Monday 12 September 2022

The three ages of Tolkien in my life

Looking back over the past fifty years I have been reading Tolkien; I can perceive that my attitude to the books (especially The Lord of the Rings) falls into three broad phases. 


When I began reading, in my middle teens, I regarded LotR as, pretty much, a blueprint for how we ought to live in a socio-political sense. My attitude was that the lesson of the book was that we ought to deindustrialize substantially, and return to an agrarian society, divided into mostly self-sufficient units (i.e. a kind of feudalism), based upon a much simpler level of technology. 

Thus, my interest in Tolkien led to an interest in pre-modern history - Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval. And also an interest in the 'self-sufficiency' and 'intermediate technology' movements, 'ecology', and the politics of William Cobbett, HD Thoreau, William Morris, RH Tawney, the 'distributism' of Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton, and EF Schumacher of 'Small is Beautiful' fame.  

In essence; I saw the spirit of Tolkien located in a type of society; and I hoped to live by this spirit via living in what I understood to be a Tolkienian society. I therefore read the books almost as if they were a manual or blueprint for how we ought to live. 


In younger adult life, I lost faith in both the power and goodness of politics - and realized that its direction was against the agrarian. I realized that Men were not passive products of social systems - and I developed the broadly-Jungian idea that 'the psyche' was the primary reality. 

I saw the psyche as a third realm in-between the subjectivity of the everyday and mundane mind on the one hand, and the objectivity of the material world (including society and politics) on the other hand. 

My broad conclusion was that the 'lessons' of Tolkien ought to be developed in terms of living in accordance with the collective unconscious - which I saw as an objective realm of archetypal and mythic realities that was shared by all Men. 

In sum; I saw Tolkien as the greatest modern exemplification of this mythic world; and reading him as a way of discovering and strengthening the mythic in my own life; with the goal of living an integrated life - feeling part of society and guided by the wisdom of myth. 

Romantic Christian

In middle age I became a Christian, and then more and more of a 'Romantic' Christian - under the influence of Mormon theology; and writers such as Blake, Coleridge, Steiner, Barfield and Arkle. 

Thus, from about 2009, I began increasingly to read and experience Tolkien in a different way. This new era began with my immersion in JRRT's posthumously-published and unfinished novel: The Notion Club Papers. The NCPs contains a good deal of Tolkien autobiography, and was intended as a framework and bridge between the modern world and the world of the 'legendarium' (ie. the Silmarillion annals, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings). 

The Notion Club Papers blog then began to record a new practice of reading Tolkien, and some of the other Inklings, as what used to be termed 'devotional literature' - in the same spirit that past generations might have read Milton's Paradise Lost or Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

So, this is where I am now: in my third era of Tolkien. 

No comments: