Running Widdershins Round Middle Earth: Why Teaching Tolkien Matters
Introduction: Tolkien, in his 1936 address to the British Academy entitled “Beowulf: the Monster and the Critics,” offered the following allegory:
A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man’s distant forefathers had obtained their building material. Some suspecting a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said: This tower is most interesting.” But they also said (after pushing it over): What a muddle it is in! And even the man’s own descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones to build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion: But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea (Beowulf, pp. 6-7).