I'm a bit of Tolkien
fan, Deerskin tocuhes on it, but here are specifics, so bear with me, the questions asked are very broad, and I will touch on them as best I can, if any more specific questions are asked please feel free:
I too, was puzzled by this business about "going West". In my opinion, it represents not so much the deaths of the travellers as it does the end of their way of life and history.
The West signifies Valinor, home of the Ainur on MiddleEarth. The Ainur are immortal beings who inhabited MiddleEartt has it was created by Eru (in Elvish Iluvatar). Think of Eru as god. The Ainur popualted Middl-earth (arda), and are seperated into two classes. The first are the Valar and they are described here:
"Great among of these spirits the Elves name the Valar, the Powers of Arda, and Men have often called the gods".
- Of the valar - Valquenta
, The Silmarillion
- JRR Tolkien
There are 14 memebrs of the Valar, chief of them is Manwe, the 15th was Melkor (later dubbed Morgoth by Feanor), but he is no longer counted among the Valar, as he is the First Dark Lord (Sauron was his aide).
The second group is the Maiar:
"With the Valar came other spirits whose beigns also began before the World, of the same order of the Valar, but of less degree. These are the Maiar, the peopel of Valar, and their servants and helpers
." - Of the Maiar, Valquenta
, The Silmarillion
- JRR Tolkien
Some examples of Maiar are Gandalf (Olorin) and Saruman, however teh y were knwon as teh Istari as they were in human form and set by Valar to adie Man against Sauron. Sauron is also a Maiar, a particularly powerful one at that.
They lived in Valinor, which resides in teh west, and that includes the undying lands. Elves are of course immortral being in Middle earth and this is where they go to die.
That sounds right to me, but still . . . how can the hobbits go?
This is explained here, however jsut as a note the bearers of te Rings of power, which include Same, Frodo, Bilbo, gandalf, Elrod, and Galadriel are allowed to pass into the west. Dealing with Frodo specifcially:
" and so certain 'mortals', who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo); and as a unique exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and 'servant'of Galadriel "
- Letter #154, JRR Tolkien
Why can't Arwen and Aragorn?
Arwen gave up her chance.
Well, the hobbits can go because they are creatures which belong to the old, passing age, like elves and Orcs and the whole thing.
This is incorrect. the Hobbits are not older than man, in fact the Hobbits stem from man, and were created in Eru's Third song along with man, however they appear in no stories until the Third Age 9(The War of the Ring). The Elves were the first born, Man was called the "Atani"
the Second people. Note:
"The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race (not Elves or Dwarves) – hence the two kinds can dwell together (as at Bree), and are called just the Big Folk and Little Folk. They are entirely without non-human powers, but are represented as being more in touch with nature (the soil and other living things, plants and animals), and abnormally, for humans, free from ambition or greed of wealth. They are made small (little more than half human stature, but dwindling as the years pass) partly to exhibit the pettiness of man, plain unimaginative parochial man – though not with either the smallness or the savageness of Swift, and mostly to show up, in creatures of very small physical power, the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men at a pinch."
-Letter 131 JRR Tolkien
"One of an imaginary people, a small variety of the human race, that gave themselves this name (meaning hole-dweller) but were called by others halflings, since they were half the height of normal Men."
- Letter 316 - JRR Tolkien
"Hobbits on the other hand were in nearly all respects normal Men, but of very short stature. They were called halflings; but this refers to the normal height of men of Numenórean descent and of the Eldar (especially those of Noldorin descent), which appears to have been about seven of our feet"
- of Dwarves and Men People of Middle Earth
- JRR Tolkien
As funes pointed out Tolkein wasn't at all interested in having his work seen as an allegory to WWII but...is there anyone besides me who thinks the Shire sounds a lot like England sounds?
The reason behind this is Tolkien
was writing a myth for England. Tolkien
said as much in his letter to his friend Milton Waldemen
"But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little in the world (accessible to me) for my appetite. I was an undergraduate before thought and experience revealed to me that these were not divergent interests - opposite poles of science and romance - but integrally related. I am not 'learned'* [Footnote *Though I have thought about them a good deal.] in the matters of myth and fairy-story, however, for in such things (as far as known to me) I have always been seeking material, things of a certain tone and air, and not simple knowledge. Also - and here I hope I shall not sound absurd - I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain, but not with English; and it does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing its 'faerie' is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another, and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.
"For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world. (I am speakung, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read.
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-tory the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths - which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our air (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be high, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.
Of couse, such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories were the thing. They arose in my mind as 'given' things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour (especially since, even apart from the necessities of life, the mind would wing to the other pole and spend itself on the linguistics yet always I had the sense of recording what was already there somewhere: not of inventing."
Hope that helps