Want to forget about terrorism and all those distracting rumors of war? Need to ignore the economy for a while? Got the holiday blues? Our culture has a surefire cure — the traditional spate of post-Thanksgiving movies. This year, despite a clamor over the latest Harry Potter film, much of the attention is going to another fantasy called The Two Towers — part two in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Will it succeed in distracting us for a while, conveying audiences to a world that is at once more beautiful and stirring than humdrum modern life?
Naturally, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as a kid, during its first big boom in the 1960s. I mean, what was there not to like? As William Goldman said about another great fantasy, The Princess Bride, it has "Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad Men. Good Men. Beautifulest Ladies. Spiders. Dragons, Eagles. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Magic. Chases. Escapes. Miracles."
In 1997, voters in a BBC poll named The Lord of the Rings the greatest book of the 20th century. In 1999, Amazon.com customers chose it as the greatest book of the millennium.
Of course there is much more to this work than mere fantasy escapism. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his epic — including its prequel, The Hobbit — during the dark middle decades of the Twentieth Century, a time when modernity appeared to have failed in one spectacle of technologically amplified bloodshed after another. From the nineteen-thirties through the fifties, planet Earth fell into armed camps of starkly portrayed characters, tearing at each other in orgies of unprecedented violence. Titanic struggles, with the fate of all the world at stake.
LOTR clearly reflected this era. Only, in contrast to the real world, Tolkien's portrayal of "good" resisting a darkly threatening "evil" offered something sadly lacking in the real struggles against Nazi or Communist tyrannies — a role for individual champions. His elves and hobbits and uber-human warriors performed the same role that Lancelot and Merlin and Odysseus did in older fables, and that superheroes still do in comic books. Through doughty Frodo, noble Aragorn and the ethereal Galadriel, he proclaimed the paramount importance — above nations and civilizations — of the indomitable romantic hero.
To continue reading, please see THROUGH STRANGER EYES, a collection of book reviews, introductions and essays on popular culture, which was released in the Western Hemisphere by Nimble Books and in the Eastern Hemisphere by Altair (Australia). Included are those infamous articles about Tolkien and Star Wars, sober reflections on Jared Diamond's Collapse, and Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows, scientific ponderings on Feynman and Gott, appraisals of Brunner, Resnick, Zelazny, Verne, and Orwell... all the way to fun riffs on the Matrix and Buffy!
Copyright © 2002 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
An abridged version of "J.R.R. Tolkien and the Modern Age" (excerpt published here) appeared in the late-December 2002 online edition of Salon Magazine. It is now reprinted in THROUGH STRANGER EYES, a collection of book reviews, introductions and essays on popular culture.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (books)
The Princess Bride (film)
David Brin blogs at Contrary Brin and comments on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Quora specifically to discuss the political and scientific issues he raises in these articles. If you come to argue rationally, you're voting, implicitly, for a civilization that values open minds and discussions among equals.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
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