Tuesday's book

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, myth and memory: by Patrick Curry Floris Books, pounds 15.99

Teasing Tolkien and his disciples is not nearly such fun as it must have been 40 years ago when Hugo Dyson, during one of the master's Oxford readings to fellow Inklings, was heard to mutter "Not another fucking elf". However popular The Lord of the Rings turned out to be, other critics at the time were also sceptical about this intensely backward-looking, patriarchal vision of a society where filial loyalty was everything and mechanical progress beyond a horse and cart seen as a disaster.

This was the 1960s, after all, when progress was measured largely in terms of how fast any person or institution could break away from the past. Celebrating rural, semi-feudal values might be OK for country weekends, but had no place in any political philosophy, left or right.

Succeeding generations read classic texts in the light of what has happened since. This means that Tolkien today can no longer be accused of nostalgic sentimentality. His depictions of blighted landscapes where individuals are cowed and nature defiled by an impersonal superpower are now too close for comfort. The point is made many times in Patrick Curry's sombre study. Yet Tolkien's practical message has not become any clearer: in a world bereft of helpful wizards, it is not easy to know exactly what to do given the seriousness of our current environmental concerns.

One answer might be to join the ecological activists, and the book's cover carries a photograph of a Swampy-Hobbit look-alike chained to a tree and playing a penny whistle. But it is hard to think of an old Tory like Tolkien getting rid of his car and joining in. He may turn out to be a prophet, but he never pretended to be a political or economic analyst.

He was, however, a superb storyteller, even though his language is sometimes overblown, his heroes too heroic and his heroines largely invisible. Curry spends time attacking Tolkien's critics for complaining about such things, but they never even dented his continuing popularity. The essence of mythopoeic literature is that it means different things to different readers.

Curry draws stimulating analogies with Tolkien and today's Green movement; his book deserves to be read. The irony is that those who find such doomsday messages too uncomfortable can and do turn to Tolkien again - but this time for the imaginative escape from threatening realities offered by his well-crafted epic, in which characters walk so tall and evil is finally defeated.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

    £25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

    Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

    £45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible