Tolkien and agrarianism

Extollager

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Over at the thread on Dunsany selections for a college course, a discussion on Tolkien, gardening, etc. opened up. The discussion may continue here.

Below is a review of an excellent book on Tolkien and agrarianism. It appeared in the very fine Tolkien newsletter Beyond Bree, edited by Nancy Martsch and for which electronic as well as paper subscriptions are available -- I recommend it very warmly. It is now in its 31st year of publication.

Matthew T. Dickerson and Jonathan Evans. Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien. Afterword by Tom Shippey. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. 316 pages. ISBN 0-8131-2418-2.

Reviewed by Dale Nelson


[FONT=&quot]“I’m a lonely female (aged 22 and a Leo) hoping to hear from concerned folks – male or female of any age – interested in old furniture, music of all kinds, and rural living, and who have a genuine love for people, cats (I have a gray one named Gandalf), astrology, Tolkien, elves, fairies, gnomes, etc.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]--from a classified ad posted in The Mother Earth News #32, March 1975[/FONT].


We grin; but in fact, for a generation or more, readers have associated Tolkien’s fantasy with a serious concern for the earth. These readers are right. The explicit and implicit teaching of The Lord of the Rings and other Tolkienian works parallels the thought of writers such as Wendell Berry who advocate a sustainable agrarianism and the preservation of wilderness. Dickerson and Evans, like, I suspect, many other readers, came to “environmentalism” through reading Tolkien; they were not environmentalists trying to claim Tolkien for propaganda purposes.

Their epigraph is taken from Gandalf’s charge to the Captains of the West in The Return of the King: “…it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

Stewardship is thus the single word that best characterizes Tolkien’s understanding of man’s intended relationship to the earth. Stewardship, Dickerson and Evans believe, is a Christian principle: the universe is the Creator’s work, in which He delights; in Tolkien’s legendarium, the earth is entrusted to the care of “gods” (the Valar), Elves, and men, who should praise its Maker, enjoy its bounty, and pass it on to later generations in a wholesome condition, and who must not tyrannize over it or hoard its fruits. Humans (and the Valar and Elves) are ontologically superior to plants and animals. Elves and men, the Children of Ilúvatar, are “physical creatures who are a part of nature,” but also are “transcendent beings” who “can be assigned the moral calling of caring for nature.” Stewardship belongs to mankind and to Elves from their beginnings.

Possessiveness is the opposite of stewardship. It disregards “the creator’s prior, and higher, claim.” The Fall of the Elves, as Tolkien wrote, “comes about through the possessive attitude of Fëanor and his seven sons” towards the Silmarils, which contain, Dickerson and Evans remind us, the “Paradisal light of the Two Trees.” Tolkien does not retell the biblical account of the Fall of man, but he shows a secondary “Fall” in the Númenorean story. At first these most noble of Men are thankful for their island home. One of its names, Andor, in fact, means “Land of Gift”; they receive Númenor as the gift of the Valar, theirs to enjoy but also to “keep” in the sense of protecting and caring for it. Eventually, however, fascinated by wealth and power, the Númenoreans defile their realm, even burning Nimloth, a tree descended from Telperion, one of the Two Trees made by the Vala Yavanna. In both the Elvish and the Númenorean narratives, catastrophe falls upon the land as an inevitable consequence of unrepented greed. Because of the implied warnings about disaster that comes when the land is misused, these two accounts may be read as myths aligned with much modern secular environmentalism, which argues on the basis of what Dickerson and Evans call a “survivalist” ethic, in which we must take care of the earth or it will no longer support our species. But Dickerson and Evans show that there’s more to the matter than that for Tolkien, since he believed in a Christian stewardship ethic based on man’s (and, in the fantasy, the Elves’) unique position as made in the image of God and as answerable to Him. This explication concludes the first part, about 75 pages, of the book.


[FONT=&quot]Child: “Did you really once live on a commune?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Zonker: “Long ago. Back in the Shire.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]--Doonesbury comic strip, 20 Feb. 2004[/FONT]


The second part moves beyond the creation-and-fall focus of the first, to consider the characteristic ways in which Hobbits, Elves, and Ents relate to nature: by agriculture; by horticulture; and by “feraculture,” i.e. the preservation and protection of wilderness. These three ways of relating to nature are all “necessary for a complete ecology.”

In Tolkien’s conception, it is specifically modern agribusiness that has estranged Hobbits from men; while Hobbits love good tilled earth, they cannot bear “industrial farming” and “the needless use of complex machinery when simpler tools will do”! Readers of Wendell Berry will recall his advocacy of farming based largely on draft animals, his prophetic warnings about fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, and machines, and even his perhaps more quirky resolution to forgo the purchase of a computer. Farmers Maggot and Cotton appear to practice good husbandry and are also notable in the defense of the Shire when Saruman seeks to subjugate it to industrialism. Given that Bombadil is a near-embodiment of land and water, his praise of Maggot may be considered to be praise from nature itself. Incidentally, I learned from this book that “maggot” means “grub worm” or “earthworm” rather than housefly larva, and so is a well-chosen name for an exemplary member of an agrarian people.

