The concept that I enjoyed most from these readings was that of the Elf-friend, the mediator between our world (the “real” world) and the world of Faerie. Although Tolkien is clearly the supreme Elf-friend, I was particularly struck by the concept mentioned in the reading from the Legendarium that Tolkien invented characters as Elf-friends to stand in his place because that makes his myth more believable. Flieger states that myths cannot be written; they can only be written down or written about. Therefore in order for Tolkien’s work to appear to the reader as a myth or history instead of just art, he needed a participant in the story to be telling it. It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to me before, but once I read it, I realized how true a statement it was and how profound its impact on Tolkien’s work. The notion of an Elf-friend allows Tolkien to participate in his own mythology without hurting its credibility. In Tolkien’s works, he has not one Elf-friend but many. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Bilbo, Aragorn, Sam, and more serve this role.
Tolkien’s stories are remarkably believable. Even though they contain these elements of Faerie that are foreign to the inhabitants of the “real” world, the elements are presented in such a way that they fit with our world. In some instances Tolkien’s weaving of our world and the world of Faerie is seamless. His incorporation of “Hey Diddle Diddle” into Frodo’s song in The Prancing Pony works perfectly. As a philologist, he creates a history for this remnant or fossil of the real world. In creating histories for real world “fossils” Tolkien adds to the believability of his world as a precursor to our own. These fossils also help to refute Tolkien’s claim that the stories just came to him out of thin air. While certainly some parts of the stories come purely from Tolkien’s imagination, he is still a philologist and constructed off fragments of the real world in order to weave aspects of our world into his own.
Adding to the apparent reality of Tolkien’s world is its detail and completeness. His stories span multiple ages and take place in a number of locations. The sheer number of stories, those that he actually completed and those that he merely sketched out, demonstrate the immensity of the world. This world is so vivid and complete that at times it seems almost real. Even though they are fictional stories, they make up a history and we study them as such. In fact there are times Tolkien’s letters and other comments on his writings almost give the impression that he believes that this world he has created is real. We can safely assume that Tolkien is not delusional enough to actually believe that his stories are real, but they are so captivating that you can understand where he’s coming from. In order to be a good Elf-friend, he must believe them in some way. As our bridge to the world of Faerie, our belief is dependent on his conviction.
The question of whether or not Peter Jackson is and Elf-friend came up in class, and there was some debate about the issue, but the general consensus seemed to be that he was not an Elf-friend. I would like to challenge that idea. Perhaps I am unlike many of the people who spoke against Peter Jackson in class in that I saw the movies before reading the books and that has an effect on my position on this issue. Peter Jackson was my first introduction to Middle Earth and the reason I chose to delve further into the world by reading the books. Jackson by no means does a perfect job of interpreting Tolkien’s work. He focuses heavily on the action in the story and leaves out large sections of the book that really bring us into Tolkien’s version of Faerie such as the time The Fellowship spends in Lórien. But in the context of the movie, Jackson truly is the mediator between the real world and the world of Faerie. Faerie is not one set thing, and in the movies Jackson is the Elf-friend to his version of Faerie. Some people also argued that Jackson is not “in” the movies so he cannot be a true elf friend. However Jackson is in the movies through the actors in the same way that Tolkien is in the books through his characters. Jackson’s being an Elf-friend should not be confused with his being “friendly” to the original work (either in the sense of enjoying it or in the sense of providing a faithful adaptation). I see Jackson as an Elf-friend to his own work and his own version of Faerie. He is the (indirect or unseen) teller of the tale. He tells the tale through his choice of actors, sets, costumes, cinematography, etc. All of these were things that Tolkien could not use to tell his tale, but in my opinion are of equal importance as the means Tolkien used to secure his place as an Elf-friend. It follows that in this sense every writer, director, or artist who works in the world of Faerie can be a type of Elf-friend. I would qualify this, though, by saying that they are an Elf-friend only if they bridge the gap between the worlds successfully, which I believe Jackson does.