Christianity and Middle-Earth

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Purging the West of the West

Here’s a prime seasonal example of purge-Christianity-from-public-view thinking (more at link):
What were those Puritans thinking?

Some schoolchildren in Maryland may need to hear this story:

In Massachusetts in 1623, our Pilgrim forbears were struggling. A terrible drought, some six weeks in length, was withering the crops, without which they would not survive the winter. What was worse, a ship bearing more colonists and additional supplies was long overdue, possibly lost. In their distress, the Pilgrims turned to God. They determined to "more solemnly to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer." The morning following their "period of humiliation" a soft shower began to fall--a perfect, 14-day rain--and, says colonist Edward Winslow, "it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived." Then came blessing upon blessing: They received news that the ship they had been awaiting was not lost, but only delayed.

Their prayers answered, the Pilgrims thought "it would be great ingratitude, if secretly we should smother up the same, or content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that, which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us." Thus, the first (New England) Thanksgiving.

Why tell this familiar tale to residents of the Free State? Because in some Maryland public schools, students are taught all about Thanksgiving--the Pilgrims, the Indians, the dress, the menu-- except for one little detail: that thanks was given to God. "We teach about Thanksgiving from a purely historical perspective, not from a religious perspective," says Charles Ridgell, St. Mary's County Public Schools curriculum and instruction director. In fact, several school administrators in Maryland told the Capital News Service, "religion never coincides with how [they] teach Thanksgiving."

By way of demonstrating the asininity of this approach to teaching schoolchildren the history of their own country, we can apply it to The Lord of the Rings.

There’s an entire back-story that “informs” us, as the same lot say, about the setting in which Tolkien’s tale takes place, the motivations, the driving virtues and vices. (That’ll have to change for a start – the whole ‘values’ thing. Can’t have our children brainwashed into think that there’re any absolutes or that people might believe in those absolutes strongly enough to have been willing to give up security for the freedom to worship as they chose. What’s wrong for one culture might just fine for another one, after all, and who’s got any authority to say otherwise? Apart from the Dispensers of Politically Correct Wisdom, of course.)

Gandalf’s going to have to be redesigned, for one, since he’s a Maia - which in Tolkien’s created world translates out to something like an archangel in the service of the Valar, who translate out to even fancier archangels - maybe even seraphim - in the service of Eru, otherwise known as God.

On the other hand, the way Tolkien sketched out Gandalf in The Hobbit is fairly innocuous: we can treat him as a magician, nothing more and nothing less. The reference to the Necromancer is harmless enough: even conjurers of cheap tricks have to deal with bad guys occasionally.

This approach will require dispensing with the line about being a “servant of the Secret Fire,” of course, and the stuff about being “sent back,” but those are minor issues. It doesn’t really detract from our view of Gandalf’s function as a plain old-fashioned wizard if we trim those out.

But the Elves will require a bit more work.

For instance, the Galadriel issue: she’s going to have to truly be a Sorceress in the Golden Wood who uses “magic” the same way that Sauron uses “magic,” and Gimli will just have to live with it. Tough cookies.

Frodo and Sam may NOT call on a higher power; I don’t care how many bogeymen are after them. (We’re keeping anything that smacks of prayer out of this, remember? Unless, of course, it’s just an attempt to use “magic.”) None of this Valinor/Varda business and beloved stars and the light of Earendil and all that – far too High-Church-like and we all know what Tolkien was. (Shhh! There may be innocent young ears about!) It might give readers the idea that there are things that are ‘holy,’ whatever that means, and it will definitely upset the All-Cultures-Are-Equal crusaders…um, I mean, activists.

(On the other hand, you’ll be glad to hear that Frodo doesn’t have to feel rustic and unlearned at Faramir’s dinner table. The folk customs of the Shire are as good as any “high beauties” the DWM "West” can offer.)

By way of an example of this judicious bowdlerizing, we can - by cunningly removing offensive lines, adding a few words here or there in an appropriate spirit of political correctness, and generally rendering the story ‘accessible’ to progressive readers whilst retaining the happy idea of a magical Elf-queen - translate this passage from The Two Towers thusly:

"Even as Sam himself crouched, looking at her, seeing his death in her eyes, a thought came to him as if some remote voice had spoken and he fumbled in his breast with his left hand and found what he sought: cold and hard and solid it seemed to his touch in a phantom world of horror, the magic Phial of Galadriel.

‘Galadriel,’ he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music remembered the magical powers of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond.
Gilthoniel! A Elbereth!

And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know he cried:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon si di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

Galadriel, O Tinkerbell!
Wet is the water of your well!

