3 January 1892, the scholar and author J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
“To present the conflict between Good and Evil as a war in which the good side is ultimately victorious is a ticklish business. Our historical experience tells us that physical power and, to a large extent, mental power are morally neutral and effectively real: wars are won by the stronger side, just or unjust. At the same time most of us believe that the essence of the Good is love and freedom so that Good cannot impose itself by force without ceasing to be good. The battles in the Apocalypse and Paradise Lost, for example, are hard to stomach because of the conjunction of two incompatible notions of Deity, of a God of Love who creates free beings who can reject his love and of a God of absolute Power whom none can withstand. Mr. Tolkien is not as great a writer as Milton, but in this matter he has succeeded where Milton failed.” (W.H. Auden)
|A wonderful image of J.R.R. Tolkien by the American artist Audrey Benjaminsen.*|
When the “Lord of the Rings” was finally published during the mid-1950s, it was received in war-weary Western Europe with what might be described in hindsight as a well-mannered “Harry Potter” craze – on a sophisticated, literary critical level as well as by a large reading audience that was simply enchanted by a world created around the languages Tolkien had initially invented in an act that took the philologist more than twenty-five years. With its condensation of Norse, Finnish and various legends into an artificial mythology shaped by Tolkien’s Catholicism, an idyllic environment with clearly defined borders between Good and Evil, the tales from Middle Earth proved to be an ideal remedy against the fast growing disenchantment of the world, a process that begun more than a hundred years before with the rise of Industrialism and artists’ and their audience’s counterdrafts to ward off the gospel of rationality and utility of a world shaped by steam and speed and steel and various degrees of political radicalisation.
|One of Tolkien's own illustrations for "The Hobbit"|
Tolkien’s flawless scholarly work is almost forgotten over the boom of his mythopoesis that hit the nerve of an audience yearning for myths in the United States of the 1960s, when all kinds of New Age philosophies prospered with few being as profound as the tales from Middle Earth. And while all kinds of authors tried their hand at mythopoeia, setting their own sagas in their own worlds, no one in his wake achieved Tolkien’s vehemence and Middle Earth’s authenticity. And while the professor’s tales rose to be the second most best-selling book with more than 150 million copies sold of the “Lord of the Rings” and 100 million copies of the Hobbit, an own academic branch of Tolkien studies evolved, fantastic literature, especially High Fantasy, split roughly in two camps, those who imitate Tolkien and those who don’t, and Hollywood began, in the words of his son and curator Christopher, “eviscerate” his works, “Frodo lives” as a famous bumper sticker let the world know since the 1960s. Tolkien’s Middle Earth has become a living thing that grows, evolves, sometimes sprawls according to the tastes of a diversified audience but still serves the same single purpose tall tales serve since they were told for the first time – satisfy the yearning for an enchanted world. And few authors have accommodated to this demand better than J.R.R. Tolkien.
* The Image above was found on (http://audreybenjaminsen.deviantart.com/?rnrd=83912) from 2012, via http://therankspoon.com/2012/12/07/a-quick-word-on-hobbits/tumblr_mdka48ntrl1rxbv0mo1_1280/
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