Friday, February 3, 2017

Lord of the Rings: the anti-adventure


Re-reading "Lord of the Rings," I know it is a great deal unfair to it to declare it such, but still my ultimate summing-up of it is as sort of an anti-adventure. Frodo begins the adventure pretty much sick of hobbits and the Shire. He thought "the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words," and hoped they'd be beset by legions of dragons or an earthquake. This attitude, in case you're wondering, is very much akin to Sarumon's, who saw the like of another type of rural people -- the Rohanians... the "Riders of Rohan" -- as brigands whose children go about the floor with their dogs, and who couldn't care less if the ancient "demonic" forests were destroyed to make way for an invasive, modern, engine-driven world. This dismissal, in my judgment, is similar to the type of dismissal made by adolescents, who in trying to shed the maternal world they've long been content with in favour of exploring and creating their own, might start expressing serious malcontent. It's a step, maybe not absolutely required, but perhaps most often required, in order for the adolescent to cast away old ties and feast properly on their own self-mission.

If a malevolent, jealous, angry party... the party being dismissed, wanted to nip this type of self-actualization in the bud, it would beset upon the young adolescent a kind of desperate need to cling back to what they had known for a sense of safety, and I think that's what a lot of the "Lord of the Rings" is, under cover of being an adventure into the outside world where people surely must grow and discover new aspects of themselves they had hardly previously known were there. Frodo and the other hobbits are barely out the door when they are beset upon by Middle Earth's most dangerous and terrifying predators -- some of the nine Nazgul. Frodo is just about to humiliate himself in betraying an insufficient lack of will to not comply with their own, when suddenly a whole host of elves appear -- a race that is the oldest of the old in Middle Earth -- and the Nazgul flee their might.

The elves surround them with cheer and acceptance, but they serve pretty much as if when just out the door, mommy, or her close associates -- the friendly neighbourbood watch -- had come out and rescued them... at the cost of the "children" thinking this outside world cannot be thought through on their own: if you further rebel against things long belonging to a familiar order, they might not receive you so kindly when next time you are required to retreat for their support, and then where will you be? Whatever the elves might want of you in future, you will heed their will... if you sense something awry about them in any way, you'll disown it for fear your suspicion might be sensed. Way back into your unconscious it will go, and kept firmly guarded.

Subsequently the hobbits, in deciding on their own what way best to traverse the country, find themselves in woods where they prove absolutely powerless to negotiate their own way through it. The wood with absolute confidence steers them into a trap -- an ancient and angry tree, Old Man Willow, who must revenge himself upon everything for so long seeing the world he is comfortable with being so arrogantly disrespected by the like of Saruman and Sauron. They're in the process of being caged and, if I got it right, maybe eaten, when suddenly Tom Bombadil appears, a great Middle Earth deity, and instantly intimidates the old angry tree from further torturing the hobbits. Tom Bombadil is another of the old order, akin to the elves, and the hobbits in their desperate gratitude are neither ready to challenge him or resist him in any way. Like the elves, he doesn’t do anything harmful to them at all, but he de facto shows them that who they mostly are are creatures so powerless and unequal to him.... so unfit to the task of making their own choices in the world, that in return for a rescue they'd surrender to the rescuer anything he chose (good thing he wasn't a pederast): He tells Frodo to give him the Ring, and Frodo is automatically compliant. This is no minor sort of manhandling. As the hobbits show by Merry's remarking "he came when he was told," after Gandalf draws Saruman back from his tower and thereby demonstrated there was only one white wizard in town, they know a demonstration of total command and fundamental submission when they see it. They internalized the lesson. 

The elves were responsible for this "rescue," for they had let Bombadil know the hobbits were about and to look out for them. Their being perfectly and submissively charming to the elves paid off. And their perfect submission to Bombadil pays off as well: immediately after leaving them they find themselves effortlessly captured by Barrow-wights -- an old ancient sort of fright -- and after experiencing a terrifying long moment of feeling entombed and set to be eaten away by the creepy, crawly dead, they sing the song Bombadil provided them to instantly draw his summons.

