Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Tolkien and radical ecology in the Sixties.

Expand Messages
  • Walt Sheasby
    In the Digger Underground there lived a hobbit. Emmett Grogan & The Diggers Tolkien and radical ecology in the Sixties. by Walt Contreras Sheasby *At this
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 19, 2004
      In the Digger Underground there lived a hobbit.

      Emmett Grogan & The Diggers

      Tolkien and radical ecology in the Sixties.

      by Walt Contreras Sheasby

      *At this time, in 1966, the Haight was being inundated with young
      people from all over the country who came seeking liberation or hope for
      a life of personal empowerment,* recalled the actor Peter Coyote, known
      then as the Digger, Peter Cohon. (1) Even in January of 1966 in San
      Francisco, before the influx of 75,000 in the 1967 Summer of Love, near
      the panhandle of Golden Gate Park you might meet a bearded man named
      Gandalf. This bit of grassy shire was the new Hobbit-land, and Gandalf
      would offer to take you to meet the youth who was fast becoming a
      legend there, Frodo Baggins. (2)

      The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) was published in the heyday of anti-
      Communism, and Tolkien felt he might even have to field a question
      about whether the Orcs were communists. (3) But in the radicalized
      subculture of the Vietnam War era, the colossal epic of the Ring, often
      seen as a war between good and evil, was understood as fundamentally a
      war between Nature and Capital. The defense of endangered life itself
      was expressed in the slogan that appeared everywhere: Frodo Lives! As
      the Christian journal Second Spring noted: *The book became a Bible for
      the Hippy movement and the Greens.* (4)

      The Lord of the Rings, published by Houghton-Mifflin in hardback in
      the US from sheets printed in England by Unwin, sold modestly for ten
      years. But the three books suddenly appeared in paperback for 75cents
      apiece in 1965 in an unauthorized edition by Ace Books, and an outraged
      Tolkien urged a consumer boycott. Within months an authorized
      paperback series was issued by Ballantine Books as royalties were settled
      with Ace. The Lord of the Rings became a best-seller twice over: selling
      well in the controversial pirated edition, and then in an official edition
      just months later. Ballantine was the first to come out in paperback with
      The Hobbit that same year, and it became one of the best-selling
      paperbacks of all time. In England the trilogy did not appear in paperback
      until 1968. It became an instant sensation, and the Beatles tried
      unsuccesfully to convince Tolkien to let them turn it into a movie starring
      the Fab Four as the adventurous hobbits.

      Margarita Carretero-Gonzalez, a Tolkien scholar at Granada
      University in Spain, reported that *...seeing recently on TV a banner
      reading *Frodo Failed* held at a New York demonstration against the
      war in Iraq reminded me of what I had read about the way some of
      Tolkien's character's names had also been frequently repeated in
      demonstrations against the Vietnam war.* There was even a Gandalf
      for President movement. (5) Warren Hinckle, a radical Catholic who
      in 1962 founded Ramparts magazine, wrote in 1967 that Tolkien's
      classic trilogy Lord of the Rings was *absolutely the favorite book of
      every hippie.* (6)

      The Hungry Sixties
      Peter Coyote has said *Part of the energy for the Haight was this
      hunger for real experience.* (7) Besides Tolkien, other authors had
      shaped those who came to the Haight. Although it had been published in
      1951, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye still spoke to those coming of
      age in the sixties. Holden Caulfield's daydream offered a sense of
      meaning in the chaos:
      Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in
      this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's
      around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the
      edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody
      if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they
      don't look where they're going. I have to come out from somewhere
      and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the
      rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like
      to be. (8)

      Jack Kerouac's 1957 lyrical novel On the Road turned the quest of
      Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) into a road map for the counter-culture.
      So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-
      down river pier watching the long, long, skies over New Jersey and
      sense all the raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to
      the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the
      immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be
      crying in the land where they let children cry, and tonight the stars'll
      be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star
      must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie,
      which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the
      earth, darkens old rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in,
      and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody
      besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I
      even think of Old Dean Moriarity the father we never found, I think of
      Dean Moriarity. (9)
      This mythic search frightened some and inspired others. *Many of the
      delighted ones,* as Gary Snyder, a central figure in the Beat Renaissance,
      said, *moved out to San Francisco (scene of Kerouac's subsequent novel,
      The Subterraneans)....* (10) His interaction with Snyder and Allen
      Ginsberg inspired his Dharma Bums (1958).

