“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
When hiking in the Berkeley Hills, I often think of this poem from The Lord of the Rings. In some places, I half expect to see a Hobbit or Ranger trampling along the trail. (Click images for larger version.)
In other dark places, I wonder if a Ring Wraith might not be lurking behind some tree or rock.
And in some, I can almost feel the presence of the Elves, the beauty of the trees, light, and sky is so breath-taking.
It was my happy privilege to read The Lord of the Rings while stationed in the Army in Augsburg, Germany. The trilogy was transformative for me, because somehow, reading it gave me back the “magic” of nature, the wonder of it. I’d somehow lost this feeling over the years through a combination of materialistic reductionism and a starkly dualistic religion that made this world at best a counterfeit of some abstract glorious realm that transcended material life.
As the wonders of the Tolkien’s story-telling unfolded, I felt my heart open up again to the beauty of nature all around me. In the incredible beauty of Black Forest trails, I was in Middle-Earth!
The charm of Bavaria, the rustic houses and even the dress of the people you’d meet on the trails, all lent themselves to the feel you’d stepped into a fairy tale. I can only image that the Cotswolds of England could more feel like Middle-Earth in the look and atmosphere.
I often marveled at this transformation of my heart. Yes, the story was beautiful, and wondrous, but why did it change my perception of nature so much?
Then, sometime later, I read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” and everything made sense.
What happened to me was what happened to Tolkien himself, though the “magic” of words: “It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”
It was the wonder of the “mundane”—of stone, wood, tree, and grass, and the simple pleasures of food and true companions—that Tolkien’s story gave back to me, and it has never left. Genuine presence, being here and now, is “fairy,” is “magic.” It does transform everything into “Middle-Earth”—or the Pure Lands of Buddhism or the kingdom of heaven of Christianity and Islam.
As Tolkien says so beautifully:
“Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”