Wednesday 11 August 2021

The battle between enchantment and glamour (with reference to Tolkien)

We all need to escape - with a psychological need that gets more urgent and compelling as the bars of the Iron Prison close-in upon the whole world. 

But the psychological need is mostly assuaged by glamour - as constructed and disseminated by the mass media. From adolescence onward, typical modern Man absolutely relies-upon glamour fantasies (and, maybe, a bit of our own - secondhand - glamorous reality at evenings, weekends and on holiday). 

In daydreams, in fantasy, modern Man sees himself, watches-himself and his life, as if he was in a photo-shoot or movie - cool, stylish, attractive, charming, dominant, impulsive, blissed-out... whatever it may be - as if he lived 'inside' the world of the media. 

The hedonic life... And of course it does not work; even on its own terms. It is not gratifying - except negatively (scratching an itch of dependence), it is merely addictive

People have 'fun' and 'enjoy' themselves, and (essentially) discuss this online (and sometimes in person...) - and people are depressed, miserable, afraid and despairing... As who would not be with a life divided between expanding-crushing bureaucracy and totalitarian regulation on the one hand; and the shallow, jaded triviality of glamour on the other. 

We need enchantment (not glamour) - and the re-enchantment of The World, of Life, must not be an attempt to apply enchantment like paint on a surface; but instead a rebuilding of life from new (or rather) old assumptions.

Building from assumptions that are first Christian (so that our faith brings hope) and secondly (but vitally) Romantic - so that we know our own personal everyday world (properly understood) is alive, conscious, purposive - and that we are personally involved in the reality of this world by the relation of love.

This spiritual life of excitement and enchantment is not 'private' - because the spiritual realm is objectively real; but enchantment is hidden from the world of politics, bureaucracy, the media and public discourse generally. 

We really are actors in an unfolding drama of enchantment - but this is not a public drama to be observed on screen and in media; instead our life is a spiritual drama that we know in our own heart-thinking; and shared with God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost - also with spiritual beings such as angels and demons, who have vital roles to play in the drama. 

And re-enchantment must come from within - it is not a consequence of external stimuli.

Not even Tolkien's work will supply enchantment - obviously, because most of his fans have extracted merely distracting glamour from Lord of the Rings: they see it as 'sword and sorcery', not as an enchanted world.

Tolkien rightly defended escapism as a valid goal of reading fairy stories - but he meant the escape to be into the enchantment of faery; not escape into merely mundane glamour, excitement and hyper-stimulus. 

For Tolkien it was only partly a matter of 'escape-from' - but mostly a matter of what the reader 'escapes-to'. 

If the reader escapes-to a fantasy world that is merely not-true, a world into-which the reader imports the (inverted) values of modernity - a focus on cool, style, charm, sex and sexual transgression, ultra-violence fear and despair; then glamour has displaced enchantment, and escapism has become merely therapeutic

To regard Tolkien's world as implicitly one of mere 'glamour', of psychology - as do most of Tolkien's modern 'fans' and 'scholars' - is an inevitable consequence of carrying mainstream leftist-materialist atheism into that world - thereby annihilating enchantment. 

Enchantment is (as of 2021, when things have come to a point) open only to Christians - and only effective in their lives when that Christianity is Romantic

Enchantment then brings both hope and optimism - because Christian hope points beyond this mundane and transient world of corruption; and  optimism comes from the revelation that our actual life can be - when properly regarded - an heroic daily adventure, a war of good and evil: exactly like the Lord of the Rings truly is, for those with hearts to know it.    


Avro G said...

Thank you for this very helpful post. But as I was reading it a cynical premonition crossed my mind. I imagined that in five or ten years some social services bureaucrat happens across this post and says to herself, "Yes! That's what our at-risk youth need – a sense of enchantment!" So she rushes off and writes a book and creates a buzz in academia around the word "enchantment." Soon she has produced a "workbook" and is holding "seminars" and – God help us – "clinics." Millions or billions will be poured into "resources" and "materials" and "certifications" for "enchantment specialists." Millions of bored school kids will be forced through brain rotting multiple choice "skills building" programs about it.

Uh, sorry. That's just how I roll.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Avro - Yes, such things have begun already - I have read several such books. It is about 30 years since the bureaucracy appropriated 'quality' - and there are courses on 'mindfulness'. Mass media are full of praise for encouraging the 'imagination' of children - by telling them exactly what it is.

Johannes Quigg said...

It's one reason I dislike the LotR films, aside from the clunky scripts and hamfisted direction and "magic of the panpipes" vibe: they necessarily focus on appearance, on what captures the average 12-year-old viewer's attention. If they'd kept true to the books' depth they would have troubled and alienated the fans.

a_probst said...

A similar scheme was hatched to teach elementary school children to read in my day. It was simply called 'SRA' after its publisher, Science Research Associates. There was a color-code for each reading level and each level contained reprints of articles about various topics. These were called Power Builders. There was something called a Rate Builder but I don't remember anything about it. Intended to increase reading speed I suppose. I think my school abandoned it the very next year.

The New Math, which shadowed me in the 5th and 6th grades, taught arithmetic using the symbology of algebra in an attempt to teach the child general concepts at an age when he learns better from concrete examples. As I tried to study my 5th grade text I thought, "This book should be titled One Plus One Equals Two--and Why."

I still have not read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy so I have avoided the Peter Jackson film adaptations, wanting to form my own mental pictures first. My most prominent memory from the trailers is of armies rushing at each other to bouncy Scots-Irish style music, giving the scene--and maybe the films?--a Braveheart vibe.

Along with enchantment, even the sense of wonder is missing from fantasy and science fiction. Since the success of Stars Wars woe betide anyone who makes a slow-paced space film. I hope the young readers and viewers have a sense of wonder anyway, in their moments of solitary reflection.