Dickerson and Evans note that the Elves are not shown working the land. The authors don’t argue that this should be regarded as a failure on Tolkien’s part. Rather, they help readers to see that Tolkien emphasizes the Elves’ delighted, reverent contemplation of nature, such regard being a wholesome aspect of our relationship to the earth, but one that might have complicated his presentation of the mostly prosaic Hobbits if Tolkien had attributed it to them. Summer seems to linger in Elrond’s gardens at Rivendell. When Gimli and Legolas discuss changes that they hope Aragorn will bring to Minas Tirith, Legolas says, “They need more gardens.” Lothlórien, Lórien of the Flower, is as it were a garden where the Elves live in and amongst elanor, niphredil, and mallorn. It is a realm of nature unobtrusively tended till it reaches a summit of aesthetic perfection.

Finally, the Ents’ relationship to nature is preservationist, protective. The authors give an entire chapter to them. Ents are made because of Yavanna’s plea that there should be trees that could speak on behalf of rooted things, which cannot flee or defend themselves. The Ents are shepherds “who not only lead their flocks, figuratively, but also defend them against harm.” In passing the authors point out the affinity of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s 1879 poem “Binsey Poplars Felled” with Tolkien’s verses, “O rowan mine,” spoken by Bregalad the Ent (one thinks too of Tolkien’s mournful words in the Tree and Leaf Introductory Note).

Verlyn Flieger has wondered why Treebeard and the Ents are good, in avenging the Orcs’ spoliation of the Fangorn forest, while Old Man Willow and trees of the Old Forest who menace Hobbits (who as a people have also cut down trees) are clearly sinister. Dickerson and Evans suggest that “ultimately there is no discrepancy between the Old Forest and Fangorn.” Old Man Willow is evidently a tree who has, as Treebeard would put it, “gone bad,” but, the authors suggest, the willow’s animosity is connected not only with resentment of recent Hobbit actions, but with the long history of troubled relations between the trees and various races of Middle-earth, and with Sauron’s activity and that of his raiders in the Second Age. Not contenting themselves with exposition of environmental themes with reference to the late Third Age, Dickerson and Evans note the way the “denudation of the lands” by Númenóreans is associated with that kingdom’s downfall: those lordly men became, in fact, clear-cutters. Therefore resentful ill-will has become a settled thing in the Old Forest. Bombadil doesn’t condone Old Man Willow’s malice, but he doesn’t kill him; he just puts him to sleep again.

To return to the Ents: the two authors point out, late in the book, the interesting fact that the rift between the Ents and the Entwives was due to their disagreement about nature; the Ents are strict preservationists, but the Entwives were, like Elves and Hobbits, agriculturalists and horticulturists. Dickerson and Evans suggest that the tragedy here -- the estrangement of the Ent-folk and, indeed, the imminent extinction of the race of Ents – amounts to “a moving and troubling myth” that (presumably without Tolkien’s having intended it) warns readers today about a danger present among people who care about nature but yet have serious differences among themselves. Such tensions are sometimes addressed in Wendell Berry’s writings.

“Tolkien’s environmental vision… is both complex and comprehensive, and this is partly because the imaginary world he created is based on the pattern of our own.” Dickerson and Evans draw on Berry’s theory of “the necessity of margins” as they discuss “ecotones,” that is, places of transition from one ecosystem to another, e.g. from a wooded area to open grassland. They document Tolkien’s interest in such places and mention the importance of “liminality” – the discussion of literal and metaphorical thresholds – for criticism of authors as various as Chaucer and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Tolkien.

The final chapter of Part Two discusses Farmer Giles of Ham, “Leaf by Niggle,”and Smith of Wootton Major. Although these stories are not focused on environmental issues, the theme of stewardship is crucial in each one: Giles as steward of his fields and, later, small, agrarian kingdom, defending them from giant, dragon, and rapacious government; Niggle and Parish and the theme of stewardship of time and talent; Smith as steward of a Fäerie gift that he cannot hold forever, but must pass on to the next generation.

[FONT=&quot]“My love for nature is as strong as ever, but I don’t have to hole up in the woods or mountains to gaze in wonder at vegetation, flowers, birds, animals, and natural processes taking place all around me. I have the privilege right here in a subdivision in a city.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]-- Eleanor Agnew, author of Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back (Chicago: Dee, 2004). Agnew and her then-husband founded their Middle Earth [sic] Homestead in Troy, Maine, on 62 pine-wooded acres in the winter of 1975-76.[/FONT]

Part Three views Tolkien’s most extended accounts of ravaged environments, in Mordor, Isengard, and the Shire; considers the Hobbits’ response to the threat of such devastation in their homeland; and, while maintaining that The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory, deduces applications by which readers may deal with such threats to our world.

