Tolkien Imagery and Battle

by DoctorGamgee with responses

One of the things that I have always found interesting about LOTR is the way in which Tolkien depicts scenes of battles. I have alwasy appreciated the fact that his telling of these battles is simultaneously evocative and subdued (at least in most of them . . . more to come). He doesn't focus on the gore and blood, or other graphic statements which spell out what is seen. He recounts the numbers game between Legolas and Gimli, where the dwarf states that he has separated X many heads from orc bodies. But we rarely see this sort of gore in the present tense being so graphic.

This, of course, leaves much to the imagination, which readers fill in for themselves. One needn't have a count of the missing limbs to imagine them on the field (or not, if one is squeemish.

One thing I notice, however, is that there is in my memory a distinct difference between two important battles: Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith. And it is this difference that makes me take notice and perhaps try to understand what Tolkien was trying to say to us.

Perhaps my memory is false and I am just getting old, but as I remember reading the books, the depictions of what happened at Helms deep is not nearly as graphic as that at Minas Tirith. In Gondor, for example, we see that heads are shot over the walls branded with the lidless eye. No such things happen at HD. I will have to watch the movies again to see if this is depicted on screen, as it was something that was so vivid in my memory from reading the books that I wondered if it would happen on screen. It is chilling, wicked, and horrible, which was the point, I believe.

At HD, the fighting is more intense, perhaps, but as it is two armies facing one another, that sort of psychological demoralization was not used. Perhaps because the thought of regimented military types (even those conscripted farmers who were fighting with pitchforks) would somehow not evoke the horror at a military encampment. And yet, when they are lobbed into the middle of the street what would usually be a social setting, the horror is magnified, as the surrounding is more common to us than the inside of a fort would be, and thus, the shock greater. Plus, in MT, there is greater contact with civilians, where as Rohan had sent the ladies, old-timers and children away. And as the white city is the capitol of civilization, as opposed to a defensible fort, it really shows how war affects society, which is often removed from the battle setting.

I don't know that I really have a point, but I find this curious. The attack on civilization is more intensely described than the attacks on the military targets. I think the professor is telling us something here, though I can't imagine what precisely. As a former soldier, he was familiar with the military lifestyle, but doesn't paint it in a glowing 'old soldier's never die' type setting -- he seems to see the need for it, but didn't find a need to promote it for its own ends; he was a peace-loving man. But he also tied the military into the everyday life, so he wasn't anti-military. He seemed to be pointing out the obvious -- that sometimes we must take up arms to defend our way of life from the orcs who would destroy it.

Do any of you have any thoughts on this matter?

Response from Icarus:

Great topic!

Yes, the heads over the walls were depicted in the movie (I forget if it was just the EE or not) and it was pretty horrific. But there wasn't actually more contact with civilians in the book at Minas Tirith. Tolkien doesn't cover the artillery war, nor does he discuss the Nazgul doing any strafing runs and the first circle was mostly deserted by the time the firebombs started coming over the wall (from what I remember of the book... it's been a while). All of that was Peter's vision of the battle. I thought it was pretty interesting how much he added shots of the civilians at Helm's Deep (and moved their hiding place to directly behind/under the keep from the way they reacted to the fighting) and added the civilians at Minas Tirith. One thing, though... I don't think I saw a single civilian casualty. I know for sure the Nazgul didn't pick any up, but I'd have to watch more closely at the bodies in the streets. I guess that's a point for PJ in following Tolkien's ideas. But someone PLEASE get him a military consultant any time in the future when he depicts battle scenes!

As for Tolkien's depiction of battles, I have to say I've always been disappointed. I am definitely a tactician and enjoy novels that spend entire chapters on the lay of the land and the array of forces and so on... I even read non-fiction books that do the same thing. I can definitely understand why Tolkien did it... both personally and for his story. The battles were a means to an end... it's the result that Tolkien wanted to discuss and bring forth. Good against Evil and how Good doesn't stay unchanged even if it wins.

Response from Melly the Elf:

In both the Minas Tirith battle, did anyone else sort of scream YES!!!!!!!!! When Tolkien describes the horn being blown hence the ride of the rohirrim? Everytime I am in sort of horror and tense at the battle, then those lines and I feel a big smile on my face.  But I agree, I love Tolkien's description, not having to be bloodthirsty or anything. Love him!

