Wednesday, December 17, 2003

J. R. R. Tolkien, Enemy of Progress

In honor of the Return of the King, two links today. Reader The Other Joey calls our attention to this piece from SF author David Brin on Salon from 2002. TOJ comments, “Basically, the article takes the side of Sauron, insisting that the story of The Lord of the Rings is elitist, anti-progressive, anti-industrial, pro-aristocratic, and oversimplifying in terms of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil.’ The article considers LOTR to be primarily a work of anti-scientific, anti-democratic romanticism, against the modernity that supposedly would destroy beauty and tradition. . . . Long live Sauron, defender of the proletariat!” (Well, this should balance the von Mises piece the other day. Talk about oversimplifying.) Worth thought if you haven’t seen it yet, and it does call us to critical engagement with our entertainment. Were there time, I would argue Brin makes his own false dichotomies and has a fundamental misreading of Tolkien, tradition, and fantasy as a whole. But SF writer Gene Wolfe has read Tolkien more and better than Brin, so I’ll let him argue for me in “The Best Introduction to the Mountains.”

phlog ::: from editor :::



Just so you guys know, that “Long live Sauron” comment was a joke. I didn’t expect you’d actually post that part up here.

Posted by The Other Joey on 17 Dec 03 at 04:28 PM

Also, I thank you for posting Wolfe’s argument as well, because in spite of what I said I did not really agree with Brin on all points. I do, however, think Wolfe is being ridiculously idealistic in thinking that we will “return” to “a society in which everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same changeless rules” sometime within the next thousand years. Wouldn’t that require some kind of technological and populational collapse, followed by a period in which no change took place at all?

Wolfe ignores the fact that change isn’t necessarily human in origin, just as Brin ignores the fact that much of our so-called progess has had an immense cost that is still ignored by many.

And since you accused me of oversimplifying, I think I should make a few more things clear. In addition to my Communist-sounding Sauron comment being a joke, pretty much everything I wrote there was a summary of what I thought Brin’s basic points were. As such, it’s inherently simplified.

Posted by The Other Joey on 17 Dec 03 at 05:45 PM

Sorry if not clear—I took it as a joke and recognize your comments as a summary. I am accusing Brin, not Joey, of oversimplification. Thanks for the clarification. —Ed.

Posted by editor on 17 Dec 03 at 08:44 PM

Ohh, okay, sorry I misunderstood that and took offense where I shouldn’t have. It seemed on the first read-through like you were equating my opinion with Brin’s argument, which I see now wasn’t your intent.

I just got back from seeing The Return of The King actually, and I thought it one of the best movies of the year. It’s #8 on my list, and #2 when you don’t include “independent” or animated films.

Posted by The Other Joey on 18 Dec 03 at 01:57 AM

whatever the books are, the movies are DEFINATELY and OBVIOUSLY pro-environmentist/ naturalist and anti-industrialist.

Posted by bibble on 19 Dec 03 at 04:36 PM
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