Psychoanalyzing “The Hobbit”

* Matthews, Dorothy. “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” In A Tolkien Compass, ed. Jared Lobdell. Open Court, 2003. A psychoanalytical approach to The Hobbit that accomplishes at least one thing to its credit: an (unwitting) exhibition of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the psychological theories of Freud and Jung. (These guys make medieval allegorical interpretation in its more, um, “creative” moments look like sober and sound exegesis.) Swords as phallic symbols (teehee) gets mentioned at least twice, and we are reminded with a straight face of the “Freudian sex symbols” of “keys, locks, caves, chalices, and cups,” items prevalent in “coming-into-manhood” stories such as The Hobbit. Here’s a choice morsel on Gollum: “The association of this adversary with water and the attention given to his long grasping fingers and voracious appetite suggest a similarity to Jung’s Devouring Mother archetype, that predatory monster which must be faced and slain by every individual in the depths of his unconscious if he is to develop a self-reliant individual.” Whatever. (But perhaps I’m being unfair, and am aggressively acting out my own repressed but otherwise well-adjusted childhood.) Matthews, to be sure, does make a number of insightful comments in the course of her article (for example, her answer to the question why it is not Bilbo whom Tolkien makes responsible for killing Smaug), but it is noteworthy that almost none of them have really anything to do with her psychoanalytical reading of the text.

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