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Old 11-20-2014, 11:16 PM   #1
Zigūr
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Vaguely interesting BBC Culture article

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/201...nd-the-hippies
Has anyone read this? It's pretty lightweight and insubstantial as they go, mostly just cataloguing a bunch of references to The Lord of the Rings in 60s and 70s culture (it also erroneously assumes that pipe-weed was a hallucinogen rather than ordinary tobacco), but it raises a couple of curious points.
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It’s hard to imagine anyone today watching The Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films and thinking of alternative lifestyles or radical activism. What happened?

Tolkien himself would possibly be horrified by the multiplatform industry built upon his work. Today his saga is best known through Peter Jackson’s multi-billion-dollar-grossing movies. In these blockbuster films, Tolkien’s intricate narrative arc has been scaled beyond its original humanity and reduced to CGI eye-candy. The spirit of his work remains, in his original texts.
As my PhD thesis nears its completion I've been considering some elements of Professor Tolkien's relationship to "alternative lifestyles" or "radical activism," largely in terms of how his work does what I think was a rather bold thing for his context by critiquing modernity, which seems to have been (and still is in some quarters) a bit of a sin in academic discourse, where any criticism of modernity automatically makes you "nostalgic." People always seem to miss the completely overt criticism of the pointlessness of nostalgia in the books too. I am somewhat intrigued by the idea that Professor Tolkien argues in favour of alternatives to modernity rather than a regression from it, which was a proposal firmly made by his literary precursor, William Morris.

At the same time, it's not as if The Lord of the Rings is some kind of manifesto for a better society, although it may suggest better ways of being as individuals and communities.
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Old 11-21-2014, 12:33 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/201...nd-the-hippies
Has anyone read this? It's pretty lightweight and insubstantial as they go, mostly just cataloguing a bunch of references to The Lord of the Rings in 60s and 70s culture (it also erroneously assumes that pipe-weed was a hallucinogen rather than ordinary tobacco), but it raises a couple of curious points.

As my PhD thesis nears its completion I've been considering some elements of Professor Tolkien's relationship to "alternative lifestyles" or "radical activism," largely in terms of how his work does what I think was a rather bold thing for his context by critiquing modernity, which seems to have been (and still is in some quarters) a bit of a sin in academic discourse, where any criticism of modernity automatically makes you "nostalgic." People always seem to miss the completely overt criticism of the pointlessness of nostalgia in the books too. I am somewhat intrigued by the idea that Professor Tolkien argues in favour of alternatives to modernity rather than a regression from it, which was a proposal firmly made by his literary precursor, William Morris.

At the same time, it's not as if The Lord of the Rings is some kind of manifesto for a better society, although it may suggest better ways of being as individuals and communities.
I never made the connection between Tolkien's works and alternative lifestyle. I always saw it as Tolkien just writing really good stuff set in a high fantasy world.
All of that counterculture stuff is just a different interpretation of his works which is neither right nor wrong; it just is.
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Old 11-22-2014, 07:17 PM   #3
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The essay mentions pipeweed as an hallucinogen as you mention. The Lord of the Rings claims instead that pipeweed was “a variety probably of Nicotiana”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana .

So was Tolkien pushing consumption of tobacco as a good thing? Probably not. Tolkien himself was a user of tobacco, and was writing at a time when smoking tobacco was the norm. Tolkien in The Hobbit had made Gandalf a smoker, probably because in folktales smoking had also become a norm. Consider in particular the Grimm fairy tale “The Blue Light”. See http://www.authorama.com/grimms-fairy-tales-48.html . Merlyn is also a tobacco-smoker in T. H. White’s novel The Sword in the Stone.

Nor despite indicating that his hobbits were fond of beer, is Tolkien really pushing beer drinking.

But there is more indication in The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien was pushing tobacco-smoking and beer-drinking than that he was fond of rock music or the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or drug use.

What happened is that Tolkien’s books were popular because of their excellence, not because they partially agreed with the supposed sentiments of those who read them. The essay is, as indicated, “lightweight and insubstantial”. Nowhere does The Lord of the Rings put forward any “alternative lifestyles or radical activism”.

The writer then puts down Jackson’s films, but does so for no reason that makes sense to me. I personally dislike parts of Jackson’s films, but not because the “narrative arc has been scaled beyond its original humanity and reduced to CGI eye-candy.” An essay could be written explaining where Jackson has ignored the “original humanity” of the tale, but the writer does not even try to do this. Is the “original humanity” ignored when Gandalf is rescued by a giant eagle or when Gandalf comes back to life? If the “original humanity” is so important, then is Jackson’s omission of Tom Bombadil a good thing? I suspect that by “CGI eye-candy” the writer means merely “CGI that I dislike”. Personally if by “CGI eye-candy” the writer merely means CGI that is pleasing to the eye, then what is he complaining about? Would the films have been improved by less CGI that was pleasing to the viewer?

The writer claims:
This ground-breaking music mirrored the mind-expanding drugs, magical excursions, pagan celebrations and Bohemian lifestyle associated with the counterculture – and characters in Tolkien’s books.
Where in the books or in real life does Tolkien or “characters in Tolkien’s books” push “mind-expanding drugs” or “pagan celebrations” or “Bohemian lifestyle associated with the counterculture”?
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Old 11-22-2014, 07:53 PM   #4
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The essay mentions pipeweed as an hallucinogen as you mention. The Lord of the Rings claims instead that pipeweed was “a variety probably of Nicotiana”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana .

So was Tolkien pushing consumption of tobacco as a good thing? Probably not. Tolkien himself was a user of tobacco, and was writing at a time when smoking tobacco was the norm. Tolkien in The Hobbit had made Gandalf a smoker, probably because in folktales smoking had also become a norm. Consider in particular the Grimm fairy tale “The Blue Light”. See http://www.authorama.com/grimms-fairy-tales-48.html . Merlyn is also a tobacco-smoker in T. H. White’s novel The Sword in the Stone.

Nor despite indicating that his hobbits were fond of beer, is Tolkien really pushing beer drinking.

But there is more indication in The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien was pushing tobacco-smoking and beer-drinking than that he was fond of rock music or the Beatles or Led Zeppelin or drug use.

What happened is that Tolkien’s books were popular because of their excellence, not because they partially agreed with the supposed sentiments of those who read them. The essay is, as indicated, “lightweight and insubstantial”. Nowhere does The Lord of the Rings put forward any “alternative lifestyles or radical activism”.

The writer then puts down Jackson’s films, but does so for no reason that makes sense to me. I personally dislike parts of Jackson’s films, but not because the “narrative arc has been scaled beyond its original humanity and reduced to CGI eye-candy.” An essay could be written explaining where Jackson has ignored the “original humanity” of the tale, but the writer does not even try to do this. Is the “original humanity” ignored when Gandalf is rescued by a giant eagle or when Gandalf comes back to life? If the “original humanity” is so important, then is Jackson’s omission of Tom Bombadil a good thing? I suspect that by “CGI eye-candy” the writer means merely “CGI that I dislike”. Personally if by “CGI eye-candy” the writer merely means CGI that is pleasing to the eye, then what is he complaining about? Would the films have been improved by less CGI that was pleasing to the viewer?

The writer claims:
This ground-breaking music mirrored the mind-expanding drugs, magical excursions, pagan celebrations and Bohemian lifestyle associated with the counterculture – and characters in Tolkien’s books.
Where in the books or in real life does Tolkien or “characters in Tolkien’s books” push “mind-expanding drugs” or “pagan celebrations” or “Bohemian lifestyle associated with the counterculture”?
The writer was likely trying to make any association between their beliefs and Tolkien. Forced logic doesn't always make sense. Tolkien having a huge number of people smoke and drink means absolutely nothing. In medieval times, ale was drunk as the norm, just because that was what they had available.

Smoking tobacco is very much how smoking is today. A lot of people do it. I don't think there is any relation between regular tobacco and hallucinogenic drugs. It's plausible that who the writer was talking about just wanted someone well known to support their ideals, even though it was like claiming that the US Government is the Illuminati, using convoluted logic.
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Old 12-04-2014, 01:51 PM   #5
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It’s hard to imagine anyone today watching The Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films and thinking of alternative lifestyles or radical activism. What happened?
It’s hard to imagine Tolkien writing The Lord of the Rings or Hobbit and thinking of alternative lifestyles or radical activism. What happened?

Having read the piece, I have to conclude that this Jane Ciabattari is a pinhead.
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Old 12-04-2014, 10:32 PM   #6
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Having read the piece, I have to conclude that this Jane Ciabattari is a pinhead.
The writer used the strategy of neglecting contradictory evidence, especially the fact that it wasn't intended to have allusions of counter-culture.
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Old 12-04-2014, 11:47 PM   #7
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A few elements do come to mind (some of which relates to what I've already said):

1) Professor Tolkien's writing was to a degree, intentionally or otherwise, a rejection of the twentieth century literary establishment and literary orthodoxy. At the same time, he does have things in common with the Modernists.

