It all started with what I like to call the “sentient fox in Lord of the rings”. While working my way through the lord of the rings the first time, I came upon this super weird bit: The hobbits are traveling from the Shire, and they sleep outdoors the night. Along walks a fox and observes them. The interesting part is that out of the blue the fox has an internal monologue with himself:
“A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed. “Hobbits!” he thought. “Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something might queer behind this.” He was quite right, but he never found out more about this.”
Clearly this fox is quite intelligent and self aware, he is a thinking being that might as well have talked with the Hobbits, but for a lack of the ability to speak. The strange thing about this is that we don’t see other animals talking in Middle Earth. Animals are just animals, and other races are sentient. Yes there are elevated races like the eagles and Ents, also, we know some animals who went to Valinor received the ability of speech in the second age, like Huan, but in this third age of middle earth, foxes are not supposed to be thinking like this one!
The sentient fox bothered me for quite some time. Why did Tolkien put this fox into the story? What is he trying to do or say by it? It feels so out of place.
This kept bothering me until I stumbled upon the same kind of strangeness in one of C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books, specifically, The silver chair. In this book, after the kids come back from Narnia, they go back to Experiment house, an evil place where the teachers abuse the children. The Head of Experiment house is a typical bad-teacher archetype. While reading this part of the story, you are suddenly pleasantly surprised by this passage:
“When the police arrived and found no lion, no broken wall, and no convicts, and the Head behaving like a lunatic, there was an inquiry into the whole thing. And in the inquiry all sorts of things about Experiment House came out, and about ten people got expelled. After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.”
What? This story is all about talking animals, epic adventures and learning life lessons, where on earth did this sudden social commentary come from? The head was supposed to get what she deserves, justice was supposed to be served, you know, the kind of thing you expect in a children’s book conclusion. But now Lewis quite out of the blue says that this rotten tomato was so bad that they could only put her in Parliament, and there she lived happily ever after!
Now after reading this out-of-place-randomness in Lewis’ work, suddenly the fox in Tolkien’s world made a lot more sense. I started having the feeling that I was being targeted by a fantasy-writers’ conspiracy. They were deliberately putting those small bits into their books as some kind of joke. It’s Easter eggs! It’s something that we see in video games all the time, the developers place something super random somewhere, so that when the gamer finds it, he can have a quick chuckle and keep playing the game. I am almost convinced that these guys were doing the same thing, they wrote Easter eggs into their story, thinking that some people will get it and some won’t, but it’s worth a chuckle.
I can just see those two old men giggling as they read the sentences to the Inklings. But now I wonder, are there more Easter eggs in fantasy literature waiting to be discovered by me?