Recently, I was suckered into watching the Hobbit with my niece. Warning now, this post is kind of hilarious, sad and hopeful all at once so here it goes. I’ve always been a fan of the Elves in his books but something resonated with me more this time than other times I’ve read his books and watched the films.
It’s that when Tolkien created the Elves, in many ways he was creating an archetype for the people in our culture no one really has good name for. You find us in every walk of life. We’re thoughtful, empathetic, socially motivated to our core watch keepers with a deep desire to retreat inward paired with deeply held ideals we are not afraid to speak loudly about. We are slow to rise but once we’ve engaged, not only do we believe we must fight, we embody the notion and will extend huge amounts of our life force to accomplish our aims. We also possess a strong need to withdraw away from people for extended periods to heal and we have no problem being alone.
There are many names for us: Visionary, Artist, Witch, Evil — these are all titles I’ve had slung onto me over the years but the truth is none of them even get quite close to the justice Tolkien does with the Elves. All of these titles suggest a distance from the norm and they are all terms people apply to others they do not quite fully understand. Tolkien does a better job for precisely this reason. He allows people into their world and shows them the other side — the massive cost the Elves pay for action, their deep contemplation and their purpose. He also sums up the inner conflict they feel to society around engagement. They want to act and are compelled to retreat simultaneously.
In fairness, the Jedi are a similar idea. Half the time the Jedi are in the thick of the battle and the other times, in the swamp. The only reason I think the Jedi are less realistic is that the force seems endless in their hands — it never burns through them. Elves have this tragic flaw and ultimately, I think that makes them more human than the Jedi. This archetype of person has existed possibly for hundreds of years or longer. Jung labels us INFJs. Marcus Aurelius is the most famous Greek I know of with these traits. There are countless others.
There’s only one thing I know for certain. We’re rare. At 41, I’ve come to accept most of the world will never make sense to me completely nor will I make sense to it. My motivations often are obscure and unclear to others and at long last, I’m ok with that.
To a six year old, Elves are a bit scary. They do not posses the moral certainty of other races. In fact, I think to most people, fluid individuals like Elves are possibly terrifying. I’ve absolutely been told before I have no morals. This statement is in fact, incorrect. I simply posses a longer view on what morality really is, which is relative. Often, I read as ambivalent but the truth is, it’s very hard to get upset when you properly understand reality. Life is fundamentally an act of violence.
And in this ambiguity, I find a certain kind of sublime beauty. If you think a murder is violent, try a black hole.
That said, I feel a huge, conflicting pull to protect life. And that’s love. I believe love and violence are really the same thing just simply at different moments in time. This black hole? It’s going to shoot star food back out into the universe and help birth new stars. And it’s love which ultimately drives Tolkien’s Elves.
And that brings me to now. Maybe this happens in every adult life or maybe not but right now, the world is packed full of violence. Epic, ridiculous, huge amounts of violence I no longer even feel qualified to discuss seems to be streaming out of humanity from all angles and because of that I am going to make a wild prediction.
I believe we potentially will see, in our lives, the beginning of a very deep peace in which we’ll fix the problems of our civilization. It will likely be towards in the end of my life but perhaps not too late for children being born now to enjoy. That said, we are not to the dawn yet and firmly in darkness. The next fifty years might be the bleakest humanity has ever seen. If we survive it, we might not even be human in the end. We might evolve into something entirely new even just to survive our climate.
Tolkien wrote his books as parables of war. What would he write now?
I invite you down this thought exercise. I’d like to imagine the Elves would find a way to return.