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Old 11-07-2021, 01:11 PM   #1
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Tolkien and Isolationism

With the pandemic and lockdowns I've used the opportunity over the last year+ to reread all the Tolkien books I own. And with the current state of the world, I've been thinking a lot about Tolkien's views on isolation coming through in his books? Is isolationism viewed negatively? What are its pitfalls?

This is more random, unconnected observations about Tolkien and isolation, but I hope it spurs some interesting discussions...

My first thought goes to the pitfalls of isolationism, because I immediately think of what Gildor says to the hobbits:

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out."~Three is Company
At the same time, hobbit society, their way of living seems to be portrayed as an idyllic society. In hobbit society, isolation appears to be portrayed as an ideal, but the real world makes isolation unsustainable. As Gildor alludes to, whether they like it or not, events in the wider world will threaten the Shire and hobbits will eventually be forced to make choices.

But isolationism, at least in Book I of Fellowship of the Ring, feels like it's portrayed more as a positive ideal, than being associated with something evil. In The Two Towers and Return of the King, there seems to be a noticeable change.

Gandalf is the biggest mover and shaker in the events of the Third Age, the "wandering wizard," who never stays in one place for long, is the beacon of what is good. And those who fortify, isolate themselves in one place are evil (Sauron, Saruman and Denethor).

Denethor lauged bitterly. "Nay not yet, Master Peregrin! He will not come save only to triumph over me when all is won. He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise, Master Halfling. Or why should I sit here in my tower and think, and watch, and wait, spending even my sons? For I can still wield a brand."~The Siege of Gondor
Denethor is trying to make the argument that locking himself in a tower and spending even his sons as pawns is a positive thing. It's something "all great lords do." We know this to be false, because he compares the decision to "sit here in my tower and think, and watch, and wait" to "Sauron does it!"

So, there seems to be a change in Tolkien's views of isolationism, from The Fellowship of the Ring to The Two Towers and Return of the King. Bombadil is an isolationist (Gandalf refers to him as a "moss-gatherer") but Bombadil is quite the opposite of Sauron or even Denethor. He is a helpful figure and key to getting the hobbits through the Old Forest. Any thoughts on why this change? Was it intentional?
Fenris Penguin

Last edited by Boromir88; 11-07-2021 at 02:07 PM.
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