By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tolkien and Quixote

I highly recommend the Humphrey Carpenter biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. Among many other things that I learned about Tolkien is that his priest-guardian (after the untimely death of his widowed mother) was, in Tolkien's words, "half Spanish" (the citation here is to a letter by Tolkien; the letters are collected by the same Mr. Carpenter in a separate book.) The half-Spanish priest was fluent in Spanish and had a collection of books in Spanish that the young Tolkien perused. Tolkien also expresses a special fondness for the Spanish language in one of his collected letters. Apparently, he taught himself Spanish. (But it seems that the language that he may have liked the most may very well have been Welsh.)

The little known Spanish connection led me to think of the adventurous pair Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: the leader or "master" of a higher social station assisted by his super loyal "squire" Sam of a lower social station. I also noted that hobbits, although loving the peace, quiet, and comfort of their hobbit holes in the Shire, also exhibit a fondness for songs and tales about adventures. And, of course, Tolkien's hobbits do go on many memorable adventures, to say the least. Sam the hobbit also expresses a great interest in having his adventures memorialized in song and poetry.

All of which reminds me of the man of La Mancha and his loyal squire Sancho Panza; and also of Don Quixote's fascination (nay, obsession) with chivalrous tales and living them out in "real life" (an ironic phrase when speaking of fictional characters!). And what is the Lord of the Rings trilogy if not a grand, adventurous, and chivalrous tale of Knight (Frodo) and loyal squire (Sam)? Did the young or older Tolkien ever read all or part of Cervantes' famous novel? I have not seen a statement to that effect; but I would bet that he did as a highly educated and well read man of literature and language. Did Tolkien make an explicit link in his own mind between the Spanish adventurers and the adventurers from the Shire? I do not know. But, really, it does not matter. The link is objectively there for all who can connect the literary analogies. Add this tidbit to your appreciation of the richness of Tolkien's work: a profound literary link to what is most likely the first novel in human history, to Cervantes' Don Quixote de La Mancha. By the way, both authors were Catholic.