Tonight I went to a talk on J.R.R. Tolkien and why his books made such an impact on the world.
Professor Michael D.C. Drout, is a Medieval and English professor at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts (that’s where my mom graduated from!) and has studied Tolkien’s work for many years.
Professor Drout made me want to do three things:
1. Read Lord of the Rings again.
2. Go to Grad-school for Medieval studies and English (probs. won’t ever happen, but a girl can dream right?)
3. Write novels that will help people escape—(I’ve actually started a children’s novel, but I fear Tolkien would laugh, or maybe cry, if he read it.)
Professor Drout focused mainly on the point that The Lord of the Rings, and the rest of his writings, bring about a sense or feeling of being old, and therefore making the readers feel they are experiencing an actual history instead of reading a story that may or may not have happened.
I won’t go into all the ways Tolkien achieves this, according to Drout, because I would not do it justice, but he is coming out with a book soon titled The Tower and the Ruin—and I recommend everyone to check it out, because this guy was good. I do, however, want to touch on one of the points he made about what Tolkien does, which is that he connects with our sense of nostalgia.
My family, mostly Kilty and my Mom, always tell me I have a deep/strong nostalgic side, which dominates most of my emotions—and I have to say they are mostly right. I usually hold on tight to anything that is old, reminds me of the past or has any sort of sentimental value—I just like old things, okay.
I rely on the guidance of the past every day. I know there are many quotes/sayings/proverbs about forgetting about the past and living in the present, or not letting the past define you, etc. but I think those quotes are stupid.
The past reminds me of all the beauty and joy I have had and it gives me hope that beauty and joy will always be restored. –Obviously you shouldn’t dwell in the past, but it should not be forgotten.
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places, but still there is much that is fair.”
The past helps me look past the peril and dark places and find the fairness that our world has.
Prof. Drout talked of nostalgia as a way to connect with all of humanity and have the ability to feel the same feelings they have, even if you are not involved in the same situations—this is how Tolkien captures us.
For example, when Tolkien writes “one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green,” he speaks to every single one of us. We start to long for that time (or at least I do, I guess I can’t speak for everyone)—we want a time when everything was a little bit simpler and carefree.
Another awesome point of Prof. Drout’s talk was when he spoke of despair and hope. He said that in the novels, almost all the characters who failed, aside from those who died in battle, did so because they fell into despair, and the ones who succeeded were the ones who never gave up hope—even when they could barely go on, or the challenge seemed too great to overcome.
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
He said that most of the characters, especially Frodo, knew they did not have what it took to complete the mission, but they had hope that they could take one more step, and eventually they made it.
This is why, no matter what happens, despair cannot have a place in our lives. It is such an easy trap to fall into. There are many times the road seems too dark and long to continue, but hope always must remain, because without it, it is impossible to continue.
Tolkien did not only create a book—he created a world, a history. He did this because he knew how important the past is for humanity. We cannot just shove it behind us and pretend like it isn’t there, because it is. It’s not always pretty, but it is a part of us, and it has formed us to be who we are today—only with the help of the past can we create a better future.
One final thought to leave you with is one of my personal favorites from the late J.R.R. Tolkien—
“If most of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”