What is left for us on this planet? At the end of it all, does it all matter? What is the point of doing anything at all, to build something for so long, only to see everything fall down in the flash of a moment? All the struggles, all the sleepless nights, all the effort, time and money spent, all the risks taken in order to get where we are, does any of this have the slightest shade of purpose? All it takes is one second, one text message, one word, one event, one person, one mistake to tear our world to shreds, to completely annihilate everything we have tried to build for so long.
The magnitude of certain factors range from impacting just one person for a certain amount of time until they adapt to a new norm, to a global scale change of conditions, sometimes making us wonder if this is the end. As of that point, it seems particularly intriguing how our minds would start to focus solely on the negativity and pessimism happening to and around us. The other day, I was discussing recent events with my mother on the phone, as I remember a phrase I tend to use half-jokingly: “Bad news. Bad news. Even when it is good news, it is bad news”. All joking aside, this phrase embodies what seems to be the only thing we are exposed to on a daily basis, especially with everything that has been happening around the world for the past three years, may it be on a global or personal level. From the outbreak of a pandemic-creating virus, passing through revolutions and uprisings in various first-world and third-world countries, to finally being on the brink of starting a third World War. From losing loved ones, to broken friendships, to being made redundant at work due to an economic crisis, to constant solitude and isolation from what used to be our everyday life.
Along with the exaggeration of stories combined with the spread of false information, it is no wonder that we feel like the World has gone mad. Therefore, I ask you once again: what is the point of doing anything, of even trying to be a good and kind person when everything seems to be pointing in the opposite direction?
I did not pick this specific phrase – nor did I pick the song – by chance. Although few might know it, this song is one of the soundtracks used in the Peter Jackson movie entitled The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, released in 2001. This movie would be the first of six masterpieces released over the course of thirteen years, encompassing a total of four books (The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) written by J.R.R Tolkien. Many would know this man for the books I just mentioned and rightly so, for they are the only ones to be transformed into movies. However, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of time and effort this man has put into creating the Middle-Earth universe. For you see, Tolkien wrote several stories that would be set chronologically before that of The Hobbit, as well as several situated after The Return of the King. To give you a perspective, Tolkien wrote more than 29 books (the first one was written and published in 1936), then translated or contributed to 36 more books, before making contributions to 39 periodicals. Unlike most authors who envision to create an entire universe, the author of The Lord of the Rings decided to take his game to the next level: he decided to invent a language, as well as a history for it in order to understand how it came to be, songs to create various cultures and civilisations within that same universe.
I will go on and presume that we all know what the Lord of the Rings trilogy books talk about. My question would be more about:
What could actually motivate a man to write so many books around one specific universe? And what does it have to do with the idea of the World going mad?
“All that is gold does not glitter. Not all who wander are lost.”
– Gandalf in The Fellowship of The Ring
There are of course various inspirations behind the writing of such a universe that continues to make folk of all ages dream and enjoy running down the hills of The Shire time and time again. That being said, there is one important event known only by a few, dated between 1914 and 1918.
As it can be guessed from the timeline, Tolkien had to enlist in the British Army and fight in France during World War I, along with several of his dearest friends at the time. A war known to have scarred an entire generation of men due to the horrors seen on the battlefield, the poor and unhygienic conditions they were enduring in the trenches, the loss of loved ones in the midst of chaos and anarchy. Tolkien was not spared any cruelty during those four years shaping the history of Europe as we know it today. Four years where he ended up holding each of his dearest friends in his arms, as they were grasping their final breaths. In those moments, Tolkien could actually picture some of the famous locations we see today in the books he wrote. For example, Mordor and Mount Doom represent the horrors left in the No Man’s Land during the battle of the Somme in 1916, whereas The Shire is a metaphor to his hometown of Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State in South Africa.
It is important such details of this great man’s life, as they allow us to understand the general idea behind those famous books we yearn to read over and over again. Writing was Tolkien’s way of dealing with the trauma and horrible memories he endured during the Great War, along with the loss of his friends. Despite it all, the aim behind the Middle Earth universe is to show how people would always try to do whatever it takes in order to make the world a better place. It does not matter how much darkness, how much death, how much chaos is being generated in this world, they simply refused to give in and just wanted to make things better. For them, for those they care about as well as every person walking the Earth.
I will leave you with this. The best way to illustrate this would be the conversation Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee had in the midst of their climb to Mount Doom (cf. The Return of the King):
FRODO: “I can’t do this, Sam
SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
To be continued…