Friday, May 12, 2017

The Meaning of Gems

Le Guin claims that many people ignore or disregard fantasies because they are afraid of freedom, dragons, the unknown, or all of the above.  Are these people really afraid of freedom or do they just not know what is out there?  The simplest (and perhaps too simple) explanation is that people don’t know what they don’t know.  They fail to realize that this “freedom” or unknown is even out there.  Many people are often exposed to these fantasies at a small age, read these stories for entertainment, and never fully grasp the complete meaning behind these stories.  When they return to these stories later in life, these fantasies are disregarded as childhood entertainment or just merely as a waste of time.  Oftentimes, however, many people never return to these stories since they are more focused on school, their careers, their family, or any other number of necessities of life.  As a result, they do not dig deeper into these fantasies to find the real significance behind them or to find the moral or enlightening themes hidden behind the plot and characters.

However, for the people that do know the real significance and power behind these fantasies and reject it, what is going on?  They see these dragons and disregard them as irrelevant childhood fantasies.  Le Guin believes that people are afraid of freedom or dragons or the unknown, but why would anyone be afraid of these?  What are they afraid that they will find if they begin to devote time to these stories?  The answer to these questions requires a deeper analysis into what these dragons actually do for the fantasy.  These dragons often serve as great nemeses in order to create heroes and heroines in the story.  They add a creative or mystical element to the story and expand the number of layers and dimensions that a fantasy can contain.  Finally, the one thing that all dragons have in common is that they hoard treasure.

In just analyzing treasure alone, the careful reader can find plentiful amounts of references and imagery that is far beyond the intellect of just a child.  Speaking of Frodo’s mithril-coat, “the gems on it glittered like stars, and the sound of the shaken rings was like the tinkle of rain in a pool” (LOTR, Book 2, Ch. 6).  Gimli has never “seen or heard tell of one so fair” (LOTR, Book 2, Ch. 6).  This description of Frodo’s coat of mail is eerily similar to the jewels gifted to Adam in the Garden of Eden where there were “precious stones of every kind…carnelian, topaz, and beryl…their mounts and settings were wrought in gold, fashioned for you the day you were created” (Ezek 28:13).  Someone glossing over this passage in the Lord of the Rings might miss this relation, but the critical reader will understand that this gift of the coat of mail serves more than just personal defense during military campaigns; it is a gift given and fashioned almost specifically for Frodo himself.  These stones are more than just shiny objects that make a good gift.  Throughout all of history, they have been considered almost good in and of themselves as when the author of Genesis writes, “The gold of that land is good; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there” (Gen 2:12).  In order to sense the value of these stones as more than just shiny or valuable objects, it demands some goodness and charity from within the person.  Frodo sees Galadriel’s ring in all of its splendor and observes that it “glittered like polished gold overlaid with silver light, and a white stone in it twinkled as if the Even-star had come down to rest upon her hand (LOTR, Book 2, Ch. 7).  Galadriel states that only another ring-bearer is able to see the ring.  In essence, it takes a certain amount of enlightenment or understanding in order to be enlightened.  This was a revelation for Frodo when he “gazed at the ring with awe; for suddenly it seemed to him that he understood” (LOTR, Book 2, Ch. 7).  Likewise, in order for the reader to participate in this revelation, the reader must give these fantasies a certain level of respect by reading each of the different elements charitably. 
Pearls come into being by forming around small dead creatures.  Likewise, the reader must let perish his cynicism that fantasies are just some childhood entertainment.  Once a new mode of charitable reading is taken,  then the beautiful and rich symbolism, imagery, and themes can manifest themselves in a more deeply enriched life of the reader.

-Peter L.

1 comment:

  1. Nice observations on Frodo's mithril coat and on the need for enlightenment to be enlightened! I am not sure you have answered your own question, however. Are people afraid of dragons or just unaware of what the treasure is that they hoard? Would they be less afraid once they realized how precious it is--or more? RLFB