As I read Dickerson and Evans’ discussion of Mordor’s seemingly permanent ecological desolation, I wondered if Tolkien thought of that land’s ruin as the result not only of a military-industrial effort – the mining of ore for metals and the construction of forges with which to make weapons for the arming of the Orcs, etc. – but also as the result of the Dark Lord’s harnessing the energies beneath the earth’s crust to forge the Ring. That is, was Orodruin indeed an active volcano before Sauron came to the mountain in the Second Age? If Sauron himself caused the mountain to erupt, has his action somehow left it, throughout the centuries, a “wound” in the earth that never truly heals, but continues intermittently to exude lava and noxious, sterilizing gases? I am not certain that Tolkien knew that cold volcanic flows can eventually weather into highly fertile soil. We may wonder, though: has the eruption of Mt. Doom at the climax of The Return of the King “spent” the volcano, such that with time this land may heal and become clothed with green?

Beholding Mordor, Frodo and Sam do not know how Sauron can feed his great armies. One might wonder for a moment who is the source of the information supplied by the narrator at this point, that Sauron has “slave-worked fields away south [beyond] the mines and forges.” Against the unsustainable economy thus implied, Dickerson and Evans cite Wendell Berry’s “Conservation and Local Economy,” which includes theses with which Hobbits would agree:

“II.Land cannot be properly cared for by people who do not know it intimately, who do not
know how to care for it, who are not strongly motivated to care for it, and who cannot afford to
to care for it.
“IV.People are motivated to care for land to the extent that their interest in it is direct,
dependable, and permanent.
“VII.A nation will destroy its land and therefore itself if it does not foster in every possible way the sort of thrifty, prosperous, permanent rural households and communities that have the desires, the skills, and the means to care properly for the land they are using.”

But Sauron “is a model of corporate [distant, impersonal, exploitative] landownership,” the authors observe. Presumably he has “no choice” but to wage wars for resources to feed his slaves, since land under his and their control is soon stripped of its “natural resources” and becomes incapable of supporting anything more than brambles. In a passage cited by the authors, Kathryn Crabbe noticed that Tolkien’s most powerful images of death are of ravaged lands (Isengard as well as Mordor); Tolkien rarely describes corpses.

Dickerson and Evans connect Saruman of Isengard’s crafty words (“Knowledge, Rule, Order”) with the rhetoric of advocates of a “global economy” that asserts the anachronism of (the remnants of) agrarian life. Saruman, like Sauron, has “acres tilled by … slaves.” And the Shire under his sway is an export economy in which the land is misused, and food is a cash crop, its value measured by quantity and profits, that enhances the wealth of a few (in this case, Lotho “Pimple,” with Saruman as “Sharkey” in the background) while the food producers may even go hungry and live in shacks. “‘Pimple’s idea was to grind more and faster,’” a Hobbit says. Sadly, many of the Hobbits are implicated in the thoroughgoing violation of the former agrarianism that occurs during this time.

In response to the apathy or complacency and, in some cases, addiction to comfort that allows, or wants, such violations to happen, people must be roused. Tolkien shows us several instances in which inertia must be overcome; several of his heroes are not ready-made and standing by, when the critical moment has arrived, but have to be prompted to act. The rousing of King Théoden is dramatic, but the threat specifically to the health of soil and water is not emphasized in his case. But this threat is emphasized in the rousing of Treebeard and the Ents, and of the Shire-Hobbits. “Costly as it may be to take action, it is far costlier to do nothing.” Food, water, one’s own life, are threatened. Nature possesses a goodness, though, that transcends usefulness to us, as important as that is. To that goodness a “selfless love” is the appropriate corollary. In Tolkien’s view, stewardship is more than a matter of protecting fertile soil and clean water for the use of present and future generations. A stewardly way of life unites people with one another as well as with nature, as, for example, when the Hobbits “naturally” organize their celebration of the aged Bilbo’s birthday around the Party Tree. Complacency doesn’t celebrate the good earth, but takes it for granted; so the complacent (or the intimidated) must be roused -- even if only, from time to time, to make preparations for a community event, such as a birthday party (and to clean up afterwards).


I approved of Dickerson and Evans’ decision to take a few final pages to step beyond the (very readable) scholarly mode of their book in order to suggest practical applications. Eating is a practical issue if there ever was one. I don’t know if they realize this, but in fact Tolkien seems to have been inspiring “natural food” and “health-food” enterprises for many years; I still have the wrapper for a home-made “Hob-Bit” treat from “Wilderland Kitchens” in southern Oregon, bought at a roadside farmers’ market. Anyway, the authors cite Wendell Berry’s “The Pleasures of Eating” for seven principles that, they suggest, only a tad whimsically, boil down to the counsel: “Eat like a Hobbit.” Here are those principles:

(1)Participate in food production to the extent that you can; (2) prepare your own food; (3) know where your food comes from and buy food produced close to where you live; (4) deal directly with local farmers, gardeners, or orchardists when possible; (5) learn as much as possible about how industrial food production really works [I recommend Matthew Scully’s Dominion]; (6) learn about the best farming and gardening practices; (7) learn about the life histories of food species.

