Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Hobbit and Sword and the Stone

One more excerpt from the work-in-progress, the owl book.
Owlamoo drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1928

Author J.R.R. Tolkien made this drawing of Owlamoo, he drew it to allay the fears of his eight year old son Michael, who had been having nightmares of an evil owl. This owl would perch atop high furniture and picture frames, glaring down at the boy. Tolkien said, “I tried to draw Owlamoo from his descriptions, which seemed to rob it of terror.” He created this highly stylized owl in 1928, nine years before the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. Any abduction researcher would take keen interest when a child tells of nightmares involving glaring owls, the implication being that this might be some sort of screen memory.

Owls get mentioned a few times in The Hobbit. When Bilbo Baggins was spying on the Trolls he was to "…hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl…" as a way to signal the Dwarves. For an author so deeply steeped in the mythological the owl is, for the most part, absent from any of Tolkien’s books.

The owl plays a bigger role in a counterpart work of English fantasy. T. H. White published The Sword and the Stone in 1938, initially as a stand-alone work but eventually as the first part of a trilogy, The Once and Future King. This first book is a fantasy re-telling of the boyhood of King Arthur under the tutelage of the wizard Merlin.

rationalism vs mystisism
White’s novel features a talking owl, Archimedes, as Merlin’s side-kick. The name Archimedes is an overt nod to the ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer. The wizard and his owl represent two separate lines of ancient wisdom traditions. Merlin as the master of esoteric magic and Archimedes as Greek Rationalism. The imagery of the wizard and his little owl is wonderful in it’s symbolism, it perfectly personifies the western cultural idea of the wise owl.

Walt Disney later adapted Sword and the Stone to an animated film and it was released on Christmas day, 1963. An apt date given that it’s the story of a boy who performs a miracle and is later crowned a king.

Gandalf reads about Merlin
Both Tolkien and White present us with a wizard with a long white beard and a tall pointed hat, and both authors use legend and fantasy to define something idealized in the English character. These two enduring works emerged right on the heels of each other, The Hobbit in 1937, The Sword and the Stone in 1938. One year later, in 1939, England would be at war with Germany. Neither work is a harbinger of doom (like the folklore of the owl), and neither is propaganda, but each seems more a glorified call to define what is best within it’s home culture.

Also, White’s The Once and Future King was the inspiration for the Broadway musical Camelot, as well as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


Red Pill Junkie said...

Unsurprisingly, Sir Ian McKellen was born in... 1939.

Red Pill Junkie said...

PS: Oh, and what happens when you take away the 1st two & last two letters in Owlamoo's name?