Thursday, 23 July 2015

On Tolkien's "Lord Of The Rings"

I first read it as a child in the 1980s, probably in 1987, and I then re-read it several times since as a teenager in the mid 1990s. I haven't read it since then, but every once in a while the thought of doing so occurs to me. Reading this post from Rob Fisher, (and this one linked to by the boss) just retrieved that inclination from the murky pond in the back of my mind.

I agree that the essence of the story is obviously the contrast between the lust for power and human frailty, and that therefore the story can be read as a political allegory. Yet while the story is a clear warning about the danger of political power, it is less clear about an ideal form of governance. We know that the Shire seems to run mostly on custom and tradition, but I don't recall there being as much a sense of history given to the emergence of Hobbit society as there is to the likes of Gondor and Rivendell. But then there comes this, written by Tolkien himself...
"My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King Gerorge’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
I had always imagined Tolkien as a conservative, rather than a radical so that seems to have been a mistaken impression. And what a brilliant phrase - "the frightful landslide into "Theyocracy". Clearly though, the trick with re-reading a book like that is to make sure it is not done as a procrastinating diversion from more important responsibilities. It might be as well to carry it on a chain around my neck, promising myself not to open the bloody thing...

Edit: links now added after I forgot them the first time.

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