Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not a comedy, not a tragedy

(no substantial spoilers that I can see; not that many people are reading this, anyway...)

Dear Reader,

I've been reading (again!) The Lord of the Rings, which I seem to do periodically. Not quite every year, but most, and sometimes with less than a year between readings. I must be mad, somehow. In any case, I've been thinking back on the first time I read it, and the first time I finished it in particular, back in fifth grade I think.

It made me cry, I don't know why. I certainly didn't understand the ending on that first reading, though since then it's come to make better sense, and the point that constricts my throat and burns my eyes seems to come a bit earlier each time through.

In the present reading, I'm struck by the recurring theme of choice, the necessity of making some choice, the difficulty of making good choices out of imperfect knowledge, the moral imperative to choose the Good. Perhaps the most hopeful thought on this subject is expressed by Aragorn, who answers √Čomer's question "How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" — times tumultuous amid unimagined strange happenings:
`As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. `Good and ill have not chaged since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'
In other words, the main thing is that we mustn't loose our heads amidst all the possible distractions life in the world may throw at us. If you can recognize good and behave like a normal good person amid abnormal trials, you just might be a hero.

In my present reading, I've just come through one of Tolkien's embedded dissertations, on storytelling and what makes a good story. Here he refers, through his characters, to another of the tales he was continually working on — the tale of Beren and Luthien — and it is interesting that the two speakers in time realize that they belong to, are indeed living out, a long-removed continuation of that very same tale. This inspires them to imagine someone reading their own story out of a book, and to wonder what sort of people would read it, even though they can't see just now how they'll ever get back home or tell anyone of their adventures.

And that set me to thinking about the ending, because I myself do now know how it turns out; yet I want to keep reading anyway, even though I'll probably find myself choking-up for a few minutes towards the end. I'm not sure if it should be called foreshadowing, but having finished before, reading their talk of not foreseeing the end put me in this pensive mood, anyway. It certainly is poignant, in any case.

I begin to wonder if it's a bit like dying, this knowing the end must come, and getting there in time. God willing, though, it'll be years and ages before I find out: too much work to do, first!

An awkward mythophile.

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