“Peace and Quiet and Good Tilled Earth:” Mimesis in Tolkien’s Shire
Dr. Curtis Gruenler
Twentieth century author J. R. R. Tolkien permanently impacted the world of fantasy with his work about Middle-earth. Countless aspects of his legendarium have been examined through various lenses of literary theory and criticism; however, few scholars have explored the relationship between Tolkien’s works and literary theorist René Girard’s concepts of mimetic desire and scapegoating, leaving this relatively untraversed field ripe for study. Girard’s mimetic theory offers insight into Tolkien’s understanding and portrayal of power by providing a method of interpreting his use of objects of power to demonstrate the corruptive nature of such items and the rivalry they incite. In addition to this, however, Tolkien’s work extends Girard’s theories by offering examples of a positive branch of mimetic desire which Girard does not himself elaborate on. The lives of Tolkien’s hobbits illustrate a unique, living example of this positive desire, and demonstrate a firm resistance to the negative desire fostered by objects such as the One Ring. Girard’s theories supply a new way of understanding Tolkien’s hobbits as less susceptible to the power of objects of negative mimesis due to their living in an environment of positive desire, rather than to some inherent magic or feature of character that hobbits may possess. Similarly, Tolkien’s Shire illustrates Girard’s concept of positive desire, and offers a tangible example of a society that thrives on this receptive, rather than acquisitive, mimesis. This research examines Girard’s theories, applying his ideas of mimesis to Tolkien’s Shire and expanding upon them by seeking out examples of hobbit life that illustrate the positive desire that is so vital to the health of the hobbit community.
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