And with that he waved the Phial at Shelob defiantly and staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast’s son child again. ‘Now come, you filth!’ he cried. ‘You’ve hurt my master friend, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’

And he stuck his loosened tongue out at Shelob as far as it could go. As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency shaken its alchemical reaction into motion, the magical glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand and he bunged it at Shelob as hard as he could. It flamed like a sparkly holiday star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light even as it landed ‘SMACK’ right between some of her eyes .”
There, that should do it. At least, so far as the High Church flavor goes. I think we can safely say we’ve eliminated that.


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Friday, November 19, 2004

The Fellowship of the Ring

Victor Davis Hanson , via LGF:

We are living in historic times, as all the landmarks of the past half-century are in the midst of passing away. The old left-wing critique is in shambles — as the United States is proving to be the most radical engine for world democratic change and liberalization of the age. A reactionary Old Europe, in concert with the ossified American leftist elite, unleashed everything within its ample cultural arsenal: novels, plays, and op-ed columns calling for the assassination of President Bush; propaganda documentaries reminiscent of the oeuvre of Pravda or Leni Riefenstahl; and transparent bias passed off as front-page news and lead-ins on the evening network news.

Germany and France threw away their historic special relationships with America, while billions in Eastern Europe, India, Russia, China, and Japan either approved of our efforts or at least kept silent. Who would have believed 60 years ago that the great critics of democracy in the Middle East would now be American novelists and European utopians, while Indians, Poles, and Japanese were supporting those who just wanted the chance to vote? Who would have thought that a young Marine from the suburbs of Topeka battling the Dark Ages in Fallujah — the real humanist — was doing more to aid the planet than all the billions of the U.N.?


Quite literally, we are living in the strangest, most perilous, and unbelievable decade in modern memory.

And what else comes into that decade but Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

It’s not a coincidence.

The Passion of the Christ doesn’t mince images: rather, it body-slams viewers right into the sudden realization that Christianity isn’t sentimentality and syrup. As has been said before, Christianity began in blood; the blood of the Innocents murdered by Herod after Christ’s birth, the blood of the Lamb of God at his death on the Cross, the blood of the early Christian martyrs.

The word ‘lamb’ conjures up images of cuddly, sweet things, and no doubt Jesus was such a one as an infant; all babies are. The primary function of lambs in the Hebrew writings, however, is that of sacrificial victim, the part in the drama that requires submission to a well-sharpened knife and the attendant bloodletting.

The point of sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament was to direct attention to a future Lamb; the point of the sacrificial Lamb of the New Testament is to spare us humans having to end up just as dead as his predecessors.

When did you understand?
Which breath drew knowing harshly in
And gave it flesh and bone and skin,
And sped your heart to beat in sudden dread on ebon wings?

When did you first perceive?
Was it a thought, a waking sight?
Or telling dream come in the night
With ancient words that spoke to you of dark and fearful things?

When did you see?

When did you bow your head?
And cup the truth in gentle hands
To drink like salt and desert sands,
And trade for cold, black winter
All your summers and your springs.

The Lord of the Rings
translates that sacrifice into a journey. The Lamb bids us step onto the Road behind him, a Fellowship of lambs in his name, willing to take part in his suffering because in that suffering we are spared eternal Night. We give up the good opinion of society in order to follow him, witless halflings all, plodding together beneath a Mordor-storm of hate and mockery, laboring in his footsteps as he bears the Ring of death and shame to its declared destruction. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.”

Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Christ in The Passion understands the interface :

"Initially, I was supposed to be (meeting) for a surfing movie, with Steve McEveety as producer. Then Mel showed up, and the conversation did a complete 180 to `The Passion of the Christ.' I suddenly realized what was up and said, `You want me to play Jesus, don't you?' He said yes."I felt both terrified and good about it, because I was saying yes to someone who would make the story of the gospels real, who'd stay right with Christian doctrine. If I wanted to do an allegory, which can be great, I'd do `Lord of the Rings,' which is basically the same story…”

The world is changing – and the old guard doesn’t like it at all. Yet paradoxically, all the ills are to be blamed on what is left of the Christendom that they’ve made every effort to destroy.

Dennis Prager, in his recent editorial entitled A Jew Defends the Cross says:

“I fear the removal of the Judeo-Christian foundation of our society. This is the real battle of our time, indeed the civil war of our time. (my emphasis) The Left wants America to become secular like Western Europe, not remain the Judeo-Christian country it has always been. But unlike the Left, I do not admire France and Belgium and Sweden. And that is what the battle over the seal of America's most populous county is ultimately about. It is not about separation of church and state. It is about separation of a county from its history. And it is about separation of America from its moral foundations.”

