Fantasy Literature Essay
Stories of initiation (or coming-of-age) are common in literature throughout the world; famous examples such as “A Tale of two Cities” or “The Catcher in the Rye” are celebrated in English and American literature. However, by contrast, fewer examples of the initiation story in epic-fantasy are likewise elevated to this enduring stature. Two relatively modern, highly poignant, examples of the initiation story (or myth) are J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lords of the Rings trilogy of novels and Michael Ende’s/wiki/Michael_Endenovel, The Neverending Story. Both titles are epic-fantasies which involved detailed, imaginary, the initiation of young, untested heroes who must save these worlds from apocalyptic doom.
Each of the tales employs an unconventional – or unlikely – hero and each involves an antagonist of loosely specified dimensions. Allegory plays a role in both epics, although in neither case is the allegory strictly imposed; rather, symbolism is archetypal, rather than directly allegorical, not only leaving the reader to experience the full impact of the symbolic associations, but encouraging the reader to identify deeply with the iconographies of the landscapes, characters, names, and events. “ The world of Middle-earth is marvelously rich in imaginative detail; Tolkien draws on his knowledge of several mythologies and languages as well as his inventive powers to create a range of colorful and often memorable creatures[…} The story, the heroic journey to destroy the evil ring, is interesting because of the variety of places and creatures the heroes encounter (Hourihan 33).
The same holds for Ende’ storytelling capacity which lures the reader into deep participation by use of careful world-building and meta-fictional resonance. “The major strategy is to place the implied reader inside the book: Bastian is a decidedly unheroic child of 10 or 12-
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fat, poor at sport and lessons, and a victim of school bullying, but with a passion for reading. He steals a wonderful book called The Neverending Story from a secondhand bookshop and becomes immersed in a tale about the land of Fantastica” (Hourihan 71).
The Neverending Story features creative settings and creatures which are both entertaining and meant to add psychological depth and contrast to the events and scenes of the story. For example: the attic where Bastian reads his stolen book is a symbol for Bastian’s retreat into his own imagination.
The land of Fantastica is archetypal: meant to symbolize the universal unconscious mind: distance in Fantastica is gauged – not by physical proximity – but by how distant or close one believes themselves to be from their desired destination. This indicates a landscaped of shred imagination, rather than a landscape with physical boundaries.
Tolkien posits s similar contrast of the inner/outer; mundane/magical worlds, although his technique is more somewhat more subtle than Ende’s. Tolkien also plunges an uninitiated hero-to-be from once-comfortable or normal surroundings into a land of beauty and peril. “Frodo Baggins must likewise leave the deceptive security of the Shire, just as, when he has accepted the burden of being ring-bearer, he must eventually leave Rivendell and Lothlorien and, finally, the reclaimed Shire as well. He, too, journeys under the shadow of death and moves toward a doom that is paradoxically his and his world’s only hope” (Wendorf).
Tolkien also employs the indoor/outdoor motif “No book published in recent times creates a more poignant feeling for the essential quality of many outdoor and indoor experiences-of flowing streams and the feel and taste of water, of food when one is desperately
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hungry, of a pipe and complete relaxation[…] or of the quiet strength of song and legend. After reading the Rings one sees and feels more deeply” (Kilby 74).
Ende employs a metafictive theme in The Neverending Story: the structure and visual aspect of the book are shrewdly contrived to resemble the book Bastian is reading, which is also called The Neverending Story. The story within the story is published in green ink, and when Ende writes of Bastian’s real-world, the font is purple.
Tolkien also employs a metafictive technique: “The story that is The Lord of the Rings would not survive today (so runs the conceit) if Bilbo had not begun his Book nor Frodo continued it. Tolkien was too knowledgeable a storyteller not to recognize and affirm the importance of the Teller to the Tale” (Flieger and Hostetter 185).
In both instances, the use of these devices is meant to forward the theme of initiation; in fact, compelling the reader to enter into the same initiation cycle as the books’ heroes. In The Neverending Story a prime interest of Bastian’s vicarious quest through Atreyu’s eyes is discovering the way to mend the psychic scar produced by his mother’s death.
Bastian recognizes characteristics in the story’s hero, Atreyu, which he desires to possess. For the first half of the book, Atreyu provides the view point of the quest, but eventually Bastian enters the story and Atreyu’s perceptions become less distinguishable from his own.
