Questions about Tolkien's Foreword to LotR

In the foreword to “The Lord of the Rings” Tolkien explains how the book has no inner meaning or allegory.

Towards the end of the foreword he mentions how some may think that the chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” reflects the situation in England at the time when he was finishing his tale.

I believe Tolkien when he says any resemblance was unintentional, but what was the situation in England when Tolkien wrote the “The Scouring of the Shire”, and how were the two situations similar?

Also, and more importantly (this question has been bothering me for years) who and what is Tolkien referring to in the very last sentence of the foreword:

I guess it depends on when, specifically, he wrote the Scouring section of the book, which I do not know.

Tolkien finished Lord of the Rings in the period immediately after the Second World War, which was a particularly miserable time for many people in Britain, for a variety of reasons.

The privations and shortages that people had had to endure throughout the war hadn’t gone away – in some ways they’d actually got worse (bread, which had been unrationed, went on ration after the war, for instance). A good deal of industry and housing had been destroyed by bombing, and the replacements being hurriedly built were often seen as being ugly and sub-standard, despite the official assurances that they were “modern” and “efficient”. Some industry had been nationalised during the war, and the post-war Labour government was nationalising more. Meanwhile, scarce food and supplies were being airlifted to the brave and needy residents of Berlin (who had been the enemy) to frustrate the blockade by the dastardly Russians (who had been allies).

Overall, there was a widespread feeling among many people of having had to sacrifice and make-do for the greater good for a very long time, and now that the war had been won, the goalposts had been shifted and they were having to continue sacrificing and making-do with no end in sight.

George Orwell wrote 1984 around the same time, and you can see a lot of the same feeling in that.

OK, I can understand the parallel. Thank you very much for that.

Edited to add:

…and I can see the parallel to “1984” in that as well. Thanks again for a helpful post.

There is a hobbit called Sandyman who has a cameo role in LOTR. From context, I think Tolkien was just emphasising his point that, while he would have taken some inspiration from his experiences and the situation, they were not conscious inspiration for the theme of Scouring of the Shire.

To give you some idea of what post-war Britain was like, my parents were born in 1945, but they both remember rationing well. Food rationing did not completely end until 1954, nine years after the war ended.

For another perspective on why the “not an allegory” notification was so prominent, remember that Tolkien and CS Lewis were good friends (Lewis actually credited Tolkien with bringing him back to Christianity) and wrote together in a writing club called the Inklings, where each person in the club took turns reading sections of their work for criticisms and comments.

Despite being a good friend, Tolkien never liked the idea that Lewis was writing his Narnia “children’s stories” with such heavy allegory, and he got even huffier about the Perelandra stuff. He often commented that chaining such good ideas and imaginative work to an allegory in service to one specific point of view was a crime against good writing art.

A good bit of Lewis’ stuff had come out long before LoTR, and because the Hobbit was a children’s story (and because he had gotten many letters asking “what it meant”), for LoTR, Tolkien was doing what he considered damage control to prevent people from thinking that this work was a children’s allegory tale as well.

In a slight tangent, I often wonder if Narnia would have been better or worse if Tolkien had managed to convince Lewis to leave the obvious parallels and allegory out of it entirely.

My Mom was born in 1947 and she still remembers it, too.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t this the Foreword to the second edition of LOTR?

If so, wouldn’t the primary reason for JRRT’s “not an allegory” comment have been that people had been suggesting that it was—discussing the “hidden meaning” or speculating about what, say, Mordor or the Ring “really represented”?

Tolkien’s work was definitely influenced by his experiences in The Great War, his love for ancient stories & his nostalgia for the passing rural way of life. Might the Second War & its aftermath have affected him as well? Quite possibly.

But “allegory” is a formalized use of symbolism, in which each element in the story corresponds to an element in the real world. And allegory usually tries to teach a moral lesson. The result can be deadly dull & didactic; Tolkien wanted people to concentrate on the stories he told.

I would take Tolkien’s objections to allegory much more seriously if he weren’t the author of Leaf by Niggle.

Let’s also not forget that Lewis’ Space Trilogy hero “Ransom” was very much inspired by Tolkien.

But Lewis didn’t consider Narnia an allegory, either, even though it had more obvious Biblical parallels than did Tolkien’s work. Lewis considered something like The Pilgrim’s Progress to be allegory. (Unless I’m mixed up on another word.)

Yes, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is not an allegory in the strict sense of the word, but another of Lewis’s books, The Pilgrim’s Regress, is.

Thanks for the replies everyone.

After thinking about this a little more last night, and rereading the foreword, I think Tolkien is saying that the character of Sandyman was drawn from a real-life miller he knew, but is not meant to be a parallel to any political figure.

If I’m reading the last part of the foreword correctly, he seems to be saying:

"The Scouring of the Shire is certainly not a political allegory, and if it was based on anything, it would have been my pre-WWI youth, and [if I were to have based any characters on any real-life people] the character of Sandyman certainly wasn’t based on this old Miller that I disliked wink wink nudge nudge

It must be (or one of the editions later than the first anyway) as Tolkien writes “The Lord of the Rings” has been read by many people since it first appeared in print…"

*Miller?! I hardly even knew her! wink wink nudge nudge

Thats what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find the right words.

He’s even pretty contradictory on that, according to wiki:

That’s not how I read it at all. I think his point was that while, yes, he had in the course of his life certainly known at least one miller he hadn’t cared for, he hadn’t drawn Sandyman from any particular person in real life - not that miller, and not anyone else. From what I’ve read, many writers are just bombarded with assumptions from friends and neighbors that the characters in their books must obviously be drawn from this or that individual among them, many of them in high dudgeon. And in general, that’s not the way authors work. They may take this or that little characteristic of Person A (some physical feature or little habit) and add it to an otherwise fictional character. But unless the book is a deliberate roman a clef, they rarely lift entire characters into their stories.

Fiction writers are usually pretty proud of their trade in stock, which is imagination. They tend to get pretty annoyed when other people insist that their characters and/or situations are drawn directly from real life, because, among other reasons, it denies them the credit of having made these characters and situations up. from their imagination.

/slight hijac, I allways liked this part of his foreward

Bah, Leaf by Niggle is the allegoriest allegory which ever Al Gored.

I can understand that interpretation, as that certainly seems to be the literal meaning of the sentence. There’s something about the tortured way the sentence is phrased though, that makes me feel Tolkien is saying the opposite.

A bit of clarification for anyone who hasn’t read the books (or like me hasn’t read them in a long while): in LotR there are two Hobbit millers. The father, Sandyman, and his son, Ted Sandyman. Both are portrayed in a fairly unflattering light. Sandyman the elder is kind of a cranky gossip, and

Ted later aids Sharkey in the exploitation of the Shire.

A little Googling just now led me to the “Tolkien Gateway” which has an entry for both characters. In the entry for Ted, it quotes Tolkien’s biography:

So in the original sentence…

“I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.”

…Tolkien either seems to be saying either:

A) “This young miller I knew is the basis for Ted, but his father with the black beard is not the basis for Sandyman.”


B) “I didn’t like this young miller I knew, and his father with the black beard is not the basis for Sandyman.”

Again, I’m leaning towards Interpretation A, just because of the strange way the sentence is phrased.

Here are the links to the character entries, by the way: