Tuesday 4 May 2021

What is the secret power of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings?

There is, there must be, more to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (LotR) than meets the eye - or has been explained by even the very best literary critics; some-thing that goes beyond what a simple work of fiction can achieve. 

This is evident in the initial impact of LotR when I read it aged 14; and was confirmed by the unique intensity and duration of my lifelong engagement with the book. 

I remain fascinated and gripped by LotR; even after uncounted re-readings, background scholarship on the early drafting, adaptations, artwork and a great deal of 'secondary literature' of comment, criticism and analysis. And mainly such a lot of thinking and imagining!

For me, there is nothing else even remotely like this in my life. I am by nature a re-reader, and a background reader; so I have re-read many books many times, and read many biographies of many authors and so on. I have also had recurrent thoughts and imaginings from other books. Yet none of them come anywhere near to the effect of Lord of the Rings. 

Whatever the reason for this may be, I think it hit home immediately; on the first reading. So that probably holds the clue. 

My memory is that I believed LotR was true, and more-true than the normal work around me. This was evident to some of my friends, including the one who introduced me to the book who I heard say this with a mixture of frustration and mockery. To him I was taking it all much too seriously.  

Most people would agree - but from where I am, more than forty years later, I was dead right. Tolkien is realer than ordinary real life - and this has become more true with every passing year as 'real life' became more fake, 'virtual', evil and is now almost-wholly dishonest and deluded. 

But I still find it hard to say just why this is the case, or why this fact was so evident to me so quickly.  


R.J.Cavazos said...

Would have to agree on LOTR. Also, though not very popular in the U.S. I find JG Ballard very real these days..

Stephen Macdonald said...

The effect Bruce describes is absolutely real. LOTR is the only book that has an effect on me and my family comparable to the Holy Bible itself. LOTR taps into immense transcendent energies -- eternal, true and beautiful.

robert kendall said...

I agree, I was struck by both the Hobbit and then even more so by LOTR when I was just a wee lad and continue to be so today. the other books too. mainly the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin are all interrelated , of course, and present an ongoing "study" of these ideas and stories. I suspect they are true and reflect an age far n the distant past possibly before the last Ice Age, but I speculate and wallow in that folly.....but it sure seems like it is true.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Doc - Not really. There is probably a window in early life for books to have a big impact - but I think it is a wide window, extending from maybe 7 into the early 20s. During this time I read a vast amount of fiction - much more than I have read since, for sure; but still LotR stood out.

Ann K. said...

This from Orthodox Father Andrew Stephen Damick might be of interest: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/asd/2021/01/25/myth-mythology-fakelore-and-whether-fairies-exist/

sykes.1 said...

I bought a copy of LotR in the original Ballantine pirate edition at a drug store in Codman Sq., Boston, around 65 or 66. It was addictive. It was real in a deep sense. It represented the fallen world and the eternal struggle against evil.

Some academic critics now list it as part of the English canon. I would agree.

But the impact of this book must derive from Tolkien's own life experience: an orphan raised by a Catholic priest; service at the Somme in 1916; immersion in Germanic legend. All that is sublimated in the LotR.

Bruce Charlton said...

@sykes - Great story.

BTW I think you mean the *Ace* pirate edition - the Ballantine was official.

The Ace had *much* better cover art, however!

Sean G. said...

LOTR is true in a way that few things in this world are. The only other book that gave me that powerful feeling of divine truth was the Book of Mormon, or at least the first 50% that I read—and the historical accuracy of either is not an issue that concerns me.

Also, whether you love or hate LOTR seems to be a litmus test of some kind. In my experience it's the especially hard-hearted that find it dull, though I'm sure there are notable exceptions. I imagine it's similar with the BOM.

Matthew T said...

" I think you mean the *Ace* pirate edition"

Never argue with Bruce about LotR editions, folks. ;)