Tolkien: fantasy, or getting down to what really matters.

11 Sep
Santa Claus with a little girl

Image via Wikipedia

The past few months I have been unable to do much with this blog, having traveled a bit. I have traveled half way around the world to spend some time in Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus. Reflecting about 9/11 and what I expected to be doing ten years down the road I would have never have expected to be here. But, here I am .  I have had a few spare hours though and have rekindled my interest in English literature, especially Tolkien. For me I was introduced to it though my older brothers back in the ’80s when I suppose it was still fairly new.

For me as a realist, and  a Buddhist I can’t help but wonder if the Buddha would approve of interest in dwarfs, hobbits, dragons and the like. Certainly his culture was rich in all sorts of mythic traditions. As I make refrence to in A Collection of Tales The historical Buddha’s teachings were taught in a tradition of myth and legend.

So what about Harry Potter, Hobbits, and the like? Should a Buddhist scholar, or someone claiming to take up the Path be interested in such stuff? On one hand a Buddhist should not really engage in fantasy, or the like. He should concentrate himself on the Truth and finding what’s real. However myth, culture, and all the trappings of human society are in their own ways real. I was reading about Tolkien today at as well as other places about how today’s emphasis on realism, and technology brings about new need for writers such as Tolkien. I’ll let you mull that over for yourself. There is plenty of fantasy in the world today, but it seems we may have lost our abilities to imagine, play, and simply be. Potter takes a fanciful approach to the real world, suggesting that anyone can be a wizard, while The Ring was a totally new world in and of itself. Tolkien himself was opposed to modernization in many ways. A fact that may not necessarily be obvious. He described himself as one interest in his pipe, simple good food, and the like.

On one hand JRR escaped into a self-made world, but at the same time was a simple academic who wanted to write good books. Today, as one writer said we don’t have heros so much. In comparison with Harry Potter The Ring is more moralistic in nature and tends to deal with issues of the nature of evil. There are real heros, each of the Fellows in the Fellowship, while in Potter it is one young man’s struggle with his identity. I think this reflects the feelings of isolation that modern society brings. In The Ring there are real heros who strive to make the world better, and each deals with the powers of evil in his own way.

 The Buddha if you’re Buddhist is certainly the greatest hero of them all. While today’s media do have villians and heros, it’s not to the same extent as in the myth and legend of times gone by. In the days of Scandinavian myth people really believed in good and evil. Heros were ever-present and offered real answers to what is right and wrong.

As a Buddhist we have the Middle Path, and as human beings a little fantasy or imagination can help us. We must use our imaginations to see the lifetime of the Buddha, to imagine him along his journeys. We must in someway gain a true adoration of the Buddha and appriciation of what he has done for us as a fellow human. This is all too often ignored by many teachers. So as the Buddha struggled against Mara, not to mention his own human limitations, the Fellowship of the Ring struggled against evil. I don’t think it wrong to read Tolkien as a Buddhist, nor to believe in the struggle of good and evil. However again thinking of the Middle Path, we must not mistake Tolkien for reality. It, like the stories of Beowolf, Thor, and the Jataka Tales are all there to help us in our lives, not for us to live inside of them.

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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized



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