Review of Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
It was a defining moment for me in my initiation to the world of books. My sister had picked up a copy of a worn paperback I had often looked at with no thought of reading, had sat down with it, gotten bored, and put it aside. Much to her chagrin, I went after her and took up the book, half out of genuine interest and half from sibling rivalry.
That book captured me. It left me spellbound for months. For a week I could not put it down at all, finishing it in seven days. I was compelled to pick up its successor, consume it, and move on to the third. I dwelled on its story, it having temporarily made the natural, ordinary seeming world almost entirely undesirable. The world of that book so intrigued me. It was as if I had been there, and had to return.
That book was The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. The initial effects of its spell have since worn off. I no longer see the actual, waking world as commonplace. The long term effects, however, having since been filtered and strengthened by less heady but equally powerful draughts of Tolkien’s good friend C.S. Lewis and his predecessor G.K. Chesterton, these stay with me. I do not lose desire for the “real” world by enjoying Tolkien’s secondary world. I find I enjoy it more. Good fantasy awakens the mind to those aspects of reality that the so-called realists sought dimmed.
I am reminded of some of the (horrible) stories I had to read in high-school. One, supposedly rooted in the way things truly were, reported the inner psychological experience of a man freezing to death. The author’s point was a literary and social application of Darwin’s then recently propounded theory. Everything was survival of the fittest. The soul was vestigial. Objective values were now subjective values: mere extensions of culture, inventions of religion used to manipulate and provide catharsis to the blithering masses. Nothing existed but these pitiful, meaningless blighters: man, the beasts, and an empty, hostile universe perhaps to conquer, or perhaps by which to be conquered. Through the hellish oracle of a dying, embittered man, fantasizing about slaughtering his loyal husky to stay warm another few minutes, my mind had this abysmal vision forced upon it, and I objected. I still object, as do many others.
Perhaps that is why The Lord of the Rings is so popular. Tolkien was not an apologist against the vision of the “realists”. That task was taken up by Lewis, and earlier by Chesterton. But, what he did not do through rational argument, he did do through art. The senses that the realists denied, that inner sense of outer meaning, power, and beauty, are the realities which Tolkien’s characters recall. By looking at them, we remember wonder. We feel right and wrong, truth and falsity, anew. Our desire is turned away from just surviving toward the meanings of things and to the order around us.
Perhaps that is why so many Tolkien fans I know are also deeply spiritual. The anti-romanticism rampant in the culture prior to his works was also staunchly opposed to religion generally and Christianity specifically. The Catholic Church in much of the world and the much maligned neo-Puritan influences in the U.S. fought in culture and religion what Tolkien attacked through the inner sense of Romance. Tolkien, himself Christian, would hardly disagree with this estimation. In his essay on the topic, “On Faerie Stories”, he states explicitly that the battle between good and evil symbolized in fantasy narratives actually did occur in the passion of Jesus. For him fantasy was just human exploration of the themes authored by God in the waking world, a concept he called “secondary creation”.
For persons who have not read LOTR, all the talk above must seem as babble. That is a frequent complaint Tolkien fans encounter. We wear “Frodo Lives!” t-shirts or ramble around discussing elvish. It must seem that we have become obsessed with something so removed from reality, that our activity borders on lunacy. I know I seemed that way to my sister when I first fell under The Fellowship’s influence. This is my apologia: The Lord of the Rings is not enchantment. It is disenchantment. The black majick of our age has ensorcelled our eyes so that we labor under the illusion that it is better to merely survive than to die for a greater good, greater to doubt whatever fundamentally reasonable thing we cannot “prove” (such as God‘s existence and objective morality) than to rationally cling to the beliefs that common sense and experience welcome us to enjoy. We have been made to think that all are merely emergent effects of the system which is whatever nature happens to be. The will of nature is that we simply exist. As its (for it is the operative word here. Nature becomes she only when you begin to be disenchanted) oracles we must simply be, for even our own wills and thoughts are mere cogs in the vast machine, and every attitude is created and directed by the machine in a sense that even the most ardent of theological determinists reject. Our spirits, too, with the theologians, reject this view. I suggest they object because we exist in a world that is totally unlike the world of our enchantment. We enjoy The Lord of The Rings because it is more like the world that truly exists than the mythology of the positivist and (dare I say?) the one who believes nature to be exclusive, with no window in from that beyond nature.
Frodo is not actual, but he is real, and so is his struggle. So is Gollum’s. The shadow of the ring damns Gollum’s soul, and nearly damns Frodo’s as well. In the end, however, by defiling them, it itself is destroyed. Tolkien did not set out to write an allegory, but how irresistible is the parallel here to waking life! Might not the ring be replaced by politics, or greed, and its victims be replaced by our own selves? True, the narrative would change, but the meta-narrative would not. In this respect, Tolkien’s masterpiece shows through true to life.
The question for me, however, is why. Why should fantasy be nearer reality along so many dimensions than the musings of those opposed to spirituality, metaphysics, and the romantic sense? Natural selection, survival of the fittest, perhaps explains the existence of the corrupt politician. It may even explain why the rest of us dislike corrupt politicians, even as we ourselves sometimes participate in the corruption. What it does not explain, at least not to me, is why we would have this category, corruption, in the first place. If abuse and vice are normative, than why do I see them as not normative, even when I agree with them? It is as if some higher normalcy is invading my world, my cosmos, and moving me away violently from equilibrium, from entropy.
The theologians, again, have a name for this concept. They call it general revelation, and hold it to be the first level of mystic attack from God’s heaven to our evil-ravaged world. If I can find some book on the subject, January’s review will cover this idea. Till then, I await your comments.
Matt Bell is a graduate student in the Intelligent Systems Program, the University of Pittsburgh His favorite word is ontology, for reasons which escape even him, as he probably doesn’t truly know what it means. He attends East End Assembly of God in Bloomfield, the pastor of which is also puzzled by Matt’s fondness for the word ontology. Other things Matt likes to do include teaching a book study for the campus ministry Chi Alpha, and shoot an occasional game of pool.
The movie "HOW HIGH" is a disgrace!
Ramesh C. Reddy
If there was a movie that should not be released for the sake of the citizens of America, it is "How High" with Method Man and Redman. I watched the free screening for this movie last month before it comes out this month on the 26th of December.
The movie has so much cursing you would think that the actors would die if they did not curse like the natural act of breathing. But let's look beyond the profanity to the plot. Basically, there is no plot.
What you do have is these two bunch of African American actors degrading the African American community by their actions especially when it comes to drug use. The title of the movie gives it away as it is about who can get high the most on weed.
With America's War on Drugs and all the DEA agents that have died in the line of duty, this movie makes a mockery on the War on Drugs. It also seems to encourage cheating to get into the best colleges.
It does not stop there, but makes a mockery of Harvard university and the African American dean who's in charge there. Because this movie degrades the African American community with it's bad morals and ideas, it is not worth spending a dime on it. Even if they have a free screening, it's just not worth it. I know because I already made that mistake. The ending makes no sense too!
Volume I, Issue IV