Of course, the comment of wise characters from the Lord of the Rings it would be relevant to every day and every moment, such is the power of JRR Tolkien’s writings.
While Tolkien vehemently rejected that his fantasy masterpiece depicted anything allegorical, it could be said that he has thrown himself forward to rank among the leading allegories of our time.
I recently took to The Lord of the rings Trilogy books once again, as my lack of television has prevented me from watching the movies for two and a half years, and I couldn’t help but measure everything I’ve seen since COVID-19 hit Tolkien’s circumstances. and its main protagonist Frodo Baggins.
In the edition that I read (which was not the edition that my brother and I had when we were young), a detailed foreword written by the author explained how the book came to be when he took up the pen in the growing years of turmoil he lived through. it would become World War II.
In it I found something that Gandalf the Gray could describe as “an encouraging thought”, a feeling that struck me again when I read the innocence in Frodo’s voice as he realizes that he must leave his home forever on a dangerous quest for the one that probably would. Never go back.
Today, with warnings of waning immunity, fourth wave, and more, I thought an interview with Frodo, Gandalf, and their creator could be a great lesson in changing times and our attitudes towards them.
For the future
The best stories are the best told, with all those wonderful literary cornerstones fitted together perfectly. They are the kind we learn in creative writing: can we see ourselves in the characters, do they have flaws, do they make the right or easy decision, can we relate to their difficulties?
Tolkien and his characters reflect, like it or not, how the times we live in tend to aspire to them, obscuring thoughts of the future or the past. COVID-19 has been compared to many great crises, sometimes fairly, sometimes comically, but we can learn from the great writer and his characters that the right way out of a crisis is to never believe that the current disaster is from somehow unique in its awe.
Tolkien became a man at perhaps the worst time in history to do so, around 1914, at the beginning of the First World War.
“In those days, the boys either joined in, or were publicly despised,” he wrote in a letter to his son Christopher later in his life. “It was an unpleasant indentation to be in a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.”
He was a junior officer in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most tragic events in human history, notable for the sheer emptiness of it all. He contracted trench fever and was sent back to England, after which almost all the young men in his battalion were killed. Talk about the fate of a Hobbit.
The Great War, described at the time as the “war to end all wars” was a singularity. Yet as incredibly disastrous as it turned out, twenty years later, a new generation was ready to do it all again.
“One has to be personally under the shadow of war to fully feel its oppression; but as the years go by, it seems that it is now often forgotten that being caught up in youth in 1914 was no less gruesome experience than being involved in 1939 and the following years, ”Tolkien writes in his foreword.
He hadn’t finished writing his iconic fantasy books after the outbreak of the second “great war” in 1939, and he hadn’t even finished the first part of the first book.
“In the spiral of darkness for the next five years, I discovered that history could not be completely abandoned and I moved on, mainly at night,” he recalled. His son was serving in the British Royal Air Force, a difficult situation for any father. Thank goodness he moved on, sir, thank goodness.
From Middle England to Middle Earth
Now we come to Frodo. Like the hobbit, many of us in March 2020 suddenly clouded our collective “Shires”. News from Italy, China, and a cruise ship off the coast of Washington had placed the Ring of Power on top of all our cloaks. A long and hard journey lay ahead.
Among Frodo’s seminal strongholds is one that shines during his encounter with the dark omens that Gandalf brings him: that he must leave the Shire behind, perhaps forever. Instead of giving up or refusing to get involved, or feeling like there may not be time for the future, he just keeps going, even though he admits he’s very scared.
“But this [the adventure] it would mean exile, a flight from danger to danger, dragging him behind me. And I suppose I must go alone, if I want to do that and save the Shire. But I feel very small, very uprooted and well, desperate ”.
“I’d like to save the Shire, if I could,” he tells Gandalf. “I feel that as long as the Shire remains behind, safe and comfortable, I will find wandering more bearable: I will know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot be there again.”
And without actually making many decisions, Frodo acts, reasoning that the world will continue to turn and that it will be greatly improved if he can throw the Ring into the Rift of Doom in Mordor and thereby save the Shire. This, his partner Samwise too notes after seeing Frodo in a moment of doubt: “A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine brighter.”
In another moment of weakness, Frodo wishes “none of this had happened,” something many of us have told ourselves for the past 18 months. Yet Gandalf responds, in one of the most wonderful things ever written in English, practically transposing Tolkien’s experience with the two World Wars and reminds Frodo:
“So do all those who live to see those times, but that is not up to them to decide. All they have to decide is what to do with the time they are given. “
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