Tolkein

Dec. 21st, 2001 06:16 pm
mlknchz: (Default)
With the release of the first movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, people have begun to discuss Tolkeins works anew. Most of the reviews and discussions are in my view, very narrow. They discuss Tolkiens fear of technology, his love of nature, they try to fit his work into the context of a metaphor of the Second World War. Tolkein himself said that what he was trying to do was write a new mythology. This in itself is misleading. What he arrived at was actually the antithesis of mythology. Mythology to that point had been about the search for an item, or an experience, or an event that would allow the hero to wield magical power.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Golden Fleece, The Grail legends, the Niebelungenlieder all have this quest in common. OR myth cycles had been about the USE of magical power by gods or monsters. Tolkein turn this completely around. In HIS mythology, the quest is to abstain from the use of power.
It is not a coincidence that the first book of this trilogy was published in 1947, in a period when the world had just experienced a paradigmatic shift in the relation of “power” to humanity. Within a very short period, power had become not about allowing humanity to survive, but about the ability to DESTROY humanity. Earlier myth cycles had been about using power to shape the world to our uses, to make a feared Nature bend to our wills. Tolkien’s view is that power ultimately corrupts that power is ultimately evil, and that ultimately we do not have the wisdom to use it.
And perhaps the most important theme in the series is that of basic humanity being stronger than magic or technology. Arguably, the most important character in the series, the most important character in the Fellowship isn’t Frodo, but Sam. It is Sam whose simple devotion to Frodo, not to the Ring or to the Quest, becomes the savior of both. Sam’s unquestioning devotion to Frodo, his faith in him, his simple honesty, sustains both Frodo and the Quest. It isn’t magic, in the end, that allows the Quest to succeed. It isn’t technology. It is friendship, our ability to put others before ourselves that allows the evil of the Ring to be un-done.

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