Berry urges that we practice those seven principles not as a tiresome duty but as a way of extending our pleasure in our eating. He says, too: “Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.” Berry, as quoted by Dickerson and Evans, has specified the “lack of a general culture of land stewardship” as a basic cause of our historical and contemporary misuse of the earth. However, especially when read in youth, Tolkien’s writings work on readers’ imaginations and feelings in such a way that those readers may be disposed to think carefully and soundly about our responsibilities -- and not simply in isolation, since Tolkien emphasizes a conciliar approach: for example, the discussions at Rivendell, before the Fellowship sets out; and the Entmoot. Tolkien’s wisest characters are not only authoritative speakers, but good listeners and good discussion moderators.

Do get your libraries to buy this book!
 

woodsman

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Great stuff - going to see if I can get my paws on a copy.

I'm always a little bit confused by Bombadil. I haven't read too much Tolkien and not undertaken any great analysis, is he the representation of nature? He always seemed to be a little outside everything. I've heard theories that he was Tolkien himself, in his own world as it were. Perhaps somebody can be so kind as the shed a little light.

I think the thing I really took from his work was the representation of the Shire as a place of peace and plenty. that existed without money or real conflict or so many of our problems today. It made me wonder if a lot of issues that we struggle with are constructs of our society. have we moved too far away from the simpler things in life. I see that ambition has resulted in many great advances in the world and yet more often than not it seems to lead to conflict sooner rather than later. The idea that Tolkien puts forward of a place where people don't seem to 'go' anywhere and the biggest concerns are who to marry and how to grow a bigger turnip, where pleasure can be found in a great glass of ale or pipe of 'weed'. That was a place I wanted to be a part of.

I'd agree with Berry's seven principles. Enjoying and appreciating food is something that's always been of great importance to me. It's partly why I have a severe beef with all the fast food burger chains - why must we be in such a rush through life to eat such mediocre food? I find it a little odd that people don't cook 'properly' because they don't have time and yet far too often the time they don't 'have' is spent in front of the TV. I suppose having a passion for food means that spending hours in the kitchen is more enjoyable for me :D

Something else I'd be interested in hearing more of is the politics/governance of the Shire and its economics...

I'd have to think a bit more and possibly re-visit Tolkien to comment on some of the other analogies. If possible though, I'd be interested in broadening the thread a little and hearing of other fantasy that emphasises these principles/concerns and environmental ethics in general.
 

Extollager

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Woodsman wrote, "I'd be interested in broadening the thread a little and hearing of other fantasy that emphasises these principles/concerns and environmental ethics in general."


I hope we can work up a good exploration of Tolkien specifically here, but I also like your idea of opening it up. Do you know Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home? I don't know this book (or the cassette tape that came with it!), but I believe she was trying to imagine a society that included these principles.


Here's something from the online Anamnesis Journal on Tolkien's friend C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength that deals with the issue of household, which I think is basic to these agrarian/"environmental" topic.

The St. Anne’s Household in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

In his space trilogy comprised of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis first orients the reader towards the Permanent Things/Natural Law/the Tao, then satirizes the modernity that campaigns against them. In the first two books, Ransom, a man from Earth, sojourns among unfallen, embodied, rational beings: the three species of ancient Mars, and the first woman of young Venus. Ransom’s resulting spiritual education compels him to see his own and mankind’s fallenness. The ultimate remedy is grace, but culture informed by Natural Law resists the downward spiral and makes decency possible. Having learned these things and having been freed from fearfulness, Ransom’s vocation becomes that of household head at St. Anne’s, a small fellowship on Earth, though he himself is a “man under authority.” In That Hideous Strength (1945), C.S. Lewis focuses on several other characters more than he does on Ransom. In the paragraphs that follow, I will elaborate upon how this last novel of the space trilogy continues Lewis’s satire against inhumane elements of modernity, as well as his presentation of the humane alternatives.

Opposed to the St. Anne’s household and genuine human interests is the satirically presented National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (NICE) and its agenda, which includes the remaking of humanity by means of social and genetic engineering. It is materialistic and utopian.

Traditional civilization, represented by the handful of people gathered at St. Anne’s, explains the lesser by the greater (e.g., the phenomenal by the immaterial, the temporal by the eternal), while NICE, as an extrapolation of modernity, “explains” a thing by what is less meaningful and less conscious than itself (so, e.g., love is explained away as biology). Modernity is reductive while traditional thought is typological. When a sociologist, Mark Studdock, is recruited by NICE, he undergoes training that is intended to destroy the sentiments and associations that could have humanized him and made him receptive to the meaning of creation, and to replace them with NICE’s own commitments. When Mark’s wife, Jane, finds sanctuary at St. Anne’s, she is educated in a way that nourishes her as a human being.

Early on, Jane’s education includes her choice of books grounded in wholesome imagination, such as George MacDonald’s children’s tales, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Readers of Damascene Christensen’s biography of the Orthodox monk Seraphim Rose will recall that messed-up kids visiting the remote skete in northern California attended the Liturgy but also watched old Dickens movies. Mark’s training involves scrutiny of surrealistic art (e.g. a blasphemous Last Supper painting), participating in “transgressive” performance art, etc. “The world’s best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today’s popular culture cripples and deforms the soul…..[T]he contemporary upbringing in schools emphasizes crudity, coldness, and inability to judge what is better and what is worse – total relativity, which only confuses a person and helps fit him into the world of apostasy” (Seraphim Rose, quoted in Christensen’s Not of This World [1993]).