2) Similarly, the texts tend to reject authoritarianism and denounce tyranny.

3) The Lord of the Rings does, in my opinion, suggest the value of a lifestyle or society which is more harmonized with the natural world.

Firstly, however, I don't understand why this article was published now. Secondly, it doesn't really make an effort to explain why Professor Tolkien's work influenced this culture, particularly because as jallanite has said the arguments of the books are hardly identical to a "hippie philosophy."

I can see the point the author is trying to make but I think instead of saying "Tolkien and the hippies both took issue with some of the institutions of their day" it seems to imply that The Lord of the Rings is some kind of covert hippie manual just waiting to be decoded.
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Old 12-05-2014, 04:44 AM   #8
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1) Professor Tolkien's writing was to a degree, intentionally or otherwise, a rejection of the twentieth century literary establishment and literary orthodoxy. At the same time, he does have things in common with the Modernists.
I wouldn't necessarily say that Tolkien's writing was a rejection of twentieth century literature, but moreso an innovation, or re-innovation, bringing a traditional legendarium style mythos back into view.

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2) Similarly, the texts tend to reject authoritarianism and denounce tyranny.
This is not a valid reason to state that it supported the hippie movement. George Orwell wrote many books about why authoritarianism and dictatorship was the worst thing, but that doesn't support hippie culture, it just doesn't oppose it, and shares a similar view. Sharing a similar view does not indicate that Tolkien intended to support alternative lifestyle.


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I can see the point the author is trying to make but I think instead of saying "Tolkien and the hippies both took issue with some of the institutions of their day" it seems to imply that The Lord of the Rings is some kind of covert hippie manual just waiting to be decoded.
The writer did have a good point, but instead of expanding on it in a logical manner, they just used it to support the argument that Tolkien supported hippie culture. The way they do it is obscure also, as what they used as evidence for their case has been interpreted many different ways, and could support almost anyone's cause. This vagueness allows us to conclude that the writer has begun to understand what they were talking about, but thought we would just accept their interpretation as hard fact, ignoring opposing cases.
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Old 12-05-2014, 09:45 AM   #9
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I wouldn't necessarily say that Tolkien's writing was a rejection of twentieth century literature, but moreso an innovation, or re-innovation, bringing a traditional legendarium style mythos back into view.
Hence why I said "to a degree" as well as "the literary establishment" and "literary orthodoxy" rather than "twentieth century literature full stop." It's the dismissal or at least scepticism of the institutions, the trends and the fashions of early-to-mid twentieth century literature which I think produces the vague correlation with the hippie's rejection of conventional society, but it's definitely a tenuous correlation at that.
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This is not a valid reason to state that it supported the hippie movement.
I hope you don't think I was trying to argue that it did, because it certainly wasn't my intention at any point to argue that Professor Tolkien's arguments supported the movement, just to try to elaborate or possibly develop what I think the author was struggling to say, without agreeing or disagreeing with them. Just so you know, I'm not trying to say the article was right, just try to see where it was coming from and what more substantial remarks it might have made.
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This vagueness allows us to conclude that the writer has begun to understand what they were talking about, but thought we would just accept their interpretation as hard fact, ignoring opposing cases.
In all honesty I'm not sure what the author was trying to do apart from tease out a tangential reason for BBC culture to ride the comet trail of the new Hobbit film.
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Old 12-05-2014, 11:58 AM   #10
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Given that Tolkien explicitly loathed hippies, free love, drugs, Marxism and rock music.... In fact the man was pretty reactionary even by the standards of his Edwardian generation. An unrepentant monarchist and hyper-Catholic, to the extent he was a contrarian and rejectionist, it was for opposite reasons from the hippies. Even his anti-industrial agrarianism was a nostalgia for "a well-tilled countryside" not "back to the Pleistocene."
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Old 12-05-2014, 07:16 PM   #11
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I hope you don't think I was trying to argue that it did, because it certainly wasn't my intention at any point to argue that Professor Tolkien's arguments supported the movement, just to try to elaborate or possibly develop what I think the author was struggling to say, without agreeing or disagreeing with them. Just so you know, I'm not trying to say the article was right, just try to see where it was coming from and what more substantial remarks it might have made.
Unfortunately, tone of voice cannot be heard through text, and so the way in which my statement could be read depends on how you initially interpret it. It was an agreement that the writer was trying to force their logic, and a criticism of the writer, rather than yourself.

