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Since it has been three months since I have posted here, I need to make a decision about what I want to do here and what direction I want to go in.  It astounds me that this blog still gets about 30 hits a day from all kinds of different places and that some of my oldest posts are the most popular.

Discussions of gender and sexuality I would like to retreat from.  My views on humanity expressed in maleness and femaleness are not only objectionable to the vast majority of my fellow Christians, but lo and behold, they may not even be as Orthodox as I thought they were.  Exposure to some of St. Maximus the Confessor’s thinking on man as male and female dislodged me from my dogmatic slumber.

The problem with binary solutions to everything – prickly Malacandrian Blog And Mabloggery over and against gooey Perelandran Sexual Existentialism – is that they foster that continual us-vs-them low-grade conflict that militates against our salvation.  As Father Philotheos Faros points out in Functional And Dysfunctional Christianity, individuals define themselves over against, and in competition with, other individuals.  Odio ergo sum.  On the other hand, persons can only come into the fullness of their personhood in communion with other persons, who will supply what is lacking.

That’s a hard word for me.  I am deeply invested in being right.  I need to adopt the attitude of Matushka Elizabeth, the beloved virgin-wife of St. John of Kronstadt: “I am content to let God reveal who is right and who is wrong.”


After resisting the temptation for almost twenty years, I finally started reading Robert Jordan’s series The Wheel Of Time.  I had heard a lot of things that were not good about this series; that it is over-written, that Jordan reuses the same female character over and over again, that it suffers from a lack of focus.  Although it is hard to judge from reading the first volume of the series, The Eye Of The World, I can see justification for all of those criticisms.

One thing that annoys me is how often his characters chuckle.  I have had to learn to un-notice this lest it distract me from the 69ce7060db8f84725b405b10dd982607other virtues of Jordan’s storytelling.  It is true that Jordan (actually pulp writer James Oliver Rigney, Jr) is wordy.  If Joe Abercrombie had written this series, there would have been three or four sharply written battles by now.  If George R.R. Martin had written it, half of the characters in whom I had invested my emotional capital would already have been killed off in unexpected ways.  If JRR Tolkien had written it, I would already have been exposed to a half-dozen invented languages.  Jordan has just moved me about two hundred miles down the road from the protagonists’ home turf, and nothing much has happened yet.

Oh well.

Jordan/Rigney is American, and rumor has reached me that a lot of the sturm und drang of postwar American life finds a reflection in The Wheel of Time.  Having slogged through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and having unexpectedly enjoyed the experience, I am willing to give Jordan/Rigney the benefit of the doubt.  I have also heard that his female characters get better and more full-orbed, although I don’t expect them to rise to level of Martin’s.


Anyone who expects the Orthodox observance of Lent to make them a better person or a better Christian is laboring under a severe delusion.  We’re about halfway through now, and never have I felt more like human refuse than I feel right now.  I have to admit my cowardice, my love of comfort and convenience, my propensity for judging others harshly and demanding special consideration for myself, my snippiness and shortness with my wife, my family and my fellow parishioners.  What makes it worse is that I have to admit that even repentance and confession is not likely to make me any better.  Maybe if I undertook some severe spiritual chemotherapy á la St. Mary of Egypt it might make some dent in my habitual solipsism…

When the fast ends, I will return to my normal self-indulgent lifestyle with a sigh of relief.  The additional calories will be put to use not in service to God and others, but towards my ongoing project of self-delusion and self-justification, which project must necessarily end some day.

I need the mercies of God and the forgiveness and forbearance of others as much now, maybe even more, than I did when I began this Christian project.

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A little less than two years ago, Father Malcolm Guite hosted a series of lectures on the Inklings.  In his first, lecture, he dealt with the Inklings as a group, and with their common characteristics as thinkers and as writers.  Father Malcolm argued that the Oxford Inklings, among whom he included CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, were more cohesive and presented a more common front against modernism, nihilism, and reductionism that than they are generally credited for doing.   Most critics view the group as a subset of the personal friends of CS Lewis who shared a reactionary frame of mind and who were uncommonly fond of fables and stories.  Indeed, if Tolkien had not singlehandedly created a market for epic and heroic fantasy, it is possible that the whole group would have been written off as a literary curiosity and quickly forgotten.

After introducing the Inklings as a group, Father Malcolm discusses each of them in turn; first CS Lewis, whose spiritual biography Father Malcolm presents as a healing of that great divide which was just beginning to open in lewis’ day between what was true, that which could be verified by Science [always capitalized], and that which Mattered, which was all of these myths and stories that moved the soul so deeply but which were of no value for discerning the truth.  From Lewis, Father Malcolm proceeds to a discussion of one of Lewis’ earliest and closest friends, Owen Barfield.  Barfield is hard to discuss in Christian terms; he comes with a lot of Anthroposophic baggage, but Father Malcolm does a first-rate job in addressing Barfield’s idiosyncrasies in a way that can help the average Christian to begin to process them.   The Barfield lecture comes with an extra surprise; Barfield’s grandson, namesake, and literary executor Owen A. Barfield joins Father Malcolm to discuss the reprinting of his grandfather’s imaginative works, of which there were a lot more than saw publication in his lifetime.

Father Malcolm then moves on to a discussion of Charles Williams, and his exegesis of Williams’ biography and the class-related handicaps with which Williams struggled all his life were particularly illuminating to this American.  Father Malcolm treats Williams’ poetry as central to any understanding of Williams’ thinking, which is something that Williams himself would have wanted.  Charles Williams’ poetry gets overlooked because it is difficult.  I don’t think Father Malcolm addresses this issue clearly, but those who find his criticism, his theological writing, and his hermetic novels difficult because of his private vocabulary are bound to find his poetry almost inaccessible.  I know I do.  However, Father Malcolm points out that Williams, out of all the Inklings, is a better place to start than any of the others for a criticism of our common economic life, and this last five minutes of the Williams lecture are highly recommended because of this.

