Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The New Arrival: Strange Bedfellows

So, the latest in a string of recent orders of Tolkien books arrived on Saturday, and it's probably the strangest of the lot: PAGAN RESURRECTION by Richard Rudgley. This came out four years ago without my noticing it -- not surprising, since its main topic is Odin-worship (not exactly this Presbyterian's forte) and what he sees as its revival in various forms in modern times. But how cd I resist, once I fd out it had a chapter on Tolkien -- esp since Rudgley wrote THE LOST CIVILISATIONS OF THE STONE AGE [1998], probably my favorite book on prehistory.*

Well, it's now here and I've read the Tolkien chapter (Chapter XIV: An English Mythology), which turns out to be only seven pages long and, as its title indicates, focuses on Tolkien's drawing on Norse sources in creating his Mythology for England. I'm glad to report that it's pretty solid, if not groundbreaking.

The strange part is that here we see Tolkien in a context in which, thankfully, he rarely appears. The chapter before the one devoted to Tolkien (Chapter XIII: The Dark Lord of the Rings) is about the influence of Norse myth on the Nazis, opening with a quote from Heinrich Himmler -- the rings of the chapter's title are the SS deathhead's rings they got upon being sworn in. The chapter after the one on Tolkien (Chapter XV: The Possessed) that looks at mass murderers, serial killers, and school shooters, starting with an overview of Charles Manson's career. Yikes.

On a less sinister note, he also discusses Bulwer-Lytton and, at least in passing, Rudolf Steiner, Max Muller, &c., and for some reason reproduces a v. nice picture of Snorri Sturluson's house (or actually the foundation thereof). Here's a quote that I think gives a pretty good idea of the flavor of his book:

"Odin has been identified as the prototype of Father Christmas and the inspiration for Tolkien's wizard Gandalf, yet his sinister presence is implicated in the rise of Nazism and Adolf Hitler as well as in the depravities of modern American serial killers. Is the pagan legacy to be found in the demonic ravings of the Ruhrer or in the gentle yet hypnotic attraction of the Lord of the Rings, or do both tell part of the tale? . . . Bearing in mind what we know of Odin's complex character and moral ambiguity, that the archetype could actually be manifesting in all these ways simultaneously cannot be ruled out and in fact obeys its own particular logic. One thing at least is clear: Tolkien the novelist and philologist, Jung the Psychologist, and Duclos the sociologist all claim that myths are alive and affect us today. All three see the power of northern myths at work in different ways in our culture." (pages 173-174)

No index, so I can't tell if there are other passing references to Tolkien in it; if so, I suspect they're pretty minor. More later if, on a full reading, results warrant.


*Rudgley argues that many of the elements that make up 'civilization' --use of fire, living in villages, art, domesticated animals, weaving baskets to store food, some limited agriculture**, &c.--were already present ten, twenty, maybe thirty thousand years ago. So it's not 'a lost civilization' as in Atlantis but as in we underestimate our ancestors and how much they were like us.

(**which he believes started to secure access to reliable supplies of inebriates and hallucinogens, not food)

No comments: