Perspective of Nature

Last fall, I took the Folktale, Myth and Archetype class with Dr. Kennedy. We talked about Lord of the Rings for a while, and one of the topics we discussed was Tolkien’s representation of nature in that work (fun fact: he was a soldier during the Great War). He often lamented about the loss of the great British countryside through industrialization, urbanization, and the Great War, which is why he used great detail to describe the vast, beautiful frontier inside Lord of the Rings. This passage from our reading reminded me of this idea:

“Between the meadows behind our town there stands a line of old poplars by the stream. They were visible from a great distance, and although they grew on one bank only, we called them the poplar avenue. Even as children we had a great love for them, they drew us vaguely thither, we played truant the whole day by them and listened to their rustling. We sat beneath them on the bank of the stream and let our feet hang in the bright, swift waters. The pure fragrance of the water and the melody of the wind in the poplars held our fancies. We loved them dearly, and the image of those days still makes my heart pause in its beating” (Remarque 120).

This takes a more real-life approach to the destruction of nature, but it has a lot of the same feeling that Tolkien’s work does. We get strong imagery of Paul’s river at home, and it’s described to give off a beautiful and calm feeling. It’s hard to find places like that these days since urbanization is a constant, ongoing process. Paul also has nostalgia for what once was in the last sentence, which is something that Tolkien also felt later in his life.

If you have another connection to a Great War novel that discusses nature, feel free to comment about it. I know it’s a common trope in Great War novels, so I’m curious to see what other novels people have seen it in.

3 thoughts on “Perspective of Nature

  1. This summer I also studied Tolkien, among other fantasy writers. I was able to see the Tolkien exhibit that was put together in Oxford; it included detailed maps that he had created and a number of his paintings and sketches. I was also able to, through travelling across England and Wales, see the rolling, green landscape that was really represented throughout his stories.

  2. I too was in Kennedy’s class that covered Tolkien. I had to laugh when I saw your post on the screen in class because I remembered how great that class was discussion-wise and how much I took away from that class both through its topic and off topic. I learned a lot in that class most of all the knowledge that Kennedy is a very wise but hilarious professor when it comes to what she knows (we don’t know any one else like that do we (;)

    Anyways, I very much see the longing for a world untouched by war in both this text and Lord of the Rings. The Eye of Sauron and the evil in LOTR can be seen as industrialization but also the idea of big brother I think as well.

    Part of the reason Paul feels like an animal in a cage at home and on the front is that he is treated as one. In the scenes where he is being watched, he feels like a beast at a zoo, in that he is constantly being watched and must act accordingly. To the young recruits who look up to him he must show no fear, nor to the ones he loves. Where he is most free is where he can stay unseen but at the same time out of distress, this is most often “out in the wild” as we see at its climax the famous “shitting in the woods” scene as he takes something from his former life and turns it against the norm, something beautiful that is often mundane much like Tolkien’s focus on food whenever the hobbits are involved.

    I thought the scene when Paul is in the cathedral cloister on 119 reminded me of many of the scenes in LOTR. We see these beautiful kingdoms, rich with imagery and sacredness. Naturally, they give off peace and serenity yet there is something eerie about these abandoned places. It is like their desolation comes not from their physical appearance but from the quietness that settles around them. I think even an image like this has an effect on Paul, in his lonely state.

    Lastly, what are your thoughts about how the ring of power that destroys all who posses it can be translated in this novel to the greed within ranks, as we see Himmelstoss, the ordinary postman become a man of charge and therefore abuse the position he’s been given much like Saruman the White in LOTR.

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