The St. Anne’s household is usually quiet, and wholesome solitude is available. This is not surprising to those who know Lewis’s canon, for he disliked the typical busybody educator/trainer “whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude exists, [so that if] an Augustine, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home… existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be leveled against it. … We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship” (from Lewis’s essay “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory).

There is plenty of good talk at St. Anne’s. Jane is a doctoral student and is surprised to find that people outside her former milieu can be funny, sweet, shrewd, helpful, and sound-minded. Conversation may be pastoral and private, as when Jane and Ransom discuss her troubled marriage, or genial and amusing kitchen-talk. Always it is courteous. “Rudeness and disrespect are forms of iconoclasm, an assault upon God’s image in our fellow human beings” (“Christian Courtesy: Grace-Filled Manners,” in Doxa: A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church Summer 2003). Reading, writing, and speaking at St. Anne’s, whether merry or solemn, reflect the divine origin of language.

In our day many ingenious theories have been put forth as to the origin of language. But Dr. Pusey [an Oxford University professor of Hebrew] believed that the only one which does justice to what it is in itself and to its place in nature as a characteristic of man is the belief that it is an original gift of God; the counterpart of that other and greater gift of His, a self-questioning and immortal soul. Language is the life of the human soul, projected into the world of sound; it exhibits in all their strength and delicacy the processes by which the soul takes account of what passes without and within itself; in it may be studied the minute anatomy of the soul’s life – that inner world in which thought takes shape and conscience speaks, and the eternal issues are raised and developed to their final form. Therefore Dr. Pusey looked upon language with the deepest interest and reverence; he handled it as a sacred thing which could not be examined or guarded or employed too carefully; he thought no trouble too great in order to ascertain and express its exact shades of meaning…. (H. P. Liddon, 1884, in an essay on Edward Bouverie Pusey)

St. Anne’s is a household. There are no children there yet, but there will be; Camilla Denniston is pregnant. The members of the community raise some of their own food in gardens, a greenhouse, and a piggery. Everyone shares in the labor. They seem to enjoy it. The St. Anne’s fellowship is hospitable. Jane has found refuge there; so has Ivy Maggs, whose husband has been imprisoned for petty theft, and an elderly couple, the Dimbles. Indeed, a mistreated bear now has a home at St. Anne’s.

The Dimbles’ beloved village is victim of a “clearance” project of NICE. Fortunately, however, St. Anne's survives as a fine old house embodying, in its small way, the kind of place John Senior wrote about in The Restoration of Christian Culture:

There are still some [European] villages left where you can see direct, visible proof that the human race can live in harmony with nature on a human scale, decently in ‘glad poverty,’ not in destitution but with a snug, hard-working frugality …. [T]here is no inevitability in the suicide of civilization. If America had been governed by its farmers and craftsmen supplying their real needs and nothing more, as Jefferson hoped, not catering to lust and the agitated sloth which masquerades as lust, [and had been] obedient to the Christian religion and the rough philosophy of frontier common sense, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be as beautiful as Assisi, Chartres and Salamanca.


In That Hideous Strength, Lewis shows the recovery and renewal of home, coming about in the only way it generally can, one household at a time.

St. Anne’s is located in a relatively unspoiled part of England. Descriptive passages in the novel remind readers of Lewis’s loving accounts of rural walking tours in his published letters. The beautiful is abundant in nature, whether incarnated as little flowers and tiny insects like mobile jewels or as large phenomena such as rainbows and waterfalls. In nature, the ugly is generally restricted to the small (e.g., ticks) or is mixed with some delightful quality (e.g., the grotesque humor of a toad's complacent countenance) or is tucked away in darkness (e.g., the grotesque angler fish). Rotting dead animals are ugly, but in a natural setting they are usually hoovered clean by scavengers or hustled off to burrows, etc. The novel reminds us also of the beauty above us, with references to the constellation Orion, the star Sirius, etc. The Church Father Theodoret said that man stands erect, enabling him to observe the heavens. If one lives far enough from light pollution that one can observe it, one never wearies of the celestial display, as one would if the stars were displayed according to an obvious pattern. Rather, one perceives more of the night sky’s beauty as one learns the constellations and (of varying colors!) the stars and planets. Such watching of the sky nourishes the soul.

In contrast, one of the ways Mark's NICE trainers try to degrade him spiritually is by snaring his attention with two patterns of dots, one painted on the ceiling, one painted on a tabletop. He can't help but look for correspondence, but the NICE designs cunningly tease and frustrate this effort. With respect to St. Anne’s, however, almost everyone helps to keep the place clean and pleasant. In this way, and in its proper register, the household reflects the good order of the heavens.

At NICE, Mark is frustrated repeatedly as he tries to allay his anxieties by talking with his supervisors and trainers and they respond with evasions, jargon, and intimidation. He feels more and more that he is trapped.

