Friday, 10 June 2016

The Lord of the Rings is true, of course - but in what way?

I remember being aged about 14 and being mildly mocked and teased for believing that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was true - the person doing the mocking was the friend who had actually introduced me to the book, and he liked it very much. That was one thing, he said; but I actually believed it.

What I found so cutting - and this is why I remember the event - was that it was correct: I did believe LotR was true; and I was shocked to discover that this friend did not - it seemed like a betrayal, and indeed I did not regard him as a friend after that point.

For me, the main fact about the Lord of the Rings was that it was true. How exactly to explain that - to explain what 'being true' meant in this context - was a further question; but the truth was the main thing. Indeed, I have never come across a satisfying explanation of the way that LotR (for example) is true. I am not satisfied by Tolkien's own explanation with respect to Subcreation in his essay On Fairy Stories and the many other pieces in that tradition; I am not satisfied by the explanations based on Symbolism; nor by Jungian Collective Unconscious type explanations - even less by post-Jungian explanations of myth in the Joseph Campbell/ James Hillman style.

All these sell short the way in which LotR is true. On the one hand it is not literally true in any kind of fact-by-fact basis; but on the other hand it is solidly true in-and-of-itself in a way that is grossly under-sold by the explanations I have seen. These explanations are, indeed, not even they kind of thing that could be a satisfactory explanation - they are abstract schemes based on abstractions; whereas the truth of Tolkien is anything-but abstract - the opposite of abstract! It is something experienced.

In fact, given its role in my life over many decades, this inability to explain the truth of LotR takes on a decisive aspect - it points to a major inadequacy of metaphysics, a failure of the basic structure of thinking which I have been assumed and lived-by.

If it was just Lord of the Rings that would perhaps be less significant; but the problem is more general. For example, the truth of Father Christmas/ Santa Claus. I really dislike hearing people say that Father Christmas is untrue - it seems like a shocking and shameful admission to advertise oneself as an unbeliever in so obviously and importantly true a phenomenon. Yet I seemingly can't explain how or why Father Christmas is true - any explanation I have known for the way he is true, grossly undersells the matter.

On the flip-side, there are many indeed most things in public life which it would be regarded as a mark of insanity to deny the truth of that do not strike me as true - things in science, history, common knowledge... They conspicuously lack that which Lord of the Rings has in such abundance - I know that LotR is true, and with them... I don't.

This is a long-way-round to my recent grasp of Rudolf Steiner's metaphysics (or, 'epistemology' as modern philosophers tend to call it) which I outlined yesterday - 

- and its clear assertion that what is thought is reality: not a representation of reality but actually the same thing. In thinking we are participating-in the totality of universal truth.

This is metaphysics, so it is not the kind of question we discuss on the basis of 'evidence' - but (among many other attributes and consequences) this seems to me to be the solution to the problem of the truth of the Lord of the Rings. In reading (and thinking about) LotR I was - with great focus, concentration and clarity - thinking some of the truths of the universe; the actual primary stuff of creation was active in my consciousness.

But why specifically LotR? Surely all thoughts and all thinking have that characteristic? Yes, but not all things that we casually assume are thoughts and thinking, actually are thoughts and thinking. For me, clearly (assuming the metaphysical assumptions) there was something about Lord of the Rings that made it so I really, clearly, powerfully thought it and was aware of my thinking.                 

Of course the Lord of the Rings is true! - universally, and really true.    


Anonymous said...

How does the 'Freedom' manifest itself, here? Is there (for example) a freedom of 'invenio' in the sense of discovering 'what' is 'already there', and another distinct freedom of a sort of 'esemplastic invenio' of combining 'things discovered' into a possible but not necessary 'something new added'?

And what might the 'composition history' of The Lord of the Rings be, in relation to that? The imagery of 'letting an image out of a block or marble by gradually chipping away everything that is not the image' occurs to me, to compare - but then, is there one 'pre-given' image to find and free, or more than one possibility, of which one is 'realized' in the process of planning and carving?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - When Steiner is talking about Freedom he is trying to explain how it is that Man can act from within himself - rather being merely some outcome of the environmnent and his inherited nature.

My understanding of Tolkien's creativity is more like the second process you describe - the 'rightness' of the work only gradually becomes clear - not so much in the process, but by a kind of trial and error inner comparison of the artistic achievement with an intuition of the ideal/ true/ real.

EomerSonOfEomund said...

The Lord of the Rings is indeed true, and I believe you are also right (and display remarkable self-awareness and humility in doing so) in grasping that your failure to understand how it is true points to incorrect or incomplete metaphysical understanding. May I be so bold as to take a crack at what is missing?

The Lord of the Rings is true because truth exists, and it speaks truth. It is full of truth about the nature of man, God, sin, good and evil, death and life. Of course the Lord of the Rings is truer than just about any history textbook, because it teaches truly and profoundly about these deepest truths, that man most longs to know, indeed that he was created to know. Any man who still has enough purity of heart to hear and recognize and love the truth (cf. Matthew 5:8, Psalm 23:3-4) will be moved by the truth he hears in the Lord of the Rings.

All things are true insofar as they reflect the one Truth, that is God, maker of all creation. Father Christmas is true in his gratuitous free giving of good things, which can only be appreciated and hoped for and believed in by children (cf. Mark 10:15). A thought experiment: Would Father Christmas remain true, or as true, if he visited us on a day that was not Christmas day? I submit that he would not – he would be a joke. His truth comes from the joyful anticipation of all creation for the advent of the Son of God, and the unfathomable gift of our redemption from slavery to sin and death.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ESoE - Nice comment.