28 Feb 2010

There is no place like home ! - A Journey trough Oz via Middle-Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien is the author whose work inspired many others to create their own epics. But which writers influenced Tolkien himself ? Especially in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit , and The Silmarillion one can find several influences : mythology (Greek-Finnish-Celtic-Norse-Anglo-Saxon), religion (Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic), philology (his own speciality), personal life experiences and of course, fairy-tales. In Lord of the Rings there are specific literature influences like the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf -Tolkien happened to be on of the world's expert on this ancient poem and he taught it at Oxford University to his students. Shakespeare's Macbeth may have inspired Tolkien to write about the Ents attacking Isengard which are very similar to Macbeth's Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. That said I personally believe that some inspiration for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings also came from fairy-tales which often use a very similar framework and maybe from other books that Tolkien may have read. Tolkien did specifically mention Edward Wyke-Smith's Marvellous Land of the Snergs which was a great source of inspiration in creating the hobbits . The Snergs are little people- Tolkien used to read this book to his children at bed time and they liked it very much. Many great fantasy/fairy-tales books were available to him...from Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland to L.Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) which contains many suggestive resemblances to The Lord of the Rings story.

I know...when one say Wizard of Oz, Middle-earth does not come automatically into one's mind but lets take a little trip down the 'yellow brick road' to see if we can find some clues. The main character is Dorothy , a young and simple girl from Kansas living with her uncle. Here the first similarity, Dorothy does in many ways remind me of the young hobbit Frodo Baggins, also living a simple life with his uncle Bilbo. Like Frodo , Dorothy is forced by events out of her control to leave her home and start an adventure. Dorothy's house has landed on top of the Wicked Witch of the East - Dorothy takes the witch's charmed silver shoes - The Good Witch of the North is also present, she will not exactly explain to Dorothy the meaning of the shoes but will send the young girl on her way to Oz - Gandalf in many ways does the same when he delivers news about the One Ring to Frodo in Bag End after the departure of Bilbo. Frodo has to take the road to Bree. Both Frodo and Dorothy, have now charmed/magic items that do not belong to them, and are now on a journey.

A small 'company' of friends soon joins Dorothy and her little dog Toto on her travels.The Scarecrow that desperately wants a brain. Next, the Tin Woodman, that longs to have a heart again and finally the Cowardly Lion that needs his courage. Going back to Middle-Earth , a small 'company' of friends joins Frodo on his travels. First Sam, Merry and Pippin, then Strider/Aragorn and finally Boromir,Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf. Both 'companies' meet many dangers on the road, such as ditches, a river, and terrifying creatures of all sorts. Both are followed by evil who is trying to get the charmed items back. The Wicked Witch of the West has one eye and she wants the Silver Shoes. One-eyed Sauron want the One Ring to Rule them All . They will unleash evil creatures and forces in pursuit of the items - winged monkeys, crows, bees, wolves and more in Oz. Nazguls, goblins, orcs, trolls and more in Middle-Earth.

The two stories are different, nevertheless some similarities are very noticeable. Dorothy will reach the Emerald City to be told by the Wizard of Oz she must kill the Wicket Witch of the West if she wants to go home. Frodo's quest is to destroy the One Ring which will destroy Sauron's hopes to rule Middle-Earth. They both succeed and at the end all they want is to go home. Dorothy goes back to Emerald City to see the Wizard again and here she discovered he is not real. Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Woodman do not need faked charms as they have found brain, heart and courage in their adventures with Dorothy. All Dorothy wants is to go home but the Wizard is useless so she goes to see the Good Witch of the South Gilda. On their way to her, the company will encounter a walking/talking/fighting forest of trees and a giant spider. Back to Middle-Earth Pippin and Merry meet the talking trees Ents. Sam and Frodo come face to face with the giant spider Shelob.

When they reach her land, Gilda will finally award them with gifts. The Lion is crowned King of the Beasts and Dorothy filially allowed to go home but it is when great sadness that she bits farewell to her friends.

"...and found she was crying herself at this sorrowful parting from her loving comrades." (L.F.Baum -The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)

Back to Middle-Earth - Gilda does reminds me of Galadriel so much - she is wise, she is helpful, she is beautiful and dressed in white. Although Frodo is allowed to go back to the Shire after the destruction of the One Ring he will eventually depart and leave his friends forever.

" ...Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-Earth. Go in peace! I will not say : do not weep; for not all tears are evil." (J.R.R.Tolkien- The Grey Havens)

There is no reason to believe Tolkien ever read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but by using a similar framework for their stories they both reach a similar ending. Both Lord of the Rings and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz do talk to me about morals and values - Courage wisdom,heart. Unlikely heroes will shape events and grow in the process. Dorothy's heartfelt statement, "There is no place like home..." is in fact something that Sam Gamgee could say about the Shire, and it is probably one of the important lesson in both stories - no matter how exciting and full of great adventures the world out there is....there is no place like home :)