Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tolkien's War Between Nostalgia and Utopia

By John Zmirak

What is the use of raising “dead” historical issues such as the rights or wrongs of World War I, or the virtues of Habsburg Austria as opposed to Woodrow Wilson’s America? That question has come up more than once in responses on this site to previous blogs of mine, and I think it’s an interesting one. Is it mere self-indulgence to muse over historical “what-ifs,” or maintain theoretical allegiances to political arrangements abolished before one’s own father was born? Should we collapse our horizons narrowly to the bounds of the probable, and keep our gazes fixed straight ahead of us? If we don’t, we’re prone to charges such as “escapism”....

Perhaps the best answer to start with comes from the author of our only great modern epic in English, J.R.R. Tolkien, who famously quipped, “The only people who would object to escapism would be jailors.” I don’t think that Tolkien was referring solely to totalitarians whom he despised, such as the Communists or the Nazis. Deeply influenced by the likes of Chesterton and Belloc, raised (as a fatherless boy) by a priest who’d studied under Cardinal Newman, Tolkien was concerned as well with the soul-deadening qualities of “moderate” world views such as Fabian socialism and Manchester liberalism.

A veteran of the Somme who’d seen all his closest friends butchered by machine guns or gas, Tolkien spent the 1930s and 40s in a manner quite unlike his contemporary, the equally gifted W.H. Auden. Appalled at the gathering darkness of what he rightly called a “low dishonest decade,” Auden felt it his duty to be “committed” to the contemporary struggles that assailed him daily in the newspapers. He wrote about the Popular Front, various intra-Communist disputes, the gathering force of fascism--and even after his conversion to Christianity, a concern with current events continued to pervade his work.

Read the rest here.

From Taki's Top Drawer

Courtesy of The Young Fogey

No comments: