Whither the Black Riders?

It has been at least 20 years since I last read through J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, and my memories of the books are dimmed by the specter of Peter Jackson’s excellent film versions. What I do remember is that the story moved along at an almost leisurely pace at first, allowing the reader to get to know the characters before anything too dramatic happened. After reading a number of page-turners recently I have been looking for something that I can slow down with- L.O.R seemed like the perfect choice.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is often comsidered to be the father of the modern fantasy novel. All you need to do is peruse the book shelf at the local Barnes and Noble to see how influenctial Tolkien’s work has been, In fact it is hard to make it through a half of a shelf without seeing a book cover that looks like it is ripped right from the pages of Middle Earth. Bt for me, L.O.R. is much more than a fantasy novel; its power comes from the fact that it is one of the more frightening versions of reality an author has ever created.

One the one hand Tolkien’s world is one of elves, hobbits and natural beauty. But that goodness, thruth and beauty only exists so that the story can rip it away, piece by piece. At its heart L.O.R. is about the dark heart of man that is always coruptable, is always capable of great evil and horror. Even the best of them- the wizzards- are prone to fall when the great eye is cast their way.

Fantasy fiction is often a way of holding a mirror up to our own reality, so what to make of Tolkien’s view of our state? Is there really a war going on between good and evil that many of us, like the hobbits in the begining of his story, have hidden ourselves away from? I can easily see the modern West as hobbits in this sense, content to stay in our hobbit holes (well-stocked McMansions), enjoying good food and drink (micro-brew fascination), surrounded by the hedges we have contructed (technology) to keep the rest of the world out, but also to keep us locked in away from the reality outside our carefully constructed version of reality (social media).

Should we, like Frodo, venture out? Will we find black riders of our own hunting us once we sit still and watch for them? Have they always been right there waiting, but we’ve been too distracted by all the noise we surround ouselves with to notice?

I wonder, and the further I read, the more I fear the shadow of the riders might be right behind me.

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