Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tolkien: Author of the [20th] Century

Tom Shippey wrote a book in 2000 entitled J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century which advanced the premise that Middle Earth and its literary dwellers "revolutionized," using a word that Tolkien would have despised, at least the publishing industry for fiction and in my opinion, created an entire niche for both fantasy games like "Dungeons and Dragons" and the fantasy subset universes of Harry Potter and the Twilight chronicles which LOTR served as godfather. gives four or five stars from 29 of Shippey's 32 reviewers & zero 1's & 2's, so even non-LOTR worshippers admit, as do almost all reviewers, that Shippey [the Walter Ong Professor at St. Louis U. where I studied under Ong] has written an amazingly successful analysis of Tolkien's life-journey to world-class author. Shippey is uniquely qualified to write the book, as he filled both of Tolkien's academic chairs at Leeds and Oxford in Anglo-Saxon, and knows how the dying discipline of philology [Nietzsche & Tolkien were both harmless drudges in the Philology PhD mode before becoming culture-vulture superstars] explains vanished worlds that both Nietzsche and Tolkien tried to evoke.

Tolkien, according to Shippey, evoked Middle Earth from his deep studies of Norse and Finnish and Anglo-Saxon, which languages he was expert in and whose etymological obscurities constantly prodded him to probe the [obviously unwritten] pre-historical lays and epics sung and recited by bards and poets in the mead halls of Nordic myth. Nietzsche prodded Wagner, perhaps, to explore and update the Teutonic divinities in Parsifal. Tolkien did something similar to the Norse and Celtic [and Finnish] mythologies [Rivendell of the immortal Elves = Perce-val of Wolfram and Chretien et al??]. But Middle Earth and LOTR, to Shippey, is an invention that Tolkien elaborated over fifty years [including Silmarillion] to explicate and flesh out what the words of Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and other Old languages implied of the world of elves, dwarfs, and other mythological beings. The saga of the rings was of the one ring which bound all the others. When Frodo destroyed the ring of power, the other rings that gave the elves, dwarves [in LOTR spelling] and even men diminished in their own power, and the elves and dwarfs retreated to their secret places----Yeats in his Mythologies tried with Lady Gregory to capture the tales of West Ireland as the Celtic Twilight sank into the Western Ocean in much the same manner.

A day after finishing Shippey's book, for some reason I had a PBS special on Bhutan, the reclusive Himalayan kingdom, droning in the background as I searched for something online. The government of Bhutan is ruled by Buddhist and animist principles and has a policy of nurturing "Gross National Happiness." But its Prime Minister said that the very limited economic exploitation the country allows is often halted when mining engineers encounter deep water sources or other earth anomalies.
"Then we must halt to allow the spirits to be calmed."

Strangely, one of Tolkien's hints, at Shippey's reading of Middle Earth, is when the Dwarf says that the Mines of Moria went far too deep, and awakened "evil." The metaphor might be in my own mind, but the analogy might be that when humankind exploits the riches of the earth, an imbalance is created and forces are unleashed, spiritual or whatever, that propagate "evil" whether it be the Scouring of the Shire or the rise of materialism in Bhutan which the PM says is increasing "desire" and "cupidity" and is leading to a rising crime rate as Bhutan approaches becoming "westernized." Tolkien and Bhutan's PM might both be aware of the previous epochs of human moral and spiritual development, an awareness lacking in the MSM and secular dehumanized "humanism" purporting to know what is best for modern man.

W.H. Auden is one of my favorite authors and had a deep appreciation of Tolkien and corresponded with him while alive. Auden is of northern English stock, unlike the citified and latinized "intelligentsia" which greeted Tolkien's work with an "automatic snigger" that the literati illuminati reserve for those outside the "canonical writ" of secular materialist humanism.

The movie The Hobbit will be coming out soon, and perhaps another reconsideration of Tolkien will ensue. Peter Jackson is producing the movie and Gullermo Del Toro will direct. LOTR won dozens of Oscars in its three version. I hope the Hobbit movie is going to be a worthy successor.

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