Revisiting Tolkien on Mythology

29 Sep


Revisiting Tolkien on Mythology: How to get at the Real ‘Magic of Reality’ by going back to ‘Frodo the Hobbit’

I reproduce here a comment I made on John Landon’s blog.  I made my remark in light of Dawkins recent children’s book The Magic of Reality being discussed at various venues on the Internet and John’s reaction to it viz-a-viz scientism, nature, and human potential.  My point in doing so was, not so much to critique Dawkins’ approach to the issue, as to suggest a better way of going about it.  Admittedly, this is a kids book, written for children, in order to get them interested in learning more about science and getting inspired enough by the nature of our world to go into in it and do scientific research for themselves in order to uncover more of its “magic.”  But is that “magic (of reality)” more a product of human technical knowledge or discovering the wonder of nature in itself?  As I explain in my comment below, the answer to that question is essential.  Straight-jacket nature, and you’re left with “sorcery” not “magic.”

The modern world has produced many miracles.

But it’s produced an equal share of industrial & technological disasters as well.  Use the “magic” of science and nature the wrong way, or fail to mind its inherent worth as a system, and you make the world a living hell.

Technology Run Amok = Mordor/Isengard.


09.22.11  Dawkins and magic? Nah, back to Frodo the Hobbit – Posted in General at 1:04 pm by nemo – The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins – review: A brilliant introduction to science for children

In case the Dawkins folks thought a children’s book would get a free ride here….

The title of this book is all wrong. Reductionist scientism has TOTALLY misunderstood ‘magic’ (worse than religion), and, at this point, I think kids should go back to reading all about Frodo the Hobbit. Man’s ‘magical’ potential is being suppressed by science, and Dawkins is on the front lines of the whole villainy.


Can’t pass up commenting here …

Dawkins & Co. should re-read Frodo the Hobbit for themselves (if they haven’t done so already).  They should be re-visiting Tolkien on mythology, because then they’d discover the real story of this ‘magic’ behind reality. The point is, it’s art not mechanism that lies at the heart of real things in the world.  Elves in the Tolkien mythology understood this, they being the quintessential artists.  “Mechanism” as in strangle-holding Nature for purposes of “technologism” or “power” was what Sauron did; not “magic” as such, but “sorcery.”  If Dawkins and his followers really want to pursue this line of thought, they should at least get the basics right.

The “machine” comes from Mordor and Isengard, “magic” comes from the world of nature and experience.  The knowledge of Science/Nature, as such, is like a Palantir; good in itself, but all too prone to being used for the wrong reasons (i.e., technologism in the name of scientific advancement) [=Scientism], base utilitarianism, and the transformation of nature and people in the world to mere commodities for the benefit of social institutions and/or the powerful in society.

Dawkins, of course, isn’t Sauron, or even Saruman for that matter, but perhaps only a confused type of Denethor, daunted by the powers of his Palantir and the [metaphorical] Saurons of the world. … Reality is “magic”, but don’t expect to learn the craft from either the Denethors of “Science” nor the Grima Wormtongues of “Religion.”  … Best to learn it on its own terms.

Richard Dawkins: welcome to “Middle Earth”! …

Not “Middle World” as you call it, but a world that’s far richer and more poignant than anything that the wonders of human engineering, scientific advancement and technology have ever given us here upon this earth; a world that awaits us in the greater reading/study of History, Philosophy, Literature, and the other Humanities; a world in fact opened up for us all the more so for our learning about it through scientific research.  In the words of Gandalf the White to Theoden of Rohan on pgs. 151 and 153 of Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers “I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad” … “Cast aside your prop.” (LOTR, TTT, Ballantine Paperpack edition, 1973)

Dawkins & Company, then, should set aside their apparent “scientism” for the moment and step out into the world, seeing it for what it is: an experience. …

The fact is they know this, and they’ve already done it in large part (to address the Dawkins/Science critics).  How else, then, could science advocates also be the humanists they are, and see so much inspiration as they do in the study of nature through scientific method and research into the natural world? … The honest-to-goodness-truth is that it is only by viewing reality in such a light that one can see the world as being remotely “magical” and not just one more “assembly line” in the industry of creation. The byline of “scientism” may be the same; yet Science’s true, inspirational heart is in the right place.

So, science is fine; but when it becomes a mechanism of power and control rather than an artist’s brush for rendering the world as if on a canvas, that’s where it becomes its own worst enemy and the enemy of human progress. Therefore, it’s time the so-called, largely stereotyped and stereotypical “science movement” stepped into this larger world in earnest.  Once they do, they – and indeed our whole world – will never be the same for it.  That’s where the real magic of reality lies; not in the palantiri of technology, but in the arts of nature itself.  …

That’s the real “Magic of Reality.”  That’s Science’s real magic and nature’s too. Anything that falls short of it only produces more Mordors and Isengards.  We’ve seen enough of those in recent human history.

It’s time we restored Numenor instead to the annals of human experience and to the epic of human advancement.


4 Responses to “Revisiting Tolkien on Mythology”

  1. John Landon September 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    thanks for commentary

  2. Luke Rondinaro September 30, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    You’re welcome, John. I was glad you’d mentioned Tolkien’s work (ala Frodo the Hobbit), because it gave me the chance to flesh out my own points about it some more. I’m a big fan of Tolkien in case you hadn’t guessed, and am becoming more and more fascinated by his thought every year. Maybe he was just a reactionary Catholic and a romantic; but he just happened to have more going on with his work than just the dyed-in-the-wool Christianity of most of his contemporaries like Lewis and Chesterton, and that makes him unique as a literary figure. This ‘reactionary’ clearly understood the problems of technologism and modernization as well as the spirit of human creativity (i.e., its “magic”)(and the “magic of nature” that it came from) and didn’t shirk away from what he knew of the world out of mere religious expediency.

    Anyway, Dawkins I think, and other atheists, should embrace Tolkien if they actually want to follow this inspirationalist track with their secularism. It works as a good counterweight to standard tech-based scientism and reductionist pitfalls in contemporary philosophy.

    Instead of making people and things in nature mere cogs in the machinery of social power [i.e., via objectification and commodification], they should be viewed as ends in themselves or analogously as expressions of life’s own art.

    Anything else just demeans both people and nature in the name of science & technology.

  3. Luke Rondinaro September 30, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    I find it interesting that the secular humanists and new atheists of today are often beside themselves in having to reiterate their humanistic ideals to critics and distance themselves from the negative consequences of their “scientism” ( … and its ideological fruits in the misuse of technology as “power” and “control” over others and the world …) Greta Christina’s latest blog entry stands in testimony to this fact. ( It’s good they’re re-emphasizing their humanism in the face of the claim they’ve abandoned it for embracing technologistic science. Yet, they and their critics have a right to be worried by this too. They amongst others did buy into the corporate, capitalist line about subduing the world to their ends, and now we all see where that’s gotten us. Adam Smith-style Capitalism is the monster that ate its own tail … and in so many ways [technologically, socially, and economically], we see where that’s led … and to the catastrophes it’s led to. The world economy like the US economy is going to hell. Capitalism’s consuming itself, after consuming so much of the world and it’s this notion of ‘science’ as “power” (i.e., technologism or the “Machine’) that’s led to it and has been sustaining it. This is the fruit of utilitarian philosophy, capitalization of economy and society, and turning the world (including its peoples into objectified commodities).

    “Welcome … to the “Abyss” … of the Machine!”


  1. Darwiniana » Revisiting Tolkien on Mythology - September 29, 2011

    […] Revisiting Tolkien on Mythology […]

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