11 December 2001 myths and realities


Sunny afternoon in the mildest winter I recall. But cold. No wind, third pond like a mirror with waves so slight that I could detect them only as minute distortions in the reflected image of the surrounding trees - and the tiny image of an aeroplane, bright white in the sunlight against a blue sky ...at first I saw it as the reflection of a sea gull.

The first things I see here in a newspaper are images and words about the film of The Lord of the Rings (which opened yesterday). I read that it is as true to the books as a commercial film could be and is directed by someone who has been reading them since childhood (Peter Jackson). But Tolkien's son, Christopher, who now edits the books, maintains that they are 'peculiarly unsuitable to translation into visual dramatic form'. I suspect he is right. Tolkien's reality was of words and myths and not-quite-physical meanings. The invisibles.

How is it that I've ceased to see it as escapist nonsense and now see it as serious myth-making, mythopoeia (or as theological or moral experiment)?

...but its time to walk back across the heath before darkness so I'll try to answer that later.

I decided to go back along the eastern ponds as the second hand of my watch was in the 'eastern' half of the dial. And I was attracted by the sound of hundreds of crows cawing in the trees in the dusk. Then I passed amongst a hundred or so who were pecking the ground and who barely moved to get out of my way. Further on I saw what looked like about fifty more crows also walking and pecking but when I got close I was surprised to see that they were not moving, and not crows, but tufts of grass appearing black, and even appearing to move, in the poor light. How seldom do we realise that what we think we see is quite largely illusion - or rather it is supposition filling large gaps between the few points we actually focus on. And in the near darkness it is almost impossible to focus and so the imaginary part of seeing is increased.

As I walked beside the model boating pond I looked westward to see bare trees silhouetted against the clear yellow-orange sunset and I could feel that my energy (which has left me for a day or two) is coming back! Why does it go? What makes it, or allows it to, return? Difficult questions. I imagined that for me then it was the exercise and the dry still air that had revived me - that and the sight of a newspaper account of the Tolkien film - which somehow enables me to begin writing the mass of thoughts, as yet undigested, discordant, that came to me as I read several Tolkien books during the last week or so... Now I feel I have the energy to sort them out, these impressions.

Get up early (I noted on a piece of paper) and begin each day with such a walk! (I usually get up half-way through the morning.)

I walked up Parliament Hill towards the tall trees that I call 'the Dark Wood' (of Dante's Inferno) and noticed that, without leaves, the wood is not dark but transparent against the sky ... and then I see a greyhound running on the skyline. I recall that there is a greyhound in the Inferno and pretend that the man following it is Virgil. But when I pass him as he descends from the skyline he says "Evenin'" in reply to my "Good evening." and in that abbreviation he reveals that he is not Virgil. Dante's myth is one of educated people who would never speak colloquially. Top people's myths, they are not the 'real' ones, believed or half-believed by ordinary people, folk myths and fairy stories... The myths constructed by, for instance, Edmund Spenser (the Fairy Queen), John Keats (Hyperion), Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass), are myths for intellectuals, though their authors may have hoped otherwise. Tolkien apparently didn't like them - he wrote his stories in more colloquial languages to fill a gap he saw in English mythology. William Wordsworth's myths (The Ruined Cottage or The Pedlar) are certainly about working people but I suspect that they too are read mainly by those of us who have been educated to like more literary stories and to disown colloquial or 'uneducated' language. Important point (though 'importance' I deny!).

But, now that I am back, why isit that I've changed from dismissing Tolkien's stories to seeing them as something of importance, and even something new, not obscurantist, a new morality, even, or a view of the traditional morality (of Christians at least) that is loosened and opened enough to permit the morality of humanism and of materialism to seem less certain than it did...

...these words almost answer the question, they tell me what it is that attracts me now to Tolkien's world, his 'sub-creation' as he calls it - it is the morality of non-realism (at least to an extent) and the appeal of 'the spirit'... but at that word spirit I quail, and I remember a dualism that I refuse ... and a 'something else' that I wish one day soon to be writing, as fiction, but also as 'future'. Enough for the moment. I don't agree with him, yet he fascinates (but is there a tinge of 'fascism' in that word?)... He tried not to compell.

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