Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (with apologies to David Bowie)

I recently started reading Verlyn Flieger’s A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faerie and it got me thinking.  Flieger discusses the changes that were occurring in the world during Tolkien’s life, particularly during his late-teens and early-20s.  In many ways, this begins as a New Historicist read, noting the major movements and such that were part of Tolkien’s socio-historical context, beyond the old references to WWI.  Flieger examines the movements and countermovements that occurred in the early-20th century in science, art, and philosophy, thoughts and knowledge that changed worldviews.  The work of Freud, Jung, Einstein, Planck, Pound, Joyce, and Picasso.  Each of whom essentially changed how we view the world, or responded to such changes.

 This got me thinking about my grandparents’ lives.  They went from radios and public phones to four channel black & white TV and rotary dial to cable, smartphones, and streaming TV.  Even in my own, relatively short, life, the technological changes from VHS to Blu-ray, landlines to pocket size cell phones, green screen dial-up computers to tablets.  Not to mention all the scientific advances, medical advances, changes in psychology, and philosophies of the last three decades.

 Unlike Tolkien, I grew up with theories of uncertainty regarding the world and continual change, from Einstein to Schroedinger, Jung to Freud, and others.  I grew up with the idea that change is the only constant in the universe.  I grew up in a household with science and mythology, both of which essentially teach the same thing via different methods and languages.  I love the “uncertainty” theories, multiverse theory, and all the possibilities that come from them.

 But, I can also understand why some people desire the comfort of perceived solidity often found in conservative religion and revisionist history (the idea that history never changes, therefore our knowledge of history never changes).  The very things that I enjoy, the uncertainty they engender, can be frightening.  The perception of something going on, unchanged, for 1700+ years (as false as that belief is) can be a comfort, I suppose.  Personally, I think that way lies stasis, which is in many ways equivalent to death.  But, that’s me.

 The fear is then fed by our changing technology.  For instance, dissemination of news.  In my grandparents’ day, there was only an hour or so of news a day (on the radio and at the movies) and newspapers came out twice daily.  Reporters had to be good at what they did.  They had to condense the entire day’s news into an hour block.  Even in my lifetime, I recall only having news on TV at 5, 6, and 11, or about three hours of news a day.  Even then, reporters had to keep things condensed and focused.

 Today’s 24 hour broadcasts let reporters get lazy, with ten, twelve hours covering the same story.  The coverage starts with Geraldo, then Van Susteren, then O’Reilly, then Hannity, for instance, all talking about the exact same event.  It is easy to see why fear develops and gets out of hand.  It is easy to see how 10+ hours of coverage of the same event turns into the belief that multiple events occurred, thereby amplifying the reaction.

 While our technological advances have unleashed at era of unprecedented access to information, I’m not sure that it is good for society or the individual psyche, especially when the internet news and mobile update elements are added.

 Thinking about these things, I think it is easy to see why we appear to have increases in mental disorders, people (a shrinking number) clinging to conservative religion (theoretically stable and unchanging), and an inordinate growth of fear among the general public in developed nations, particularly the U.S.

Tolkien Thoughts

“Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? In the strict sense, no. You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life.”   -Terry Pratchett

I’ve been thinking about this quote off and on all week.

As I started to go into in comments before, I think this really does get into the territory of infatuation versus love.


When someone is infatuated, the object of their infatuation is considered infallible, perfect, without flaws.  This is the sort of “love” (awkward word in English) that we commonly see in teens and those who haven’t grown out of their teen mentality (regardless of age).  It is also, I’m sure, a sort of feeling that we’re all familiar with.  In some ways, this is also the love of the medieval romances, the courtly love idea (the subject of the knights’ love was perfect and unattainable)

With that in mind, I would venture to say that there are a lot of people who are infatuated with Tolkien, particularly Lord of the Rings.  This is the group that vehemently defends Tolkien and his work against any naysayers or critique, because not doing so would be to admit that the subject of their infatuation is imperfect, flawed, fallible, not ideal, perhaps even not exceptional.

On the other hand, to truly love is to acknowledge the flaws present in the object of one’s love, to accept them (within reason – I make an exception for abusive relationships), and to love anyway.  This is a longer lasting, more honest, even in a sense truer love, I think.  A more mature love.  A more realistic love, not an ideal.

Assuming that definition, I think there are many, albeit a smaller group than above, who truly love Tolkien.  This group can see and acknowledge his flaws, but love him and his work nonetheless.  This group has no need to defend him or his work as “the best” or “perfect” because it knows he/the work is not and loves him/it anyway.  This group considers the man and his work exceptional, regardless of his/its flaws, or perhaps even because of those flaws.

Just some thoughts that have been going through my head.

Meditations on Middle-earth

A few quotes I found especially interesting or funny from authors about Middle-earth/Tolkien:

“Tolkien was the first to create a fully realized secondary universe, an entire world with its own geography and histories and legends, wholly unconnected to our own.”  -George R.R. Martin

“Frodo travels through Middle-earth like some kind of God-sent integrity test. The Wise, if they were truly so, upon seeing that he had come to visit, would shriek, ‘Oh, no! It’s that fucking hobbit! I’m not in!’ and slam the door in his face.”   -Michael Swanwick

“The Lord of the Rings [. . .] led me to realize that a good fantasy is one that springs from a fully realized world, and that constructing that world can be an awful lot of fun.”  -Esther Friesner

“Do I still think, as I did then, that Tolkien was the greatest writer in the world? In the strict sense, no. You can think that at thirteen. If you still think it at fifty-three, something has gone wrong with your life.”   -Terry Pratchett

“Tolkien described Gandalf as having ‘long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his hat.’ If you read that, it’s one thing; but try to paint it and it looks as goofy as hell.

 You wouldn’t even do that in a cartoon.”   -Greg & Tim Hildebrandt