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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lord of the Rings...

 means so many different things to an assortment of wildly different people who take it into their heart. This was what J.R.R. Tolkien intended when he wrote – basically, an intention to intend nothing directly but the creation of well-spun yarn in honor of his native England. But of course his personal sentiments and experiences did in the end get downloaded into the manuscript, from his involvement in the two world wars to his Catholic world view to his romantic attraction to the culture of the ancient Anglo-Saxons.

    Although he would go on to holler at C.S. Lewis for making his enchanted realm of Narnia something of a mythological alphabet soup, Middle Earth is certainly something of a hodge-podge in its own right. And while it may not have been an intended allegory, Tolkien was all too well aware that people would create allegories of their own. But that’s what makes it relatable, and why people continue to see something new in it each time it’s taken up. So getting to my point and my source of comparison…

    As most of you know, I recently completed my stint working as a political activist for the preservation of the UK and the prevention of Scotland breaking away. My reasons, put simply, were as follows: I love the British culture, created by the merging of English and Scottish ones; I realized how important Britain is to world, especially in these increasingly unsettled times, and knew losing her as a united force would weaken us all; I knew a split would hurt my British friends, emotionally and economically; I detected something deeply wrong, perversely twisted in the perspective of the independence advocates, in perverting history and current events for their own gains.

     So I cast my lots on the side of the Union Jack, and I’ll admit it was a wild ride and continues to be. But all the work paid off when the unionists won the Scottish Independence Referendum this past September. So with our recent victory being the main topic of our conversation, I was speaking with my friend Laurellian, another fan of LotR, who also happens to be a British Unionist. I mentioned to him that there were a number of things in the course of the campaign that brought to mind Tolkien’s story. Before long his quick wit was turned to it and he started making allegorical comparisons between the different characters. For the fun of it, I thought I’d share with you some of the connections we made.

   So our Sauron had to be Alex Salmond, the leader of the movement to dissemble Britain by pulling Scotland out of the union. Charismatic, arrogant, and none-too-worried about making outlandish promises he has no way of keeping, the gentleman has also proven himself to something of a spoil-sport in recent weeks, going back on his word to work for the unity of Scotland-in-Britain by trying to stir up trouble between the Scottish people and the British government all over again. But he was defeated, nevertheless, and had to resign his post as First Minister of Scotland. The application is this: while Sauron saw the Ring as the ultimate key to power, Salmond seems to have seen independence which would have made him a big fish in a smaller pond. But in both cases, their arrogance was undone by people willing to take their chances and stand up against his bid for that power.

    With the fire-eye finally extinguished (or at least dimmed), Salmond’s minions of fanatical followers who refuse to abide by the will of the people and continue to champion break-up we dubbed orks. The Scottish Nationalist Party leaders orchestrating the movement have to be uruk-hai. Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s likely successor, we fondly knighted as Gollum. And as for Sir Sean Connery, the intrepid Scottish martyr for the cause of freedom (er…actually tax-exile in the Bahamas…), we gave the illustrious position of Witch-King. Actually, when I think about it, his voice would have perfect for the part in the movie…but onto the application: it was a close fight. Even holding status quo, we actually had a lot against us, mostly a false romanticization about utopia that would be established in the wake of The UK’s destruction and the constant cyber-nat-ing and ranting trying to throw us off our game. But we pushed them back just short of the gates, and have lived to fight another day.

    Moving on to “the good guys”, it was settled that Alistair Darling should be our Frodo. Pretty much the antithesis of Salmond, he is generally laid-back, unassuming, and not given to outlandish displays. Okay, I’ll be blunt: the guy’s an ultra-nerd with thick-rimmed glasses and black eyebrows that need brushing and starkly contrast with is white hair. But he is intelligent, steady under fire, and by all accounts a decent guy. Over the course of the referendum, as leader of the campaign to keep the Union together, he really did have to walk “a lonely road”, and very nearly went down with the ship for his lack of charisma and being overly courteous to the emotionally extroverted Salmond in debates. But his slow-and-steady approach was apparently not lost entirely on the voters, and there was nothing quite as moving as hearing him announcing victory over the radio, saying that Scotland had remembered the bonds of unity between herself and the rest of The UK. “May they never be broken.” He may have been a bit like a hobbit, small and dorky in comparison with the epic forces at work. And yet he stuck to his guns to saw it through, just like Frodo.

    Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and MP for Kirkcaldy, was our pick for Gandalf. After all, just like at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, he did come riding into the fray last minute when things were looking increasingly desperate, and managed to connect the “head and heart” arguments why Britain should not fragment, but continue to exist as a force for good in the world. As for our Aragorn…well, I’ll admit that Laurellian and I might not quite agree on this one, but I’ll nominate the Prime Minister David Cameron. I know he’s made a lot of mistakes in the past, on any number of issues, but still. This whole thing probably cost him quite a few years off of his life. I mean, who wants to preside over a country that breaks up because you gave the secessionists a binding vote? But in the end he did come through, making the needed offers of compromise and surviving the long night. And his commanding speeches on BBC did have a kingly air to them…don’t tell the Queen I said that! ;-)

    I fancy the rest of us to be like the riders of the Rohirrim and foot soldiers of Gondor. Sure, why not? All the writing, planning, the arguing, the hustling about. Even for me, on this side of the Atlantic, the whole thing felt like a small war. For people who had deal with it in their faces day after day in their native land, it must have been more than heart-wrenching. It still is in many ways. No one has had the chance to recover, and yet there are glaring signs, jeering rallies, ominous threats. Hopefully these after-effects will gradually decrease in time, but everyone must still keep their guard up. They may still be out there, but the point is we’re still out there too.

    And what would Tolkien think of all this conjecture, you might ask? Well, I’m sure he would expect it after such a momentous event. I honestly don’t know what his personal opinions would be on Unionism, since he was culturally quite an English nationalist and hated garbling “Englishness” with “Britishness”. But somehow I don’t think he would have rejoiced to see a perfectly good marriage of nations crumble in a veritable no-fault divorce. He was too much of a Catholic in world view for that. And I can’t believe he would have favored the manic depressant attitude that the independence people have adopted to invalidate the concept of Britain. No, how could he have after infusing his stories with such a glorious thread of hope amidst despair?

    Tolkien’s own time was a rough one for Britain. Two world wars with only one generation in between, economic depressions, and the collapse of a profitable empire left the Brits at the mercy of other nations to help them regain their bearings. But they would never be top nation again and that hurt British pride. In literature, there was a rise in depressive story lines about loss of identity and the unstoppable crumbling of society such as the 1954 dystopian novel by William Golding called Lord of the Flies. But Tolkien was a different man than Golding. He had a deep and abiding belief in the theological virtue of hope, that things can change for the better, that individuals can build up as well as tear down, and that there is a Light that can never be extinguished even when things looked the darkest. Britain needs that spirit now more than ever. As I’m sure Tolkien would heartily agree, the most important thing for her to do is to turn to God for strength and direction as she struggles to renew and reunify in the years to come.

The Creator of an Epic of Hope

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