Date of Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
Alfred K. Siewers
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Ecocriticism
In her introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader, Cheryl Glotfelty concisely, and perhaps too simply, defines the field of literary criticism that is ecocriticism. For all intents and purposes, is it an earth-centered approach to literary studies. It is suggested in her definition, but not explicitly stated, that ecocriticism can be defined as the study and interpretation of text from an ecological and environmental perspective. To read a text ecocritically then, is to examine the specific role of nature, environment, and ecology in the text, and from that reading of the text to apply the observations to offer solutions and alternative ways of thinking for environmental and ecological problems that humanity faces. An ecocritical reading is not one that merely examines a text on a superficial level. For example, a reading of Henry David Thoreau's Walden that describes the environment of Walden Pond is not an ecocritical reading. An ecocritical reading is concerned with more than how the environment may or may not manifest itself in a text. Instead there is a greater purpose, to understand the role of the environment within the text itself, and consider how that role creates a textual opinion of the environment, either within the text or beyond it. By extension, ecocriticism does not take place only in the arena of nature writing by the likes of early environmentalists such as John Muir, Susan Fenimore Cooper, or Edward Abbey, or even more recent works by the likes of Jon Krakauer, Michael Pollan, or Robert Macfarlane. An ecocritical reading of text can proceed regardless of whether or not the text is explicitly concerned with nature or the environment. It is possible, in theory, to read any text ecorcitically, from the bible to even Fifty Shades of Grey, though one wonders how relevant that might be for the latter text. The universal applicability of ecocriticism is vital for the text that I seek to examine, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Patrick D. Murphy defines nature writing as text that is "limited to having either nonhuman nature itself as a subject, character, or major component of the setting, or to a text that says something about human-nonhuman interaction, human philosophies about nature, or the possibility of engaging nature by means of or in spite of human culture." The Hobbit is not considered to be an example of nature writing in the traditional sense, or even upon a first glance of Murphy's definition. On the surface, it is more focused on the quest of a band of dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard, to reclaim a mountain kingdom, and slay a dragon, than it is on elements of nature or the environment. However, a growing body of scholarship focusing on The Hobbit and other works in Tolkien's Legendarium has made the persuasive argument that his body of work is relevant material for ecocriticism. It is the second half of Murphy's definition of nature writing that I draw upon to frame The Hobbit as an example of nature writing. I choose to focus on The Hobbit alone, as dedicating myself to one text will prove more fruitful for a project of this type. The Hobbit's ecocritical meaning comes from what can be determined about "human-nonhuman interaction, human philosophies about nature, or the possibility of engaging nature by means of or in spite of human culture." My thesis seeks not only to contribute to the growing body of scholarship on the environmental perspective of Tolkien's texts, but in fact to expand upon it. By focusing on The Hobbit, I will demonstrate that an ecocritical reading of Tolkien's text is not only necessary to understanding its literary significance, but also to understanding it as a significant environmental text with applications for real environmental issues.
Garner, Benjamin Maxwell, "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold: an Ecocritical Reading of J.R.R. Tolkien's the Hobbit" (2015). Honors Theses. 291.