Tolkien, Reading and the Ring
My wife and I have a tradition of watching through The Lord of the Rings at Christmastide. We don’t get to it every year, but we’ve just finished the cycle this time.
It’s been awhile since I read the books, so long that I find myself forgetting things. Most of all I don’t sense the loss of nobility from books to movies as much as I used to. So I’ve decided to re-read Tolkien this year. I’ve started with The Silmarillion, which I haven’t read before. I’ve already read Unfinished Tales and I don’t think I’ll read it through again now, but I will reread both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Just today, I was pleased to rediscover The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien on my shelf, one of my wife’s yard sale finds. I think I’ll try to get through that as well. And I’m excited that Mark Horne is working on a Tolkien biography.
Here’s a quote I found while paging through Tolkien’s letters, from a fascinating letter on p. 279 in response to questions about The Lord of the Rings from Miss Rhona Beare:
You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one’s life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one’s direct control. A man who wishes to exert ‘power’ must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.
There’s a lot of food for thought there, with applicability ranging from the inevitable failure of despotism to everything that is bittersweet about parenthood.