Looking in a Mirror

The Mirror of Galadriel? Not quite. Check out this great piece by Joseph Pearce, readers:

Tolkien Shows Us Ourselves

In his famous lecture and essay “On Fairy-Stories”, Tolkien claims that fairy-stories hold up a mirror to man, that they show us ourselves. One way of testing the veracity of Tolkien’s claim is to see how his own fairy-stories, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hold up a mirror to humanity. Do we see ourselves in Tolkien’s stories? Do we see our neighbours?

Let’s work our way through the various anthropological labels that we have appended to ourselves to see whether these various facets of humanity are present in Middle-earth.

The “scientific” label that we’ve given to ourselves, homo sapiens (“wise-man”), is evidently a misnomer. Nobody in their right mind would consider the defining characteristic of humanity to be wisdom. Failing to distinguish between cleverness and wisdom, the children of the superciliously self-named “Enlightenment”, did not really mean that humanity was wise but merely that we are clever. They didn’t really mean that we are homo sapiens but that we are homo technologicus. It is interesting, therefore, that Tolkien makes the distinction between wisdom and cleverness in The Hobbit. He tells us that “goblins … make no beautiful things, but … many clever ones”:

It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once … but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.

Lacking wisdom, and admiring technology over virtue, latter-day orcs, as homo technologicus, had invented weapons of mass destruction, capable of killing millions of people, such as nuclear bombs and man-made viruses.

Read more…

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