Whether Christendom will survive, I don’t know. But I do know that God has not left us without warning and comfort and promise.

Witless halflings we may be, we Christians, but through the foolishness of storytelling, God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.


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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Damned If They Do...

The great and wise inhabitants of the Mount Olympian Peace and Press Association are at it again, dispensing their omniscience and impartiality to us mortals. Not that they ever really stop being ‘at it,’ but there are better and worse days, and apparently at the moment, some in the mainstream media think our soldiers shouldn’t act like soldiers. If they do, it’s another Abu-Ghraib-Only-Worse .

At least, that’s the impression I get.

Yes, there are such things as war crimes: John Kerry accused himself of them, after all, and who am I to question his wisdom? The problem doesn’t come in the existence of such a thing or the proper Pentagon response to such a thing, if and when it happens; the problem comes in with our soldiers being required to fight house-to-house gun-battles with Men-become-Orcs while certain Western reporters loom all agog with their video cameras at the delightful prospect of getting some scandalous footage of a ‘war crime.’

I’m surprised the drool doesn’t smear their lenses.

You know, if you put a young man into military training and teach him to kill other human beings for the defense of his country, you can’t expect him to be of the mindset to invite the enemy to join him in doily-lacing when that enemy could very well be pulling the pin on a grenade by way of ensuring himself a no-fault entry to Paradise.

For that matter, I should think that getting shot by a nervous Marine would make for as magnificent an introduction to the afterlife as not, so what’s the problem here? The live soldier’s happy, his team is happy, the dead terrorist’s happy, and the reporter ought to be - unless he wants his 72 virgins too, and feels deprived of the opportunity by a trigger-happy war-monger.

Because, of course, if the Marine doesn’t shoot the devotee of ‘dead’ possum theater, then he and his team and the reporter might well all get blown to bits – whereupon a competing reporter gets to cover the aftermath of that and the administration gets savaged because more young Americans come home in body bags.

There’s nothing like having to fight a war with a gaggle of embedded Wormtongues in tow.

P.S. Six years later. The Treacle Follies:

Rivers may go on forever, but so does political, "intellectual" and soccer-mom magical-thinking; men drown in its self-righteous frothings again and again. Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal via today's NRO, 2/24/10:

John Yoo: In 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts. The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow.

In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission.

An adequate illustration of my above post, I trust?


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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Reality of Evil

I think columnist Ralph Peters (via Junkyard Blog) hits the nail smack-dab on the noggin with this one:

The various terrorist groups affiliated with or aping al-Qaeda aren't really Islamic at their core. They're pre-Islamic. They're blood cults that practice human sacrifice. Mohammed would be horrified. This is just the sort of primitive desert religion against which he rebelled, spiritually and practically. The videotaped beheadings, complete with high priests, liturgy and sermons, hark back to the earliest Middle-Eastern civilizations, to the days of winged devils thirsty for blood….

JRR Tolkien would have no trouble recognizing the mindset or where it came from:

“…for they had worshipped Sauron in the dark years.” RotK, Book V

For Tolkien, evil was a very real thing and the personified existence of occult powers an objective fact. It wasn’t something he liked getting too close to; consequently, the Enemy’s evil in Middle Earth creeps in mostly from the edges, a devil’s bindweed of dark threat seeking to weave itself across the green earth until it blocks all light of sun or moon, and all memory of the West. (The trick for the Fellowship is to keep moving.)

From Sanctifying Myth , Brad Birzer’s excellent book on the Christian themes Tolkien brought to his masterwork:

Tolkien’s failure to explore or explain evil in much depth has led many critics to chide him for being too simplistic and childlike…[y]et Tolkien would most likely not be too bothered by the criticism…[e]vil, for Tolkien, was not about being scared by monsters. Rather, evil is very real and perilous, whether in fairy tales, in the trenches of World War I, or in the Soviet gulags. The monsters of fiction and nightmares are merely manifestations of the true, original evil...

Of course, we’re quite capable of getting up to plenty of mischief on our own account, we humans, but there’s a point in the indulgence of hatred and self-righteousness where an intelligent and ancient will-to-power so grips individuals or groups that their very humanity begins to disintegrate. Mankind saw this with Communism and the Nazis; and we’re seeing it again with the jihadis.

They would like very much to blot out all memory of the West.


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Monday, November 08, 2004

The Salt of the Earth

There is another thing about the Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of an herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana…

There is much of the Shire in Eastern North Carolina. It is a very green and pleasant land - if about thirty degrees warmer in the summer than is civilized - and mostly farm fields and forest. Old Toby and Longbottom Leaf aren’t as much in evidence as they were even ten years ago; acres that flaunted sturdy tobacco plants every summer for nearly four hundred years have gone mostly to cotton; and the old wooden barns and packhouses are sagging into oblivion, helped along by the upsurge in hurricanes and changes in tobacco-technology.

Here where I live, people still pull to the side of the road when they meet an oncoming funeral procession. Little ancient family cemetery plots are a common sight, (there’s even one like a moated grange in the parking lot behind the mall) still tended and sometimes still used: my ancestors lie in a wee graveyard off a dirt road in the woods of Duplin County. I don’t know how old it is, but the stones date to the mid-1800s at least and I remember wooden markers now long gone.

The ancestral home, known in the records as Stallings Old Place, succumbed to flood and fire just in these last few years; my father was the last to live in it, (and mercifully died before it was destroyed), and it was even further out in the woods than are the deceased ancestors. My daughter did most of the hole-refilling when it came time to bury his ashes in the little graveyard; we dug the hole and placed the stone ourselves. You can do this sort of thing in Shire-places.

Two of my uncles earned their livings raising chickens commercially. It’s a high-reality occupation, farming, especially when you step in manure. I’ve done my share of feeding and watering with my cousins – it was a major job involving wheelbarrows full of feed and scoops and hoses and upside-down mason-jars for watering, at least when the chickens were newly hatched. As soon as they got large enough to reach the automatic waterers, that part got easier. But the one uncle never did get the automated feeders, so it was twice a day, day in and day out for weeks, slinging feed into troughs for thousands and thousands of chickens in two enormous barns like long-houses.

Carpenters, mill-workers, sheet-metal drafting, and farming – no riches here- deer-hunting and shad-fishing and tobacco-raising; burning the corn-stubble, butchering hogs on a cold day; fish fries and picnics and reunions – all very much like Birthday Parties - with so many first and second-cousins-once-removed that to this day, I don’t know who some of them were. (But I haven’t forgotten the food.) Bible school and Sunday school and singing in the choir - mostly for the women, though the men always showed up for the church picnic.

My father found his wife in New Hampshire, so Sam would definitely have considered her a foreigner, (I was the little Yankee cousin come from up north, suddenly in the midst of a vast extended family ready-made, so to speak) but some of my aunts-by-marriage were foreigners, too, brides fetched from other counties and one even from so exotic a place as Baltimore. My grandmother came from the sea-coast, days away by wagon; her brother ran fishing boats out of Carolina Beach. Great-aunt Emma never married; but she was a schoolteacher in her youth and had an ancient organ in her front parlor, the kind with a foot-pedal. And there were quite a few medals floating around, vintage WWII.

All these things are dear to me, perhaps the more so because I came to them as an outsider, a descendent of New Hampshiremen and Canadians. (I still talk through my Yankee nose, only with a slight drawl these days.) My extended family had – and have - their flaws and their strengths, their good points and their bad, but mostly good. My father’s generation is nearly all gone now, and the children are scattered, but there are still some living on the various once-farms, and I have two hundred years worth of family papers in a closet here, awaiting archiving and returning to the cousin who inherited the good earth where Stallings Old Place once stood.

There has always been a Baggins at Bag End and there always will be…

Two hundred years’ worth of roots and family names and hard work and history – and this is what the elites have to say about it:

Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states… Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it…. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

That’s Slate.

Garry Wills of the New York Times calls last Tuesday “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.”

The Daily Mirror is even more eloquent on the subject of my inheritance (snipped to make it fit for a Victorian website – and there’s plenty more where this came from): The self-righteous, gun-totin', military lovin', sister marryin', abortion-hatin', gay-loathin', foreigner-despisin', non-passport ownin' red-necks…

I shall die as one of them.


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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Men of the West

“Tolkien wrote a fantasy, but his message that evil must be fought was based on sound reality. First, his Catholicism taught him that we live in a world scarred by original sin, and that Satan is real and active. Evil is not a metaphor which can be dispensed with by some rhetorical gimmick. Nor is evil a psychiatric or social condition which can be resolved by the march of progress. Evil is a permanent element in human affairs.” -- Lexington Green, Chicago Boyz

But what should be our response to Mordor in our midst? I think Tolkien’s epic provides guidance. Certainly part of our response should be support for the military efforts currently underway. We did not seek war; war was declared on us, and now we must respond. However, The Lord of the Rings suggests that the terrorists are far from our only danger. During wartime, we must of course look to the enemy without – but we must also look to the enemy within ourselves. For in a fallen world, even those fighting a righteous cause can face temptations destructive of their souls.” -- John West

“Whatever the contemporary West's sins, there is plenty of good in this world we have made for ourselves, and there is no question that it's worth fighting for. That said, Tolkien does not let us off the hook easy. We will be judged by how we use the power we accumulated, by what we have done with the time that was given us.” –Rod Dreher


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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Ten-thirty p.m. in North Carolina on Election Day

“Idolatry", wrote G.K. Chesterton, "is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.”

Seems like a good occasion for a brief note on reality.

A few years ago, a man was killed in a fog-engendered freak accident not too many miles from my home because his perceptions conflicted with reality.

Fog, as anyone who has experienced it knows, makes for unpleasant driving conditions. Low beams and judicious use of brake lights generally provide an adequate margin of safety, providing everyone is patient and wary, but navigating a cloud-bank is still rough on the nervous system for the simple fact that it can be well-nigh impossible to see more than a few feet in front of the car, thus giving the driver a choice of driving too slow and being hit from the rear or driving too fast and hitting someone else from the rear. The consequential chain-reaction pile-ups can be spectacular for no other reason than the sheer number of automobiles involved, fatalities aside.

The road this particular man was driving on is a well-maintained divided highway that rarely sees even moderate traffic. I don’t remember all the details – such as his estimated speed, for instance – but I do know that he was going fast enough that when a large and stationary truck carrying some sort of long, protruding cargo was all of a sudden smack-dab in his way, he had no time to prevent that whatever-it-was coming right through the windshield and taking his head off. It’s entirely possible that he never saw it at all.

As I recall, the truck driver was charged with something, probably some sort of criminal negligence, and justly so – that’s what flares are for - but that wasn’t any help to our newly decapitated fellow citizen. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

He was dead then and is still dead and will be dead at least ‘til the last trump sounds, all because what he thought didn’t fit with what actually was.

Perception told him that he could see far enough ahead to react to taillights. Perception wasn’t particularly concerned with a deer or a dog – there’d be time to brake: the fog wasn’t that bad.

Maybe perception whispered “I’ve driven this little old highway a hundred times before, nothing to worry about!”

Perception wasn’t being particularly reckless: certainly one ought to be able to travel North Carolina highways with a reasonable expectation of there not being lethal truck-cargoes a-lurk in the cruising lane. But what perception, however well meaning or innocent, didn’t reckon with was truth.

Truth in the form of critical mass, that nonnegotiable instant when one of two objects attempting to occupy the same space at the same time loses the argument but good.

That is the nature of reality. Illusion cannot protect you from it.


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Monday, November 01, 2004

Neo-Pagans and Tolkien

One of the reasons that some ultra-conservative churches oppose The Lord of the Rings is that it has over the years been commandeered as support for any amount of loonybiscuit New Age/neo-pagan ideology and as a springboard for a dark fantasy culture: this association makes Tolkien immediately even more suspect.

Yet, far as the '60's "Frodo Lives" crowd is concerned, that was a hijacking, pure and simple. The baby boomers - of whom I am one - took Tolkien's understandable distaste for certain aspects of modernity and ran with it, completely ignoring the clear (Christian) chivalric principles by which his heroes lived. That particular folly has reached a pinnacle in underground "cults" such as the Earth Liberation Front (otherwise known as ELF), a loose association of three-sheets-to-the-wind crackpots who express their superiority to the average American by torching SUVs and laboratories in the name of protecting nature.

Gandalf would not have approved.

From The Two Towers, after the fall of Isengard and the confrontation with Saruman at Orthanc:

“Treebeard…turned to Gandalf. ‘So Saruman would not leave?’ he said. ‘I did not think he would. His heart is as rotten as a black Huorn’s. Still, if I were overcome and all my trees destroyed, I would not come while I had one dark hole left to hide in.’

‘No,’ said Gandalf. ‘But you have not plotted to cover all the world with your trees and choke all other living things.’ ”

The nature-above-all mindset also flies in the face of all that the Shire was: agricultural, orderly, stable, hard-working and above all, as Bilbo could tell us, respectable. It was this treasured and tradition-encumbered culture that Frodo sacrificed himself to save; not violently overthrow. Nature in the Shire was tamed. That’s why there was the High Hay: to keep the aggressive Wild on its own turf and out of the Shire’s.

But instead the good green earth for which Tolkien so eloquently pleaded has become the god of the neo-pagans, though 'goddess' might be more accurate. A great deal of silliness goes along with this - everything from psuedo-Druidism to ley lines to crystal therapy to channeling the royalty of Atlantis: a darker side dabbles in the out-and-out occult. But neither these movements nor the hard-core dark-fantasy community is a legitimate expression of Tolkien's mythology.


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