      The love of country in a geological sense rather than an abstract
      nationalism became a real part of the social consciousness of youth.
      Besides Lord of the Rings, there were other classics of the imagination
      that expressed an awareness of the interrelationship of nature and
      intelligent beings, such as Robert A. Heinlein's cult classic, Stranger in
      a Strange Land (1961) and Frank Hertbert's Dune (1965).

      In this period Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson introduced many
      to at least some of the ramifications of ecology. But to some of the
      founders of the SF Diggers, a more influential book was The Destruction
      of California (1965) by Raymond F. Dasmann of the Conservation
      Foundation. The back cover announced *What it says, in simple prose, is
      that here, in this state, we are committing suicide,* and it described
      Dasmann as a zoologist, biologist and an expert in forestry, range
      management and plant ecology. (11)

      Peter Coyote spoke for many when he said *I've never lost the sense
      of devotion to the universe I had as a kid. I've felt my basic intention was
      always to wake people up to this majestic planet, wake them up and
      appreciate it.* (12)

      The Disenchanting Wizard
      Into this growing sensitivity about the natural environment stepped the
      one wizard to rule them all. Murray Bookchin's comprehensive survey of
      environmental ills, Our Synthetic Environment, was published in 1962, a
      few months before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Under the pseudonym
      Lewis Herber he published the first manifesto of radical political ecology
      in any language. *The hippie movement was just getting underway in New
      York when Ecology and Revolutionary Thought was published,* he said.

      In 1964 it appeared in Comment in New York and in New Directions
      in Libertarian Thought. It was republished in England in Anarchy in
      1966, and thereafter it circulated as a widely distributed reprint, before
      being anthologized in Post-Scarcity Anarchism in 1971 and in
      subsequent editions. In 1965 he penned another pioneering article,
      *Towards a Liberatory Technology,* and many other provocative articles
      and books followed. Bookchin's reputation as one of the most
      enlightening founders of the ecology movement, however, was later
      eclipsed as the movement shunned his growing dogmatism and hostility
      to all other radical ecologies.

      Bookchin said *I think it is fair to say that my writings on ecology
      and anarchism were the first radical political writings on ecology. They
      became rather popular with the New Left. People don't remember the
      origins of radical ecology; they think Ralph Nader or maybe Barry
      Commoner produced it and influenced the New Left. This is quite
      erroneous; in fact, the true history of radical ecology has yet to be
      written.* (14)

      Fantasy as Facing Reality
      In reconstructing the facts of the origin of radical ecology, however,
      we should not overlook the impact of fantasy, particularly The Lord of
      the Rings. As Angie Errigo has noted recently, *The hippy counter-culture
      adopted the trilogy as an unofficial set text, and its popularity continued
      with the environmental movement that followed on from the hippy era.*

      By working its enchantment on the popular consciousness, the
      trilogy created a fertile soil for the theoretical vanguards of social ecology,
      deep ecology, bioregionalism, and ecosocialism. San Francisco was the
      fantasy capital of the New Age, and as Charles Perry said in 1984:
      The Haight-Ashbury provided a lot of the manpower [sic] for the
      ecology movement that bloomed in the late sixties.* (16)
      In the new radical ecology movement there persisted a fruitful dialectic
      between the Tolkien mode of re-enchantment of nature and the Bookchin
      mode of scientific enlightenment.

      Scholars of different persuasions today argue furiously over Tolkien's
      ambiguous social philosophy, some claiming him for the Papacy's
      Counter-Reformation, others for the Monarchical Restoration, and still
      others for the Austrian school of economics. These conservative readings
      would have brought hobbit giggles in the past. There can be little doubt
      about the way the Oxford antiquarian was interpreted in the counter-
      culture of the mid-1960s, and the key was Tolkien's deeply felt concern
      for the relationship of all creatures to the environment. *The idea of
      Tolkien as a prototype green activist,* according to Angie Errigo, *dates
      back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.* (17)

