My critical essay, The Magic of the Rings is Temperamental, is now online at New Myths. Click on the link above, read the article and let me know what you think about it.
ADDENDUM TO THE ARTICLE
I have been receiving some very intelligent and interesting comments on my article and I plan to post excerpts from these comments right here as an addendum to the article. Those who enjoyed the article will definitely find enjoyment and information in these comments.
"The serial publication of The Pickwick Papers was a hundred years before TLOTR was being written. Tolkien was addicted to reading and could easily have read it in his school library as a youth. I'll have to check if Snodgrass is anything like Fredegar Bolger, the fifth hobbit who stayed behind. (It's my personal theory that Neville Longbottom owes a lot in the last Harry Potter novel to Fatty Bolger and his resistance efforts on the home front while his pals were off in the wilderness.) But the clincher for the Pickwick influence suggestion (beyond the characters of Sam and Sam) is the character of Trotter. During the first few drafts of Book One, the character of Strider was called Trotter." [Paula Johanson, writer and member of SF Canada]
"I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of influence was there, however -- I mean, it seems likely that Tolkien was very familiar with Dickens's works in general and The Pickwick Papers in particular. And let's face it: In one sense, Tolkien was trying to make the The Lord of the Rings trilogy derivative. In his mind he was crafting those English legends that should have been born; and in order to craft them convincingly, he drew from what he regarded as fundamental themes, values, and archetypes. He incorporated the seemingly universal notion of a lost Golden age, the heroism of Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied, the consequences of industrialization on the countryside, the horrors of World War I, and, of course, the principles of Roman Catholicism. Faced with the task of involving quintessentially English characters, why would he search beyond Dickens's works?" [Sean M. Foster, writer. The above quote is taken from his comments to this post.]
"Tolkien being derivative of the common heritage of myths and folklore does not disturb me, whether we're talking of the Nibelungen or of the many other sources he uses for Middle-Earth. (Once upon a time, when I read a lot of medieval romances in a row for my Ph.D., I noticed a few things that Tolkien might have lifted, but then writers should be congratulated on stealing things from obscure sources; bringing them out of obscurity and into the light might deserve thanks, no?) After all, it's one of the conceits of Tolkien that Middle-Earth is the past of our own world, so that it might be expected for stories of Middle-Earth to still echo in the myths and legends remembered centuries later.
"It's when he is derivative of modern popular fiction that I am more unsettled. (That might include _The Pickwick Papers_, if only Icould recollect the tales clearly.) For instance, there's an entire sequence where the unwary reader might think he's wandered into a Western. Take the last chapters of the first volume, when the Fellowship is sailing down Anduin, and they are shadowed by skulking orcs (or something) in the woods, sometimes escaping volleys of arrows... Just imagine Boromir muttering darkly "The natives are restless" and you can see this as an artless rewrite of a lot of colonial adventures with the small hardy band of European explorers venturing down (or up) an unknown river while the natives are chanting in the night... The horror, the horror!
"This leads us into the long chase led by Aragorn into Rohan. And there you have him peering into the distance, tracking the orcs and hobbits like a true frontiersman, and putting an ear to the ground in the best Leatherstocking/Hawkeye---or Winnetou---fashion. (It makes probably more sense in Middle-Earth than on the Kansas plains, come to think of it.) Or is that John Wayne chasing after some Indian captives? I spotted that when I first read it, but it doesn't really detract from it for me. By now, when I return to TLOTR, it's more for the enjoyment of the familiar. And, like I've said before, I've also made discoveries over time. Ever since I've hiked some of the lanes and byways of rural France, I've gained a new appreciation for the realism of the first volume, where Tolkien depicts quite well the challenges of long-distance travel on foot.
"I think that part of the effect of TLOTR on young readers came from the fact that Tolkien was leaping across the early twentieth century and literary modernism by importing into his fiction some of the commonplaces of nineteenth century popular fiction (westerns, the translated medieval romances that were popular in English at the time, and now Dickens, it seems). The unfamiliarity of some of this for younger readers made it seem fresher than it might have at an earlier time. There may be a lesson in that for older writers. If you wait long enough, what you write may actually gain in apparent originality. :-)" [Jean-Louis Trudel, writer and member of SF Canada]