David Round finds us weak and forgetting the basis of the life we humans are meant to lead.
Christchurch Press, Tuesday September 7, 2004
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Our civilisation is old and in decay. We are pygmies, walking among the giant monuments – of law, of art, of learning – our ancestors built, taking them for granted, and hardly interested.
We are so sheltered from the harsh realities of life that we can hardly believe they ever existed.
War, oppression, hunger – we have read of them in books, of course. But history has become legend, legend myth. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.
Surely everything will go on just as it always has, without any effort on our part?
But beyond our borders the darkness is gathering. Cruel strange men are growing in strength and moving against us. They have their allies in our own councils, filling our minds with doubts, clouding our vision, weakening our resolve.
If we are to save ourselves we must be like our ancestors. We must turn back to the old ways. Again we must be strong and virtuous, and true to the eternal principles on which our civilisation was founded. Only thus may we hope to stand secure against the barbarism that threatens to engulf the West.
Some, of course, would dismiss this opinion as pessimistic. They might call it chauvinist or reactionary. Warning that we are becoming an increasingly selfish, lazy and ugly nation are derided as the views of narrow-minded or outdated bigots.
It is heresy to suggest that any stranger could ever have any improper or selfish motive – or that we ever have any good ones.
We hate ourselves; and yet at the same time continue to have faith in a perpetual progress which will evidently continue despite our own deficiencies.
Here, however, is a remarkable inconsistency; for the gloomy views of the preceding paragraphs, derided by the enlightened, are the framework and substance of a very popular book trilogy recently made into a very popular trilogy of films.
It is, of course, as you may well have noticed, the setting of The Lord of the Rings.
One of the most remarkable features of the whole of The Lord of the Rings phenomenon has been the enthusiasm with which a government of “reformers”, feminists, Left-wingers, and general progressives and stirrers have embraced a worldview fundamentally disagrees with all their analyses and aspirations.
In Middle-Earth everything is darkening; yet we are informed recently that we live in a benign strategic environment.
In Middle-Earth – in the Shire of the hobbits, anyway – folk enjoy drinking, and horseplay, and also enjoy smoking a herb called weed in long pipes. They even smoke in inns.
In Middle-Earth the good are beautiful, and the evil orcs hideous of aspect – characterisation very insensitive to members of the deformity community. The human allies of orcs include Asian-looking pirates and some very Arab-looking characters on elephants.
Before the last battle Aragorn cries, “Now is the age of men!”
Actually, Emily Panckhurst and Kate Sheppard need not turn in their graves. (I wonder if they would feel guilty though, about only keeping the home fires burning, watching, waiting and perhaps weeping, while men go into battle.)
Aragorn means, of course, that now is the age of the race of men, as opposed to elves or dwarves or hobbits. More importantly, perhaps, it is the age of men as opposed to the age of trees, or of machines.
We seem to have lost humanity as an ideal. Some of us worship machines, productivity, an insane mechanical world of work and wealth; the sin of avarice.
Others flee in the opposite direction and abandon humanity for the worship of the wild; the sin of sloth.
But salvation lies in neither direction. We must love God’s creation, and we must use the clever minds that He gave us, but we can live neither in the factory nor in the wild.
The ideal of The Lord of the Rings is a land of quiet fruitful fields and a harmonious social order. Different social classes have their own functions, all useful and worthy of respect. There is no mechanical equality. Rulers and ruled are imbued with a sense of deep responsibility and obligation to serve the common good.
One of the book’s central elements is, of course, the return of the king. Ancient tradition is to be treasured and restored, not mindlessly swept away as no longer relevant.
The Lord of the Rings was a man’s film in some ways. A suspicious moisture made itself felt at the corners of my eyes, and there were definitely sounds of blubbing elsewhere in the theatre. From my observations, looking slyly for red eyes later, most came from men.
In Middle-Earth, victory is won by force of arms, by courage and self-sacrifice. Men are prepared to die for their homeland, and for their families and kindred.
They do this because they love.
They die well because there is a purpose in their lives and in their death, and a meaning which we can no longer understand. They love the land itself, they love their countrymen, they love where they came from and their ancient and established customs; all those things, in fact, make them what they are.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?
They fight so that the good things may stay the same.
It is love that motivates them, not the worship of an inhuman idea, or the narrow hatreds of wowsers who seem interested only in stopping things and have forgotten the wellsprings of joy that underlie all life.
If our present Government were in charge in Middle-Earth, the return of the king would be impossible, for the ancient monarchy would have been abolished.
Defence against Mordor would be impossible, for the army would have been abolished, or replaced with a “peace-keeping force”. Swords or spears and other such weapons would, like smacking and hunting, have been long banned.
The family is becoming an increasingly threatened species, and so there would be rather less for men to fight for.
We would probably be sending aid to the Dark Lord in Mordor, and would have an Orc resettlement policy. Substantial numbers of new Orc citizens would be on social welfare, and of course the human rights legislation would forbid discrimination against them.
There is hope for a world that understands and loves The Lord of the Rings.
David Round teaches law at the University of Canterbury.