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Where the Shadows Lie: A Jungian Interpretation of Tolkiens the Lord of the Rings Paperback – Jul 1 2009
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For the most part great art stands in opposition to commercialism. What if George Herbert had written "Dune" in a simpler style, with less complicated ideas and words? He could possibly have made more money, but then the world would have been deprived of his best work. What if Tolkien's editor had suggested he limit his opus to just one volume, because 'nobody is going to commit to reading three books these days'?
Ms. Skogemann (S) has decided to write for readers with only a moderate recall of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and those with only a passing familiarity with Jungian psychology. Readers in this category will find this book well written and reasonably insightful. Those familiar with Tolkien's opus and/or Jungian psychology will find her book somewhat shallow.
To begin with, there is considerably more plot recap than analysis, leading one to wonder if some readers might not be better served by a careful rereading of the brilliant original. This tendency toward restatement is one of the banes of our times, and can be found in everything from journalism to book and movie reviews. The reason for this is simple: lists of facts are much easier to generate than carefully reasoned, coherent analyses.
I will take the relationship of Arwen and Aragorn as an example. "Arwen, however, is also a typical anima figure in the sense that she never really becomes a person in her own right." (106) Those unfamiliar with Jungian psychology should know that a 'typical' anima figure is not one-dimensional; on the contrary, as an archetype the anima will always be full of rich content and associations from the unconscious.
S frequently makes statements of this type without evidence to back them up, or reason(s) given for their necessity, as if these conclusions should be obvious or accepted on faith. (By way of contrast, Marie-Louise von Franz, a gifted analyst and prolific author, was scrupulous in her books to support, amplify and connect her conclusions). The next sentence after the one above ends the paragraph: "We meet her [Arwen] only three times in the Lord of the Rings, that is, in Elrond's house, at the wedding with Aragorn, and finally when she symbolically renounces her immortality by passing her ticket to the elf ship on to Frodo." The reader is left to wonder what the implications of this symbolic renunciation are, for S does not elaborate.
S ends another paragraph with the following: "Beren and Lúthien are, of course, the mirror of Aragorn himself and Arwen." (73) Unfortunately such a statement is simplistic. Lúthien's father Thingol had no use for mortal men: he "looked upon Beren in scorn and anger," called Beren "baseborn" and accused him of "insolence and folly." (Sil:195) By requiring a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown as the price for his daughter's hand, he revealed both his greed and folly, calling down upon the Noldor the Curse of Mandos, when "tears unnumbered" shall be shed, and "the Valar will fence Valinor against you [the elves]." (Sil:95) Thus the romance between Beren and Lúthien began in an atmosphere of powerful conflict, pride and folly. Following Beren's death and resurrection "the lust for the Silmaril brings all the kingdoms of the Elves to ruin." (Sil:xxi)
Elrond on the other hand raises Aragorn as a foster son, asking only that Aragorn fulfill his (admittedly difficult) noble destiny, which Aragorn accepts willingly. Elrond selflessly aids and counsels Aragorn for Aragorn's own good and the good of Middle Earth. Elrond reluctantly accepts the personal loss of his daughter, respecting her choice to become mortal even though this means he will be separated from her for eternity. His wisdom transcends his strong personal feelings. Aragorn is not the instrument through which a race is doomed, but one through which a race is saved. His romance with Arwen is delayed for the best of reasons, not the worst.
Of course there are a number of parallels between the two couples. But which of these does S believe are significant and why? Are all of the differences insignificant? What does it mean that both women are elves, and both give up their immortality for the sake of love? Why is the anima of the future king of Gondor less developed than, say, Galadriel, who gives Aragorn a gift of an eagle brooch set with a green gem? S calls Galadriel an "anima mundi [world soul] figure" (xiv) yet later states that "Galadriel rules at the center of Middle-earth and might be interpreted as the feminine aspect of the Self, as well as representing the Anima archetype." (xvi) Yet it's unclear what S means by "the feminine aspect of the Self" as distinct from anima, nor which of these roles is most relevant for Aragorn. These questions are not unimportant, for he leads the Fellowship for much of the way and is de facto captain of the free peoples.
If the tales truly mirror one another, there would be no reason for Tolkien to identify more with one than the other, yet as S points out, on the Tolkien couple's headstone, in addition to their proper names are the names Beren and Lúthien. Clearly there's an identification here. Tolkien himself referred to the romance between Beren and Lúthien as "the kernel of the mythology." (Letters:165)
In short, the insights in WSL are to be found amid lengthy plot summaries, and are usually not amplified. Many will not find this to be a problem, and will find S's breezy style both readable and engaging. Those interested in going deeper will not be well served. For them I heartily recommend Paul Kocher's "Master of Middle-Earth." For those with a more Jungian bent, I suggest any of Marie-Louise von Franz's excellent analyses of fairy tales.
In doing so, she not only sheds light on the uses of Jungian psychology in both art & life, but on the nature of Tolkien's work. For as becomes quite clear, Tolkien was using art to find & shape meaning, not only of the world but of himself -- albeit on the unconscious level, which is the only way it can ever really work. Skogemann notes that Tolkien was truly working in myth, shaping one that made sense of his life experience on both an existential & spiritual level. In this, he's much more reminiscent of a visionary artist like William Blake than the many fantasy writers who've followed in his wake, creating often exciting stories that still end as entertainment & little more. Not to disparage entertainment! But Jungian work is soul work, and it's obvious that on the deepest level, Tolkien was engaged in just that.
A basic familiarity with Jungian thought is helpful to the reader; for those unfamiliar with it, Skogemann provides links to online introductions to Jung & his thought. She then looks at "The Lord of the Rings" in terms of the classic archetypes -- the Hero, the Anima, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Self -- and shows how these concepts are embodied in many variations throughout Tolkien's astonishingly detailed creation. This eventually leads into a discussion of the current world situation& the ways in which Jungian thought can illuminate the unconscious drives & forces that under lie much of what plagues civilization today -- and makes a powerful argument for Tolkien's work as being not just literature, but spiritual in natural -- outright religious, in fact.
For my own part, I found this slim volume enlightening & thought-provoking. After decades of reading countless books about both Jung & Tolkien, I wouldn't have thought there was much left to say or learn on the layman's level -- but Skogemann proved me wrong, and I'm grateful for it. This is a book I'll be returning to more than once in the future -- most highly recommended!