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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Kilby, Clyde S.
[Editorial comment: the lost myth],   pp. [unnumbered]-163 PDF (10.1 MB)

Page 162

important than knowledge." I believe the
Rings reminds us of some country we knew
and loved in a sort of previous incarnation,
a channel opening on the foam of
perilous seas in lands longed for in the
depth of the psyche, lands never
traveled yet always traveled, never visited
yet from which we have never really
been parted, lands where the light
is bright, the colors unmuddied, and where
our everyday longing for joy is
constantly pointing us.
The three books most popular among
college students during the past seventeen
years are, in order, The Catcher in the
Rye, Lord of the Flies, and Tolkien's
Lord of the Rings. In the first a sensitive and
lonely boy finds that it is impossible
for him to learn anything from the phony
adult world in which he lives.
The second symbolizes the shallowness
of our present civilization and attempts to
show that it is only a step back to
the jungle. Both these books are negative,
even at times bitter, in their
inferences. Tolkien's story is
utterly different.
162    A generation boasting of its realistic
outlook finds multitudes not only reading
of dwarfs and elves and talking trees but
finding such things pertinent to
everyday life. A generation the young
of which have been accused of an inner
malaise and indifference to human values
reads a story replete with dignity,
courtesy, heroism in the knightly pattern
and of fulfillment not through indulgence
but through sacrifice. A generation
brought up on Cartesian doubt, alienation,
the logic of suicide, the notion that
God is dead, of newness for its own
sake, and only a quasi belief in religion
while its real one is in supposed pragmatic
realities, finds that hobbits give more
intestinal fortitude than Nietzsche, Sartre
and the Bishop of Woolwich.
No one is less "alienated" than J. R. R.
Tolkien. In complete contrast with some
of the most admired writers of our time, he
has a world of certainties. In a time of
slackened values he maintains a sure
hierarchy. His morals are solidly
traditional. He is a thousand miles from
the sex angle of much of our current
writing, movies and advertising. Though
he is not optimistic about our age,
he has no existential anqst. In a time when
the cult of personality dominates the
scene, Tolkien belongs to the tradition of
medieval art where the created object
completely sublimated the creator of it.
The great majority of discussions of the
Rings emphasize its continuous moral
resonance. In a recent dissertation at the
University of Michigan, Dorothy K. Barber
says that the real significance of the
story is Christian and its basic metaphor
is "God is light."" A graduate student
at the University of Wisconsin wrote that he
had found the Rings the best reading
of his entire life and wished he had
discovered it in his teens and had then
the experience of what he described
as its "therapeutic values." A mother wrote
of first devouring the story while
recuperating from the birth of a son and
bewildering her doctor and family
by strange references to black riders, elves
and orcs. She went on to say that
for her the story illumined "the nature of
Reality, the glorious and tragic dimensions
of the struggle between good and
evil." "You," she wrote the author, "have
made courage and commitment and honor
more meaningful." A young business
man in Oxford told me that he regarded
the Rings as his "Bible," and that
when confused and discouraged he went
home and read from the story and was
restored in mind and spirit.
I conclude with the question whether the
wide reading of The Lord of the Rings
marks a trend. Utopian books reached a
peak about the turn of the century
and were succeeded by dystopias or
anti-utopias. Now there is evidence, a little
at least, of a more optimistic turn
of things. In his Books with Men Behind
Them, Edmund Fuller describes the works of
contemporary writers with "a sound
vision of man," and Mark Hillegas, in his
The Future as Nightmare, suggests
some little signs of a possible movement
not nightmarish. One of the most
emphatic statements is that of Arnold
Gingrich, publisher of Esquire, who, speaking
at the Sorbonne in 1959, declared that
the "point of vomit" in writing has been
reached and predicted a Puritan revival in
literature. Three years later he repeated
this conviction that total revulsion and
reversal were somewhere in the offing and
that the reversal would be total -

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