The Tolkien Tarot Spread I: the Function of Fiction

There is no question that Tolkien has had an amazing effect on my life, perhaps more than any other single person, including my parents. I am a linguist today because of The Hobbit. The runes absolutely fascinated me. And then — The Lord of the Rings! Can you imagine the thrill that shot through me when I read the inscription on the One Ring:

Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk, agh burzum ishi krimpatul.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness, bind them.

…and I realized that ash must mean “one”, and nazg must mean “ring” — and suddenly the name Nazgul — “ring ghoul” — Ringwraith — made perfect sense! There was no turning back after that.

Profound Lies

ire23And then of course there’s this whole druidism thing. Of course, there are no druids per se in Tolkien’s mythology, but the atmosphere, the moral values (e.g. the reverence for trees), and the character of magic throughout the works are unmistakable. I didn’t realize I was a druid until twenty-odd years after I read the books, but they set me on the path.

I think it’s pretty common for works of fiction to have profound effects on peoples’ lives. Think of all the libertarians spawned by Ayn Rand, for example. But if you take a step back and think about it, it’s a strange thing. After all, fiction is just a pack of lies, right? And not just lies — lies that everyone knows are false. Tolkien wasn’t fooling anybody, or trying to. Objectively speaking, how could known falsehoods have any kind of influence on someone’s life?

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