Response from Varda:

Thanks, Doc, for a very important observation. The thing is Tolkien was learning by doing, basically. Helm's Deep was his first battle to write, and by the time he wrote the Battle of the Pelennor he had learned a few things.

I have always found a curious disengagement in Tolkien's battles as there is no gore. Not a single entrail, and the Iliad, for example, is knee-deep in guts. Tolkien seems to shy away from graphic descriptions of what a battle really is, which is basically butchery.

The heads over the wall is the single exception. It is a very effective incident,and brings home to us better than a thousand screaming orcs that this is a battle between civilisation and barbarism. But it is an isolated incident, and there is not that really horrible aspect of war - the killing of the innocents, women and children, because in the book Denethor does send away the women and children before the battle (the books and films differ in this) There is a passage where Pippin watches the wagons leaving, and his friend the son of Beregond is terrified he will be sent away with the women. Tolkien seems to shy away from showing us the real horror of war, dead civilians.

Tolkien took part in the most horrible war in the history of man, the Great War, but he does not put it into his battles. Quite the contrary, his description of Eomer glorifes war;
'these staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, ane he was young, and he was king; the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships and he lifted up his sword to defy them'

This is what used to be called gung ho. It is not really like the sagas, because the sagas were written for a warlike people who knew just what war was like; lots of vainglory but also lots of gore. Here is is a Beowulf-era story about Cuchulainn finishing off an opponent, Nadcrantail.

'Cuchulainn brought his sword down. The sword tip gouged a line through the wet earth before the blade separated Nadcrantail's head from his body. For a few moments Cuchulainn stood watching the body twitching. Then Nadcrantaill was still and the blood stopped gushing out of his neck and pooling in the wet brown ground. Later, Nadcrantail's sons came from the camp. They wore heavy cloaks that were made heavier by the rain that soaked into them. They took their father's body and carried it back to the camp and buried it. Their father's head, meanwhile, Cuchulainn stuck on a pole at the top of the mountains. '

Peter Jackson had Eomer putting his opponents heads on stakes. Cuchulainn certainly kept his foes heads. But the men of Gondor in Tolkien's book are too noble, and just get their own hurled back at them. Tolkien also describes the armies of the West wiping out their enemies to a man. That is not easy, as there are always captives, usually the injured. So, did they kill prisoners? Either they were not so noble, or Tolkien has not thought through what would happen in a real battle.

Tolkien did import the horror of war on the Western Front into his book; it is in his description of Frodo and Sam crossing the fiery ashen wastes of Mordor. That is real, that description of torments endured together is deeply moving. But Tolkien's actual battles have for me never been the most convincing part of his books. They are more symbolic than real.

Thanks Doc for an interesting discussion...

Varda, used to be called Queen of Battles, once....

Reply from Dcotor Gamgee:

Not being a tactician, they don't bother me, Ic, but I do see your point. They aren't detailed greatly, and perhaps the disparity between the war he witnessed and the war waged in Gondor in terms of weapons and warcraft are the reason for this. One must be interested in Battlefield Logistics in order to write it well, and I somehow feel that that was not the main point for Tolkien.

You make some interesting points, V. The difference in gore levels for someone so well versed in the idiom makes a statement in its own right. I will have to reread a few passages, however, before I am convinced that the difference is merely a learning curve between the two. I suppose I am skeptical due to the fact that he spends no time on the storming of Isengard in the present tense, instead relegating it to memories of the Hobbits. And then, of course, for the lack of gore found in rescuing Frodo from the tower, which is awfully esoteric (Sam in the role of the Elven Lord, for example) which seemingly would have been after his dealing with the Pellinor Fields which were so gruesome. Not much in the way of Bodies on the stairs as they descended the tower or tripping over entrails.

But I agree, the battles are much more symbolic than real. And as you so beautifully put it, "Tolkien did import the horror of war on the Western Front into his book; it is in his description of Frodo and Sam crossing the fiery ashen wastes of Mordor. That is real, that description of torments endured together is deeply moving. " That is truly insightful, V. Thank you.