      Will the real Frodo Baggins please stand up?
      This must have been the real point in the widespread mistaken identity
      of the legendary halfling of hobbit town, who believed very simply and
      without any qualification that *Freedom means everything free.* (18)
      In March 1967 the 23 year old Eugene (Emmett) Grogan of the San
      Francisco Diggers, known for his battles against poverty and exploitation,
      was described by Warren Hinckle as the new Frodo, *A one-man crusade
      for purity of purpose, ...the conscience of the hippie community.* (19)

      Emmett Grogan, rogue of the Haight Hobbiton

      In his autobiography Grogan described his reaction: *As soon as
      Emmett saw that March issue of Ramparts, he knew it meant trouble. And
      he became more certain of the ticklish situation it was to cause, after he
      read the two pages of copy which described him in unreal, outlandishly
      romantic terms, as the Frodo Baggins of the Haight-Ashbury and roguish
      hero and kingpin of the Diggers.* (20)

      The Legend of the Diggers
      The anonymity that the Diggers prized was blown away by such
      extravagant publicity. Who were the Diggers? The Berkeley Barb reported
      on Oct. 21, 1966, shortly after the group came together:
      In the afternoon, at a little before four, they come down Ashbury,
      cross Oak and gather around a Eucalyptus tree in the Panhandle.
      They wear wide eyes, tattered clothes, and talismans around their
      necks. Some are in their teens, most in their twenties, and a few are
      closing in on forty.
      They talk about anything, smile about everything and do what they
      want to do with the food that they bring to each other.
      They are THE DIGGERS. And everyday at four o'clock they provide
      anybody with anything to eat. (21)

      Since then the story of the San Francisco Diggers, urban guerilla
      theatre gone underground, has been told hundreds of times and
      embellished into folklore and revolutionary myth, as Grogan foresaw. A
      leftwing newapaper in Paris in 2000 ran a nostalgic series of articles
      In 1966-67, unlike the hippies of San Francisco, they were
      revolutionary anti-establishment protesters. When nothing more
      seemed possible there, they disappeared into nature, founded
      communities, and took a new departure into radical ecology. (22)

      Radical ecology, however, was already a concern among the founders
      of the group, who had met and crystalized out of the S.F. Mime Troupe
      actors, including Peter Berg, Peter Cohon, and Emmett Grogan, whose
      friend Billy Murcott arrived from New York in early August, 1966. He
      named the group after the original Diggers and wrote the first edition of
      the Digger Papers. Murcott believed that people had internalized material
      values and cultural premises about the sanctity of private property and
      capital so completely as to have become addicted to wealth and status.

      The original Diggers were peasants who had banded together to fight
      the Enclosure Movement in Cromwell's England, Peter Coyote wrote. The
      King had confiscated the common grazing land to raise his own sheep to
      supply wool for his new mills. The people tried to take them back,
      arguing that no one had a right to appropriate private property for
      themselves, and the King sent Cromwell and his soldiers against them.
      They were nicknamed The Diggers because as the sun rose on them
      every morning, they were seen burying the dead of the last night's battle.

      The Green Hun
      *Wars against ecology are suicidal*, could have been the dictum of the
      author of Lord of the Rings, but it appeared in Peter Berg's Digger
      manifesto, Trip without a Ticket, an indictment of industrial ideology
      inherited from the 19th century and its culture-machine, originally
      published by the Diggers in the Winter of 1966-67. (24)

      The new science of life was not exactly common coin. Berg recalls
      *When I was with the San Francisco Diggers nearly 30 years ago, Paul
      Krassner of The Realist magazine wanted to put our street
      communications out as the Digger Papers. In one of those essays I used
      the word ecology. He had never heard it. Krassner was an intelligent,
      urbane New Yorker who had to go to the dictionary to look up the word
      ecology.* (25) He would find it defined as the totality or pattern of
      relationships between organisms and their environment, and as the
      name of the special discipline that took up its study.

