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Tolkien is considered by some as the premiere author of high fantasy, the wellspring of the genre even, to such an extent that to cast aspersions upon the master is typically met with the ominous sounds of pitchforks being sharpened and torches kindled into life.

Best get to sharpening, peasants.

1. Subtle is apparently a four letter word in Sindarin.

Tolkien and Oliver Stone have that in common, at least.  They’re both about as subtle as a brick in the teeth.

“Look!  See the evils of industrialization!  Behold the wonders of the rural life!”

Nevermind that the one feeds upon the other in this day and age, and the fact that the Industrial Revolution ultimately brought about some of the greatest gains in human happiness that the world has ever seen.

I like it when the imagery is rather more subdued, when the point of something sneaks up on me and I come to it in a moment of realization, not when the various set pieces might as well be pictures of existing places with the names painted over, when the characters are borderline caricatures, and when the author not only tries to lead the horse to water, but straps an anvil to its neck until it drowns rather than wait for it to figure out the whole drinking thing on its own.

2. Eagle Ex Machina.

I think the lesson most people learn while reading (or watching, for you bibliophobes out there) The Lord of the Rings is that above all other things, Gwahir is a dick.

Seriously.

Sure, I get that the eagles are a proud people or whatever, not to be called upon at one’s whim, but good freakin’ lord you’d think that they might have perhaps volunteered to end the greatest threat to the known world without getting too prickly over it.  I mean, clearly they were capable of it; they may fly faster than a hobbit can walk, but they arrive just in time to save Frodo, which means that they had to have been in Mordor airspace for some time before Sauron was dead.  Plus it seems that whenever they come up against pretty much any other flying menace they tear through it like a giant feathered chainsaw.

Alternately, there’s always Oglaf’s take on the matter

(note: Oglaf is NSFW.  Like, ridiculously Not Safe For Work.  Not safe for those working at home kind of NSFW.)

3. Fading Away.

This last one is significantly less tongue-in-cheek than the previous two, because I think it speaks to something more fundamental in human nature, in some ways.  Tolkien’s works depict a diminishing world, each generation less heroic than the one before it, of a world where all greatness is slowly fading from existence and what is left behind is but a pale shadow of a more glorious age.

And that irritates the hell out of me.

Because that’s not how reality works.  Not since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire at least.

We build on the past, we move forward, and while each generation is composed of roughly the same sort of people that came before them, as a whole we continually accomplish new wonders.  And the most galling part is that given Tolkien’s position as the resident father figure of epic fantasy, his fading world model is something that has so thoroughly infested the genre that we might never be rid of it.

We may not always live up to the expectations of the past, as proven by the fact that Back To The Future Day has come and gone and I still don’t have a hoverboard or a flying car powered by banana peels and coffee grounds, but it’s a sobering thing to me at least to realize that my phone is vastly more powerful than the massive desktop computer that I had twenty years ago, and that I can use to to access damn near the totality of human knowledge, barring the significant fraction that people have locked behind paywalls, assuming I can parse a mean enough search query.

And of course mostly I use it for completely frivolous things like funny pictures and other distractions, because I’m a human being damnit.

But anyway.

It’s gradually becoming less common, but as a child I recall pining for a fantasy novel where the past wasn’t some golden age of unequaled splendor.  It struck me even then as a borderline corrosive attitude to hold, a weirdly conservative notion that the past was better than the present, and the future held nothing but further disappointment.

Screw that.

I may not make it there myself, but there’s a slim chance that there will be people being born on Mars before I die.  And beats going into the West by a long shot, in my book.

 

 

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