Why Lovers of Middle-earth want to go there

It could be argued that all of us are dreamers at heart. But what dreams will we choose to return to in our imaginations over and over? Which are the dreams that have been so crafted as to merit the reputation of “epic” tales?

Personally I have a growing sense of both awe and respect for those master story tellers who have been gifted to provide the most intricate details to their story; they are the “Colonizers of dreams”.

I found this introduction to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien in a paperback edition dated July, 1973 and written by Peter S. Beagle. It gives one man’s opinion about life in America as a possible reason why these great epic tales have become so popular once again in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It’s been fifteen years at this writing since I first came across The Lord of The Rings  in the stacks at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburg. I’d been looking for the book for four years, ever since reading W.H. Auden’s review in the New York Times. I think of that time now- and the years after, when the trilogy continued to be hard to find and hard to explain to most friends- with an undeniable nostalgia. It was a barren era for fantasy, among other things, but a good time for cherishing slighted treaures and mysterious passwords. Long before Frodo Lives!  began to appear in the New York subways, J.R.R.Tolkien was the magus of my secret knowledge.

I’ve never thought it an accident that Tolkien’s words waited more than ten years to explode into popularity almost overnight. The sixties were no fouler a decade that the Fifties- they merely reaped the Fifties’ foul harvest- but they were the years when millions of people grew all too aware that the industrial society had become paradoxically unlivable, incalculaby immoral, and ultimately deadly. In terms of passwords, the Sixties were the time when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse is being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there, I would myself, like a shot.

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either; he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers- thieves planting flags, muderers carrying crosses. Let us all praise the colonizers of dreams.

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