The arrival of the mid-term school break brings out The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Were it not on DVD, it would be worn out by now, having been played so many times, yet it each time it seems as captivating as ever. Stopping for tea, there is the temptation to sit just a while and watch as the great wizard Gandalf promises to return by daybreak on the fifth day.
The stories leave some people cold. Perhaps it is growing up in the land of Arthur and Merlin that makes Tolkien seem special. The accents are those of home. The Shire is a picture of rural England, of cottages and gardens and farms and tight-knit little communities. The Hobbits are little people, ordinary people, unsophisticated people; people without power or status. When they sit over their pints in an inn, it could be in any traditional pub in rural England.
It is said that Tolkien believed that England once possessed a mythology to match that of the Nordic or the Celtic peoples and that he sought in part to create a mythology to match that of other nations. Yet his work is far too subtle and developed for it to fall into company with myths from elsewhere. Tolkien doesn’t tell mythical stories, he creates a complete civilisation and culture. He re-creates a pre-industrial world where mechanisation is the work of evil powers producing warriors of darkness.
The First World War and the wholesale mechanisation of destruction, is thought to have had a great impact upon Tolkien, yet his civilisation reaches much further back than the preceding Edwardian or Victorian ages.
His Hobbits do not venture outside of the Shire for all they could possibly desire is there. Tolkien’s world is one in which peaceful coexistence is possible; in which diverse groups can inhabit the same space; in which there is no government interfering in daily life; in which characters can be ruggedly independent and still live in strong communities.
Maybe the attraction of Tolkien is thoughts of the world as it could be.