Welcome to my blog. Originally meaning it to be a casual Shakespeare study resource, I have decided to expand it into speaking about other literature-related topics: specifically, philosophy and politics. No work of literature is separate from the author’s perspective, which can often be judged as interacting with or against what he or she considers to be their surroundings.
In The Art of Fiction and The Romantic Manifesto (both of which I’ve found somewhat useful when approaching a new work), Ayn Rand claims that whatever drives them to create, every writer (indeed, every artist in general) reveals at least two things through their work: a metaphysical position and an epistemological method pertaining to that position. In other words, they have a view of what the world is like (i.e. as it pertains to humans), and they recreate that view with a style showing how that world is to be understood. While I’ve moved beyond Rand in recent years, this perspective still affects how I approach books. There’s always an abstract theme to be found, and it’s not disconnected from the form used to present it. Thus, my blog’s tagline is “That book has an idea behind it; I’m here to talk about it.”
The Lord of the Rings
Let’s use an example. Like many people, I love The Lord of the Rings. I also loved studying the perspective Tolkien brought to writing the book. Last I counted, I had read it five times between the start of high school and the end of college (with the last time being in three days). That’s not even counting the other books and languages (yup. Learned ’em). Trust me when I say I loved that book and all the lore surrounding it.
Now to the possibly sacrilegious part. Born near the turn of the 20th century, Tolkien wrote most of his works throughout the shift that occurred during and after the two World Wars. Tolkien’s metaphysics were of a largely late-Victorian persuasion, and The Lord of the Rings contains his fight to reestablish the pre-World War I way of experiencing the world. This can be seen in what he values as the good (de-urbanization, the environment, martial men who chivalrously ride in front of the charge), and what he presents as denigrating, if not unambiguously evil (technology, industry, deforestation, gunpowder, wealth-creation). He presents these things in a style that favors knowledge from the past, such as songs and invented languages, and that flows in longer sentences reminiscent of the oral traditions of Anglo-Saxxon England and Finland.
After college I entered the workforce, and I started to explicitly develop some of the convictions I’d held through college. I found that many things I’d heard were bad are actually very good, such as technology and wealth-creation (perhaps to my credit, I can’t remember ever agreeing with the presentation of those as bad). People didn’t create industry to destroy the world (vis. Orcs) but to improve theirs and others’ lives (I encourage everyone reading this to research the invaluable role industry and free markets have had in raising people out of poverty; it’s an amazing, ongoing history). I also learned that not everyone who says they love the environment really does–not like Tolkien. Too often people can use environmentalism as a palatable mask for resentment of industry’s achievements, as well as other destructive–though publicly sweet-sounding –movements.
Now, I’m not comparing the LOTR to, say, Sinclair’s The Jungle, but the propaganda of the latter has made me hesitate in blindly lauding the former. It’s not that I don’t value Tolkien’s work or its role in my life; indeed, I think my learning more about him and the values that preceded and followed him has enabled me to appreciate him more deeply. I don’t know what he would have thought of the modern environmentalist movement, but for some reason I doubt he would be any less pessimistic and implicitly critical of it than he is of twentieth century mechanization. They need the eagles as much as the rest of us.
Of course, there’s so much more to say about Tolkien and his impetus for writing LOTR. However, this is one of the many ideas behind his book, and I’m here to talk about it.