Re: Broader world; Tolkien and technology
- David Bratman writes of Tolkien, industrialization, The Shire as
idyllic place, and Tolkien's attitudes towards technology here
earlier this afternoon, about 3:30 p.m. I do not mean any disrespect
for David's carefully thought out points. However, I don't think the
LOTR text supports some of these.
Irrespective of what Tolkien may have written or said about his
outlook, the cosmic trend in his fantastic universe is towards decay,
a kind of moral equivalent of entropy. "For nothing is evil in the
beginning," says Elrond, "Even Sauron was not so." Iluvtar creates
the Valar and gives them beautiful song. But, shortly after, Melkor
exploits his capacity of free will and introduces an anharmonic
element. (Beginning of the Silmarillion.) It's almost as if
allowing free will implies some kind of decay: The silmarils are
forged and erected in The Undying Lands, but they get stolen.
In the LOTR itself, two quotes struck me regarding industrialization
and technology and the "broader world".
The first occurs 4 pages after "Githoniel O! Elbereth in the chapter
"Three Is Company":
FRODO: "I knew that danger lay ahead, of course; but I did
not expect to meet it in our own Shire. Can't a
hobbit walk from the Water to the River in peace?"
GILDOR: "But it is not your own Shire. Others dwelt here before
hobbits were; and other will dwell here again when
hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you:
you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever
fence it out."
The second occurs on the 4th page of "Farewell to Lórien":
PIPPIN: "Are these magic cloaks?", said looking at them in wonder.
THE ELVES: "I do not know what you mean by that. They are fair
garments, and the web is good, for it was made in
this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that
is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone:
they have the hue and beauty of all these things
under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we
put the thought all that we love into all that we
make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they
will not turn shaft or blade. But they should serve
you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or
cool enough at need. And you will find them a great
aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes,
whether you walk among the stones or the trees. You
are indeed high in the favour of the Lady! For she
herself and her maidens wove this stuff; and never
before have we clad strangers in the garb of our
In the first instance, there is a clear acceptance of change. It is
such a basic one that it is difficult to square that expression with
the hypothesis that it was an enduring shock regarding Sarehole Mill
which moved Tolkien to regret industrialization.
In the second instance, the skills of the elves are judged as a kind
of technology, not magic. It may be a technology which hobbits and
men and dwarfs have forgotten, as we may have, but it is technology
still, like the medications Central and South American native shamans
may have known about in the tropical forest which are lost to us, or
must be rediscovered if the species themselves still survive.
Whatever his personal motivation, I think Tolkien's works remind us
that with the embrace of the new and of more powerful tools, we lose
something as well as gaining something. Progress is not without
cost. Americans think automobiles are wonderful, the "American
freedom machines", but their widespread use and the creation of
highways meant people could live relatively long distances away from
where they work and this caused the disruption of tightly knit,
nuclear communities, whatever their other consequences. That kind of
consequence is good to remember.
--Jan Theodore Galkowski.