Archive for October, 2013

To orient oneself in life, a person chooses from among myriad narratives, typically assembling a hodgepodge worldview out of diverse parts. According to Oswald Spengler, cultural artifacts (e.g., the arts, humanities, and sciences) arise “needing the guidance of inspiration and … developing under great conventions of form.” The very same can be said of our origin and orientation stories, ancient or contemporary. Narratives intertwine and need not necessarily be discrete, mutually exclusive, or competing, even though that’s what’s often implied by time-worn tensions underlying science vs. religion, sometimes understood more philosophically as logos vs. mythos. Indeed, they cohere despite conflicts of logic and their being ahistorical. The power of subscription and consensus overcomes all objections.

If a master narrative exists, it ought to be simply reality obtained, though that is probably visible to only a small percentage of people able to apprehend the world clearly. For the rest, scales not yet having fallen from the eyes, the considerable benefit of hindsight can help clarify the view, but only if one has sufficient nerve to behold it honestly. Instead, our dominant inspirational narratives promulgate a wide variety of incompletely fulfilled hopes and desires. Few such promises bear much resemblance to reality, those of economists, politicians, and clerics demonstrating the most striking discontinuities from the actuality experienced by ordinary folks. A Chris Hedges article at called “The Folly of Empire” discusses this departure from reality in his characteristically erudite style (apologies for the long nested quote):


Spurred by the dismal realization last winter that Peter Jackson’s movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s book (The Hobbit) and preamble to Tolkien’s magnum opus (The Lord of the Rings or LoTR) would be given the trilogy treatment, I decided to reread The Hobbit for the first time since my initial reading in seventh grade, partly to refresh my memory and partly to determine where Jackson departs from Tolkien’s narrative. I reread LoTR twice or more since my adolescence, most recently in 2005, so I was familiar with Jackson’s departures and interpolations in that trilogy.

As with science fiction, the fantasy realm, which Tolkien inaugurated almost single-handedly, opens with the implicit demand that the reader discover the workings of time and place. Social and political styles as well as character action made possible by futuristic technology and/or ancient magic must be established early on to provide coherence and avoid narrative weakness in the form of whiplash plot developments. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is already well conceived in The Hobbit. He includes ample references to Middle Earth’s own fictional prehistory and a few suggestions — mere forebodings at this point — of disruptions to come later in LoTR.