Born on this day: J. R. R. Tolkien, Paul Wolfowitz, Benjamin Harrison (23rd US president), Sophia Loren, John Malkovich
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Lord of the Rings
Tales of the 1st Age of creation
One of my first literary consciousness disruptors has to be JRR Tolkein (born 9-Edznab). I read through the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit back in the 80’s and early 90’s. The former trilogy being, what I defined to a religious friend I shared a bunk bed with, a kind of personal ‘bible’ during most of 1993. It was quite an adventure to relate to at a tender age, in the years prior to the Hollywood productions, when the only cultural visual I could come up with was Ralph Bakshi (1-Edznab)’s 1978 rendition of the first 1.5 books.
Then I took my chances with Tolkein’s Silmarillion (first published 1977).
It was opaque to me to a frustrating degree. I could not see any plot going anywhere, and it was in no way similar to any of the more popular works I read. I think my first shot at it was in my early 20’s. So I put it down and read other stuff. Then, after my 30th birthday I remember trying reading the Silmarillion again. This time I just continued to read it, although I’ve long since lost track of the many names of elves, gods, and places.
I gave the book a fair chance.
Then something happened. I somehow synched with the Tolkein style’s deep frequency enough to finally understand how to read this book. That adjustment made the saga unforgettable. It made me go back to it countless times after I finished it.
I remember reading it on the corporate bus to work, 1 hour’s drive each way. I looked at the moving scenery around the bus and saw a sprawling grove of old trees. “There,” I envisioned “is where the forest of Doriath must still be in some other dimension”. Then I went back to turning the pages.
A western creation story
Like the bible and many other ancient books, the Silmarillion begins with how the world came into being. Of the 1st age of the Gods, and how they themselves came into being. According to Tolkein’s worldview, the world was created by a choir of gods, each emanating his/her own unique vibrations into a chorus of voices.
In other words, “In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh”.
This image of creation closely resembles his contemporary and countryman C.S. Lewis (born 9-Ahau). This bit hasn’t yet been captured by the mainstream image machine, and it takes place in his less-known prequal ‘The Magician’s Nephew” (1955). There he describes a world coming into being by means of a Lion (Aslan) singing, and a music joining him from the heavens. The sounds of these intricate harmonies create mountains, rivers, trees, animals, and eventually conscious, talking animals.
The differences between these two freemasons is that in Tolkein’s cosmos there is a creating god (Iluvatar) and a handful of deputy gods. In Lewis’s the Lion Aslan is often equated with Jesus Christ – the grace of God in the material world. This is mainly because Tolkein based his cosmos on Nordic sagas, while Lewis – on Christian mythology.
The idea that words and sounds create reality is prevelant among many ancient peoples. Nowadays, after a strong new-age wave has swept across the world over the last 10 years or so, we can encounter the same meme/idea in the form of “be careful what you wish for”, and “thoughts create reality” so “think positive”.
It is nevertheless important to see it, not as the way to view reality, but as one tool in a toolbox I can personally and responsibly select from. It cannot be enough to think and talk positively, since it contradicts the law of polarity, i.e., expressing the positive can sometime also mean concealment and sublimation of the negative.
In the not-so-distant past, when psychology wasn’t yet ‘discovered’, shaman and clergimen alike used mythology to transmit morals and values to their communities. As a spiritual guide, you can never tell someone directly “Now write this down. This is what you should do.” You had to use an ancient poem or story, resembling the situation you’re dealing with, and then assist your ‘patient’ as little as possible in finding his own solution.
Tolkein was doing just that when he created his own little world, with various rich languages and landscapes. He told epic tragedies and heroics, divine in nature and sublime in scope. But he relied heavily on key Nordic mythologies, like the Prose Edda and the Icelandic sagas.
The story remains the same.