Part One: Discovering Rand and Tolkien
INTRO: How Tolkien and Rand became my favorite authors.
Growing up I remember being confused intellectually. The world never seemed sane or consistent. I remember thinking that something must happen to people as they got older that caused them to forget their values or that caused their values to change.
I was 13 or maybe 14 when I woke up. I am not sure what caused this awakening. I am even less sure that it was a good thing. All I know is what I remember, which is little. And I remember thinking that the world was completely fucked up and that I could in no way trust anything about it or anyone who wanted to participate in it. But it also had lots of things I liked and wanted to do. Conflicted!
It wasn’t too long after waking up that I dropped out of High School. I skipped a good part of my sophomore year and was rewarded with a 30 day suspension. I always thought that was a curious punishment and then forced to take all the exams that I had missed. I began to experiment with drugs, chess and other not too culturally accepted things. Finally, I left home the summer after my junior year to live with my dad in Louisiana (he and mom had divorced when I was only 3). That didn’t last long and by December I took off and didn’t even say goodbye to dad. I still regret that in many ways.
After catching a ride to San Antonio where a good friend of mine let me crash at his place, I soon discovered that I was completely aimless. After reflecting for a few months I decided to enter the Navy. It was there that I first read both Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien. They were such different authors and wrote from such different perspectives, that I was for a long time at a loss to explain my enjoyment of both.
TOLKIEN: Fantasy and Fairy
I read The Lord of the Rings as my introduction to Tolkien. I read it from beginning to end in less than 4 days. Then promptly reread it. It changed my life because it changed how I fundamentally viewed the world. It is difficult to explain why, and I will save that for another day. But the essence of the change involved perception and my subsequent relationship to the world in general.
Eventually, I went on to read almost everything Tolkien ever wrote and even made Tolkien the center piece of my Master’s work in college. And I expanded my research to include all the members of The Inklings, and many, many article and letters and critics that wrote on or included Tolkien in any meaningful way.
One of the things I learned during this time of intensive research was that Tolkien had an unusual political stance. He was a philosophical anarchist.
Also, a reading of On Fairy Stories and Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics is probably necessary to grasp the complexities of Tolkien as a thinker. For me, two important concepts came from these works.
First, is Tolkien's view that the poem Beowulf is essentially about a "man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time." The essential tragedy is man's brief mortal life. This tragedy would become "Man’s Gift" in The Lord of the Rings.
Second, that fairy stories allow the reader to review his own world from the "perspective" of a different world. This concept, which shares much in common with phenomenology, Tolkien calls "recovery," in the sense that one's unquestioned assumptions might be recovered and changed by an outside perspective.
Thus, I discovered an entire world predicated not on just reason and science, but of something else entirely. In fact, reason and science are often so tightly bound to a reigning paradigm that breaking from it becomes nearly impossible, hence Blake’s term “mind-forg'd manacles”.
RAND: Heroes and Ability
Almost a year after first reading Tolkien, a friend of mine in the ET shop on board the USS Enterprise loaned me a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Like The Lord of the Rings, I devoured the book in a few days and promptly reread it. It too fundamentally changed how I viewed the world. The essence of the change involved not my perception and relationship to the world in general, but with my perception of individuals and of their life line and of its connection to me.
Again, as with Tolkien, I went on to read almost everything Rand ever wrote. I even subscribed to"The Objectivist Newsletter", so I could get all the old back copies that were still in print at the time. And of course, as is my wont regarding authors that I enjoy, I began to read all around the edges too.
One of the things I learned during this time of intensive research was that Rand too had an unusual political stance. She believed that “politics is based on three other philosophical disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics—on a theory of man’s nature and of man’s relationship to existence.”
Unlike with Tolkien’s fiction, even the casual reader can discern Rand’s philosophical views (and hence her political stance) directly from her fiction; this is especially true in her two most popular works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Two important concepts of Rand’s philosophy pretty much jumped out at me. The first, as she expresses it, is the Law of Identity – A is A. She even makes that the title of the third section of “Atlas Shrugged”. The second concept, of equal importance to Rand, is primacy of the individual over society. Naturally, she sums it up best: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
And so, within the space of one year, I discovered the seemingly contradictory ideas that would drive me for the next 20 years: the need to break free from any ruling paradigm that I may have inherited, and the inexorability of logic.
Part Two will examine the relationships between Tolkien's Philosophical Anarchy and Rand's notion of the Primacy of the Individual and how the are represented in the novels.