Friday, January 11, 2013

The Tolkien Safety-valve

Usually during the cold months of every year I find myself yearning for a literary experience of, shall we say, Northernness.  I would always try Norse, viz. Icelandic, sagas and the like, but could never quite find my way in.  Subsequently I would live vicariously off of C. S. Lewis's love of this literature and his recounting of it in his autobiography Surprised by Joy.  Recently, however, I've finally discovered the majesty and mythopoeic grandeur of J. R. R. Tolkien.  And I am not talking about The Lord of the Rings.  Of all his works (save The Hobbit), I like the Rings the least. 

No, my haunts are among the Elves; tales of the Valar and Eldar in the Elder Days:  The Silmarillion is chief among these works.  And now that I have spent the last few months getting a good synoptic view of Tolkien's work, I can now lay it aside and return to my usual reading with a sense of rest, knowing that, when the "bug" for Elves, Lore, Bitter Cold and Glorious Battle assails me, I know precisely who to turn to, Old Tollers, and no other.

The same sort of process of discovery accompanies my history with all my favorite authors.  They all, in their way, serve as what I call Safety Valves.  When a certain fit for violence and the mean streets and the 1920's comes upon me, I have Dashiell Hammett.  For poetry and the meditation of the degeneration of our modern epoch, I have T. S. Eliot.  There was always one "valve" missing, for several years, and now I have finally found it in Tolkien.