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In all honesty I'm not sure what the author was trying to do apart from tease out a tangential reason for BBC culture to ride the comet trail of the new Hobbit film.
It does seem that the writer was more focused on getting controversial views, rather than legitimate readers, and ride the Hobbit hype train to get publicity, which they have surely done. While they were trying to force logic, you are right in suggesting they just wanted to leech the Hobbit movies hype.
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Old 12-08-2014, 06:51 AM   #12
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An unrepentant monarchist and hyper-Catholic
He does say that politically he leaned towards monarchy or anarchy, though, in Letter 52. Of course his version of anarchy is not the same as either the "whiskered men with bombs" he mocks in the same letter or its modern manifestations, but I think it's a point which is to a degree borne out in The Lord of the Rings and so it's another way I can understand why it appealed, however inaccurately, to the counter-culture movement.

Also what separates a "hyper-Catholic" from your common or garden variety Catholic? I suppose his resistance to the decisions of Vatican II for instance.
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Even his anti-industrial agrarianism was a nostalgia for "a well-tilled countryside" not "back to the Pleistocene."
Nostalgia is an important point, because there's so much anti-nostalgia too. The Gwaith-i-Mķrdain for instance are criticised (I would argue) for being "overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret." (Letter 154) He associates this with the Dśnedain's obsession with death and prolonging their lives. Denethor too was afflicted by a fatal nostalgia for the heyday of his stewardship. Personally I think Professor Tolkien's opinions were quite complex, which is something that interests me about him. He doesn't strike me as an ideological person who would adhere to an arbitrary set of other people's rules about a whole system of ideas but rather a man who made up his own mind on individual issues without fear that he was contradicting a (worldly) authority.
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Old 12-15-2014, 02:16 PM   #13
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And now for something completely different-

From the very same BBC/Guardian lefty-trendy axis, an article arguing that The Lord of the Rings is a reactionary political screed disguised as a fantasy, with whiffs of fascism:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/boo...itical-fantasy

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The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings aren’t fantasies because they feature dragons, elves and talking trees. They’re fantasies because they mythologise human history, ignoring the brutality and oppression that were part and parcel of a world ruled by men with swords. But we shouldn’t be surprised that the wish to return to a more conservative society, one where people knew their place is so popular.
Absolutely amazing what clueless twits actually get paid to write, on topics they know the square root of bugger-all about. Starting with the meaning of myth, as Tolkien used it.
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Old 12-15-2014, 02:24 PM   #14
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Absolutely amazing what clueless twits actually get paid to write, on topics they know the square root of bugger-all about. Starting with the meaning of myth, as Tolkien used it.
I've never put much stock in "analysis" pieces which purport to find inner meanings of books, especially when those works are by long-dead authors who were simply the product of their time.
Tolkien to me has always come across as remarkably open and "tolerant", and the popularity of his works across such a diverse pool of racial, political, and philosophical factors in his readers would seem to torpedo ideas like the Guardian rubbish.
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Old 12-15-2014, 07:18 PM   #15
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I was writing a whole post scrutinising that article but it's obviously not serious enough to be worth the time. I do think that there are criticisms of Professor Tolkien's work which are sustainable from a particular political point of view but that article seems to be much more interested in claiming the idea of the Red Book of Westmarch could represent a piece of unreliable propaganda; in which case, given that The Lord of the Rings is fiction, surely it would have to be knowingly unreliable and therefore satirical, and thus Professor Tolkien would actually support the article author's political views - but he doesn't seem to have reached that step in his analysis.

The thing is, any political ideology can make any text support its arguments if it's presented in the right way. It'd be pretty easy to write a similar article arguing for the merits of The Lord of the Rings as "liberal" or "progressive" or "Leftist" or whatever meaningless "us-and-them-ism" term is the opposite of what this person thinks The Lord of the Rings is. Then one might dig up Letter 83 or something and argue in refutation of that but ultimately I think that The Lord of the Rings as a text, and Professor Tolkien as a person, are just not the kinds of things which can be pigeonholed into a single, and current, understanding of a particular ideology.

I might actually add if one considers Letter 83 that at the end of the day for Professor Tolkien one of his main loyalties was his faith (obviously in this case it's rather a complicated issue), which I think ties back to the idea that The Lord of the Rings is much more a spiritual than a political text.
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