Few would argue against the formative role played by the fictional writings of J.R.R. Tolkien in the genre of contemporary fantasy. The success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy among Western audiences sparked a conflagration of inspired fantasy authors ever after, writing their own modest tales for decades thence, spun around seemingly-alien or once-upon-a-time worlds peopled with elves, dwarves, dark lords, wraiths, goblins, trolls, wizards, on and on, the likes of which had little part in modern literature up until Tolkien’s intervention. A few such common staples to the genre today — orcs and hobbits/halflings, for instance — were entirely the original creation of Tolkien, whereas many other tropes, while not originating in his work, often resemble his iteration more than they do anything described in their source material of folk legend (elves as wise and immortal/long-lived humanoids, or dwarves as a similar racial — rather than spiritual — species of clever, diminutive, subterranean artificers).
Life and death are inescapably intertwined. Life feeds and flourishes upon death, whether directly, as with the cunning predator who feasts upon its slain quarry, or indirectly, as the docile frugivore who consumes the fruits brought forth by the decay of the countless lifeforms that create the loam. Life in turn must eventually surrender itself to its dissolution in death, struck down by the predation of beast, disease, or time’s entropy — the vital substance is transmuted into the sustenance that nourishes new life, and so the cycle continues in perpetuity, so long as life persists in the universal schema.
One of the most interesting perspectives I garnered from an academic tome called Evil Incarnate by Dr. David Frankfurter was how one of the universal characteristics of state/civil societies is to redact and rigidly codify the “supernatural” or “magical” beliefs of its subjects. That in and of itself was an obvious phenomena to me long before I read said book — the interpretatio romana, for instance, is one of the most salient examples of such a practice, of the authorities of a conquering state appropriating the local gods of conquered/subjugated peoples and equating them to a Roman god that generally, at best, was a poor approximation, and at worst was complete error and obfuscation of the deity’s original functions. The purpose behind said-practice is primarily propaganderial, a power ploy — the gods of a particular, autonomous tribal people, and the sociopsychological and political identity and freedom of said distinct group that such gods guarantee or embody, are absorbed into or subsumed by the idols of another state. All the juicy bureaucracy built upon tithes and the shows of grovelling/worship that said idols demand in proving your submission which were formerly directed to the people’s own ruler/chieftain/holy men, if not being entirely absent (as in the case of more-egalitarian tribes or bands), are appended onto the cult and treasury of the imperial state, marking the end of a conquered people’s own independence of culture and destiny.Read More »
“Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is…” — Paradise Lost, Milton
One of the questions that unfailingly captivate the philosophical mind is that of the nature of right and wrong — good and evil. This fascination is arguably universal — that is, irrespective of culture, and irrespective of social class, this question of morality inevitably becomes a subject of intense scrutiny to the individual who regularly partakes in deep ruminations of thought. It could be argued as an emergent property of human psychology, this ageless fixation — and its ruptures increase in tandem to the increasing number of people within a society who no longer remember how to “live well.”Read More »
“I would only believe in a god who knew how to dance. And when I saw my devil, there I found him earnest, thorough, deep, and somber: it was the spirit of gravity — through him, all things fall…” —Thus Spake Zarathustra
One should not give much consideration to a “mythology” that does not provoke laughter with some regularity. Myth is — or originally, it was — the story of your blood, the blood of your people, and how it, via its most prominent avatars or champions, has made its way through the world and throughout time. So does the hero, an eponymous ancestor, struggle against and match wits with the best of the non-human powers, be they spirits or flesh-and-blood beasts, forging or negotiating a path forth for his descendants or those of his kin. So does the ancient Trickster, whether as a partly-human ancestor or a totemic creature or power closely aligned with the tribe’s genesis, go about his deeds of fooling the non-human powers in order to (or, at least incidentally) help or uplift the people who cherish his name. And thus the affectionate and filial titles some of these figures will be invoked with — “Father,” “Mother,” “Grandfather,” “Uncle,” “Old Man,” “Elder,” “Auntie,” and so on.
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It is not unfair to assert almost everything good in Christianity and its reign came from paganism. The pageantry picked up by the Church in the Middle Ages and which served as the cultural glue holding together most communities over its glory days were variously pagan or indigenous festivals, devices, and customs which persisted even after conversion, and, as those customs go, they were largely “practical,” i.e. they made sense of, and were derived from, the relevant world that is the local environment, local circumstances, local history. Thus comes the rich tapestry of various local cultures, cults, and customs throughout the Middle Ages — remnants or the legacy of those who lived by the “heath” and, as such, its biodiversity, which demands different cultures to live amongst it and utilise it. The Church merely inserted some of its cosmopolitan detritus into it all, enough to draw authority and tribute unto itself while generally not provoking the locals too much to protest the mythical redactions and the extra or redirected tier of taxation.Read More »
“Here, then, on all sides, this irreducible affinity, this tragic proximity between the warrior and death becomes clear. Victorious, he must immediately leave again for war in order to assure his glory with an even greater feat. But in ceaselessly testing the limits of the risk confronted and forging ahead for prestige he invariably meets this end: solitary death in the face of enemies. …There is no alternative for the warrior: a single outcome for him, death. His is an infinite task, as I was saying: what is proven here, in short, is that the warrior is never a warrior except at the end of his task, when, accomplishing his supreme exploit, he wins death along with absolute glory. Read More »