Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Middle Ages in Middle Earth: Courtly Love

This is a small portion of a paper I've written which examines an important relationship between the period of time in European history called the Middle Ages and Tolkien's Middle Earth. To read the article in it's entirety, click here.

J. R. R. Tolkien is considered to be one of the most important and influential fantasy writers in the genre’s relatively short history. Tolkien’s magnum opus was, of course, The Lord of the Rings (a single book that was split into a trilogy by his publisher) and its predecessor The Hobbit. In these works, Tolkien created the world of Middle Earth and everything in it, including the races, the languages, an extensive creation myth, and a full history. The most popular languages Tolkien created are the two elven tongues: Sindarin and Quenya. These languages are frequently found in almost any work taking place in Middle Earth, along with Khuzdul (the language of the dwarves), and the patois of the enemy: the Black Speech. The creation myth which is found in his Silmarillion is so beautiful and complete that it could give Christianity a run for its money. With all his creativity and genius, one might not notice how much influence Tolkien took from many works of medieval literature. On the surface, a reader might see this in the form of the weaponry used, castles, villages, and the monsters encountered. However, some of Tolkien’s best stories in The Silmarillion, and an important sub-plot of Lord of the Rings, are based on the medieval idea of “courtly love.”

Courtly love describes a courtship between an idealized knight and an idealized maiden which is often secret or adulterous. There are many definitions of courtly love that have been offered throughout the centuries; one particular version states that this is a relationship in which: “The knight's love for the lady inspires him to do great deeds, in order to be worthy of her love or to win her favor” (Schwartz). This aspect can be seen in The Lay of Leithian, which is the story of Beren and LĂșthien, taken from The Silmarillion; the story of Aragorn and Arwen, from The Lord of the Rings; and also in Les Deus Amanz, written by Marie de France.

Click here for the full article.

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