Sunday, April 17, 2005

Homer, Home and Middle-earth

I've got to write a paper on the ODYSSEY. I've posted the following thoughtful questions on both the Mythopoeic Society Group on Yahoo! Groups and in the Green Dragon message board at Heron Istarion:

Noting Paul Tillich's definition of faith, we might say that getting home is Odysseus' "ultimate concern," and a rather static one, as it remains a constant, and quite central, point of reference throughout the epic. But the question of why Homer spends half of the text of the ODYSSEY in Ithaca, telling about Odysseus' adventure of regaining his own after he has returned there, is interesting and important. Thinking about "myth" and how it functions in literature in general, and the ODYSSEY in particular, the image of "home" as identified in Homer's works seems to possess immense gravity and power.

Of course, the idea of home in Tolkien's works does not have such mythological centrality. It would be interesting to contrast these two views of home. Tolkien was an orphan by the age of 12. Maybe this experience informs his more generalized idea of home; it is either simply a place to hang one's hat, one's country in a rather pedestrian sense, or (and more ultimately) an unknown place beyond the world. After their adventures of saving the world (everybody's home) from ruin, the hobbits certainly return to their home to many changes, both in the Shire and in their own identities, but in Frodo's case especially, there can be no return to the innocence of the past, and he can not partake of rest or fulfillment there. He will not be healed until he goes into the "uttermost West," which for all practical purposes might as well be "heaven," as there is no returning back to the Shire from there. It is Gandalf's charge to preserve from the threat of evil any place where anything good can grow, whether it is Gondor, Rohan or the well-tilled fields of the West Farthing. But where is Gandalf's home?

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