Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tolkien and Dickens

So, adult me discovered about fifteen years ago that I really enjoy reading Charles Dickens. A thousand years ago, back in high school, my class was assigned A Tale of Two Cities to read but I, either through laziness or indifference, decided to wing it and only read the Cliff Notes the night before the test. Think I got something like a B, but the incident rested heavily on my heart for many years. So much so that I decided it would be a good way to equilibrialize the karmic multiverse to finally read the book cover-to-cover on my daily train commutes into NYC.

I did, and relished it so much I may have actually kicked myself for faking it twenty years prior.

Recently I started reading a Dickens story every Thanksgiving. I did the Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, and now I’m about a quarter through David Copperfield. I enjoy this new tradition of mine immensely.

Now, just a few nights ago I read the following passage and thought immediately of J.R.R. Tolkien. See if you can figure out why:

“Oh, what do you want?” grinned this old man, in a fierce, monotonous whine. “Oh, my eyes and limbs, what do you want? Oh, my lungs and liver, what do you want? Oh, goroo, goroo!”

I was so much dismayed by these words, and particularly by the repetition of the last unknown one, which was a kind of rattle in his throat, that I could make no answer; hereupon the old man, still holding me by the hair, repeated –

“Oh, what do you want? Oh, my eyes and limbs, what do you want? Oh, goroo!” – which he screwed out of himself with an energy that made his eyes start in his head.

“I wanted to know,” I said, trembling, “if you would buy a jacket.”

“Oh, let’s see the jacket!” cried the old man. “Oh, my heart on fire, show the jacket to us! Oh, my eyes and limbs, bring the jacket out!”

That’s right. Gollum.

Oh, goroo, goroo!

… a kind of rattle in his throat …

“show the jacket to us!”

I wonder: did a young Tolkien read David Copperfield (published in 1850) as a lad and did this scene subconsciously imprint itself upon his wondrously imaginative mind, till years and years later the poor pitiable creature once called Smeagol drew itself out upon the printed page, 87 years later in The Hobbit?

An interesting piece of literary archaeology, no?

N.B. Above scene occurs near the beginning of Chapter XIII, where young David decides to flee his degrading employment at Murdstone and Grinby’s to travel uplands to throw himself upon the mercy of his never-seen miserly spinster Aunt. David is all of ten years old.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff. "Show the jacket to us" immediately sent shivers down the spine. Great call.