Last week, I was strongly inspired by one of the greatest authors to have ever walked the face of the Earth. As a personal favourite, his books have always captivated and have introduced me to a completely new universe, representing the beauty in our current one. A man who wrote books that were then turned into six different movies over the course of sixteen years – more or less -, winning several Oscars and still regarded today as masterpieces. It could be of how the relationship of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield developed throughout their journey to the Lonely Mountain, the fact that Gimli and Legolas initially hated each other because of their origins, only to finally sail together to the Grey Havens as best friends, and much more. As fascinating and inspiring as the universe of Middle Earth is, the events that inspired J.R.R Tolkien to create those stories weigh more in the scale.
Since Tolkien was born in 1892, it is logical to assume that he fought in World War I, alongside three of his childhood friends: Geoffrey Bache Smith, Christopher Wiseman, and Robert Quilter Gilson, who died during the Great War. Gilson’s death meant the breaking of their schoolboy fellowship. The four had dreamed that they would change the world through a grand creative collaboration. Little did they know back then what kind of adventure Tolkien would eventually embark on. For you see, the universe of Middle Earth was Tolkien’s way of dealing with the horrors he endured from 1914 to 1918, including the death of his dear friend. As shown in the final dialogue from last week’s article, Tolkien’s aim from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was to show the beauty in this world, as well as the kind hearts some people keep on nurturing despite the darkness in this world.
For me, this represents the pinnacle of art: to be able to use pain, loss and torment in order to generate beauty and hope in this world. Tolkien was not only to use art and literature to deal with his pain and use it as fuel to portray the beauty in this world.
“It never hurts to be looking for sunshine.”
– Winnie the Pooh
A.A. Milne is another perfect example of changing the world for the better after having experienced the worst things humans have to offer each other. Like Tolkien, Milne also fought in World War I and was later on diagnosed with PTSD. Once the war was over and he returned to his home in England, his mental obstacles and memories had taken such a toll on him that it had become almost impossible for him to talk with his son – Christopher Robin Milne – and live a normal life again. This is why Milne senior decided to create a fictional character who would embark on adventures with a group of friends, including a young boy called Christopher Robin. After those two identical hints, I believe you all know which famous children’s book character I am talking about: no other than Winnie the Pooh!
There is nothing more heart-shattering to war veterans with families than having to explain why they have not been the same ever since they have come back from the front. A grown adult can grasp the idea that war is no romantic locale and that it can change a person forever. Unfortunately, it cannot be the same with an innocent child. One who was sheltered from such grim concepts by that very veteran. This was the challenge for the author of Winnie the Pooh: to find a way to communicate with his son again, to battle through the horrors which he had to witness with his own two eyes for four full years. And yet, to do so in such a way that the darkness and chaos experienced is portrayed and transformed into life and beauty is nothing short of a genius and noble.
The same can be said about painting and music. Pain is easier to portray. However, it is the courage to fight through one’s demons and to keep on believing in the light that shows there is still a chance for us to make things right in this world. The best example I can think of when it comes to art would be Vincent Van Gogh.
Unlike Tolkien and Milne, Van Gogh did not love the horrors of war in order to trigger those living in his head. Nevertheless, this troubled and depressed man who wandered the hills of Provence before admitting himself into a psychiatric hospital continued to portray the beauty of the world around him in his paintings. For you see, art is truly an escape, for both the artist as well as the observer.
To use pain in order to spread joy, beauty and hope is the bravest thing those three men could have possibly done. There are surely other people who also fall into that category. To use personal hardships in order to help others overcome their struggles is a strong and noble thing to do.
Painters, sculptors, authors, musicians, singers are all modern day knights. And I am thankful for each one of them. Some of them have started a new current when it comes to literature.
However, one thing is certain: they have not met my sister.
“The beauty of art is that it comes from the heart.”
– Ta Uner