Response from MerryK:

It's amazing to me, whenever I read LOTR, that, far from feeling inspired by the battle scenes to go and fight (despite the Rohirrim and their war lust), I feel utter horror and disgust, and can't wait for it all to end. While I wouldn't say that Tolkien is the best at providing the feel for battle scenes, there is a feel throughout, most likely unconscious, that makes it almost impossible to finish his books and long to go to war. Tolkien had a great gift in making goodness and peace and quiet desirable — in almost any other author's hands, Faramir would just be a goody-goody-two-shoes, i.e. Fanny Price in Mansfield Park — and his battle scenes, though exciting, are horrific things. He doesn't need to consciously state that war is hell, because the sentiment is there already, even if the words are not.

The only exception would be the Rohirrim, and I have to admit that it is truly hard to not feel a thrill at Eomer's response to despair. But I notice that in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Tolkien goes quickly and fluidly from describing the glory of the Rohirrim and their singing as they slaughter, to the terrifying picture of battle between Eowyn and the Witch King: "For he will not slay thee in thy turn, he shall bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind left naked to the Lidless Eye." Of course, this is due to the fact that Tolkien goes from third person narrator, to Merry's point of view. But readers are more likely to agree with Merry, crawling on hands and knees in his terror, than with the highly heroic Rohirrim.

Response from Varda:

Thanks, Doc. One aspect of the Helm's Deep battle that made me wonder was Tolkien learning on the spot was when Aragorn comes out onto the batttlements and the orcs taunt him. He says 'I only came out to see the sun' There is something not heroic actually but a bit pompous and ridiculous about this. By the battle of the Pelennor one feels Tolkien would not have had Aragorn doing something as empty and exhibitionist as that.

Thanks for the reply, MerryK, you have a great insight into the effect on the reader of Tolkien's battles.

I do remember Peter Jackson saying he just COULD not show the Rohirrim singing as they slew. Even he found that a bit daft.

Response from Primula:

I saw Aragorn's commentary regarding the sun as deliberate - it pointed out first of all that time was passing and the Men were still undefeated (battered and harried, yes, but undefeated), it pointed out the weakness in their own orcish kind in the sunlight (which they get and protest with much chest-beating about being Uruk-hai), and it also places him above them... let their low kind grovel in the mud, they cannot intimidate or bring hopelessness or parley, he looks up to the dawning of the new day with hope and they can never change that - he is a King in the making, and they are tree fertilizer.

While I agree that the lack of gory descriptives may make the battles seem too unrealistic, at the same time I don't think it is necessary for the telling of the tale to have emotional impact. It could be compared to a Hitchcock film, in which we do not see the twitching and pooling and spurting and whatnot, but we still cringe, knowing that a blow has been dealt. There are times when too much graphic detail detracts from the overall feel of tale and distracts from its main points, and this would be one of those times, to my thought. His point was not to show us how many ways a creature/person can shoot liquids from holes poked in it, but rather to illustrate the bigger picture of the focus and balance of power and the events that were coming together to change it.

Also, do you really think the singing would have been unrealistic? Soldiers and sailors have been known to sing time out of mind to help them carry on their work with a rhythm, to keep the team together when all are labouring. True, it would not translate well to film, but it 'reality' I do not see it as that farfetched.

Response from Varda:

Yes soldiers and sailors often sing, and tribal people chant in battle, but only on their way to the fray. Once the actual cut and thrust starts, certainly in hand to hand combat like in the Pelennor, you save your breath for the fighting.

Tolkien's battles are deeply unrealistic but not out of any failure of literary ability. Tolkien belonged to a generation which had a classical education, that is, Latin and Greek. In classical literature the highest form of literary art was seen as epic. The epic muse was the highest of the nine. And epic was about....WAR. 

This is why Virgil starts his epic the Aeneid with the famous words;
'Arma et virumque cano..', badly translated by generations of schoolboys as 'I sing of arms and a man'

That is exactly what Tolkien is doing; he is writing epic, he is writing about arms (the war) and a man (Aragorn) Aragorn's destiny to lead his people to a new kingdom is an exact parallel with that of Aeneas's journey to lead his people to a new land.

