“On the land of Lórien there was no stain.”
The chapters on Lothlórien have always been my favorite in LotR. I remember after the first time I read it, I took a stroll in the neighborhood still lost in enchantment. I looked up at the trees above me. They were yellowish and grey, not exactly gold and silver like mallorn trees, but still slightly reminiscent of the Golden Forest. I stopped. And as if for the first time during the 8 years I had lived there I really looked at them. For a moment I forgot about where I was. I thought I must be wandering in the winter of Lothlorien, and it took me a while to realize that I was in my summer clothes.
Lothlórien is the Pearl of Middle-Earth. It is stainless, immaculate, and powerful like a gem. It keeps Evil at bay. And it also possesses some of the “magical” properties that Marbodius of Rennes discovered in jewels, particularly the power of healing: when the fellowship enters the forest, river Silverlode washes away their weariness. After a long journey of perils, they feel “refreshed” again by the water and woods of Lórien. Yet the most powerful enchantment of this forest perhaps lies not in physical recovery of weary travelers, but in the Recovery of their souls.
“It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no color but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful.”
The forest makes Frodo look at everything he used to be familiar with in a new light. Entering into the heart of the Forest, Frodo’s vision is somehow recovered. When he looks around in wonder, he regains the vision of the first man, of Adam, who first gave names to every piece of God’s creation. This power of “Recovery — regaining of a clear view” is analogous to the power of Fantasy. As Tolkien mentions in his essay “On Fairy Stories”, Fantasy allow us to “look at green again, and be startled anew by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, dogs, horses, and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make.” (77) Indeed, Lothlórien itself can be seen as a fantasy within this fantasy, if we recall how the heroes (except Aragorn) have only heard of it in songs and tales before they enter the forest.
Fantasy too is a gem. It is a piece of sub-creation, wrought with no less craftsmanship than Feanor has wrought the Silmarils. It is a gem with the power of Recovery that frees us “from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness” (77) and regains us a fresh vision. When Adam first looked upon Earth, he was enchanted by everything he saw. By naming the creations of God in veneration, he participate in the similar act of sub-creation. But after thousands of years we men seem have grown tired of those creations: they become familiar, trite, and no longer magical. “We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them” (77) —Wait! Isn’t that exactly a description on the behaviors of dragons? For like dragons we hoard the glittering gems of God’s creation. We grow trees and then claim them to be our“garden property.” We buy jewels and forget the light inside come from the light of the Trees, or that of the Creator. Like dragons we only “sleep” on those gems with no awe or appreciation, and by doing so we have ceased to create other gems—we’ve lost the ability of naming, the magic of sub-creation Adam had when he first looked upon this world. At least, we no longer “create” gems as “gems,” but gems as money, status, power, etc. etc. And worse: we sometimes use the Fire that give life to gems not to create but to destroy. We “create” weapons and make war. Like dragons we get furious over gems that have never belonged to us. We spit fire to secure our hoardings.
So why are Americans afraid of dragons? The answer now has become clearer. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of their own life, trite and drab despite the appearance of “power,” like that of a dragon. They imprison themselves in their holes, filled with gems whose beauty they no longer appreciate. The gems of novels, jewelries, art are reduced to money and the gems of trees, stars, rivers have become objects that are either meaningless or can be possessed. The gems of sub-creation and of creation have lost their significance in their eyes. They lock themselves inside the dull “reality” they made up and are afraid of coming out of their lair to face the true, glittering reality as it is. Ursula Le Guin is right. Fantasy is true. Adults “know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living.”They reject fantasy because they refuse to acknowledge that their lives are pathetically meaningless compared to that of the heroes.
Yes, reading fantasy is an Escape, just as staying in Lothlorien is a temporary “escape” from the central task of the fellowship. But “why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” (79). Fantasy is an Escape necessary for Recovery, so that the heroes could go on. Le Guin claims that this escape is useful because it gives “pleasure and delight,” but there is much more. We, like those heroes, need Escape to be aware of what is truly worth fighting for when we go back to our Quest of life: the beauty of trees, of pearls, of stories, and above all the Creation against destruction and possessiveness. Reading fantasy makes us appreciate the gems of God’s creation. Gathering the light from His creation we thereby become free to “sub-create” gems like Fëanor, instead of being imprisoned in a hole full of mere objects that we hoard in blindness of their value.