Ending with Tolkien, Father Malcolm saves the most famous of the Inklings for the last.  Surprisingly, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the great  trilogy, but discusses a lot of Tolkien’s attitudes towards his own work.  He reads Tolkien’s poem Mythopoeia for a glimpse into what Tolkien understood himself as doing; subcreating in the image and after the fashion of the great Creator.  Then Father Malcolm investigates a lot of Tolkien’s source material; the Norse myths, the Anglo-Saxon literature with which Tolkien as a professor of Anglo-Saxon was intimately familiar.   The best line in Father Malcolm’s discourse comes towards the middle; ‘you have this one remarkable individual replacing an entire race  as a creator of mythological material’, which of course, is precisely what Tolkien was and did.

It would be jejune for  me to think I could fault Father Malcolm for what he failed to cover in this wonderful lectures.  If the good father is amenable to adding a second series [he has already moved on to Blake, a poet with whom I badly need to acquaint myself], he may wish to discuss Tolkien fandom, Charles Williams’ concept of co-inherence and the perichoreisis of the Holy Trinity, Owen Barfield’s links to Goethe and others of the the German Romantic Naturphilosophie, and Lewis’ literary criticism, especially The Allegory Of Love and The Discarded Image.

Links to the podcasts are hosted on this blog.  More people need to hear them.  The first lecture is here. Press on the Magic card below to download the corresponding lecture on that Inkling. There were some issues with the volume which I addressed in reposting them.

Full size Magic The Gathering cards:

C.S. Lewis
Charles Williams
Owen Barfield
J.R.R. Tolkien

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BFHeroes__More_Russians_by_AngusMcLeodLent has started, and my belly is rumbling.  Even though the freshness of the Fast has yet to fade and the initial enthusiasm is still riding high, I know that before long the drab meals, the prostrations, and the abstention from electronic entertainment will begin to take its toll on my good nature.  My family, unfortunately, will be the first to pay the price.  Sooner or later, the Great Fast will bring me face to face with an undeniable fact about myself that I try energetically to deny the rest of the year; that I am a sinner, someone who puts his own comfort and convenience ahead of even the most legitimate of claims others have on me.

By the time the fourth week in Lent rolls around, my bruised and battered self-righteousness may be ready to pray this lovely prayer, and mean it:

“I have outdone the Publican in my transgressions,
yet I do not emulate him in his repentance;
I have not gained the virtue of the Pharisee,
yet I surpass his self-conceit.
O Christ my God, in Thy supreme humility
Thou hast upon the Cross destroyed the devil’s arrogance;
make me a stranger to the past sins of the Publican
and to the great foolishness of the Pharisee;
establish in my soul the good that each of them possessed,
and save me.”

The Orthodox Church is a good place for sinners.  There are a lot of us here.  As a former Evangelical, it has been quite costly to jettison the concept of the “regenerate Church”.   The field of Protestantism is full of formerly “pure churches” where the hands currently on the rudder are steering their barques in a direction that I don’t believe the original pilots would have wanted them to take.  It is hard anyway to keep a church in pristine form longer than one or two generations, and it would take a heart of diamantine hardness and abstraction to look down at your newborn child and see only an unregenerate heathen, cordwood for the fires of Hell.   I think this may indeed be the genesis of that peculiar informal Protestant doctrine of the “age of accountability” , which if it were true, would make abortion something of a mercy rather than a misfortune.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Church in the United States is a wonderful place to indulge a spiritual elitism that would be the envy of the most fastidious supralapsarian Neo-Calvinist or the most prophetically endowed Third Wave Pentecostal.  Our parishes are for the most part small, the regular attendees at Liturgy are mostly pious and those who attend Vespers and Orthros even more so.  Ehrmergerd!   All of this and we’re in The One True Church as well?  Talk about dropping the bacterium of Phariseeism into a Petri dish full of yummy sugar water…

Thank God as Holy Week approaches, more and more of the marginal members of the parish start showing up;  that rough looking guy with the flashy wife and the tattoos on his knuckles, the couple who own the nightclub, the Coptic girl who’s married to a Muslim and wears a hijab,  the husbands and wives of parishoners who you see so seldom that it is hard to remember who goes with whom.  Its hard to talk with them at coffee hour, but they remind you that the Church is indeed for everyone.  James Joyce made the remark about the Catholic Church – “Here comes everyone!”  With a change in geography, the same could be said of the Orthodox Church.  I wonder if I lived in a traditional Orthodox society whether I’d see these ‘marginal’ types more often.  Would I see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, or would I see them as part of the mission field?

JRR Tolkien, in one of his letters to his son, recommended that he embrace the catholicity of the Church as a spiritual discipline :

“Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

PS – Sorry about the super-heroes.


A Study In Comparative Fantasy

I’m halfway  to the Dark Tower, at the hub of all possible worlds.   If you look at the architecture of Stephen King’s epic series, I am almost exactly halfway, having just now started the fifth volume in the series, The Wolves Of The Calla.  Two volumes I have read deal in backstory; Wizard And Glass was almost entirely the story of Roland Deschain’s first years as a Gunslinger in the outer barony of Meijis and of his first love affair with the tragic Susan Delgado.  The other volume was The Wind Through The Keyhole, a volume written by Mr. King and published last year, which was meant to “fill a gap” between the ending of Wizard And Glass and the beginning of The Wolves Of The Calla.  The Wind Through The Keyhole is actually two stories nested inside each other like a wooden Russian babushka doll, which Roland tells as a single tale on the grandfather of all dark and stormy nights.   Since Keyhole doesn’t advance the narrative of Roland’s ka-tet at all, I feel justified in saying I am still halfway to the Tower, despite having read more than 2/3 of the material in the series.

Comparing Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to another modern fantasy which I re-read before taking up the thread of Roland’s story again, I find that the Dark Tower series compares very favorably to The Lord Of The Rings.  There are some superficial similarities.  Both series deal with an epic Quest; that of Frodo to dispose of the Ring Of Power and that of Roland to reach the Dark Tower.  Both series introduce a sworn brotherhood;  The Fellowship of the Ring and Roland’s Ka-Tet.  Finally, although I seldom see this commented on, invented language plays an important role in both series.  Tolkien’s Elvish languages, of course, form the backbone of his mythopoetic work.  Indeed, Tolkien himself claimed that he invented the elves and Middle Earth so that he would have speakers for his invented languages and a place for them to be spoken.  Stephen King, being a professional writer instead of a professor of Anglo-Saxon, uses a subtler device.   The High Speech hasn’t greatly factored into the first four books, but it appears to have an ancient Egyptian/Phoenician flavor to it.  The Low Speech, the Westron  of Mid-World, is English, but with very subtle differences.   Listening to The Waste Land and Wizard And Glass after having read them in book form, you get something of the flavor of the Low Speech.  There are words that you have to learn by context, such as “cullie“, “jilly” and “roont“.  There are repeated tag-sentences, “so I do”, “ken thee?”.  There is the non-grammatical use of the pre-Caroline English pronoun  thee, differing from the customary King James usage.  All of these, and the use of stock phrases such as “set your watch and warrant by it”, or,  “forget the face of your father”, set a linguistic tone for the series and with great economy underscore the alienness of Mid World.

For Mid-World is not a nice place.  Indeed, throughout the whole of the Tower books so far, I can almost hear Gollum hissing in the background – “We’re not in decent places”.  Mid-world has “moved on”.  Things have changed.  The relationship between men and Creation has altered deeply, and the change has not been for the better.  Time has, in the opinion of Eddie Dean, one of Roland’s companions, “gone on vacation”.  A day may be fifty hours long, or it may stop altogether, or it may fly at a furious pace.   Indeed, all of Roland’s companions have been gathered from New York, our New York, the New York of Robert Wagner, of Abraham Beame, and of Edward Koch respectively, but they are contemporaries in Mid-World.  Causality is iffy.  Things that produced a particular effect at one time may not at another time, for no apparent reason.  Directions have become unhinged, and a moon that rises in the east one night may wobble over to the southeast the next.  We are told that the Gunslinger’s world has “moved on”, but the direction it has taken is not an improvement.

Middle Earth, by comparison, is a stable place.  Even though its wars and rebellions have altered the coastlines and the continents, the fabric of space and time remains the same.  Actually, that isn’t entirely true.   The Valar and their charges removed themselves entirely from Arda (the created universe in which Middle-Earth exists), and hence are no longer directly accessible to the inhabitants, be they Men or Dwarves or stubborn Elves who continue to refuse the summons back to Aman.  Since there is a renegade Maia loose in Middle-Earth, this absence of the Valar forces the inhabitants thereof back onto their own resources.  Sauron, the antagonist of  The Lord Of The Rings, never appears directly in the narrative, and indeed is seldom referred to by name.   He has slaves to do his bidding, and his bidding appears to be entirely ruin and blasting.

The central metaphor for evil in The Lord Of The Rings is that of barrenness.  Mordor is a dead land.  Nothing grows there, or at least in the ash-choked Plain of Gorgoroth surrounding both the Dark Tower and Mount Doom, although we are assured that to the south, around the sad shores of Lake Nurnen, there are immense farms tended to by slaves, a prophecy of the industrial agriculture that “feeds” (or fattens) our nation.  Samwise, under the influence of the Ring, faces this temptation and masters it:

“The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”

There is a sense in which there are two antagonists in The Lord Of The Rings, Sauron and the Ring.  Sauron represents the Manichean, external aspect of Evil, the kind of evil you can, and must, resist with swords, bows, and valor.  The evil of Sauron is something that would destroy everything “that you hold dear on this green earth”, but unaided, it cannot destroy the soul.  It is the resistance, finally, of Aragorn and what remains of the West that allows Frodo and Sam to triumph, albeit imperfectly, over the Augustininan, internal aspect of Evil, represented by the Ring.  The Ring speaks to that inner voice inside all of us that if only we could have things Our Own Way, whether by persuasion or coercion, that we could put Things to Right.   Alas, it would begin that way, as Galadriel said, but in the end, the corruption of the Ring, which is the corruption of our own hearts, must be overcome by a different, but no less necessary, kind of valor; that of renunciation, self-denial, and voluntary suffering on behalf of others.

I believe that it is because we lost the struggle outlined in the Lord Of The Rings that we find ourselves, a generation and change later,  in the situation of the Dark Tower books.  Evil in King’s created universe is much more consistent than that in Tolkien’s world.  The Crimson King, the antagonist of the Dark Tower books and the Sauron of Mid-World (he even has the sigil of a single red eye) goes beyond the Maia’s hatred of the organic,  yearning for the predictability and order of  the mineral.  The Crimson King hates the very idea of order and predictability, or reason and morality.   Significantly, he is represented as the offspring of Arthur Eld and a demoness of the primordial Chaos, out of which Gan (God) erected the Dark Tower and the beams of the multiverse, and which Arthur Eld and his descendants the Gunslingers swore to uphold.  The Crimson King, like the Joker in the film The Dark Knight, just wants to see Creation burn.  Inevitably, he hates himself as well, since he reflects the order of Creation within himself.  His desire for destruction includes a desire for self-destruction.  The Crimson King is, of course, barking mad.

