One thing that bugs me in Tolkien — who still, I guess, remains my favorite author; and after all stories of the glorious past do need a glorious past to happen in — is his… well, I could call it either neophobia, or then an overly romantic view of the past.
In a way this, in addition to a bit of anarchism* and the tendency to occasionally go for faith over reason, is one of the few things Tolkien, a conservative and devout Catholic, really shared with those hippies that named their children Merry and Galadriel: this opinion that progress is bad, technology destructive, change corruptive, all just Saruman’s orcs wielding their hatchets on the most beautiful of trees, which were then left to rot.
Well, there is certain historical justification for that: technological progress hasn’t always been aesthetic — but still now and then I have to restrain myself from screaming “Yeah? You know how life was a millennium ago, Professor? I know you know! Nasty, brutish and short — so enough with the nostalgia!”
Shortly after I’d ask pointed questions about lifespan, vaccinations, dentistry, infant mortality, leisure, hygiene and other rather important bits of modern life, and the necessity of paying for them.
(Thereafter I’d hit myself over the head a couple of times, and remind myself that it is just a story; worthy of long acrimonious arguments, of course, but not something that is faulty for depicting a reality that not every reader finds aesthetic.)
Sometimes I even consider — and then, being lazy, abandon — the thought of trying to write some piece of fiction than would be an “Anti-Tolkien” — not an anti-epic or an anti-fantasy, but something like a negative image of all this pious neophobia.
One might list a few related points of Tolkien and of the Lord of the Rings like this:
- Technology tends to be bad
- Nature is nice
- “Obviously he is destined to rule — his ancestor of 3000 years ago was king!”; the both extremes of nobility and morality are hereditary
- “We will not parley with the one who is accursed and evil!”
- Unquestioned and unmentioned “natural” monotheism; pious good guys, apatheist buffoons and self-apotheosized orclings and orckings
- the God Iluvatar/the gods Valar know best
- Only God makes living things; the Enemy makes but cruel mockeries
- Death is a gift; there is a span for everything; don’t strive beyond your appointed limit
- There is something beyond death; trust what you’re told
- Faith over doubt
- Countryside bliss, and ten thousand years with not one bit of technological progress
This, in turn, would once run through the Opposito-Matic that doth generate plot-points that intrigue me look something like this —
- Technology tends to improve life
- Nature is brutish
- “‘Heir of Isildur’? That’s, like, ancient history. You’re kidding, right?”; the Habsburg jaw and haemophilia are hereditary
- “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a Gondorian Prime Minister has returned from Mordor bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time!“
- Quite a bit of strife over the attributes and intentions of gods; schisms, cults and reformations
- The gods are mean, manipulative utter bastards
- Living things just happen; man can make “mechanical” life (robots? flesh-beings?) too
- Death is a curse from capricious gods; fight them for more without end; be ambitious (this would be, by the way, genuine anti-theism, not atheism)
- Death is the end; be wary and don’t step into the darkness blindly trusting
- Skepticism over blind certainty
- City bustle, and inventions and changes
— and this is where I usually stop, because as said I am lazy, and quite much not up to the task of writing the Chronicle of Ladislaw of Ten Bronze Daughters and the War of the Ten Machine Cities Against the Gods of the Snow-White Mountain.
Still, maybe some day.
* * *
* Anarchism: Letters 52 (29 Nov 1943 to CJRT): “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.” (A common theme in the wartime letters.)