The One Ring on Inauguration

Kenny Brechner - January 19, 2017

The inauguration tomorrow has commanded our attention to the point that it would be out of touch to write about anything else. Such singularity hearkens to Tolkien’s One Ring, the nature of whose power Galadrial showed Frodo when “She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark.” This is the essential nature of the will to power: it robs us of a multiplicity of worlds.
As every fantasy reader knows, multiple worlds and parallel dimensions are a core principle of both fantasy and science fiction, whether navigated by a physics box as in Blake Crouch’s recent Dark Matter or a nine lived enchanter as in Diana Wynne Jones’s classic Chrestomanci, the movement between adjacent worlds is intrinsic to reading because it is a metaphor for it. The operation of Crouch’s box, the power of Chrestomanci, is an extension of the reader’s power to choose and navigate between the parallel interrelated worlds which is literature. The hero’s journey is the reader’s journey, one might say. Not only is that journey worth fighting for but is related to and informs real world struggles against its suppression.

In this sense a threat to freedom and democracy is itself the dragon’s eye, which transfixes the beholder. Reading escapist books is not escapism. Even the sunniest worlds reckon with real-world problems. Consider Evelyn Waugh’s thoughts on P.G. Wodehouse. “Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.” Well said, Mr. Waugh.  Note, though, that even Wodehouse’s most lovably feckless narrator, Bertie Wooster, offers us insight into darker realms, as here when he confronts the would-be fascist Roderick Spode.
‘”The trouble with you, Spode, is that because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone.
“You hear them shouting ‘Heil Spode!’ and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode, swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher!'”
Waugh is right: of course Bertie is living in a less irksome world than ours. As our attention is commanded by real and existential political dangers it is important to remember that the imperative demand of our attention is itself an aspect of the problem, and one we can partially transcend by reading and through literary conversation. Remember, as Sam Gamgee did, even in his despair on the Tower of Cirith Ungol: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

6 thoughts on “The One Ring on Inauguration

    1. Kenny Brechner Post author

      Well Ellen, sticking with my Lord of the Rings motif, we “do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”

  1. Andrew Porter

    I’m just afraid that while Sauron and his Nine Riders—oh, sorry, Trump and his cabinet of billionaires—are in power, they will despoil and ruin much that we hold dear, like Ithilien and The Shire were. Yes, they will pass away, dispersed by the winds and barred from eternal life in the West (hey, LoTR sure is relevant!). But they will do untold damages to the environment and the body politic in the meantime.

    1. Kenny Brechner Post author

      Agreed! Still, perspective matters even when there is plenty to worry about and plenty to do. Sam didn’t exactly throw his hands up after making that observation.


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