Thursday 27 June 2024

Tolkien plus something-else made me a Romantic

Before reading JRR Tolkien's Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at age 13, my attitude was that of a mainstream, down to earth, science and adventure orientated kid. I was very much a "materialist", and externally focused and driven. My favourite reading was Biggles and war memoirs of fighter pilots

Post Tolkien I became - although I did not know the term - a Romantic. 

Although I did not for some decades set aside the scientistic, rationalistic side to my character; my deepest hopes and fears were romantic. From then onwards, compared with nearly everybody I knew or met, I seemed to have stronger ecstasies and hopes, and also a stronger tendency to existential angst and melancholy - in general a tendency to brood on The Human Condition (but especially as it applied to me). 

Just on the cusp of my adolescence; Tolkien's work gave me strong and sustained glimpses of "higher things"; and it was my experience of a world of engagement in a living and conscious reality, where there were depths of purpose and meaning not just among human beings but other sentient beings, and all through nature and beyond (e.g. in mountains, rivers, the sea...)... A world and state of mind where both beauty and evil were sharper and realer.

It seems to me that part of being and staying "a romantic" is ecstatic experience of in inner and imaginative nature. 

It is this experience of heightened consciousness that - by its contrast with the mundane quality of everyday life; and also by its unsustainability, its brevity - apparently creates the typically "romantic" mind-set and life. 

However; it soon dawned upon me that nearly everybody I met seemed to lack either the capacity or desire (or both) to have ecstatic romantic experiences. 

Some lived life, apparently, always behind a transparent wall of exclusion of such experiences, self-control exerted against such loss of control. This would include "Normans" and those who emulated them or wished to ally with them. It would also include the classic respectable middle classes, and the (self-consciously, ostentatiously) down-to-earth working classes. 

Their appreciations seemed at second-hand, "as if", undercut by a safety-net of irony and facetiousness; consequently, although such people got miserable, that misery had a mundane not existential quality.

The mass of other-people whom I encountered either could-not, or (for some kind of defensive reason, perhaps regarding it as childish, ignorant, a sign of weakness, or low status) would-not allow themselves to have these experiences. 

In conclusion: two things at least were required for the unique life-transforming effect that Tolkien had upon me: one was the special quality of Tolkien's work; and the second was my (partly innate, partly chosen) latent romantic nature - which was probably enhanced by my stage of psychological development. 


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