After writing some comments about the feeling of distance in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (and the relative success (or lack thereof) achieved by the recent film version in conveying that), I was tickled to read Kathryn Kramer's essay "Middle Earth Enchants a Returning Pilgrim" in the 30 December 2002 issue of the New York Times. Kramer clearly loves the books, and accurately fingers the root of Tolkien's genius: "... the unflagging quality of the prose, the range of Tolkien's descriptive powers, [and] how integrally involved the plot is with the landscape."
Kramer marvels at Tolkien's naturalistic descriptive powers, "... not for 15 pages, or 50, but throughout the trilogy, more words in English to describe place than most of us use in a lifetime." (emphasis added) She speculates that there's something peculiar about England, perhaps, that nurtures this kind of consciousness:
This English sensibility about landscape, where does it come from? England is the land best known for standing stones and ley-lines, but were these imposed on the topography by their builders, or were they responding to something already in the place? There's a way of locating buildings quintessentially English, seeming to give form to what the terrain was wanting --- right there, on that hillock, in that dale --- to articulate. German castles towering at improbable heights proclaim how astonishing it is that they should exist, that humans built them; French chateaus affirm a serene orderliness; Italian villas and their grounds express a charming regret that humans should be so much better at ordering nature than she is herself.
Over-generalization? Maybe so, but with an element of truth. And setting aside the nationalistic caricatures, Kramer hits the mark when she identifies a key element of LotR as "[t]he feeling of there being intention in place ..." (emphasis added) and in conclusion when she notes "He didn't, in other words, paint the world around us with a magic brush, he reminded us of the actual magic already there ...."
TopicLiterature - Datetag20030107