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J.R.R. Tolkien Is Dangerous
by Trent Walters

This reviewer is now, to borrow a phrase from Michael Moorcock, about to exit "that now familiar land that Thatcher and Reagan built, where people become afraid to speak because they might lose their jobs." Lucius Shepard and Rick Norwood have already reviewed the greatest fantasy film of all time, Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson (who also directed the greatest movie of all time, Heavenly Creatures), so this reviewer backed off... until he received a link to a recent essay by Moorcock, "Christmas Editorial", which changed everything.

The Fellowship of the Ring Peter Jackson lovingly (the adverb isn't used lightly -- for comparison, view the jumbled narrative, the pulled special effects punches, Ron's four foot fall to unconsciousness, and the deus-ex-machina finale in the new Harry Potter movie) recreated the first book of Tolkien's trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, sticking close to the text and straying when necessary for time and drama. The drama and attention to detail overwhelmed any minor flaws critics may have voiced -- if there are any (though the drowning scene was a little melodramatic and lacked realism). If any vociferous critics exist, they, no doubt, sport corn cobs out of their respective derrieres, incapable of appreciating metaphor if it isn't encrusted by tea-and-crumpet plots.

J.R.R. Tolkien was and is dangerous because he didn't write mainstream fiction. He wrote scathing reviews of humanity couched within a quaint, "sanitized... fairy tale." Certain members of the literary cadre are still incapable of evaluating literature that doesn't conform to their sense of reality, i.e. they are incapable of evaluating metaphor. Lucius Shepard arguably wrote the best story of the decade in any genre with "The Beast of the Heartland," but it will go largely unremarked since he writes science fiction and "fairy tales."

Even more importantly, J.R.R. Tolkien was and is dangerous because of his views on humanity: too much power can corrupt anyone -- not just the politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair, Osama Bin Laden, Boromir, Gandalf, Galadriel, Sauron and Saruman but also the simple peasant folk like Bilbo Baggins and you and me. Nobody gets off the hook in Tolkien -- as it should be. The reason some church-goers become hypocrites is not because they're Christians or what not, but because they think what they hear applies only to others. Everyone else needs to change but themselves. Likewise, hypocrites exist in the literary realm when they decry censorship only when it applies to works they agree with or when the "open-minded" are only "open-minded" when it comes to their politics. Are we willing to read works, fight censorship and remain open-minded even when we (meaning you and me) disagree with their ideologies?

Is Tolkien really dangerous though? Wouldn't McCarthy be the dangerous vision since he black-balled communists, ruining careers and families? By the same token, wouldn't Stalin be dangerous since he actually killed his opponents? Or is McCarthy only dangerous because he wasn't Communist?

Also, to intimate socialist fiction like Steinbeck's is the only true art for fiction is ill-advised. Steinbeck's art had less to do with politics than an amalgam of applicability, power, and genius. Steinbeck, incidentally, pissed off the socialists with his attempt to portray accurate, realistic and dynamic characters in his early novel The Pastures of Heaven. Even so, is the only true art a subversive socialist commentary?

With an analogy like "white boys and white jazz men," not only would it upset great black, white and every shade of musician in between (as my dear musician friend who, should it matter, is half-Irish and half-Mexican -- shall we judge talent by the amount of melanin in his skin?), it's highly inaccurate since those "white jazz men" played alongside the black jazz men who wouldn't play alongside any two-bit musician. Miles Davis said that one colour is not better than the other, but different. The white jazz analogy is not only without foundation in any scientific realm, but it is merely a few short leaps of logic away from a racial prejudice, unconsciously paving the road with nonscientific leaps to discriminatory remarks: from "white men can't jump" to "Black people make good musicians and athletes" to "Black people make better musicians and athletes than they do scientists and mathematicians" to "Black people ought to stick to what they're good at" so that we're back where we started at the turn of the 20th century. Moreover, it may have been cross-over yet popular "white jazz men" or whatever colour popular jazz men that led people to blues to begin with.

Speaking of great musicians, Led Zeppelin was one of many bands Tolkien touched ("But Gollum, and the evil Warg, crept up slipped away with her." -- "Ramble On"). Don't forget how important Tolkien (in addition to the non-Socialist Heinlein) was to the formation of the consciousness of the 60s and 60s, viewing the corruption of power not only within the Kennedys, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford but also, if the readers were honest, within themselves.

This reviewer defends Tolkien not because he finds Tolkien the better writer. On the contrary, the reviewer is more heavily influenced by Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Disch, John Sladek and Michael Moorcock than Tolkien, despite the reviewer not having wholesale "socialist" values apart from education, which has been shown far more effective at increasing longevity than socialized medicine. Instead, the reviewer defends Tolkien because his work has been auctioned off at less than its actual value, just as other speculative writers have been at the hands of the literary.

Fantastic Metropolis Nor does this reviewer defend mediocrity or the lack of experimentation in the current status of science fiction. Experimentation is the life blood of any literature, which is sadly missing in much of current literary fiction as well. Instead, you will hear this reviewer's "Amen, brother!" among the congregation. Kudos to Fantastic Metropolis and its efforts to reform SF. Yet, to advocate the devil once more, Shakespeare's literary contemporaries found him too popular. The crazy coot retold the old for a new vision and art, drawing off the twice-told tales, histories and mythologies and made them his own, made them new.

A wise man once said that there's nothing new under the sun. A wise man also said to remove the log in your eye before removing the splinter in the other's, so without further ado please excuse the reviewer while he deforests his hundred-acre wood.

Copyright © 2002 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared in Speculon, Spires, and The Pittsburgh Quarterly, among others. He has interviewed for SFsite.com, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine he can be seen coaching the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach, or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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