Why does fantasy and magic facinate us? Why are so many people drawn with extreem fantaticism to series like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and other Fantasy works?
I have a theory.
In our contemporary world, globalism and relativism and secularism are the rule of the day. God is not popular. Faith is not popular. Miracles don’t exist. This is what many proclaim. All the spiritual bases of life are being attacked on all sides. The faithful, as in their beginnings, often fear to profess their beliefs; for when they do, they are cruely attacked. It is a sad and dark time we live in.
And yet, their is a small ray of hope.
That hope is fantasy, which is both a blessing and danger. In fantasy, in magic, in wonder we find the last vestiges of the spiritual, if hidden or in mutilated form. Through fantasy, the yearning in our hearts for miracle is revealed. Our yearning for God, for something greater and outside our possible experience is fullfilled. I believe, in the end, none of us want to believe in a Godless, scientific world. Therefore, secretly, hidden in some deep well of our heart, there lies a yearning for the miraculous.
As has been stated by many Christian authors, including Tolkien, fantasy offers the ideal conduit for spiritual Truth. In fantasy, the miracles of our world are allowed to live on, uncontested. As their wonders are revealed to us on the page, we readers begin to become more aware of the miracles all around us. Miracles do exist. They are everywhere, we just refuse to look and recognize. The great triumph of fantasy is its ability to reinvigorate our own world, to raise it from the dissillusionment of this age and show it for the shinging jewel of endless wonders it is.
The best example of Tolkien’s views on ‘evil’ in Middle Earth is found in the fourth book, being the second part of The Two Towers. Here, Sam and Frodo meet up with Gollum. This is the true heart of the story; its emotional and moral center. From the Taming of Smeagol onward, the reader follows Gollum’s internal struggle: between the good Smeagol and bad Gollum.
Gollum is a justifiably detestable character, fearsome, disgusting at times and conniving. Yet miraculously, he is changed. In some manner, he is redeemed, if only temporarily. Nothing is evil from the beginning. Nothing is ever wholly evil either. Gollum gives us this knowledge. We find hope for the futures of Frodo and Sam; the Ring is not as indomitable to the spirit as it seems. Somewhere deep in Gollum, Smeagol reawakens in response to the kindness and friendship of Frodo. He is shown to be a weak, wretched and ancient creature. He is a creature worthy of great pity.
Tortured spirit that he is, who can blame him for falling back into the Ring’s power? He is afraid, greatly afraid. The Ring seems to be going closer and closer to Sauron. As well, Gollum is approaching Mordor once more, the sight of his captivity and great torture. His own self-interest battles with his affection for Frodo. In the end he looks out for his own skin and betrays the hobbits to Shelob. And yet, even then, some part of Smeagol remains in his refusal to harm Frodo himself.
The Ring can be thought of the one thing that gave some modicum of happiness, satisfaction or pleasure to Gollum. He yearns for it and hates it. It is comparable to an addiction or a bad habit. After so long a life that his own existence seems meaningless, the Ring gives Gollum meaning. In some ways it has become who he is, which would explain his own moniker: ‘My Precious.’ He is an empty shell. That void is filled through the mercy and care of Frodo. This is the heroism of Frodo, no more, no less. It may be this alone which ensures the destruction of the Ring.
One thing I’ve often noticed in Tolkien’s work is that evil is never one sided. This stems from Tolkien’s Catholic/Christian views on evil. Nothing, in the beginning, was evil. Morgoth is a fallen Valar. Sauron a fallen Maiar. The orcs, mutilated elves. The trolls, mutilated ents. About the only being(s) for whom this doesn’t seem to fit is Ungoliant and the Spiders.
The orcs of Middle Earth are intelligent. They seem to have a primitive culture and society. When Shagrat and Gorbag talk together, after finding Frodo’s body, they seem almost like friends. Granted they are quite rough around the edges, but they don’t sound that different from any of the other characters or even you and me.
So. Are the orcs really evil?
No, not really. They may do evil, but they do not embody it. Part of the problem is they need leadership, and they seem easily cowed. If you think about the original elves made orcs for Morgoth…they were so tortured and mutilated, who’s to say what they’d do to avoid more pain? Such torture and suffering as would be necessary to tear the elves away from their being or their physiological form must be great. Most likely they were mad and blind in their sufferings.
