been critically endorsed and recycled. Establishing the enduring influence of Shippey’s work and critical methodology within Tolkien criticism, I argue that Shippey’s conclusions can be challenged by introducing the representations of England and Englishness presented by Tolkien’s work to alternative critical perspectives on the narration of the nation, notably those proposed by the work of Benedict Anderson and Ian Baucom. Outlining the ways in which Tolkien’s works operate similar strategies of representation to those of history and historiography in their fictive engagements with the historical and cultural narratives of English identity, I then move on to individual readings of each text. Arguing that the narratives do not ultimately consolidate prelapsarian visions of England and Englishness, these readings instead examine how the texts endorse the relationships between location, cultural identity, and history as mutual, coextensive, and subject to perennial change and reinvention.

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