But Jane is more and more free because of her life at St. Anne’s. The St. Anne’s household will appeal to the imaginations of traditionally minded readers today, and reading That Hideous Strength is something of an education in itself. And yes, there’s hope for Mark by the end of the novel.
 

Elflock

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'There are still some [European] villages left where you can see direct, visible proof that the human race can live in harmony with nature on a human scale, decently in ‘glad poverty,’ not in destitution but with a snug, hard-working frugality …. [T]here is no inevitability in the suicide of civilization. If America had been governed by its farmers and craftsmen supplying their real needs and nothing more, as Jefferson hoped, not catering to lust and the agitated sloth which masquerades as lust, [and had been] obedient to the Christian religion and the rough philosophy of frontier common sense, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be as beautiful as Assisi, Chartres and Salamanca.'

What a load of absolute rubbish...'glad poverty' indeed...give me strength.
 

Extollager

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Elflock, Senior uses "glad poverty" in apposition to "snug, hard-working frugality." Is "snug, hard-working frugality" inevitably incompatible with cheerfulness? I don't think so. One may think of innumerable people who, having read Tolkien (or Thoreau), wanted to try the agrarian way of life for shorter or longer periods and really benefited from it.

I would refer you (and others checking out this thread) to Eric Brende's book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. Don't assume without having read it that you know what the author's take on technology is. The author and his wife went to live among an Amish or Mennonite group (protecting their privacy, he refers to them as Minimites) and loved it, but it sure was hard work. The experience of many people is that "snug, hard-working frugality" is possible and that it may indeed promote happiness much better than the typical profligate way of life in America and elsewhere. In other words, they are not only living more ethically, they are happier. Why not read Brende and come back with your thoughts on the book?

This is relevant to the Tolkien and agrarianism thread because an Amish/Mennonite way of life is one Primary World culture that can be observed and learned about and that is, in some respects, close to a way of life like that of the hobbits, etc.

I hope that our discussions here at "Tolkien and Agrarianism" can range fairly widely but keep coming back to a focus on Tolkien and agrarianism.


As something that broadens the context a bit, I would like to offer a set of theses that, I think, Tolkien would have endorsed for the most part. Perhaps people would like to discuss (a) whether their own reading of Tolkien confirms my opinion, and (b) the theses in their own right.

The statement is a summary of what was known for a few years as "Crunchy Conservatism." It is associated with Rod Dreher, who was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and now (I believe) works for the Templeton Foundation's Big Questions Online. I believe that all of the theses below, and perhaps especially #5, with the possible exception of the last two, would be pretty easy to relate to Tolkien's fiction.

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.


2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.


3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.


4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.


5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.


6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.


7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.


8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.


9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”
 
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Elflock

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Well,for a start,you are absolutely correct about this whole idea permeating Tolkien's work. Especially TLOTR...and this is exactly what Moorcock talks about in his criticism of it. And about which I totally agree with him 100% I'm afraid.
Without getting into too much of a political debate I will just state that I am on the other side of the fence from anyone who is remotely conservative!
Of course it's possible to go and live in the bush frugally and have a happy life...or a strange religious community like you describe etc...but this whole bourguoise/christian idea of glad poverty/snug hard-working frugality etc is just so grating on my nerves! It's the old 'everybody in their right place' mentality...look at the character of Sam Gamgee,that's the obvious example in TLORT,but the whole book is full of this stuff...it's all,'Mr. Frodo this and Mr. Frodo that'...it makes me ill (and the movie version makes this aspect even more sickening) The idea that the guy who cleans the toilets at the rich businessman's club and gets paid $10 an hour should be 'happy to have a job' is what this is all about. The problem is that often the toilet cleaners believe this themselves,thus this ridiculous notion of 'glad poverty'. Are the people of the world so stupid that they are happy that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? It seems so in a lot of cases,especially here in Australia! I think anyone who thinks poverty is fun should go and live in an Aboriginal community in outback Northern Territory for a month. Then they would change. (I know that's not he means!...but still...) Of course reading stuff like TLORT gives people a nice warm fuzzy feeling which is some sort of weird nostalgic longing for some strange never-existant past. This is what Moorcock is talking about and so many Tolkien fans (keep in mind that word is short for fanatics,right?) just seem to find so disturbing or something,they hate anyone saying anything against their hero. On that Tolkien thread on this forum,I can't remember seeing many posts by anyone who DIDN'T like Tolkien. And when I quoted a very valid line from Moorcock I got a condescending reply from one of the people from this forum along the lines of,'oh we've already discussed the boring old Moorcock vs Tolkien non event many times on this forum'...as if the argument had no value whatsoever. And it seems I should have read every post in every thread before daring to say anything about Mr Tolkien...hello? Why does it upset them I wonder? They also hate anyone saying anything remotely critical of other unreadable rubbish like Lovecraft! Isn't that what a forum like this is supposed to be for? I think MM's criticism is 100% valid and correct and it's just really funny,Moorcock's description of TLOTR as 'Epic Pooh' sums the whole book up in one sentence I think. I can't find my copy of 'Wizardry and Wild Romance' to quote what I wanted to,but if you have it,just read the chapter on Tolkien,he says exactly what I think about Tolkien and Agrarianism etc there.
;)
 

Extollager

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Thank you, Elflock! If this thread is made up of nothing but remarks from like-minded people, we might not get very far.
 

