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Tolkien’s Dickensian Dreams

Introduction

In one of his many letters, J.R.R. Tolkien expressly wrote “I have never been able to enjoy Pickwick…” (Tolkien, 1990, p. 349). He was, of course, referring to the main character who gave his name to one of Charles Dickens’ most famous works: The Pickwick
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Uninteresting as it may have been to him, it is clear that particular aspects from the book have somehow found a way into Tolkien’s own method of writing: often incorporating similar dialogue styles and character qualities; not to mention particular moments that elicit the same emotional resonance within its readers.

One cannot fail to spot the intriguing resemblances between Tolkien’s own Fellowship and the close-knit gatherings of Pickwick and his friends; not to mention (among a variety of examples) the opening speech of Dickens’ protagonist during the group’s first meeting, bearing close similarity to Bilbo’s birthday party speech in the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Amidst the daily-chronicled narrative of Dickens’ novel, one finds a panoply of short stories somewhat ‘dethatched’ from the main storyline: providing further exploration into other themes and motifs of Victorian life. One such narrative is the fantastical account of Gabriel Grub in ‘The Story of the Goblins who stole a Sexton’. A clear-cut precursor to his more famous A Christmas Carol, Dickens explores the transformation of a solitary and unkind individual (Ebeneezer’s twin brother, one would venture to state), into a wiser, more-appreciative character.

It is my belief that Tolkien found something more in Dickens’ short story and helped shape one of the first engaging adventures of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. The purpose of this article is to analyse in detail Dickens’ short story and draw parallels with elements and events in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

In order to provide a clear understanding of the nature of this argument, the essay shall tackle ‘The Story of The Goblins who stole a Sexton’ in chronological order – whilst “pulling out” different aspects and moments from Tolkien’s chapter in order to assimilate and analyse the two together. Thus, the main sequence of events shall follow according to Dickens’ short story.

(The full article can be found on here: Tolkien’s Dickensian Dreams)

About the Author: James Moffett

James has been an avid fan of Middle-earth after witnessing its cinematic creation in The Fellowship of the Ring, back in 2001. He currently runs the blog ‘A Tolkienist’s Perspective’: delving into the intricacies of Middle-earth and trying to understand Tolkien’s intentions, aspirations and influences. At the same time, he also posts about the author’s more academic works and aspires to write his own recognised contribution in the field of Tolkien studies.