      In 1972, Berg left to observe the first conference on the environment
      of the United Nations in Stockholm, and he discovered that his concerns
      were shared by militant Green Party supporters all over the world. He
      talked with Gary Snyder and founded Planet Drum, an umbrella group of
      bioregionalists. (26)

      A year later Berg met the esteemed ecologist, Raymond Dasmann, who
      was also interested in counter-cultural movements as a vehicle for more
      ecologically-oriented values. The two wrote and published Reinhabiting
      California, in The Ecologist in 1977, defining a bioregion as both a
      geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness. (27)

      Careful readers of the Lord of the Rings envisage the maps that Tolkien
      drew, which may have been influenced by the concept of ecosystem that
      a fellow Oxfordian, Sir Arthur George Tansley, had developed in his theory
      of ecology. (28) As Angie Errigo says, *That would, of couse, make Middle-
      Earth the first fully realized fantasy ecosystem.*

      While these concepts are always under review as ecological science
      evolves, there is little doubt that Tolkien's impact in the sixties contributed
      to the emergence of a new consciousness about the relation of organisms
      and the environment.


      1. Peter Coyote, The Free-Fall Chronicles: Playing For Keeps, The
      Digger Archives

      2. Barry "Plunker" Adams, Where Have All the Flower Children Gone?
      Rad!cal Vision,

      3. Humphrey Carpenter, Ed., The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Boston:
      Houghton-Miflin Co., 2000, p. 262.

      4. The Inklings, http://www.secondspring.co.uk/society/term13.htm

      5. Margarita Carretero-Gonzalez, ...And then came the Fall: On the nature
      of Evil in JRR Tolkien's and JK Rowling's arch-villains, Roundtable
      remarks at Fourth Conference on Evil and Human Wickedness, Prague,
      2003. www.wickedness.net/ejv1n3/book.pdf

      6. Warren Hinckle, The Social History of the Hippies, Ramparts
      magazine, Vol. 6 No. 9, March 1967, p. 25.

      7. Peter Coyote, Coyote Howl, The Official Peter Coyote Web Site.

      8. J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye, New York: Grove Press.

      9. Jack Kerouac, On the Road, New York: Penguin USA, p. 307.

      10. Gary Snyder, A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds,
      Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995, p. 10.

      11. Raymond F. Dasmann, The Destruction of California, New York:
      Collier Books, 1965.

      12. Peter Coyote, Peter Coyote Surviving in the Hollywood Wilderness,
      Interview wuth the Orlando Sentinel, February 5, 1987.
      . http://www.petercoyote.com/sentinel.html

      13. David Vanek, Interview with Murray Bookchin, Harbinger, Vol. 2
      No. 1, 2002. http://www.social-ecology.org/harbinger/vol2no1/bookchin.html

      14. Ibid.

      15. Angie Errigo, et al., The Rough Guide to the Lord of the Rings,
      London: The Penguin Group, 2003, p.27.

      16. Charles Perry, The Haight-Ashbury: A History, New York: A
      Random House Rolling Stone Book, 1984, p. 280.

      17. Angie Errigo, op cit., p. 27.

      18. Allen Cohen, Additional Notes on the S.F. Oracle for the Haight-
      Ashbury in The Sixties CD

      19. Warren Hinckle, op cit., p. 25.

      20. Emmett Grogan, Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps, Boston: Little,
      Brown and Company, 1972, p. 314. www.diggers.org/ringolevio/ring314.
      html. Warren Hinckle, op cit., pp. 25-6. Also see: Will the real
      Frodo Baggins please stand up? London OZ 3 (March- April 1967).

      21. George Metevsky [pseudonym], Delving the Diggers, Berkeley Barb,
      Oct. 21, 1966, p. 3.

      22. Liberation newspaper (Paris, France), Culture section (Monday,
      25 December 2000), p. 20-21.

      23. Peter Coyote, The Free Fall Chronicles: Playing for Keeps.

      24. Peter Berg, Trip without a Ticket, The Digger Papers (August 1968).
      Originally published by the Diggers, ca. Winter, 1966-67. Reprinted by
      the Communication Company SF 2nd Edition 6/28/67. Included in The
      Digger Papers, August, 1968.

      25 Peter Berg, Talk at Watershed.
      www.nationalwatercenter.org/ on_waterfront_2.htm

      26. Edouard Waintrop, The Green Hun of San Francisco, The Digger
      Archives, http://www.diggers.org/waintrop.htm.

      27. Don Alexander, Bioregionalism: The Need for a Firmer Theoretical
      Foundation. http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/content/v13.3/alexander.html

      28. Angie Errigo, op cit., p. 279.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.