Fantastic histories : how Malory's Morte Darthur influenced Tolkien's The Silmarillion Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/sf2689149

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  • My thesis, entitled "Fantastic Histories: How Malory's Morte Darthur Influenced Tolkien's The Silmarillion," argues that J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion shares distinct similarities in style and content with Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, primarily in the lack of detail in the descriptions of characters and events, as each attempts to create a "historical" work based on fantastical events and mythologies. It is well known that Tolkien was a medieval scholar, and that he drew a great deal from the literature of that period. However, few scholars have written about his connections to Malory and his Arthurian works, beyond the fact that Tolkien thought little of them as true "fairy-story" or myth because they included Christianity. Yet, this historical style is an important connection between two of the most well-known writers of fantasy, one medieval and the other modem. The first two chapters of this thesis provide historical and theoretical background necessary for the study of the works of Malory and Tolkien. Chapter One, "On Fantasy and Romance," provides a short history of the Romance/Fantasy genre as an introduction to the topic of the thesis. Chapter Two, "Medieval and Modern Theories of Authorship," looks at the idea of the author during the Middle Ages and how that role has changed since then, comparing medieval theories of authorship to those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. Chapter Three, "Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: Historicizing Arthur," is an in-depth analysis of the historical nature of Malory's text. Specifically, I look at Malory's historical style, particularly in his use of descriptions, characters, and dialogue. Chapter Four, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion: A History for Middle earth," follows the same structure as Chapter Three, applying the same analysis to Tolkien's text. This thesis argues that the historical nature of each author's work is readily evident through his lack of significant detail. I conclude by arguing that Tolkien likely borrowed the style of Malory's text as a model for his own history of Middle Earth. Each feels as if it is the record of a history long past, collected and recorded by a historian, rather than a work of fantasy. Malory's works are clearly a model for Tolkien's own writing, based on the similarities the works of each author share. Even if Tolkien did not think these Arthurian legends could be considered fairy-story, he still respected them as literature enough to borrow these style elements from them.
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