In epic, war is not just gory battles. It expresses the idea, now often challenged it is true, that war is the highest endeavour of mankind. That it brings out the greatest heroism as well as the greatest evil and cruelty. That Tolkien knew all about the evil and cruelty is obvious, as he fought in the trenches. But he puts all that aside in order to use epic as the ancients used it; as a symbol of the battle between good and evil, order and disorder, and hope and darkness.

So the battles of the Hornburg and Pelennor are not just killing fields to Tolkien; they are the visible signs of a titanic struggle, a cosmic clash between forces of darkness and destruction, that seek to drag all creation back into the depths, and the forces of light and hope and renewal, embodied by Aragorn and his new vision of kingship.

Within this vision, Tolkien was actually not bothered by how 'realistic' his battles were. It did not matter. What mattered was what was at stake, and that we recognise the gigantic significance of the battles. Few that fought or died in them can even comprehend how important they are, only we, the reader, can perceive that here the doom of men is being decided.

Varda, in a former life a classics student...

Response from Lindorie:

Actually I know a man that sings when he fights in armor in SCA tournaments. It really freaks out his opponents when he has this huge grin on his face and sings as he swings his sword. It gives a tremendous psychological advantage. The Rohirrim singing in battle is probably not as strange as it seems. If you can imagine a whole army singing battle songs as they engage the could be a really effective tool. Remember, fighting in that style was very different from armies and fighting since the advent of the firearms. There was very little stealth involved and there were specific tactics and rules involved.

Remember, one of the reasons that the British had such difficulty with indigenous armies including the colonists in the American Revolution, was that the Americans did not fight in ranks and didn't fight in a civilized manner according to some British commanders. The books that I have read that describe medieval battles indicate that usually there was a vanguard, a flank, and a center of battle. Simon de Montfort used a reserve which was highly unusual at Lewes. He had his troops march at night to get in position, which was also highly unusual. I am not certain about whether singing in battle has been historically documented, but may look into it. I'm sure that some of my SCA friends would know.

Response from MerryK:

Another point that might be interesting to note is that this is, in fact, fantasy, and since the Numenoreans have supernatural skills, it's probably not too far-fetched to imagine that the Rohirrim could be able to sing and fight at the same time. Perhaps they had more lung capacity, or were simply trained from youth to do so.

Also, considering the amount of time Tolkien spent in making his world detailed (chronologically, geologically, geographically, etc.), if he was just writing epic, he probably would not have detailed the evacuation routes of the Gondorians or the battle formations of the Rohirrim.

I'm not sure if I don't agree with Varda overall, but I can certainly see another opinion in the matter.

Response from sarahstitcher:

I'm one of those "girls" who doesn't miss the explicit gore. If I could re-edit any of several films, not only LOTR, I'd slip out those little bits with severed heads, people with lung wounds dying in my lap (the major flaw with Rob Roy, for instance), etc. It's enough for me to know "A killed B, B is now dead". I've read books that had extensive, detailed descriptions of battle scenes and most of them leave me bored or bewildered. I just can't follow that kind of detailed action in my head. I love the descriptions of the landscape, and the "ordinary" details that bring the story to life for me. Of course there are some who find those boring, and want to get on to the "important stuff" like how exactly did A kill B?

Response from Varda:

To settle the matter of the singing, let's look at the book itself.

Tolkien describes the ride of the Rohirrim toward Gondor as taking place in secrecy and silence. Then they burst on the plain of the Pelennor as the seige is at its height, and sweep down on the enemy;

'Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor'
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane, and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them....the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a God of old, even as Orome The Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young.

His gold shield was uncovered and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun and the grass flamed into green abut the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed and terror took them, and they fled, and died and the hooofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Roham burst into song and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City. '

So when Tolkien says the Rohirrim 'sang as they slew' he is not talking about some custom they always adhere to; he is speaking of a SPECIFIC event; this charge is not just an attack in battle; it is Theoden and his knights reclaiming the glory of their people people and his own personal honour after Wormtongue's shameful dominance.

Look at Tolkien's language and imagery here; it is rhetorical and heroic. He refers to the Valar, one of only about three references to them in the entire book. This is an almost mystical and certainly mythical event. The song is part of that; for Tolkien, song is wired into the creation myths of Middle Earth. When the Rohirrim sing, just as when the Hobbits sing their bath or travel songs, all is good and right in nature.

