J.R.R. Tolkien, widely hailed as the father of the resurgent “high fantasy” of the modern era, died 50 years ago today.
Tolkien, who passed at 81 on Sept. 2, 1973, is remembered by Ed West, who writes about Tolkien’s legacy and increasing influence today in his timely Substack column Wrong Side of History.
With Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings having been inducted in 2009 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, LFS members certainly remember and admire Tolkien.
But in his striking and thought-provoking column, West praises Tolkien in extraordinary ways – perhaps even more highly than do libertarians, who admire the British author for the mythic world-building, rich storytelling and poignant themes of his cautionary libertarian fable about the inevitable temptations and corruptions of absolute power.
West goes so far as to call Tolkien “the most important creative mind of the modern age.”
You can’t get away from it these days, for good or ill.
Just about anywhere you look, from mainstream newspapers and magazines to Substack blogs and social-media references, writers, columnists and commentators frequently are referencing classic novels, stories and fables to forge timely metaphors about today’s trends.
All too many prove to be cautionary warnings about the importance of telling the truth, in the midst of so many public falsehoods… and draw upon some of the most enduring Prometheus-winning works of fiction, from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Rush, the Canadian art-rock group, stopped touring in 2015 and retired three years later, but still has legions of admirers around the world.
Many are science fiction fans, who appreciate their sf- or fantasy-themed songs (“The Trees”) and albums (2112). And quite a few are libertarians, who appreciate their themes affirming individualism and individual liberty (such as “Free Will” and “Tom Sawyer.”)
Those and other Rush fans should appreciate a recent Law and Liberty article paying tribute to Neil Peart, Rush’s late great drummer.
“Early on, Peart’s lyrics reflected a devotion to individualism, and his protagonists in songs such as “2112,” “Red Barchetta,” and “Tom Sawyer,” are driven primarily by their desire for free expression,” Jordan T. Cash writes in his essay.
Why didn’t the Eagles fly the ring to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings?
Even if you haven’t heard fans argue over the alleged “eagle plot hole” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Prometheus-winning trilogy, you should find economist Bryan Caplan’s recent blog post illuminating – as well as Ilya Somin’s Reason posting about it.
An economics professor at George Mason University and a New York Times bestselling author, Caplan finds many parallels – and similar flaws – between such fan criticisms of Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy and socialist criticisms of free markets.
Who had the more prophetic and realistic vision of a dystopian future?
George Orwell? Or Aldous Huxley?
Orwell, most famous for Nineteen Eighty-Four (one of the earliest works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame), was inspired by Stalinist communism in imagining his “hard tyranny” of brute dictatorship.
Huxley, best known for Brave New World, worried that a softer tyranny would ultimately prevail, one more insidious partly because it was more enveloping of both politics and culture and more seductive via a future of mindless pleasures.
Writing for the Institute for Art and Ideas, a British philosophical organization founded in 2008, British university instructor Emrah Atasoy compares Orwell and Huxley’s different dystopian visions in an informed and provocative essay: “Orwell, Huxley and the path to truth: How fiction can help us to understand reality.”
Robert Shea and his son, Michael. (Photo from Bobshea.net, maintained by Michael Shea.)
If you are reading this blog, there is a reasonable chance you have read Illuminatus!, the literary work originally published as an original paperback trilogy by Dell books and later collected into a one volume omnibus. It was written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, and it was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1986. (Robert Shea was actually a member of the Libertarian Futurist Society. Shea’s acceptance speech is available here.)
If you weren’t familiar with the books and essays of J. Daniel Sawyer until recently, join the club.
A prolific writer of more than 31 fiction and nonfiction books, including several in the sf and mystery genres, and 24 short stories – not to mention being a huge fan of Robert Heinlein – Sawyer deserves to be much better known by libertarian sci-fi fans and LFS members.
That’s especially because Sawyer has written two books about Heinlein and one of his nine novels is explicitly structured and billed as a “Heinlein juvenile.”
Censorship, suppression of literature and “bowdlerization” of our culture has a long, harmful and shameful history – and is anathema to libertarians, who favor full freedom of expression and artistic liberty.
The Prometheus blog has posted several articles recently about the disturbing recent spate of efforts to suppress or change the original wording and author’s intent of Roald Dahl in his children’s fantasy classics.
Similar suppression sadly has been reported about efforts to shove down the Orwellian memory hole some wording in the original editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
It’s even extended to the Goosebumps children’s horror-comedy series, many books of which were changed by the publisher without the knowledge or consent of the series’ still-living author R.L. Stine.
This is a troubling time for libertarians, classical liberals and all lovers of liberty and art – which is why it’s important to seek out, read and digest the best insights about the roots of this anti-authoritarian trend and how we might strive to better support both liberty and literature that reflects the intent of its creators.
Perhaps the most illuminating, historically aware and wisest commentary I’ve come across about this disturbing modern recurrence of bowdlerization was written recently by J. Daniel Sawyer as a guest post on the Substack blog of Holly Math Nerd.