Many symbolic associations are widely recognized and accepted, however, personal or literary symbols do not have pre-established associations: the meaning that is attached to them emerges from the context of the work in which they occur. A colour or an object may take on a secondary meaning. This essay will attempt to analyse the variety of different meanings of two literary symbols: light and darkness.
The aim of the research is to study the conceptual function and linguistic nature of the above-mentioned symbols.
A symbol is an example of what is called the transference of meaning. It has the capacity to evoke in the mind of the reader a range of invisible and abstract associations. By definition symbols are open-minded. They don’t have preestablished associations: the meaning that is attached to them emerges from the context of the work in which they occur.
The meaning of the words “light” and “dark” isn’t only limited by “good” and “bad”. In different dictionaries and encyclopedias we can find numerous definitions of these words. But J.R.R. Tolkien in his book The Lord Of The Rings. The Return Of The King interpreted these words in his own way.
There can be found twenty-one different meanings of the word “light” in the dictionaries, but Tolkien employed much more definitions, some of which he designed himself. He depicts the light as a sign of life: “Lights sprang in many windows, and from the houses and wards of the men at arms along the walls there came the sound of song” (p. 754). Lights in the windows symbolize lives of those people, who stayed in the city of Minas Tirith.
This word means victory: “The morning came after the day of battle, and it was fair with light clouds and the wind turning westward.” (p. 854) After the battle the darkness went away, the enemy was defeated, and nature ‘congratulated’ the victor.
Tolkien interprets the light as hope: “Ghan-buri-Ghan … got up as of to depart. But suddenly he stood looking up like some startled woodland animal snuffing a strange air. A light came in his eyes: “Wind is changing!” (p. 817) Ghan-buri-Ghan understood that with this wind the darkness will go away and nothing even the Dark Lord could not prevent it.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.” (p. 901) Just one star’s ray gave strength and hope to Sam. Tolkien accentuates the necessity of light: “… all we want is light and water: just clean water and plain daylight, better than any jewels.” (p. 897)
The light also means the long life living: “…Bilbo was sitting in a chair before a small bright fire. He looked very old, but peaceful and sleepy.” (p. 963) A little fire symbolizes coming of the end of life. Bilbo had a long life full of adventures and now his ‘existence’ in this world is going to an end.
The light can be used as a symbol of love: “And he (Faramir) took her (Eowyn) in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many. And many indeed saw them and the light that shone about them as they came down from the walls and went hand in hand to the Houses of Healing.” (p. 944)
But the light doesn’t mean only good. It has some negative meanings. Tolkien interprets this word as scouts and spies: “…Suddenly from its (tower of Cirith Ungol) narrow windows lights stared out like small red eyes.” (p. 878)
This word can also be used in the meaning of avidity and greediness: “A wild light came into Frodo’s eyes.” (p. 916)
The word “light” is also used in the description of Denethor’s madness: “It was in a very hour that Faramir was brought to the Tower that many of us saw a strange light in the topmost chamber … but we have seen that light before, and it has long been rumoured in the City that the Lord would at times wrestle in thought with his Enemy.” (p. 803)Denethor got to know about the enemy, and the Dark Lord made him go mad by showing him his army and his plans of destroying Minas-Tirith and Gondor itself.
The word “dark” has nine main definitions. Tolkien gave it twelve more meanings. The dark can be used as the symbol of loneliness: “The lodging was dark, save for a little lantern set on a table… Gloom settled still more heavily on Pippin. He climbed on the bench and tried to peer out of a window, but it was like looking into a pool of ink.” (p. 755)
Tolkien depicts the dark as the obscurity: “Dark ways, doubtless,” (p. 764)
He delineates the dark as death and unconsciousness: “It’s all going dark …” (p. 841)
This word means lie, slander: “…they said that you were slain. Nay, but that was only the dark voices in my dream.” (p. 850)
He limns the dark as absence of hope: “The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.” (p. 755)
He also delineates the dark as threat: “Nothing assailed the company nor withstood their passage, and yet steadily fear grew on the Dwarf as he went on: most of all because he knew now that here could be no turning back; all paths behind were thronged by an unseen host that followed in the dark.” (p. 769)
On the one hand the darkness means loneliness: but on the other hand it has a positive definition, it can be a dumb and understanding listener: “But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?” (p. 849)
Tolkien interprets the dark as camouflage: “They were clad in cloaks of dark grey.” (p. 759)
He depicts the dark as concealment: “I think we had better not move out from here again, until it has gone quite dark.” (p. 905) “At the first hint of grey light under the skirts of the canopy of shadow they hid themselves again in the dark hollow under tan overhanging stone.” (p. 906)
Tolkien’s use of Light and Dark imagery is not so simple. The antithesis of dark and light is hidden in casual things such as landscape, castles, representation of armies and warriors, some characters, objects and events.
Imagery of light and darkness is often used by authors in different styles of writing. In the course of the research we have found out that Tolkien’s conception of this theme is not so simple, as it may seem at first.
As a real artist Tolkien puts the main ideas of his work on a symbolic foundation. The contrast between dark and light forms a system of symbols, which influences every aspect of life, described in the epic: landscapes, castles, races and peoples, characters, objects and events.
Having thoroughly studied the text of the original, we have come to the following conclusions:
The composition of the epic, numerous symbols and various stylistic markers and images help Tolkien to draw the full and vivid picture of his own invented world.
Having been Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College in Oxford, he used such definitions of the words ‘light’ and ‘dark’ that aren’t even mentioned in any of the dictionaries.
John Ronald Ruel Tolkien widely used the antithesis of light and dark describing landscapes, castles, peoples, objects and events.
By using these symbols Tolkien managed to depict diametrically opposite concepts of victory, help, signs of life, hope, love, the necessity of the Sun, greed, avidity, madness, loneliness, obscurity, unconsciousness, lie, slander, threats and even death.
John Ronald Ruel Tolkien wasn’t only Professor of Oxford University and one of the composers of the well-known Oxford English Dictionary, but he invented the new genre – fantasy. Because of his original use of language to tell a story that simultaneously combined mankind's great myths, individual human psychology and the details of the history, Tolkien is becoming more and more popular and is read not only by children but by adults as well.