Bastian’s reading actually impacts Atreyu’s adventures, and his readings mirror his own internal struggle. There is an evil a “Nothing’ that threatens Atreyu’s world and Atreyu has the strength and courage to try to defeat this power; Bastion finds his own source of strength by reading and becoming initiated into his own deeper imagination, which is shown to be redemptive. As his strength increases so does the peril that Atreyu faces and the peril to the
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world of Fantastica. In one aspect, the threat to Fantastica emerges out of Bastion himself; at another level, the source of the “Nothing” is external and originates from the ambivalence of mundane imaginations in a mundane world.
By contrast, In Tolkien’s mythos, evil is “external to the heroes, reaching out for them, but not originating from them or from any human beings. Nor is Sauron himself more than a cipher. He has no discernible motivation, not even the envy which Marlowe’s Mephistopheles attributes to Lucifer, the desire to ‘enlarge his kingdom’ (Marlowe [c. 1604] 1909:132) by destroying for others the possibility of the bliss he has himself lost (Hourihan 34).
In both stories, Frodo and Atreyu explore mythical worlds with allegorical resonance. These worlds and the threats to these worlds initiate a coming-of-age cycle for the protagonists (and also for the reader) which are represented through struggle, tests of courage, and intelligence. “That decisive struggle provides the context for the fantastic events that take place in the fantasy-world […] The pattern is that of the traditional Quest. It develops in the three stages[…] (1) the perilous journey and the concomitant preliminary adventures, (2) the crucial struggle, (3) the exaltation of the hero” (Hourihan 34).
In each case the uninitiated heroes immerse in mythological archetypes in order to realize their unique heroic qualities. In each case, the reader is lured through the use of detailed linguistic symbolism, colorful resonating settings, bold suspenseful conflict, rich symbolism, and metafictive techniques to experience a likewise initiation into archetypal and mythical meanings and catharsis.
This coming-of-age motif is sketched out in bold terms but over the course of epic plots and epic crises: “A hobbit named Frodo Baggins has come into the possession of a magic ring
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which makes its wearer vanish. It is the greatest of the Rings of Power, the one into which Sauron let a great part of his power pass. Frodo’s mission is to put this Ring beyond the grasp of the Enemy forever (Urang 100).
The warrior Atreyu must search throughout the land of Fantastica for a power to stop the “Nothing” which is threatening to destroy the entire universe. Each of the basic plots illuminates in vibrant, mythic terms an external representation of the internal struggle for individuality and the individual search for meaning and destiny.
Because both The Neverending Story and The Lord of the Rings are essentially affirmative tales, producing in the reader a catharsis toward self-actualization, these epic fantasies must be regarded as having considerable philosophical and perhaps religious resonances. However, neither of the series foists a dogmatic set of principles or moral edicts; instead, they proffer the progression of the heroic myth and the moral and spiritual principles engendered by these archetypal myths.
In this sense the reader is given the geas and the internal fortitude 9and intellectual curiosity) to pursue the “adventure” of his or her own life, but without any constricting specificity of how or where or when this should be done. These kinds of coming-of-age stories exert a special, long-lasting appeal and impact on myriad readers, young and old, demonstrating that the cycle of initiation and coming-of-age may be regarded as ongoing and not merely applicable to the chronologically young.
The crucial struggle represented by both Atreyu and Frodo’s quest, is the assertion of the redemptive power of the imagination and the sustaining power and resonance of archetypal myths and symbols.
Hourihan, Margery. Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children’s Literature.
London: Routledge, 1997.
Flieger, Verlyn, and Carl E. Hostetter, eds. Tolkien’s Legendarium Essays on the History of Middle-Earth. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Wendorf, Thomas A. “Greene, Tolkien and the Mysterious Relations of Realism and Fantasy.”
Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 55.1 (2002): 79+.
Shadows of Imagination: The Fantasies of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Ed. Mark R. Hillegas. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.
5 pages 4 sources MLA
This paper shall compare and contrast characters from two books. The topic should cover the similarities and differences throughout the quests/journeys of the two characters. The two characters are : Frodo from `Lord of the Rings` and Atreyu from `The Neverending Story`. An example is comparing the ring from Lord of the rings and AURYN from Neverending story, and how both of these acted as the guides of the the two characters. Aside from the simple compare and contrast, the paper must prove a bigger concept, maybe the topic can be the topic of trust and how easily it can be ruined, and this is proven through comparing each of the two journey`s.