Elflock

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Well,this is what we need,a bit of dissenting opinion occasionally! ;)
And the ability (which you have) of accepting it in the spirit it's made...without being in some way offended by it or something! When I was young I was a bit like this with my music 'heroes' etc...you know,at different times,Stones,Bowie,The Damned etc etc. I can remember sort of passionately defending them if people said they hated it or whatever...
But all these cultural heroes,Tolkien,Jagger,Lady Ga Ga etc are all just people like us...with a lot of money. Ok,they got the money because they did something that people like...I understand that. But I don't see why anyone should be upset or get annoyed with someone who doesn't like their work,you know?
;)
 

woodsman

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I'm not actually a huge fan of Tolkien myself... But I do have a deep love of the Shire.

I would agree that Glad poverty is very much an outsiders viewpoint. interesting that you mention Australia; would Indigenous people's be happier if the West had never stumbled upon them? A fair number of those I've spoken to seem to think so even though they would - objectively (in the way the West measures wealth) be probably poorer. I think the NT situation (making a massive stereotype I'm afraid) shows that throwing money at something never really helps anyone. Of course this is then used as an excuse to give no monetary support whatever. Far too many people seem to only see the black&white and most often, I think, we need something in between.

To return to Tolkein, I think the Shire brings up an interesting question on what wealth is. Whilst the hobbits are not rolling in gold the relative value of high quality foodstuffs could be argued to give them some comparative wealth. They appear to have time to do as they wish and wasn't that what Marx was getting at. I'm not really sure how the economics of the Shire work or the rest of middle earth either for that matter.

None of this probably made any sense at all.

The documentary Mine your own business puts a lot of this discussion into perspective and generally I'd agree that 'glad poverty' is a dream of the middle class.
 

HareBrain

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I'm not really sure how the economics of the Shire work or the rest of middle earth either for that matter.
A state of ignorance warmly embraced by Peter Jackson, who showed Minas Tirith occupying a stretch of grassy moorland with no means of food production for miles.:rolleyes:

Much as I love Tolkien, I don't think he was very interested in the dynamics of population change and resources. (Though at least he surrounded Gondor's main city with farmland.)
 

Elflock

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Btw when MM says 'Epic Pooh',he's talking about Winnie. (why was he called 'The Pooh' anyway? I can't remember...is that what they call bears over there or something?) ;) Was Winnie even a bear?
 

HareBrain

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Btw when MM says 'Epic Pooh',he's talking about Winnie.
Thanks for that, Elflock. I hadn't thought of any other interpretation before, but now all I can see is Michael Moorcock the morning after an enormous curry. Where's the brain-scourer?
 

Toby Frost

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Moorcock probably had a bad enough time at school without bringing pooh into the equation. Anyhow...

I think it's important to distinguish between stewardship of the countryside, which is in theory fine, and stewardship of the people (because they can't be trusted to rule themselves), which is less fine. Certainly in the past landowners and tories haven't distinguished very much.

Moorcock, in Epic Pooh, does rather reinforce the idea that country = right wing, town = left wing, which I think is a bit false. Personally I think it is possible to see Tolkien's nostalgia for the countryside, which is fair enough if a bit mushy at times, seperately from his political views. That said, the problem for me is that it's all very well wishing that life was simpler and we had less machines, but apart from the broke (who would really like more machines) and a few enthusiasts, who would give them up? Having stated that the mechanisms of Sauron are Pure Evil, Tolkien doesn't say what should be done with them. Can they be dispelled, like a curse?

(Epic Pooh is here, by the way: http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=953)
 

Extollager

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Question: The hobbits have an agrarian way of life. Wealth is based on property and property is used largely for farming. Frodo's wealth is based on his inheritance from Bilbo. Bilbo was comfortably well off before he brought back dragon-wealth. He doesn't seem to have been a landlord with feudal tenants; it isn't possible so far as I know to say what his wealth was based on. And it was a children's book, after all.

Sam is a servant. We may take it that other property owners have servants too. There is a marked class difference that is evident in speech, and likely enough in clothing.

Tolkien writes with obvious fondness of the hobbits' agrarian way of life.

Questions: Is there anything in what he writes that implies that a class system was necessary for or inherent in the hobbits' agrarian way of life? Or could we, on Tolkienian terms, imagine a hobbit-like agrarian society that did not have these marked social distinctions?

Also: why and how does Samwise become the mayor of the Shire?
 

Elflock

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Thanks for that, Elflock. I hadn't thought of any other interpretation before, but now all I can see is Michael Moorcock the morning after an enormous curry. Where's the brain-scourer?
Haha,well I thought I better just clarify that for people who haven't read 'Wizardry & Wild Romance'.
 

Elflock

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I'm not actually a huge fan of Tolkien myself... But I do have a deep love of the Shire.