Let’s return to Shagrat and Gorbag for a bit. The two of them don’t want to fight. They resent being ordered around by Sauron and the Ring-wraiths. They wish to leave; to make their way on their own.
Are they evil?
As most people will and have said, the worst sin of The Lord of the Rings films is Faramir, aka Boromir’s clone. In The Two Towers film, Faramir is essentially a clone of Borromir. In the Ring, all he sees is the power to protect his people; a weapon with which to fight Sauron. He is harsh, almost bordering on cruel. He is also quite hasty and unwise. The majesty and honor his of Numenorian blood is lost. Like Borromir, he is drawn to the Ring, wishing to take it for his own. He shows no wisdom, no understanding of its evil, no understanding of tact or care. He is utterly callous.
This “Faramir” is unrecognizable.
The true Faramir is honorable, and just. He is wise. He understands the need for caution. He has some knowledge of “Isildur’s Bane” and its dangers. He tells Frodo, before even knowing what he has, that he would never take the Ring from him. And when he finds out what great power, and corruption, is within his grasp he keeps his word. He helps Frodo. He lets him go. He shows mercy. None of these qualities is shown in the film’s pseudo-Faramir. That Faramir is a travesty to behold.
When you hear the word “suffer” or “suffering,” most people would cringe at the thought. Today it means pain, agony, torture. But that does not reveal the true beauty of the word. Look in Scripture or even Shakespeare. Suffering may mean pain, but it also means to allow. It is one of the most beautiful word choices you can find in the Bible. Christ suffered himself to die for us. He not only endured great agony, He allowed and accepted the burden for His love of us.
This is why I love language and words. There is so much power and meaning in them.
Something has been bothering me the last couple months. Read your paper. Does it seem to have many articles about a certain wizard? Every year, at about this time, the papers are innundated by articles about the Harry Potter films and books. I have two problems with this.
All this attention is given to Harry Potter. The books are popular, but there are many many more books out there. Harry Potter is often portrayed as the “be all end all” of contemporary lit. I see Harry Potter as the road block to other great works. I agree that HP has reinvigorated reading in our society. I just don’t see any effort being made to encourage reading beyond HP.
When the LotR films came out, how much focus was given to Tolkien and his works? From what I recall, next to none. Sure, there were a couple more shelves in the bookstore, but that was it. There was no real credit given in the mass media. It was all about Jackson. Seeing all the “hoopla” over HP helped me realize this. There was almost no effort to get the word out. In some ways, it was made out to be Jackson & co.’s creation alone. I’ll admit, there were blurbs here or there saying “JRR Tolkien’s epic…blah blah blah” etc. But really, except for saying he wrote a book, nothing more was done.
Thus we get Harry Potter, the Literary Hog. Taking the spotlight, and obscuring other great works in darkness.
Fantasy literature holds a challenge for any reader. Some people are able to cope and some are not. From the start, fantasy builds hurdles the reader has to deal with for them to be able to immerse themselves in the story. This makes fantasy unique within the realm of literary genres. It is not beholden to any rules of this world.
A fantasy world can be tantalizingly similar to our own, and yet hold wonders that confound the imagination. How is the reader to accept this? It requires a willingness on the reader’s part to loosen their grip on what is possible. And yet at the same time, no such thing is necessary. Fantasy offers something completely new to the reader. It holds the great power of metaphor. This becomes a conduit through which Truths of this world can be protrayed and explained. Often the mysteries of our world cannot be put into focus easily…they’re hard to grasp and understand the depth of their importance. With fantasy, the bounds of our perception are unlimited. There, we can finally see.
Few authors fully utilize this potential. They do not realize the power that fantasy holds. Here, the power of words is paramount. Preconceptions, biases, and physical limitations are left behind.
The problem with fantasy is that many people find it hard to make this adjustment. In a sense it is comparable to being dropped in a foreign country. It causes insecurity and doubt. The fantasy novel requires the reader to be able to adapt, to leave the questions for a moment, to let the world and the story sweep you up.