Monday, May 29, 2017

What Everyone Gets Wrong About the Hobbit

From The Art of Manliness:
For Tolkien, nothing in this world — not its culture, knowledge, assumptions, and expectations, nor its rocks, trees, and people — was entirely as it seemed. Hidden behind what the poet P.B. Shelley called “the veil of familiarity” existed other layers and dimensions. While such realms cannot normally be seen with the eye, they are sensed through poignant pangs of longing for something more — the occasional, fleeting feeling of being on the threshold of something greater.

Not enough people, Tolkien felt, had the imagination to consider this idea seriously, nor the courage to follow their longing beyond the surface of things. The average bloke was like the Bagginses of The Hobbit, where you know what he “would say on any question without the bother of asking him.” Most folks don’t attempt to draw back the curtain on another realm of meaning — can’t be bothered to penetrate the conventional, comfortable, respectable notions of the way things are in order to discover deeper truths.

For Tolkien, those important truths included the idea that all of life — whether in suburbia or on an actual battlefield — constitutes an epic, heroic clash between good and evil, dark and light; that everyone’s choices, no matter how “little” of a person they are, matter; and that each individual’s small story is part of a larger, cosmic narrative. Everyone has a part to play and a pilgrimage to make — not necessarily a physical journey, but a moral and spiritual one.

Tolkien further believed that reading myths was one of the surest ways to begin such a journey. In myths one finds fantastical explanations of who we are, how we got here, and what we’re capable of. Such stories, Tolkien held, are filled with echoes of Truth with a capital T – “a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality” that was truer than anything strictly factual. A good myth, in departing from reality, paradoxically helps us rediscover it — reminding us that beneath the blandness and busyness of our day-to-day lives, lies heroic and mythic potential. (Read more.)

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