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earth  hobbit travelers  middle earth  middle  much  story telling  story  telling  things  tolkien  tom  travelers  trees  world world  world 
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Preview: Philosopher's Armchair


(an-ak-ree'-no) "examine, investigate, question."

Updated: 2018-03-06T18:14:48.107-06:00


Kant's Heritage


The world of Middle Earth is alive. It is vibrant, rich, beguiling. Even though there are fantastic things like trees harboring ancient grudges against those who have wounded them, somehow these features of Middle Earth always seem to me more real than the ‘real world’ in which I live. O.k., I'm not saying that trees really are sentient beings, with a psychology all their own; but still, somehow it makes sense that, as Tom Bombadil tells the four Hobbit travelers, “the hearts of trees and their thoughts…were often dark and strange, and filled with hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers” (180f.). Why? Why does it seem more real? Because through mythology Tolkien succeeds in telling us, morally and spiritually, what trees would say had they words to share. Because trees do seem--in his world and ours--more real and more enduring than we the transient travelers passing through. Because through the mouth of jolly old Tom Bombadil—The Master, The Eldest, a cosmic Christ-figure if ever there was one—we hear told the story of the world. Of that world. Of our world. Timeless Tom: he like the trees has ancient roots—a living history and engagement with place that usurps that of any usurper free to roam the earth. We come to feel that we the reader are just as transient, every bit the one passing through this world as Frodo and his friends. And like these Hobbit travelers, we yearn to sit at the feet of Tom and his world, to learn from him what we only wish we had ever known.Tolkien's story of Middle Earth has an amazing alluring power, but I especially love how story-telling within the story of Middle Earth is itself a moral and spiritual palliative. What happens to us as Tolkien's readers happens to his characters as well. In the Lord of the Rings, through story-telling, the darkness of the surrounding world somehow, if only during the telling, scatters. The light suddenly shines. Frodo, Sam or others listening can somehow see themselves and the world better, more clearly. They gain perspective on things. They hear great tales long forgotten of people and places and events known only to a few…and they realize how much the world has lived through before them. That world, evoked now through story, has experienced much. Much more than they themselves have. So whatever fears and perils they themselves now confront—as real as they are—they are not the last word. They find hope and courage for the road ahead. That is what good stories tell them. And tell us. Your situation: it is not the last word. There is a greater world of other stories—the story of this world—in which you and I are also a part. That world was here before you and, if grace there be, it shall yet endure.[...]