Tolkien and Modernity
August 15, 2018
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Tolkien was ahead of his time. And that’s precisely what I object to about him. And you know it’s real. People experience a culture shock when they go look up his forgotten contemporaries that they don’t with his work.
You can see it, too, in where people struggle with him. I tend to like the parts that people complain about the most. And detest things that blow past other people.
Aragorn patrolling dangerous countryside with a broken sword for one thing. How utterly, embarrassingly British. Something as portentous and mythical as that, reduced to a cheap subversion along the lines of Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver. The anti-Conan did not originate with Michael Moorcock’s Elric– no, it’s right here! And it’s preposterous.
Tom Bombadil, in contrast, has always been my favorite part. It’s Tolkien tipping his hat to the old fantasy he was about to pave over. It’s weird and wondrous. Marvelous and whimsical. Untainted by the coming pain and regret. It’s not fully explained, either. Even better, (and wacky fan theories aside) it plays havoc with the book’s painstakingly crafted mythos.
It’s the first thing to go when anyone tasked with retelling Frodo’s tale for today’s audiences begins the editing process. Because while people today love Tolkien, they hate fantasy. And it’s both his genius and his curse that he could produce a brand of it that is not so offensive to our modern, post-Christian culture.