I would agree that Glad poverty is very much an outsiders viewpoint. interesting that you mention Australia; would Indigenous people's be happier if the West had never stumbled upon them? A fair number of those I've spoken to seem to think so even though they would - objectively (in the way the West measures wealth) be probably poorer. I think the NT situation (making a massive stereotype I'm afraid) shows that throwing money at something never really helps anyone. Of course this is then used as an excuse to give no monetary support whatever. Far too many people seem to only see the black&white and most often, I think, we need something in between.

To return to Tolkein, I think the Shire brings up an interesting question on what wealth is. Whilst the hobbits are not rolling in gold the relative value of high quality foodstuffs could be argued to give them some comparative wealth. They appear to have time to do as they wish and wasn't that what Marx was getting at. I'm not really sure how the economics of the Shire work or the rest of middle earth either for that matter.

None of this probably made any sense at all.

The documentary Mine your own business puts a lot of this discussion into perspective and generally I'd agree that 'glad poverty' is a dream of the middle class.
Don't worry,it makes perfect sense. Obviously I can't speak for Indigenous Australians but yes,you would have to think that in one way they would obviously be happier if we never came here...of course they bloody would! BUT...now we've imposed the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism on them,and everybody here is basically being told every day by the popular media that they are losers if they don't have a Hollywood lifestyle,a new car a huge $5000 tv and a mansion to live in. Which of course will never happen for most of the population,let alone the indigenous population. Well,this is what is wrong with the world I reckon! It's about RELATIVE poverty...like,within societies. The gap between 'haves' and 'have-nots' is the problem and it's definitely getting worse! I agree with Kent Brockman's (Simpsons) famous line,'Democracy simply doesn't work'.
I don't have any ideas for a better system,except maybe a benevolent alien overlord or something like that would be better. What about Lur of Omicron Persei 8? No,not benevolent enough,but he's cute.
He's even got his own FB page...

http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDsQFjAC&url=http://www.facebook.com/pages/lur-ruler-of-omicron-persei-8/286043192531&rct=j&q=lir of omicron&ei=mpVETvq5GsK4rAfA0NHkAw&usg=AFQjCNFpfz6tIi7j4dBXYXiR15Uu-V7uYw&cad=rja
;)
 

Extollager

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That "glad poverty" phrase raised some hackles.

But I don't think Senior was referring to two kinds of poverty that come to mind when many of us see or hear the word.

1.He himself makes it clear that he was not referring to indigence, destitution. Be fair to the man!

2.This point will bring us back closer to Tolkien. In modern, mechanized societies (US, Europe, Australia, and most of the rest of the world any more) it takes money to live "well," money amounts well above what in theory would provide for decent food, clothing, etc., because so much that we buy is evidently intended by manufacturers not to wear well. We buy household goods, tools, things to wear, and much more, that soon look shabby even if they can still do what they are supposed to do, or indeed simply don't do those things at all. Many ofthese things cannot be repaired. And so those who can or who have credit buy replacements, and others have stuff that looks like junk and may be junk. But I don't think this is real poverty. It is something that didn't exist till modern times and the establishment of mass production of almost everything that people buy. I don't find that a word for this state of things is coming to mind. But I don't think "poverty" is the right word. It's not that people don't have money to buy things; it's that so much of what is offered for sale should not be bought at all. But often there is little choice.

Now one of my complaints as a conservative (but I am not a "right winger") is that government tends to serve the interests of the big businesses that produce this stuff. It "helps the economy" if, instead of being thrifty/frugal, people are buying new stuff (junk). I suppose Bush and Obama both wish they could find a way so that people could buy things even while they are asleep -- for the sake of "the economy."

But that economy, in many ways, stinks.

What's a way out? Well, here's where a significant number of kind of fringe-y people find common ground. They might be hard left anarchists, they might be Catholic homeschoolers, they might be superannuated hippies, they might be Tolkien freaks. But they are drawn to the idea of an alternative economy. It would not be so profoundly dependent on oil, transportation, and sheer volume of buying as the mainstream model. It would make "sacrifices." People in this economy would drive less. They would do with some things and do without more things. They would tend to be interested in learning skills to make their own and to make do, and that could mean they will have less time for watching TV. They will probably find themselves attracted to making more of their own entertainment, e.g. by making music and not just buying the new Lady Gaga. They will not go into huge debt to buy a McMansion but will perhaps buy a small old house with a yard for a garden. In short, they will be living more like hobbits.

I frankly do not find this sort of thing simply silly.

Most such people will not have the calling or the cash actually to buy a farm and really make a go of it. But I wish government were friendlier to people who would like to try, though, and was less prone to actions such as, say, the subsidy of the ethanol industry, in which farmland is used in some desperate effort to keep our enormously wasteful Happy Motoring society on the road. (See the writings of James Howard Kunstler, though I wish he would tone down the language.)

We face real problems, whether climate change or something else, that we may be able to do little about, but I believe that much good could be done if lots of people opted out of the mainstream economy to a degree and lived a little more like hobbits.
 
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