Date of Award

1-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lee Behlman

Committee Member

Glen Robert Gill

Committee Member

Jeffrey A. Miller

Subject(s)

Tolkien, J. R. R. -- (John Ronald Reuel), -- 1892-1973. -- Middle-Earth Universe, Ecocriticism in literature

Abstract

This paper explores J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth in light of the material ecocritical notions of trans-corporeality, vibrant matter, and intrinsic language. Namely, this paper asserts that Tolkien’s treatment of plants, specifically trees, deconstructs an otherwise unflattering and over-simplified binary that separates the natural world from the human, while highlighting important nuances sometimes overlooked in Tolkien’s natural world. The two sides of this affixed binary, as this paper asserts, are intermeshed in Tolkien’s conception of Middle Earth in what Stacy Alaimo terms a “trans-corporeal” process. The humanoid and nonhumanoid beings of Tolkien’s world are constantly engaged in a process of mixing and intermingling that suggests a bodily and sentient unity in their interaction. Furthermore, this paper claims that Tolkien’s natural world contains a multitude of agencies, empowering what has so often been otherwise treated as homogenous backdrop for the action of Tolkien’s story. Lastly, Tolkien’s use of language as it applies specifically to trees, or as is represented in his Ents, suggests a sensitivity to the agency of the vegetal, which is best formed in Tolkien’s representing trees or tree-like bodies with access to language. The intrinsic, nonhuman language of plants helps add a greater sense of agency to what have so often been otherwise considered non-agentic and passive living creatures. Ultimately, the paper encourages thinking about Tolkien’s Middle Earth as full of agentic and valuable nonhuman beings whose own bodies and language are constantly entangled with those of the humanoid. Furthermore, this paper ends by encouraging a break from the environmental imperialist mindset that so often governs existing readings of Tolkien and the natural world itself.

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