I find myself closing most fantasy these days. Closing it before finishing the book. And this is something that is anathema to me. I can’t abide starting something and not finishing it. If you do that too many times in life, it starts to numb your soul. Eventually, it will leave you with little life left.
But I cannot finish most fantasies these days. They leave me in despair, just as most broadcast news, entertainment, politics, the things that pass for popular culture, they usually do the same. Darkness is winning the battle against hope.
There are no more Tolkiens left. He was a unique man, granted, born and educated during unique times. He correctly saw the fall of the West, despite two dreadful wars that were won against the evil of totalitarianism. There are other ways for countries to fall in battle than on mere and literal battlefields. The West, despite defeating Hitler, was losing its war to the Visigoths of culture within the gate.
And Tolkien saw that. He also saw that heroes were not to be found among the might of men, but amidst the humility of the weak waiting upon the divine rights of providence. Aragorn could not save the West. Even Frodo himself could not, but the inexorable and quite hand of providence could, leading the little hobbits along their unlikely path to a fixed appointment with doom and destiny.
If Tolkien’s perspective was not clear, then consider, in The Return of the King, his juxtaposition of Aragorn leading the might of the free West to the gates of Mordor and subsequent despair as the armies of Sauron are revealed, versus Sam and Frodo wearily making their way to the fires of Mount Doom. The message is painfully evident: the heroism of Man can only go so far (and not that far at all). The real cog of history is the tiny wheel that labors away in obscurity and, at the end of the day, must rely on much deeper strengths than itself: the crooked, providentially cursed life of Gollum, the Eagles, sacrifice.
Light in the darkness. As opposed to most stories these days, which are dreary variations of meaningless in the darkness, sex in the darkness, violence in the darkness, navel-gazing in the darkness, darkness in the darkness. When you’ve read one or watched one, you’ve read and watched them all.
Mind you, before you accuse me of complete despair and sweeping statements, I said “mostly.”
And what is my pompous recommendation? Read more of older books. Dip cautiously into newer books with a critical eye and ear. Be careful. Young trees do not have much to speak of in the roots department. But old ones do. And the old trees that had rotten roots dipped down into diseased waters, why, they’ve already fallen down and crumbled away.