Greetings to all! This post has come a little later than I had planned, but here is my first blog post for 2020!
What does it mean to live forever? To some, that might mean having your body cryogenically frozen to be revived later or have their consciousness downloaded onto a computer. (I far as I know, neither one of these technologies are foolproof yet.) I think for most people, however, to be immortal means something completely different.
The way I view the world, there are two ways as humans we can attain immortality. The first, is to pass along our genes to our children. Though one day we each will make the journey into the great unknown, our children are the living breathing incarnations of ourselves. How often have you heard someone say that they have their mother’s eyes, their father’s mannerisms, or a grandparent’s smile? In many ways, we are the new and improved versions of our ancestor’s, trying in our own way to make something of our lives and to leave a mark on this world.
The ability to create art is one characteristic we can point too and say, “That makes us human.” Defining art can be tricky. The best definition that I found was in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.
Humans have created art for a long time. Caves in Spain and southern France have wall paintings that date back to nearly 30,000 years ago. So, before we had things like air conditioning, indoor plumbing, cities, written language, and even farming, we had art. The ability for humans to see past the grind of the day to day existence, and be able to conceive of ideas and concepts that had nothing to do with actual survival is perhaps the most unlikely of characteristics to have as a species when you consider all of the millions of species that live on earth now and ever have existed.
I propose great art is a way to transcend death as well. When you can walk into a museum and look at a painting that is hundreds of years older than the United States, it gives you perspective. When you look at some of the great Renaissance paintings you almost get that feeling that you can see through Davinci’s or Rembrandt’s eyes and seeing the world as they did all those centuries ago.
In a more modern sense, we have recorded music that acts in the same way. Stair Way to Heaven was released by Led Zeppelin almost 50 years ago. It’s a song that has been played literally countless times on the radio. And the reason is because it resonates with people. No matter a person’s age, economic background, or even musical taste, the song has an otherworldly quality to it. It’s a really long song by any era’s radio standards, but 50 years later that 8-minute song still has meaning to millions of people. The song is so transcendent that new bands continue to cover it, not to give the song new meaning, but to pay homage to a song that defined rock and roll. To be remembered is to live eternally.
Books allow their authors to live immortal lives as well. While music has an ability to touch our souls and emotions, literature allows us to dive in even deeper into the human psyche and experience. I am an unapologetic fantasy buff, so you can guess where this example will come from. You guessed it, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat and the Hat. What were you expecting? Green Eggs and Ham? Okay, maybe you are awake now. In all the seriousness I can muster, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
As humans, a skill we acquire at a very young age is the ability to tell when someone is faking it. Remember the first time one of your parents or older siblings was playing you in a game and purposely let you win and it made you mad? Yeah, we all want to win and to experience that feeling, but we want it to be real. We apply that standard to lots of things in our lives, especially when it comes to art. Do you want that piece of paper that is mass produced and perfectly printed from some factory printer or do we want a hand painted work of art that the artist put their very soul into? The answer is easy (for most humans with feelings at least), we want the real thing.
The Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien’s works of Middle-Earth are so beloved because Tolkien’s soul is written into the very pages of his books. From the languages that he invented (Yes, that is languages plural; the guy was an expert linguist on ancient languages), the characters, to the locations on his world map, there is nothing contrived about his work. The man had a love for nature, peace, the goodness that is within each of us, and the natural wonders of the world. A veteran of the Battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest battles of World War I, the imagery written describing the Dead Marshes captures the horror young Lieutenant Tolkien faced in the trenches and No Man’s land of the Western Front. The tragedy and loss of the Great War left a permeant scar on Tolkien’s soul, and his mythology of Middle-Earth is his quest to identify and confront evil and to ascertain what price would humanity be willing to pay to defeat evil.
I am no Tolkien, hate to break that to you guys. But I follow his example and that of many others. I hope some day soon that I can begin to make a living from my writing. But I am not going to be the author that follows mass market trends and essentially mimic the same stories that other writers are pumping out. Will my books have similarities to other author’s works? Sure, I think that is unavoidable. But what I am writing, or what I am trying to write at least, is something authentic. I want my books to fun and exciting, but I also want them to resonate with my readers on an emotional level. When you read series such as Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time, those characters and stories feel real. There are emotional highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies. You also have some of the most emotional and spiritual experiences you can have reading a work of fiction.
The Lord of the Rings became popular in the United States around the same time Led Zeppelin rose to fame. (Zeppelin has some fun LOTR references in some songs). In many ways, this was in part because of the Counter-Culture in the U.S., which rejected the destruction of the environment and the bloody and destructive Vietnam War. What did hippies, nerdy kids, and Tolkien have in common? They yearned for lives that were deeper than being numbers in a sterile world devoid of color and emotion. Tolkien did not abhor all technology, just our desire as a society to tame, conquer, and destroy the natural world. And those are just some of the truths Tolkien expresses in LOTR.
These days, readers still yearn for authenticity and truth in what they read. I try to do that in this blog; it’s a little harder to do it in a 90,000+ book. But again, when a book speaks of truth and you put forth your authentic self in your written pages, your words achieve real meaning and a life of their own. My writing will not define the success of my life; though it is my hope that some day long after I am but a memory that someone will read one of my books and that story will have the same effect o them that Frodo and his fellowship had on me.