Tolkien, Agnon, and the Power of Imagination

December 29, 2014 | Jeffrey Saks
About the author: Jeffrey Saks, the director of ATID and its program, is the director of research at Jerusalem’s Agnon House and the series editor of the S.Y. Agnon Library at Toby Press.

The Israeli novelist S. Y. Agnon and J.R R. Tolkien, the English author of Lord of the Rings, do not appear to have much in common. Yet, aside from being near-contemporaries, both were religiously devout, allowed religion to inform their work, and were profoundly influenced (both personally and in their fiction) by the trauma of World War I. Do the similarities end there? Jeffrey Saks writes:

It is precisely in regard to what he called Mythopoeia (a term he coined, meaning “mythos-making”) that Tolkien draws our attention and invites comparison to the greatest modern Hebrew author, S.Y. Agnon—the only Nobel winner for Hebrew literature. . . . [T]here are various ways Tolkien and Agnon resemble each other—a love of nature and the outdoors, appreciation for a good drink, a bookish reclusiveness mixed with a gregarious wit—indeed, there was something quite “Hobbitish” about both men as they moved into later life. Isn’t the Shire [the bucolic Eden of Tolkien’s novels] itself something like a Middle Earth version of the [East European] shtetl? Both are principally closed societies whose residents exist, to varying degrees, in naïve isolation from and in suspicion of the larger, outside world.

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