But the Rohirrim do not sing for long, nor does Tolkien sustain this elevated and rhetorical style. Just turn the page, from page 871 to 872/3 (Unwin Ed.) and you find Tolkien reverting to a natural, realistic style, and the Rohirrim struggling not just for breath, but for life, all singing forgotten;

'suddenly in the midst of the glory of the king his golden shield was dimmed. The new morning was blotted from the sky. Dark fell about him. Horses reared and screamed. Men cast from the saddle lay grovelling on the ground. '

Theoden is felled by the Nazgul and 'the knights of his house lay slain about him, or else mastered by the madness of their steeds were borne far away' Eowyn and Meriadoc manage to kill the Lord of the Nine, but when Eomer arrives all he sees are his sister and his king dead.

Over the rield rang Eomer's clear voice calling;
'Death, Ride, ride to ruin and the world's ending!'

And with that the host began to move. But the Rohirrim sang no more. Death they cried with one voice loud and terrible, and gathering speed like a great tide their battle swept about their fallen king and passed, roaring away southwards.'

So in Tolkien's writing of the battle we have a highly stylised vision of a renewed people riding, singing, to battle, in glory like that of the 'world unbroken'. Then after the fatal conflict with the lord of the Nine on his fell beast, we are brought back to the awful carnage of battle, its human cost in the deaths of Theoden and apparently, Eowyn. The singing is forgotten and a long battle scream of 'Death' takes place.

So the phrase 'singing as they slew' is not a description of an always-observed custom of the Rohirrim; it is particular to this special moment in the battle, and is soon overtaken by silence at the sight of the dead king;
'Grief and dismay fell upon Eomer as he came to the king's side and stood there in silence'

And then it gives way to a new battle cry of death and revenge.

So we can't just take the phrase 'singing as they slew' out of context and build some vision of Rohirrim customs out of it. We should respect the continuity and development of Tolkien's descripion of the battle, and look to see what he is trying to tell us, as he moves away from a stylised, idealised vision of knights charging as glorious as supernatural heroes before time, to the sad and silent sight of Eomer grieving over his slain king and sister, then the Rohirrim riding for vengeance with not singing on their lips but one word howled out long and hard,


Thanks for listening - V.

Response from Prog Snob:

I think their singing is a beautiful moment. This verse of heroic melody is a celebration of their triumph. The way Varda described it seems right.

Response from Rogorn:

I'm not an expert on Tolkien's biography, but I wonder if he ever actually killed a man, even in battle. He was a signalling officer at the Somme with a fusiliers corps. If he didn't, and especially if he didn't at close quarters, as the Rohirrim and the Gondor people would have to, maybe his 'The Horror' experience wasn't complete. It is in fact very significant that the pools of water with dead people inside (which he saw personally) have made it into his writing, together with the heads on spikes (which he most probably didn't, just appeared in the books he read), but not so much the particularly act of provoking bloody carnage with your own two hands.

But whatever his personal experiences, if one wanted to put in all sorts of ghastly injuries and dismemberments, he could have done it as well as anybody else. However, Tolkien said that he purposefully wrote in a style that 'should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry'. I remembered the bits about high, purged of the gross and steeped in poetry, which give pointers towards the effect he was after, but this time my attention has been caught by the 'adult mind'. And yes, surely the gory details are not what should matter to an adult, discerning mind. People are getting killed, that's what matters. Look for the why. The how is a mere distraction, and in fact, too many details could even be off-putting, which happens often in other tales of war, both on page and on screen. Let's hail Aragorn Elessar the renewer of the dynasty, not the Disemboweller of Orcs (whatever the Elvish word for it is).

Another useful-useless tidbit of information on Tolkien and war is that 'the kernel of the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled with 'hemlocks' (or other white umbellifers) near Roos on the Holderness peninsula [Yorkshire] – to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1918' [two years after surviving the Somme].
How about that? Tolkien was in the soldiery business when the whole shebang began, including some of the most cherished non-violent sections.