One of the criticisms I have of modern horror fiction is that is hard for moderns to grasp the essence of evil.   When you have no absolute values, nothing is ultimately at risk.   Most threats in film or literature deal with the loss of Stuff or of social standing, which is scarifying enough for fragile egos in an increasingly turbulent world.  Failing this, one of the most time honored ploys in horror literature is to put either children or the virginal Good Girl at risk.  But the threat is always either death or dismemberment, bad enough in itself but not ontologically threatening.  However, there is a disturbing undercurrent that one of the worst things that can happen to you is to be Found Out.  Fear not him who can kill the body and all that.   The scariest movie of all the time, The Exorcist, came close by showing its viewers a universe where good was evil, order was chaos, white was black, and worse, by telling its viewers that this is what they secretly wished for as well.

To me, true Evil is a mystery.  It is a no-thing, even less than the vacuums between stars that nevertheless pulses with energies.  I guess the closest metaphor I could invoke would be that of the Singularity, the Black Hole, a metaphor that could not have been available to Dante or Bram Stoker.  Something that wants to draw all creation to itself and to unite all distinctions, isolate all similarities, reducing all things to the primeaval chaos; confusing, changing, dividing, and separating all things in an infinite falling from which no escape is possible.

Stand true.  All things serve the Beam.


Many times during my long lifetime of reading imaginative literature, I wondered why Tolkien spawned so many imitators in English, but not in other languages into which The Lord Of The Rings had been translated.  Now, anybody even cursorily familiar with The Lord of The Rings can see that would be a difficult work to translate, but that didn’t keep people from trying. The first Dutch translation came out only a year after the final volume was published in the UK. It is considered to be an adequate translation, and has been retained despite a revision by Tolkien’s publisher.  Since then, The Lord Of The Rings  has been translated into more than thirty languages, and the difficulties were such that Tolkien himself before his death published a guide for prospective translators.

Indeed, the conceit behind The Lord Of The Rings is that it is supposed to be a translation itself, from the invented Westron, to modern English.  Tolkien excelled in finding, or creating, place-names that were redolent of an older world, such as ‘Rivendell’ for the Sindarin Imladris, “Valley of the Cleft”, and, of course, his wonderfully evocative Hobbit family names; Baggins [Bolsón in the Spanish], or Brandybuck, or Took [Berkova in Slovak].  Tolkien the linguists made certain that his place-names and his family names had an etymological depth to them which is not matched in the works of his imitators and followers, although I think George R R Martin’s “Winterfell” ( along with the felicitous Spanish translation Invernalia ) and Joe Abercrombie’s “Adua” come very close indeed.

Now, it may be that there are a multitude of derivative works in other languages, just that I am not familiar with popular literature in all the other languages of the world.  Usually, genre literature does not attract much attention, and the only works that are likely to become well-known outside their own speech communities are the works of major writers such as Solzhenitsyn, Garcia Marques, or Nakagami Kenji.  When I googled for obras literarias de fantasia en español  [literary works of fantasy in Spanish], I was surprised that so little material turned up.  Of course, even mainstream Latin-American literature has a strong undercurrent of the fantastic, as anyone familiar with Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa or Jorge Amado would know.  However, the only reason that Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer’s  little volume La Kalpa Imperial seemed to come up was not because of its own considerable merits, but because it had been recently translated into English by a great fantasist who writes in English, Ursula LeGuin.

I was delighted to find that La Kalpa Imperial was available to me in its original Spanish through interlibrary loan.  Having worked my way halfway through, I find this little gem equal to anything produced since Tolkien in English, and better than most.  Most of all, I wanted to see how a non-English speaker would handle the issue of “fantasy names”.  There is a lot of faux-Elvish out there.   That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but you can get seriously tired of Elves named Eldemar , Dwarves named Darmûk, and Orcs named Yog-Ar-Ghazh.  There are no non-human races (yet) in Sra. Gorodischer’s La Kalpa Imperial,but the names of her humans are delightful – the trickster Loo Löo, the tragic Hehrehvontes dynasty.  Indeed, the silent  Spanish ‘h’ does yeoman’s work for fantastic names in this story.  In this, she learned well from her great predecessor and, I suspect, ascended spiritual master Jorge Luis Borges, whose imaginary lands Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius have tantalized me ever since I first heard of them.

Borges’ fingerprints are all over this slender volume.  I would have been more surprised it they weren’t.  Gorodischer isn’t as coy as Borges, nor is she as metaphysically deft.  Knowing something of the recent history of Argentina, I expected La Kalpa Imperial  to be more political than it is.  That is not surprising.  Tolkien abhorred allegory, and it doesn’t actually play well in fantasy literature unless the readers are far enough removed from the situation being allegorized to disregard it.   Sra. Gorodischer’s poetic parables, for that is how the story of the fabulous Empire of Kalba, the “greatest empire that never existed” is narrated, is more mythopoetic, and say as much about the power wielded by the storyteller as about that wielded by an Emperor.  The history of Kalba is recognizably the history of our own world, but ever so much more so.  I haven’t seen LeGuin’s translation, so I don’t know how the story of Kalpa plays out in English, but if the Spanish is any indication, it is worthy of wide acceptation.

Here are a couple of reviews of LeGuin’s translation of Gorodischer’s La Kalpa Imperial.


Due to a change in my external circumstances, and the necessity of two hour commute (both ways) daily, I have been glutting myself on imaginative literature in the past few months.  There is a wealth of good stuff on audio, and it is a very good way to ‘catch up on your reading’, if you define reading loosely enough.  Since the commute began, I have been fortunate to acquaint and re-acquaint myself with some of the great names in imaginative literature; JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, George Macdonald, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen King, Tim Powers, ER Eddison, Jack Vance, and many others too numerous to mention.  In a way, it has been kind of an exercise in “comparative fantasy”.

