Tolkien Mourned the Decline of the Shire* …the real shire of his youth which he ever remembered and sought to salvage to the extent that he could; the simplicity and beauty of the land and villages which he grew up in, the countryside, the mountains and streams, the beauty of the day and the night skies.
As JRR Tolkien grew into manhood he saw gross incursions disrupting the past, a New World coming into being, heralded everywhere, leaving little organic trace and continuity with yesterday. He saw the onslaught of unnatural imbalances which Big Money and Big Technology wrought, advancing like Orcs from another “world,” as Henry David Thoreau similarly observed a century before.
Imagine then the effects the First World War had on him, a war which, mysteriously begun, unleashed more technological evils than one could bear to contemplate. But Tolkien was forced to contemplate it in the face of relentless machine gun fire in the mud of the trenches, in the hellish biological weapons in the form of gasses shot and sprayed against human beings as though they were mere dispensible bugs, insects in a hellish laboratory of Evil, of Sauron-like Evil, an Evil which murdered his closest friends, promising young students, who were just boys — and how many millions more! And when he himself contracted the dreadful Trench fever and was carried out it affected his health for the rest of his life. God only knows what this quiet man’s nightmares were like. But he gave us a huge and lasting hint.
Despite his warnings not to interpret The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of this or that, and leaving everyone to read it “simply” as a “complex” story, it has never been possible for most of us to ignore all of this as part of the great apocalyptic background and warnings against “improved means to deteriorating ends” which he agonizingly lamented.
He loved the Shire of his boyhood and trembled at the advancing Shadows of ominous Night overtaking the world. His love was not a provincial thing, but an existential and ontological anxiety, for all of mankind, which he told in momentous parables of A Great Battle we are all involved in, a great uneasiness we feel palpably every day as we see Efficient Machines moving over us and produced by cabals of mysterious persons in high places, as in some distant dark Mountain of Mordor aided by Orc-like shadowy figures, who hardly seem human anymore. And we, the little people, look like mere hobbits to them. Hobbits who only have each other. And our Maker.
Tolkien foretold the War of all Wars. And we are in it, deep, right now.
In 1951, in a “Letter (131) to Milton Waldman Tolkien said of his literary efforts,
“…all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine…bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills”.
“The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognized. . . .
“The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines…”
He had reasons to be concerned. So do we as we witness the beautiful give way more and more to centralized Strip Mall sameness and endless pretexts for wars.
So gather courage. Sauron and his enticing Rings of sheer (mere) power can, one hopes and if God wills, be defeated. But only if we band together, ready for Battle and not let ourselves be mesmerized by the sheer Efficiency and slogans of Power. — SH