Peace and Peacebuilding in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Alice Konig
Monday 5 February 2024

In this presentation, Visualising Peace student Albert Surinach I Campos discusses some of the research he has been doing on representations of peace and peacebuilding in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Along the way, he shares wider reflections on ‘peace literature’ and narrative representations of conflict. Below the video, you can find a summary of the publications he discusses. These are also available in our Visualising Peace Library.

Schadee, Hester. “Caesar’s Construction of Northern Europe: Inquiry, Contact and Corruption in ‘De Bello Gallico.’” The Classical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2008): 158–80. 

This article examines the systematic expansionism of the Roman Republic into Gallic territories, studies the origins of the fears of Romans against Gauls and the way that peace between nations degrades and becomes belligerent when there is a difference in power. This article is essential for peacebuilding because it examines the idea of “otherness”, and how the construction of the idea of an ‘enemy’, a neighbouring power to be afraid of solidifies the nationalism of a group and, by doing so, justifies war against them. Peacebuilding is intrinsically related to breaking down the concepts of ‘otherness’ that stem from the construction of any nationalist identity, and the systematic justification of war-like behaviour and conquest by Caesar in Gaul is constantly justified by the ‘metus gallicus’, the fear of the gauls, that dehumanizes these peoples and difficulties peacebuilding. The article also examines the concept of storytelling in corrupting truth and steering readers away from peace efforts, by explaining how Caesar’s descriptions of Gaul in the ‘Bello Gallico’ are deliberately skewed. By masking as a descriptive piece, the general shapes the perception of Roman citizens.

Shippey, Tom. “Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien by Tom Shippey.” Edited by Thomas Honneger. Walking Tree Publishers, 2007. 

Tom Shippey’s analysis of the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s underlying messages is extremely useful to understand the deeper themes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, as well as his approaches to peace, war and the intertextuality that his texts present with earlier works of literature. Structuring the book in parts to resemble the structure of a tree, he begins by detailing the roots, i.e., the inspirations and references that modelled Tolkien’s intellectual life. He then talks about the trunk, where he discusses the main body of work of Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit…) and he ends by discussing the branches, the smaller works by Tolkien such as poems, letters and products of the main books. The concept of peace is repeatedly brought out in various aspects. Firstly, the concept of otherness is discussed when talking about the orcs and the idea of evil and reconciliation. The idea of environmental peace, and a more empathetic understanding of nature by humanity, is also discussed in depth, as well as pessimism in relation to finding peace amongst humans and notions of declinism, of historical injustice and fighting slowly deteriorating peace efforts and creating a more violent world. 

García Márquez, Gabriel. “Cien años de solitud” (100 years of solitude). Cátedra, 2021. 26th edition by Jacques Joset. 

Gabriel García Márquez’s novel talks about a myriad of issues that make up the human experience, but the idea of long-lasting peace, and the absurdism of war, permeate the entire story. The theme of the impact of war in civilian populations is highlighted by the focalization of the story, cantered on a family. Interweaving magical realism with the realities of the revolutionary wars of South America, García Márquez masterfully merges the world of myth and storytelling and the pursuit of peace-building. One example can be found in the attempts of the priest Aurelio to make people believe that he saw a train full of dead civilians being taken away from the military, and the scorn and ridicule he experiences by the rest of Macondo. This passage speaks to the aftermath of war and the importance of pursuing historical memory. The presence of Ursula, head of the family, and her sneering and disdain toward the great rank and honours that his son gets in war, is useful in framing war as a pointless, self-perpetuating and destructive force. There is no focus in the heroisms of war, or even a single scene that sees it happening. Instead, the consequences of the war in a village are seen. The constant painting of the houses in different colours as Macondo changes ownership, the consequences of having soldiers come back from war into familiar environments and struggling to adapt, and the seeming fleetingness with which giving life or death are decided with the firing squad chapters. As Gabriel García Márquez stated in his Nobel of Literature acceptance speech, the role of storytelling in peaceful change, as an actor that can change people’s perception of war and peace, cannot be understated, and it shines with this story.

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