One of the most frequent objections to fantasy literature is that it lacks ‘depth’, that fantasy literature is an endless repetition of a “good vs evil” theme that resurfaces in book after book, series after series.  Usually, the critics blame Tolkien.  The contrast between Good and Evil that Tolkien traces in his epics are as sharp as shadows on the moon. It is not nuanced enough to reflect the “real world”.  Then, to hear some people talk, all writers of fantasy literature written since The Lord Of The Rings have slavishly followed Tolkien down the path of rewriting Paradise Lost according to their own moral vision.

The critics are wrong.  Prior to Tolkien, fantasy literature, what there was of it, was strangely amoral.  James Cabell’s Jurgen was a flighty rascal.  Dunsany’s little fables were as likely to celebrate hashish eating as martial courage.  Mirlee’s Lud-In-The-Mist incarnated no Manichaean vision of good and evil.  The resolution of her tale was a satisfying Hegelian synthesis between the quotidian comfort preferred by her Whig protagonists and the whimsy of the Jacobite fairie folk they so disdained   E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros was thoroughly aristocratic both in tone and aspect, a sort of a High-Tory-on-LSD ‘romaunce’, peopled by proud-speaking haughty grandees entirely dismissive of the pettier sort of folk and their concerns. There was no room for hobbits in Ouroboros.  Indeed, inasmuch as fantasy literature dealt with Good and Evil at all, it was to offer an escape from the stultifying decayed-Evangelicalism public morality of the day into an earlier, more permissive world.

Tolkien’s great achievement was the creation of a morally consistant parallel world.  To me, the single brilliant imagining of the race of hobbits brings his re-creation of the Good into sharp focus.   The hobbits are good, almost Pelagian, although some of them can be better than others.  There are individual hobbits that appear “spoiled” (or ‘bent’ to borrow from Lewis’ mythology), such as the Sackville-Bagginses or the Sandymans.   These two families, however, were introduced as foils for the healthier Bagginses and the Gamgees who good-naturedly suffer their trepidations.  Because the Sackville-Bagginses and the Sandymans are so rare, the Shire appears to govern itself.  The rules are unwritten, all offices are mostly ceremonial, and the canons of good behavior are everywhere acknowledged and practiced.  As fantasist Gene Wolfe  observed in a clairvoyant essay; living under what Mr. Wolfe calls Folk Law in a face-to-face society may be the most salutatory framework for human life, much in the same way that folk tales have the deepest resonance, and folk tunes have the most haunting and unforgettable melodies.

Yet, the Shire is not good in a vacuum.  The hobbits are King’s Men in the very best sense of that word.  The King, although absent by the time of the narrative recorded in The Lord Of The Rings, serves as a locus for the values of The West.  ‘The West’ is shorthand for all those parts and peoples of Middle-earth not yet seduced or tyrannized by Sauron, although it can include more easterly populations such as the Beornings, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, the Wood-elves of eastern Mirkwood.  Although the King has been absent from the government of the Shire for more years than separate us from the Battle of Hastings, his health is toasted at every meeting of the Shiremoot and his will is followed as best the hobbits can in their political vacuum.

Even the West is not good in and of itself, though.  It is good because of the loyalty of the remnants of the Numenoreans and their allies to that which is Beyond the Sea that ‘the West’ stands as a bulwark to the trepidations and contaminations of Sauron.  The weight of this allegiance is never explicitly explained within The Lord Of The Rings itself, but its presence can be felt in the same way you can tell where the sun is with your eyes closed.  Tolkien’s continual references within the narrative to older, more primordial material; even Gondolin being mentioned in the first few pages of The Hobbit, weave a web of numinosity about his tale whose nexus is the Elder Race, the immortal Elves, who had opposed Sauron (and his greater master Morgoth Bauglir) in the past.

The Silmarillion revealed plainly what The Lord Of The Rings only hinted at.  The Elves are good because they  revere the Valar, the preserving and governing Powers of the World, who came into it at the behest of the world’s Creator Eru Iluvatar, a monotheistic deity.  It is this realm, the realm of Valinor across the Sea, whose values are echoed by the denizens of ‘the West’.

In a sense, you have a kind of a neo-Platonic universe obtaining in the Tolkien legendarium.  The Elves know next to nothing about Eru, the One, except for what they have learned from the Valar.  The Men of the West have no direct access to the Powers in Valinor.  Everything they know about it has been mediated to them by the Elves, who are abandoning Middle Earth.  The hapless Hobbits, in their turn, would not have survived as long as they had in the rough and tumble of Middle earth without the constant protection and supervision of the Men of the West, the Dunedain.

You can hear all three layers in a musical representation on the soundracks to Peter Jackson’s films, especially in the Council of Elrond.  First, there is the Elvish theme; atmospheric, ascetic, and other-worldly.  Then, there are the virile horns of the theme of the West, vigilant and ready for action.  Finally, there are the homespun strings of the Shire theme.  They blend and fade into each other by the end of the piece.  I don’t know how deliberate that was on the part of the composer, Howard Shore.

Wheels within wheels, indeed.

Immediately post-Tolkien, there were a lot of Good-vs-Evil sagas, most very derivative, retelling Tolkien’s story after him.  Others, like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series, eshewed binary Good vs Evil to create a more nuanced, more Buddhistic unary moral Universe.   LeGuin’s emphasis on “balance”, as if good and evil were polarities like male and female or acidic and basic, came to be echoed in a lot of fantasy worlds, such as the Star Wars universe with its depiction of the Bright Side and the Dark Side of the Force, or the recent popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, where all the tension in the series is caused by the Fire Nation getting out of balance with the other three elemental nations;  the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads.  Fire Lord Ozai is not Satan or even Sauron.  Ozai’s opponent is not Avatar Aang, but rather his son Zuko who, through the tutelage of the saintly Uncle Iroh, can restore the Fire Nation’s necessary line to the spectrum that is the Avatar universe.

