Why Are We Waiting for a Hobbit?
by Mike Meyer
The story of the ring was allegory and failed to tell us that Mordor is not a distant land of darkness and evil created with stolen power from the past but appears around us and consumes our own world. The mesmerizing popularity of the fantasy tales of great evil and a single, brave agent of good are not just stories but can be seen as a presaging the collapse of human civilization in the 21st century.
This is not new. From H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1898 that frightened America as a radio drama in 1938, to the nuclear post apocalyptic On the Beach of 1957 by Nevil Shute, the genre has become omnipresent in ever more elaborate forms. The end is upon us in so many ways that we cannot leave it alone.
No, not that kind of reality. The literary forms must build tension, drama, and then bring resolution. This must be in the form of human emotion and illustrate human, or Hobbit, abilities and virtues. The reality is far darker and the outcome is not yet written.
In fact we must decide to write the outcome knowing that the decision to do that does not, in any way, guarantee our desperately hoped for ending. We are not simply living a movie based on the Lord of the Rings. The wall between our stories and our reality is far thinner than we have allowed ourselves to believe.
We have been slowly coming to understand that truth despite several centuries of denial. This is a difficult change and we are learning it the hard way. It isn’t simple and it is not easy. In fact this is a direct result of our most sophisticated science revealing the quantum mechanical universe that has been emerging for just over one hundred years.
No, we can’t just rewrite reality with positive thoughts and magic is still not real no matter how much we want it to be. This is not a Harry Potter wizard lesson with the answer only an invisible door away.
But all of these ubiquitous stories share an intense personal and cultural concern with not knowing the rules of our universe because the rules have changed and new rules need to be learned. Initially this is an awareness of tremendous potential with the answers to our largest problems but we just don’t know how to make it work.
We see this in our post industrial societies with constant access to planetary networking and direct connections to vast stores of knowledge but somehow the evil is suddenly everywhere and we don’t know why. Almost all of our entertainment is focused on this apocryphal dilemma and the tension builds as we know the time of darkness is now very close.
This is the shared awareness of the interconnection between ourselves, all things, all life, our planet, and a universe that is filled with spooky action at a distance. Our reality is a product of all these things and we are being forced to understand this in order to survive the challenges we face, and must solve, or die.
Unfortunately this will not be solved by one brave character succeeding in returning a magic ring. The stories are only parables and metaphors that we use to help us understand new situations that threaten us. Our minds and imaginations are part of it all but we must learn the new rules to survive.
This is particularly true of the United States as the failing center of the modern world. The irony of the US becoming like the tower of Mordor and the domain of resurgent evil as its population struggles with that realization is so exact it is hard to avoid. The mindless minions of a reality TV Sauron, screaming threats while stumbling into a self made hell, should be satire. So why is it becoming real?
Because a large enough portion of the population can’t, yet, see fantasy as metaphor and cannot escape childhood delusion. Their stories are reality and complexity is beyond them but only with a increasingly violent struggle to suppress the realization of what that really means.
It is part of the new reality that we are all becoming able to see that an intense reaction by a minority is able to force their delusion on all of us. The universe of which we are a part is not made up of separate, unaware pieces and is not limited to individual consciousness.
This dangerous situation is actually a proof of the nature of what we perceive as our new reality. We cannot randomly deny components of our shared reality whether right or wrong without conscious and careful planning. The old world of our individual desires in complete isolation from everything of which we are a part is gone.
In many ways this is the total focus on self of early childhood. We have succeeded until now pursuing our own desires and have even convinced ourselves that this is valid. The result has been disastrous for our planet, its biosphere, and our species. We know that but maturity does not come to everyone at once and some never make it. We need to face this and act on that understanding.
I see this in the frame of Lord of the Rings as it the base archetype that predicted what we are experiencing but the full reality of this is the dominance of replicas as our chosen story. We read and watch almost nothing else but ‘the war against great evil’ or apocalyptic narratives of struggle and survival.
Tolkien created this form of heroic fantasy as a struggle against magical and fundamentally evil powers. This was produced in direct reaction to the horrors of World War II but more exactly as a result of the near planetary collapse of mechanical warfare and 20th century authoritarianism based on Tolkien’s own experience in WWI.
This is not an essay on Lord of the Rings or the inherently traditionalist and paternalistic social structure with mythic reworking that was the product of Victorian England. An strongly critical discussion of this was done in 1987 by the author Michael Moorcock in an essay called Epic Pooh.
My concern is with the broad focus of a stories built on elements of mythology, fantasy, science fiction, and escapist literature as recognition of archetypal dangers beyond our abilities to rationally express.
We are caught in a classic dilemma with only limited understanding bounded by our inability and refusal to break from our past even as the world of that past collapses around us threatening all life. The first part of this challenge is recognizing the evil that is threatening us and overcoming the lure of that evil.
This is the power that is offered to make us invisible but at a terrible cost. None of it is real and it is the ancient delusion of sacrificing our freedom to a powerful magician who promises us our share of great loot. We should know this by now but the history has been lost for many.
The fact that we have achieved the levels of education that we have means that the history is not lost for the majority. Unfortunately we all bare the responsibility for those that never learned or have been tricked into forgetting the lessons. There are too many of them and they are pulling us into the past because we cannot abandon them. That level of brutality has been left behind and we desperately want to avoid returning what the people without the needed history are so willing to accept. They show us that ugly world everyday.
There is a major problem with our stories of good against great evil. We always see this as the hero who saves us. Whether an incredible brave hobbit with one master wizard or a small team of heroes, we have been taught to wait and watch for that hero. That absolves us from having to act on our own.
But that will no longer work. We need a new story about collaboration and cooperation. We could save a tribe with a hero or two but not a planet with 8 billion people and billions of other beings. We are repeating the same old story when we need to make major changes to our tradition and if we don’t we will not survive.
It’s time to get beyond Tolkien.