It isn't an entirely humiliating situation for Frodo. The narrative tells us it was in a sense flattering, in that he possessed enough spirit to wake himself out of the wight-induced slumber and make a clarion call to a rescuer. But this acclaim, this bit -- "grit," "fortitude," "resolve," "stamina," "hidden depth behind flaccid surface," "spirit" -- always strikes me in the narrative as something ascribed to the hobbits for them to subsequently take some solace on, just after being denied the ability to grasp at something greater, something more truly satisfying and flattering that others are granted and enjoy and what they themselves are intended to be forever denied. They are mighty people in this world, people of great wisdom and great might, and the hobbits will never ever come close to being that. 

When Frodo arrives at Rivendale and is amongst the Council, he's pretty much at the point where he'll do whatever authorities most familiar to him would bid that he do. They want him to destroy the Ring, so that'll be his course. He had suffered a kind of deep humbling here... grafted so firmly to Gandalf, the chief guardian of the old world, that no new voice has a chance to disentangle him from it. Boromir's that voice at the council, instructing everyone that another course does lie... that the Ring could be and should be used. This is not even an enticing idea for Frodo, brought forward again in a new context where others other than Gandalf have authority, for at least some consideration. And should it not be, at the very least, enticing, that is, because the idea not only represents an ostensible destruction of Sauron but of an individual making a surprising and significant impact on the world, forcing it a bit his way -- or actually, why not? a lot -- which is a way of accounting everyone's righteously hoped for adult journey? Frodo's at the point where he balks back away from any idea that might beacon self-discovery, so to immediately slip the arising shame in knowing he's been scared away from all self-growth for life, off all legitimate temptations -- and at just the start of his adult-life, at that -- within the larger envelope of Gandalf's appreciation and gratitude.

This sort of balm is frequently offered the hobbits, subsequently. Every time they provide some indication they feel as if the adventure had been one long lesson on why you should not actually ever venture out beyond your door -- if "venturing out your door" means exploring new ideas and new possibilities -- and rather just capitulate to the known for otherwise a mean old angry ancient forest or its like will show up immediately at your path, Gandalf, especially, seems to beknight them with something of a soother after stopping their efforts cold. Indicate, like Merry and Pippen do, that they probably have just amounted to riffraff tagging along passively... start acting out wildly, like Pippen seems to be doing when he grabs the Palantir out of the water and steals it later out of Gandalf's tight possession, in unconsciously motivated retaliation for being kept so tightly bound, he -- or maybe just the narrative... but really seemingly he, makes sure that in the next place they visit everyone will mistake them as the like of hobbit princes... and doesn't that feel nice, young hobbits?... if you discount that it is mistaken praise, doesn't it still feel quite nice to be thought by a horde as belonging to the Middle-Earth-wide fellowship of the lordly, even if representing its least grand peoples? Be passive acquaintances of the Ents, doing nothing but be carried around as baggage they can banter with as they decide how to act, and "you" get later accounted as the pebble that brought about a a major landslide!, the essential factor that made everything else happen -- though of course this is an insult hidden within a seeming compliment, in that "you" were responsible for a mighty thing happening, but only because a great thing was so close to being ready for launch it now required but the itsy-bittsiest stirring. Bear a humiliating examination by an elf-queen, where she, Galadriel, explores every crevice of your mind in no less an evasive fashion than what Sauron does to his subjects, with no warning, and no permission asked or granted, you get to bite back a bit, if you have the power to do so -- as Galadriel suggests Frodo, the Ring-bearer, does -- but mostly you have to learn to redirect the arousal so that it is expressed not in anger but in a furious expression of gratitude, as she follows it with wonderful gift-giving. You sublimate quickly, else risk expressing directly to your destruction.

What is especially grating is that you sometimes get this sense that others are allowed to disclose a certain humiliating truth about the servile, so to further guarantee the attending hobbits don't prove disagreeable to those intent on their following their will. There is a lot of abuse handed out to those who are "mere dogs at the feet of masters" -- Wormtongue, especially, suffers a lot of this. And if you are a hobbit listening to Gandalf scold the pathetically weak-willed... those who have been cowed into always complying, you know what kind of damage he could inflict upon "you" if you should ever really disobey him in a way that didn't just indicate your acting out but your separating from his intentions and wishes. He's like all the human warriors in the book who come to so appreciate hobbits... but who also make sure the hobbits keep in the back of their minds, always, that this approval could be instantly removed, for haven't the hobbits enjoyed the entirely of their happy sustenance owing to their being secretly protected by the efforts of men... isn't there something absolutely false, something of an ignominy -- a dreamscape of some actually impossible kind of comfort, fluffed up, permitted, only because everyone else is united in reality-facing and hard living -- about their entire ongoing existence?