I didn’t like Star Wars, and although I dearly love the Avatar animated series, unary, “balance”-based moralities don’t seem to produce satisfying eucatastrophes in the same way that fantasists are able to when good is truly good and evil is truly evil.  I haven’t read, or even followed the movies inspired by, the Harry Potter novels, but I think I am correct in assuming that Rowland’s moral compass is more like Tolkien’s and less like Lucas’, which makes the opposition to her tales by conservative Christians even more puzzling.

Finally, there has been a movement within the fantasy genre itself away from a strict good vs evil paradigm and more towards what TV-Tropes.com defines rather pungently as Crapsack World, where all the choices are between real-l-l-ly bad, bad, and not-so-bad-but-still-iffy. I have digested several works of this sort, some of which are very good; China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and The City And The City (both of which are brilliant), Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and of course, the Crapsack World to end all Crapsack Worlds, George R. R. Martin’s Westeros.

Funny thing about Westeros, though.  Just when I was beginning to tire of Martin’s unrelenting cynicism, the pointless violence, and the continual betrayal which punctuated life in his series, Martin showed a bright little corner where life was good, men were fair, and decent people could live decent lives.  It was buried deep in Brienne’s arc in A Feast Of Crows, when she accompanies the septon Maribald from the ruins of Saltpans to the Isle of Silence, where a strong abbot has created an island of peace, faith, and rest in the turbulent sea of conflict, cynicism, and blasphemy that was the norm in Westeros.

I read somewhere that George R. R. Martin is the son of a dockworker from Bayonne, New Jersey.  True to his working class roots, Martin teaches us that the good is not something that occurs haphazardly.  It is the result of consistent effort over an extended period of time by people who actively desire to be good and just, and it flourishes best where the eyes of the powerful are elsewhere.  It also seems to me that Daenarys Targaryen’s extended and somewhat tedious sojourn in the Slavers’ Bay is to allow her to learn the difficult lessons in statecraft that will make her the kind of queen Westeros so desperately needs.  As a wise man once told me, good works do not make you righteous the way paying your bills makes you solvent, but  they do make you righteous like exercise makes you strong.

I can live with that.   I can more than live with it, I can applaud it.


When I wasn’t even in school yet, my parents hung a poster on the wall  of my bedroom.  The name of the poster of was “The Land Of Make Believe”, and it was like a road atlas to the Country of Dreams.  Literally, because the whole poster was illustrated with scenes from familiar fairy-stories and nursery rhymes, connected by a road that wound through that unreal but ever so familiar geography.

It wound past the wood where Little Red Riding Hood encountered the Wolf, leaped over  a rushing stream on a bridge where the Three Billy Goats Gruff deceived the hungry Troll, and passed by the hill where Jack and Jill went to fetch their fateful pail of water.   There were, in the background, fabulous castles wherein dwelt such notables as Jack the Giant Killer, and Grandfather-Know-It-All, as well as the Emerald City of Oz.

That map did not survive my parents’ divorce.  I never saw it again until the Internet had matured enough to become the garage sale of Western Civilization, where if you are patient enough, and have good enough search engine skills, you can find almost anything. For some reason, it had never dawned on me that if I had one of these posters hanging in my childhood bedroom, others of my generation may have had the same poster and had been just as mesmerized by it as I was.  On the Internet, I learned that it was drawn by the Czech artist Jaro Hess in 1930, and the figure of the Wandering Jew in the lower right hand corner had been changed to conform to post-Holocaust sensibilities to “The Wanderer”.  It is still available, although it is not cheap.

The poster had been published in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which explains why it ended up in my bedroom.  My family has deep roots in Western Michigan and it probably had belonged to someone in my father’s family, which explains why it disappeared after my parents’ divorce.

This dimly-remembered early childhood wall decoration may have begotten in me a love of maps of imaginary places.  All I know is that, some eight years after the nursery rhyme map disappeared from the wall of my bedroom, I encountered a fold-out map of Wilderland in the front pieces of  JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  Immediately hooked by the depiction of rivers, mountains, and forests to which I would never be able to travel, I finished the book in a single reading.  It would not be true to say that the maps added nothing to my enjoyment of the tale.   In fact, they gave the whole story a concreteness it would otherwise have lacked.

Since the appearance of The Lord Of The Rings in the 1950s, the Fantasy Map has become something of a cliché.  I wasn’t surprised to find a map of Earthsea in Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard Of Earthsea, and truth be told, I’m glad the map was included.  I would have been profoundly lost if I hadn’t been able to follow Ged around the numerous islands where the narrative took place.  I don’t know if The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant would have been improved had they included a map.  I doubt it.  Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy also lacked maps, although they are available on the Internet, but I had little trouble keeping track of the action as it unfolded.   Robert E Howard’s Hyborean Age was nothing more than a set of political boundaries, but that didn’t keep my youthful imagination from filling in the dark forests and choking deserts from his muscular prose.

One of the newer fantasy worlds to be painstakingly mapped is George R R Martin’s brutal Westeros.  Of course, Westeros is only one large continent in a much larger world, and a lot of the action takes place in geographies that are only hinted at in the maps in the earlier books.  Martin has an eye for detail, and the maps come in very handy.  Also, the maps appear to have evolved from the narrative, which I appreciate, since  writers who create a map beforehand have a tendency to want to take you to every place mentioned on the map whether or not they have an adventure worthy of it.  Even George R R Martin, in my opinion, spent too much time in Slaver’s Bay in A Dance With Dragons and maybe this wouldn’t have occurred had a detailed map of the area not accompanied A Feast For Crows.