Response from MerryK:

That's a very good point, Varda, though I've always thought that when Tolkien dipped into the heroic style, it was simply because he liked it, rather than any point he was making. He liked the heroic style, but he also considered his world real enough to describe the clothes that the people might have worn in one of his letters (and the shape of simblemyne and elanor, etc.).

But though that is the only reference to the Rohirrim singing in battle, the references to their love of song are plentiful, and the fact that they all start singing at once is, at least to me, indicative of something more than a one-time occurence. Perhaps not a full-out custom, but certainly a part of their culture.

But whatever the reason, I have always found it very poignant that they do so, and almost wish that it was in the movie. Alas! some things can only work in books.

Response from Varda:

Tolkien dipped into the heroic for specific reasons, and the switch must always alert us to something going on in the book. Here, it is the great rescue of Gondor by her ancient ally Rohan, a reshoot of ancient wars in the times of Elves. Something heroic and mythical is going on, and Tolkien uses language accordingly.

But Tolkien also believed that he had a right to use archaic language because if the modern world is rubbish and ugly rubbish to boot, why shouldn't we go back to an age when courage, generosity and loyalty were celebrated, and use their language instead of a barren and debased modern idiom?

Response from MithrandirCQ:

Hi, V. I always thought the "medieval thinking" was pervasive throughout LOTR. We know Tollers and Lewis among others despised modern Literature and fought against it at Oxford. Tollers had a noted distaste for authors like T.S. Eliot. Into this mix we have a mixture of forms that is based on the epic and the quest. The characters he peoples in ME are either primitive or urbane, high or low, powerful or powerless or "actively" good or bad- related to this we also see the characters "classified" as the tempted or the fallen. Visible signs show inward states. Saruman changes to many colors and Gandalf remarks that the old white clothes are better. Tollers uses the literary phrases indicative of kenning ( A poetic phrase that substituted for the usual name of a person or thing which were commonly inserted into Old English poetic lines). The Battle of Gondor comes to mind in ROTK. The idea of hierarchy is found throughout. Kings have servants and even some masters - as in the Shire (The Thain would be another example). The idea that the first ancestors of men and elves were purer, stronger, etc is also noted. By the Third Age, the elves are receding, there are no more Feanors, Fingolfins, etc. For the race of men it was said in ROTK following Prince Imrahil's meeting Legolas and Gimli in the Last Debate chapter:

'That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,' said Legolas -If
Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have
been its glory in the days of its rising.'
'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought
in the first building,' said Gimli. -It is ever so with the things that
Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they
fail of their promise.' -
'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,'said Legolas. -And that will
lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-
for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli.'
'And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens I
guess,' said the Dwarf.
'To that the Elves know not the answer,' said Legolas.

Tollers tries evoke the 'medieval' of ME by harking back to earlier realms. As in the Field of Geology - "The past is the key to the present". This concludes the meandering ramblings of MithCQ.

Response from Varda:

Thanks, Mith, and I know Tolkien had a serious quarrel with Eliot and indeed with most modern authors.

Sadly, however, we can't turn back the clock and unlearn what we have learned, and Tolkien's refusal to engage with modernity cannot really be convincing, because although he taps into the heroic and the romantic and the pre-medieval in parts of LOTR, in other sections such as his recounting of Sam, Frodo and Gollum's struggle to reach Mount Doom he entirely disregards the heroic, classical and medieval tradition, and gives us a modern novel.

Tolkien has his cake and eats it too. He trashes modernity, then gives us a modern hero, Frodo.

In his essay, Frodo as Beowulf, Robert Goldberg says;
'Tolkien tweaks the ideal and reworks the heroic for a different time and place.'

Tolkien is no more a medieval writer than I am. He is a modern writer very brilliantly using medieval (and earlier) literary traditions to write a modern book. The Lord of The Rings has as its heart Frodo, and as Roger Sale in his book Modern Heroism says,
'Frodo, unlike much else in the trilogy, is modern'

What Tolkien does is adopt an attitude of curmudgeonly anti-modernism in his own views on life and literature. But he does not adopt medieval thinking. None of us can do that, unless we go get into a time machine. Tolkien cleverly uses the medieval, the classical and when he wants to, the modern to create his books.