Shaping of Cultural Values Through Environment in The Left Hand of Darkness, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Dune
Ursuala K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness was written after J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring and Frank Herbert's Dune. One of the most interesting comparisons between the three novels is how the authors treat the issue of cross-cultural misunderstandings. All three works contain many incidents where people of one race or planet encounter people of a different race or from a different planet. Tolkien treats this issue in a 'specisitc' or physiological manner. The cultural misunderstandings and clashes that arise in The Fellowship of the Ring are due to the differing physiology of the characters. Herbert deals with cultural misunderstandings in an environmental manner. In Herbert's world, cultural values depend less on which species a character belong to (because all characters seem to be "roughly" human) and instead depend on environmental variables. In The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin combines both approaches. The cultural misunderstandings between Genly Ai and Gethenians are due both to difference in physiology and different cultural values imprinted by environmental factors
Tolkien's physiological approach is best seen by examining the hobbits attitude towards the outside world. The hobbits are suspicious of, and generally do not understand, non-Hobbits. This can be seen by the Shire's constant suspicion of Bilbo's past adventures. The miller Sandyman comments on Bilbo's adventures: "Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don't go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you'll land in trouble too big for you" (Tolkien 24). Many hobbits of the Shire do not understand or value anything that is not of hobbit origin or value. They largely dismiss the rest of the goings on of Middle-Earth as not hobbit business. This often leads to misunderstanding and suspicion of others. Sandyman goes on to say "He's [Bilbo] often away from home. And look at the outlandish folk that visit him: dwarves coming at night, and that old wandering conjour, Gandalf, and all. You can say what you like, Gaffer, but Bag End's a queer place, and its folk are queerer (Tolkien 24). Later, a hobbit comments "If only that dratted wizard would leave young Frodo alone, perhaps he'll settle down and grow some hobbit sense" (Tolkien 40). It is clear that many of the hobbits distrust Gandalf simply because he is not a hobbit with typical hobbit business. These same misconceptions and misunderstandings based on physiology are apparent throughout Tolkien's trilogy. The distrust between dwarves and elves, the tension between elves and men, and the reluctance of the ents to get involved with non-ent business are a few examples. Many of these misconceptions and misunderstandings are overcome to defeat the forces of evil, however, the...