A very beautiful, and very whimsical, fan map of Westeros has been produced.

Indeed, now that role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons have become so popular, it is customary for intricate campaigns in these games to come accompanied by maps.  In order to allow the dungeonmaster to guide his flock through increasingly complex scenarios, ProFantasy, a UK software developer, has produced an array of software tools that allow the cartographers of Paradise to quickly render their visions into actual maps.  

Finally, the whole idea of the map of an imaginary realm takes a metaphysical bent when you consider what CS Lewis said about fantasy stories, that they take place in the only alternative world known to us, that of the human soul.   There have been innumerable geographers of the soul, including depth-psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Campbell,  and my personal favorite, Carl Gustav Jung, who proposed that the intricate mandalas produced by Tibetan artists revealed the  unconscious geological strata of the human soul.  Yet I believe that the Bible, with its wealth of stories and poetry, serves admirably in that regard, especially in that difficult-to-trace frontier between the human soul and the Divine.

The greatest danger with maps, especially with a map as accurate as is the Bible,  is to mistake the map for the terrain itself.  The best maps help you achieve your destination with the least amount of surprise and the greatest comfort.   But only the most slothful and intransigent of armchair travelogues will mistake their knowledge of maps obtained in the comfort of the library for the actual arduous journey undertaken by the intrepid explorers of the psyche.


The National Public Radio folks have decided to ask their listener base to help them select the greatest works of imaginative fiction.   Their list contains a lot of surprises, but the finalists were selected by the ubiquitous expert panel, and they are inviting fantasy and science fiction fans to vote on which of these 200 or so works are their favorites.

Here is the list.  My choices are in bold:
The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
Armor, by John Steakley
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard
Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
The Belgariad, by David Eddings
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
The Change Series, by S.M. Stirling
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson
The City And The City, by China Mieville
City And The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman
The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F. Hamilton
The Company Wars, by C.J. Cherryh
The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
Contact, by Carl Sagan
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
Earth, by David Brin
Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by C.J. Cherryh
Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
The Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
The Gormenghast Triology, by Mervyn Peake
Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
Kraken, by China Mieville
The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
Last Call, by Tim Powers
The Last Coin, by James P. Blaylock
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
The Lensman Series, by E.E. Smith
The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
Little, Big, by John Crowley
The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J. Sawyer
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The Newsflesh Triology, by Mira Grant
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton
Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
The Pride Of Chanur, by C.J. Cherryh
The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R. Scott Bakker
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
Ringworld, by Larry Niven
The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
The Saga Of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick
The Scar, by China Mieville
The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
The Stand, by Stephen King
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
Steel Beach, by John Varley
Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card
The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
Tigana , by Guy Gavriel Kay
Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
VALIS, by Philip K. Dick
Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon
The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
Watchmen, by Alan Moore
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
World War Z, by Max Brooks
The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Edison
The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
1632, by Eric Flint
1984, by George Orwell
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

I was glad to see both Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen and Gaiman’s Sandman series in such august company.   Both Earth Abides (Stewart) and Lord of Light (Zelazny) are close to perfect works of science-fiction.  Unfortunately, Stewart never wrote another book, and Zelazny fell off precipitously after LOL.  Amber wasn’t nearly as good.

I am not surprised that A Voyage To Arcturus didn’t make it onto this list.  It is very poorly written and hard to parse, but it does have a sticking power that many better works lack.  I was surprised to see that nothing by Lord Dunsany made the cut, nor was James Cabell represented, nor George Macdonald, nor Jack Vance.  In the mean time, you can amuse yourselves identifying the pictures off to the right.


Apparently, that is the Paschal Greeting in Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language Quenya. It was fun tracking down the exact translation of this phrase. Apparently, it comes from Tolkien himself, who also translated several Christian prayers into Quenya, such as The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Naturally, this leads to some speculation as to what significance the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Eru Ilúvatar has for the Elves. There is precious little to go by either in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillon. Human piety or apostasy is measured in these works by the human group’s faithfulness to the alliance with the Eldar, and by extension, to the Valar.  Yet there is a line drawn between the Elves, who are bound to this world and cannot transpass it, and Men, whose fate lies “beyond the circle of the world, and what it is, even Mandos cannot tell.”

Nevertheless, Tolkien constructed his mythology to be, at the least, compatible with the worship of the Blessed Trinity.  I view the Valar as Elementals, roughly corresponding to the των στοιχειων του κοσμου [“the elements of this world”], mentioned so coyly in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (2:20).  Alas, the Elves never finish their apprenticeship.  The virtual immortality in this world which is so coveted by the fallen Numenoreans, turns out to be a perpetual submission to the Valar.    Men would eventually come, because of their participation in the Divine nature, to overshadow their titular overlords.  So, the First would be Last, and the Last, First.

The number and depth of human-Elvish relationships show that the Elves have at least a capacity to enter into the communio sanctorum, except that they would be participating from the streets of Tirion and Alqualondë, rejoicing in the good fortune of their younger brethren and awaiting their own eventual redemption.  I am certain that the learned among them, on this bright Feast of Feasts, would greet each other with the Paschal greeting:

Ortanne Laivino! Anwa ortanne Laivino! 

laivë noun “ointment” , hence Laivino, “the Anointed, the Christ”

orta vb. “rise”, also transitive “raise, lift up”, pa.t. ortanë (Nam, RGEO:67, ORO; misreading “ortani” in Letters:426). According to PE17:63-64, this pa.t. form ortanë is only transitive (*”raised”), whereas the intransitive pa.t. (*”rose”) is orontë

anwa adj. “real, actual, true” 

From an online Quenya dictionary


some notes for Steve Hayes’ call for papers:

I. The Tectonic Plate Shift in The 1960s

I think there are shifts in consciousness. The much-maligned ‘generation gap’ of the late ’60s and early ’70s was shorthand for just such a shift in consciousness. It isn’t easy to describe, but you can hear the shift in the music of the era as experimentation with psychoactive drugs became more widespread and a certain ‘interiorness’ became mandatory for music, especially popular music, to be taken seriously. There were a lot of disasters, and a lot of the most promising artists of the 60s and 70s either died as a result of their drug use or had their voices prematurely stolen from them.