It's also grating that much of the ostensible growth they are allowed is thin and false. Frodo is ostensibly the wisest hobbit, and he is wise in that he, for example, knows how to shape what he says for best reception -- as Captain Faramir says of him, when deciding what to make of him and Sam. But the wisest thing he says and does in knowing to trust Aragorn when he meets him because what is actually most good doesn't keep hidden disturbing appearances... or however it is said in the text, is a falsely or shallowly learned lesson, for the most truly ugly thing is shameful action, and it is to avoid that -- shame -- that he decides not to retreat back to Rivendale when further progress away seemed blocked; and it is to avoid that -- the overtly ugly -- that he does not give Boromir a fair listen to when alone with him at the end of "Fellowship." To be beholden to others' opinion of you -- which is what shame indicates -- is the ugliest thing imaginable, for it means you are not self-ruled, you are a slave, but he is everywhere so trusting of its arisings, its stirrings, in his heart. For him, it is forever, "what would Gandalf think of me if I decided thus...?" followed by capitulation. When Boromir encourages Frodo to choose to go his way, to take the Ring to Gondor and use it, Boromir quickly shifts from being smiling and friendly to being dismissive, insulting, and aggressive... even if there is at first, there is no long-sustained suavity in how he makes his case. He argues that all of Frodo's heroes are timid souls, are frauds, which is usually the way best to lose your welcome. He admits how fabulous he thinks wearing and using the Ring would be, refusing or unable to conceal that it would be a blast to use the Ring to act upon the world with such magnified influence. 

And Frodo does not say, "I would normally be averse to trusting you Boromir, but you so little mask what you know I have been taught to see as selfishness and arrogance while presenting your case, I will actually give further thought to it... Perhaps you're right, maybe those I've been listening to are merely timid, and I actually kind of knew it but had been intimidated away from admitting this openly to myself out of a requirement to avoid their reprisal -- a requirement they in fact installed in me by being so ready to let me think of them as the only rescue I've got from a world I'd otherwise fall a hundred times victim to. I've been set up, and it's about time I admitted this to myself. Thank you."

He does not say this, but rather dutifully goes about his appointed task... takes what is actually in a sense the easy way, out of everyone who matters to him being on the lookout for him taking the harder one. He's ostensibly alone in Mordor, its great big bleak landscape, accompanied only by Sam, but this is only in one sense being alone, and it's far away in unbearableness from the most horrid type -- namely, being forlorn everyone's good opinion of you, and Frodo's sad choice means he keeps all that with him in spades.

But how now this mature man wishes for the 13-year-old me, wishes for the young adolescent me... the stirring young adult in me, reading "Lord of the Rings" when he was newly factoring how much venturing he should do away from home, while first registering the huge power his mother would present in opposition to it, that he had. I would have loved to have some voice sink into my head early, sink into me then, telling me, with an alien and exciting power, a power outside one I'd known that draws me outwards into the world rather than offering mere camouflaged further containment within, that the true way to growth means bearing the shame of being ugly to those you've thus far depended on. Not just "the Shire," but an "old world" representative as grand as Gandalf may well think you're slime and you'll be documented as akin in disappointment to Wormtongue or Gollum. But nevertheless you'll be happier in being able to bear it. For it won't be shameful to you but rather, only disappointing: you'd like to have been able to have kept them along with you too, but were wise nevertheless in bearing the loneliness and sense of abandonment consequent of your choice.

Now about those elf-queens gone rabid and ancient angry forests that will now present themselves on your doorstep -- now that you've de facto made Saruman's own treachery -- be careful, for even the strongest, most self-actualized person can be killed by but one of those, as readily as could the great Boromir by just one arrow, after he went all-in in his attempt to seize the Ring -- a moral lesson for us all. The burned hand teaches best, as Gandalf in his evil, is wont to say.

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