Friday, September 11, 2009

Belegaer the Shoreless

It is hard not to believe there is something atavistic in the powerful emotions stirred by the sight of the sea, come upon suddenly after a long journey.  There is a description of this that I've always remembered in Tolkien, where he writes 'Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin':

'In this way Tuor passed into the borders of Nevrast, where once Turgon had dwelt; and at last unawares (for the cliff-tops at the margin of the land were higher than the slopes behind) he came suddenly to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegaer the Shoreless. And at that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart. It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Eldar, ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings.'

I'm conscious that it seems a bit odd to follow a posting on Deleuze and Guattari with one that quotes Tolkein, but that's the rhizomic nature of blogs...  Anyway, while I'm on the subject of Tolkien, here's part of a good (partial) defence of his work and its appeal to teenage readers (of which I was one) by Jenny Turner, which I read in the LRB a few years ago:

'Studying and researching - the everyday activities of the scholar - are deeply pleasurable. They're fun and they're more than fun. All sorts of visceral needs and desires are involved, with all the obvious psychosexual analogues: controlling the material; penetrating appearances; consuming the primary sources, and so on. Tolkien, I think, felt all these things acutely, whether or not he was aware of it. And so, in his fiction, he created a machine for the evocation of scholarly frisson. The thrills are the thrills of knowledge hidden, knowledge uncovered, knowledge that slips away.

'This or something like it is what Freud called the Unheimlich, 'the uncanny': 'the over-accentuation of psychical reality in comparison with material reality'. Isn't that what being a bookish adolescent is all about? Children, Tolkien wrote, don't know enough about the world to be able always to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Their boundaries are blurred. And Tolkien played those boundaries like a master. The kicks I used to get from Lord of the Rings were sensual, textural, almost sexual, a feeling of my mind being rubbed by the rough edges of the different layers. And the elegiac, valedictory aspect of the novel perhaps speaks with particular power to the swotty teenager, sorry to be leaving the figments of childhood, but itching to get to a university library. All those lists and footnotes. All those lovely books.'

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