The experimentation by the generation of the ’60s with the sexual contract was simultaneous with, and even more earth shaking than the use of psychoactive drugs. As the baby-boomers reach retirement in the advanced industial democracies, it is hard to imagine that lifelong monogamy was once not just the ideal, but the reality. The organization of human energies within the family, and concentrically outward, the commercial sphere, the state, and the church.

There was a book published in 1970. I’m surprised I even remember it. It was called The Greening Of America and it was written by a Yale Law School professor, Charles A. Reich. It was a very popular and controversial book in 1970, celebrating ‘rock music’ and recreational drug use. It was a rah-rah book for the 60s ‘counterculture’, and nobody takes it seriously today. It appeared just at that moment of history when the 60s counterculture began to self-destruct, from its own contradictions and its own success.

Charles Reich was asked recently (2008) if his book had any continuing relevance. He said something that struck me as being very insightful. Paraphrasing him, has that young people today are concerned about the material emptiness of their lives; I can’t find a job, I can’t support a family. The complaints fielded in the 1960s were more spiritual; I don’t feel like a real human being, I feel like a machine.

Reich said, insightfully, that it is the same system that creates the different forms of emptiness. I will go Reich further and say that something truly awful has settled in the center of the web of exchange that we have been busy building and maintaining since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which is sucking all the energies out of the Grid, pulling it closer and closer to the Core, and leaving the outlying circuits to die for lack of nourishment.

Since I am not an economist, nor a professional philosopher, nor a social critic, and am proceeding from intuition rather than from direct observation, I can only speak from that intuition. That which inhabits the center of our web is an Algorithm, composed of a mixture of usury and analysis. In order to come close to the levers of power, the human agents of the Algorithm internalize it. The cultural revolution of the 1960s was the last internal challenge to the Algorithm on it home ground, and it failed. Now it appears that we will find out what will happen to the Algorithm when the infecting vector kills off its host.

II. The Emergence Of Fantasy Literature in the 1960s

The embrace by the counterculture of The Lord Of The Rings took a lot of people by surprise in the mid-60s. It was counter-intuitive that a convoluted yarn about small people with hairy feet written by a deeply traditional Oxford professor would become a hit with young people who were thought at the time to be quite ‘radical’ and ‘experimental’.

Very shortly after the initial success of the triology, imitators began to appear. Very prominently, most of these works take place in a sort of pseudo-Middle Ages where machinery was less prominent and technology less intrusive.

This was Professor Tolkien’s legacy. His great achievement was to produce a medieval work in a modern milieu, and he was well -equipped for the task. His colleagues were frustrated in his almost total lack of interest in any literature later than Malory. He seldom rode in automobiles, preferring a bicycle. It was said that he had a name for every tree within 20 miles of his Oxford home, and was not often invited on CS Lewis’ walking tours because of his frustrating habit of pausing frequently to inspect the local flora.

Professor Tolkien had something closer to the consciousness of a well-read man of Chaucer’s time than existed anywhere else in the world in his lifetime, and we are fortunate indeed that his Lengendarium proceeded from that consciousness. If nothing else, it made us homesick for what we had lost through the triumph of the Algorithm.

The Lord Of The Rings as a medieval work stands firmly against the central assumption of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that followed hard upon it, that reason rather than custom is a superior method of organizing human energies. This was the great conceit of the Renaissance, that the preceding age had been kind of a Dreamtime in which the race slumbered unaware of its potential.

Tolkien’s work here echos the work of his predecessors, the Romantics and the pre-Raphaelites who saw in medieval culture a unity and spritual cohesiveness lacking afterwards. In this way, The Lord Of The Rings is only the latest and most successful Romantic challenge to the hegemony of the Algorithm in a chain linking back to Blake and his lament against the “dark Satanic mills” and the triumph of Urizen the measurer.

Alternative Medievalities

In the early 20th century, it was popular to say that the Russian Empire was a “medieval” state, an offensive survival from a ruder, earlier age, like the winged mounts of the Ringwraiths being the last brood hatched in a cold eyrie in mountains under the Moon.

In the same way, the Chinese or the Indians would be hard-pressed to find a “Middle Ages” in their historiography. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a Russian, a Chinese, or an Indian The Lord Of The Rings. The necessary sense of medievality is not there, if medievality is a conspicuous re-adoption of a previously discarded consciousness which the discarder believes himself to have transcended.

This despite that Russia, China, and India had very bloody and very wrenching entrances into the world of European post-medievality. The experience of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment came for the world and the cultures outside of Europe as an experience of conquest, colonialism, and revolution. The Spanish conquest of the New World goes even farther back. The Spanish Baroque conquistadores destroyed the last remaining vestiges of the ancient pre-Classical age and incorporated it uneasily into the emerging European web. Perhaps the literary phenomenon of “magic realism” in Latin American letters is a corresponding medievality.

One culture I can see having a full-blown indigenous sense of medievality would be the Japanese culture. The opening of Japan’s hermetically sealed Tokugawa Shogunate by the European powers in the 19th century led to the supplanting of a traditional, highly stratified, and hierarchical society by a more open and technocratic one. From what little exposure I have had to Japanese cultural product, mostly through manga and anime, it appears that there may be a rough correspondence between the Western sence of medievality and the Japanese.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams