I’d live here if required.
Well, here we are again, back online. I mean “we” in the Gollum sense, for it is true that I am laboring away through The Lord of the Rings for the first time. That’s right, I’ve just turned 45 and I’m finally reading everyone else’s favorite epic.
I suppose it is excessively wicked to have a heap of books one doggedly commits never to open. My list has included most of the books in the world because I am sure I won’t like them and they won’t like me. Like, I don’t plan ever to read Anna Karenina, or Les Miserable or The Road, or anything like that. Whenever I have been persuaded against my inclination to try out books (and movies) of that sort I have never enjoyed myself and have sometimes even been disturbed out of my too tenuous grip on functionality. But then there are others that a person (me) shouldn’t have to read because they are so within the common parlance of a culture that it is as if one has read them, and so actually reading them shouldn’t be a requirement. For me, TLOTR is always going on in the background of my life—literally playing on one device or another because everyone else in the family has read it and is reading it and will read it again almost immediately, the way I read The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass in December every year. I felt like I shouldn’t have to actually crack it open and look at the page. And yet here I am, because apparently, that wasn’t true.
So anyway, I’m nearing the end of The Two Towers and you don’t need to worry about spoiling it. I know how it ends. What I haven’t known, until now, because I wasn’t curious, but which has endeared me to my new literary labors, is how much Tolkien hates machinery. He says so explicitly in some of his letters. He really hated the airplane, for example, and all that the industrial revolution wrought upon England’s gentle landscape. He must surely have agreed with me that the automobile—or car if you will—was one significate step in the dissolution of human society. The business of being able to get in a big rattling piece of metal and go anywhere you want for any reason must not be good for anyone in the final reckoning. I am sure it is the reason that I don’t know my neighbors and why I have to go online to interact with other people. Or maybe I’ve left out a few intermediate steps. I’m not sure.
So anyway, as I’ve been trundling along I’ve been wondering what Tolkien would have to say about the advent of the smartphone. And, of course, social media. If he had to do it all over again, I bet he would make Mark Zuckerberg into Sauron, sitting somewhere over there on Mount Doom, looking through that thing (what was that called) into the hearts of all people through the glowing screens in their hands. Has someone already worked this out? Obviously, I haven’t read enough of the internet to find out.
There is one thought that discourages me more than any other, however. It came to me when I got to the bit where Gollum tried the lembas bread and choked on it. Quite a nice metaphor, I thought, for how so many things repulse me that lots of people like and think are wonderful. Many of those things are technically evil but don’t always look very evil and my revulsion looks foolish in the beginning but then is borne out as wisdom in the end. This is called Discernment and comes about because of reading the Bible. The point being that I’m not Gollum, unable to bear the true divine Bread that gives life. I am like the Hobbits who are sustained along the way by what is good and true and beautiful.
But then I unhappily remembered that when social media came along, my moral aesthetic compass was not finely tuned enough to Immediate Revulsion. Like the rest of the world, I happily made a Facebook account and did not see the doom lurking on the other side of the screen, the sure and certain destruction of everything that is good and right—like private and unshared thoughts and feelings, like hidden virtue, like reasonable political discourse. Being a Christian, I should have seen the danger, but instead, I was totally delighted and willing to join in. And now here I am, posting this on all the socials and hoping (not even very secretly) that people will click and like. O the hypocrisy!
What I’m trying to say is, you can totally exegete TLOTR like it’s the Bible. And now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go and try to face the reality that all the fun times are over and real life has got to be faced. Have a nice day!