Other than pontificating about how much better the World would be, if only everyone thought as I thought, I have also always wanted to blog about Lord of the Rings. I love this book, I really do. I have to be careful however not to claim this book as being one of the most important books of all time, just because it is so important to me.
I’m not suggesting that it is a brilliant book. I read a quote once that described it as a book about scenery. It is a book where the female characters are underwritten, there is little if any moral ambiguity and it is, in Tolkien’s words, too short. I must confess that when I reread it, I tend to skim over large sections, usually large chunks of the beginning and much of the Frodo and Sam narrative.
As a lifelong reader of epic fantasy I don’t think LOTR would even make my top five fantasy books. It remains however one of the most important books I have ever read. It remains the fantasy book that all others are judged by and none have yet surpassed. The reasons for this are; the term ‘epic’ and the mad genius of Tolkien.
Tolkien set out to create (or restore) an Anglo-Saxon mythology which did not survive the Norman conquest of the British Isles. Added to this insane desire was his in depth knowledge and passion for Norse languages. Thus he created an entire World, Middle-Earth and then told a little story about this World and called it the Lord of the Rings.
It is in this that LOTR has yet to be emulated. It is a book that appeals to the historian in us. References, hints, asides and allusions permeate the text and instead of being lazy back story, they all exist as historical facts that he has already written. Think on that. LOTR is but the tip of the creative iceberg. It is World War II or the Fall of the Roman Empire or the Renaissance. His World even has its creation myth, as detailed in The Silmarillion.
Erikson, Jordan and Martin write on impressive scales. Tolkienesque however remains the domain of just the man himself. Peter Jackson realised this and attempted to render this historicity on film, quite successfully in my opinion.
Scale alone however, does not explain the hold LOTR has over me. Timing is the vital second ingredient that makes LOTR so addictive. In this, one of its weaknesses becomes one of its strengths, namely the moral certainty. A modern novel without moral equivocations would be unreadable. I first read LOTR in my early teens.
It was in my early teens that I had begun to realise just how bleakly amoral the World really was. I had begun to see that black and white were really infinite shades of grey and it didn’t help that Spitting Image was showing me that an intellectually challenged Ronald Reagan had his shaky confused finger hovering over the nuclear button.
LOTR offered certainty, it offered heroism and it was moral. Granted it was an anti-feminist, xenophobic, violent and Christian ethic, but it was still something more worthy than what was being offered by reality.
That is why this ardent and strident atheist still returns to LOTR. I already know the truth about death but in LOTR I can find some truths about living, or at the very least, some stirring distractions.