Not the Monthly Post

The Three Stigmata of J.R.R. Tolkien

Understand the thoughts that a person or a nation won’t allow itself to think and you grasp something crucial about that person or nation. Find the source of the barrier that keeps either one from entertaining those forbidden thoughts and you know something even more important. As America stumbles blindly forward into an unwelcome future, the self-imposed cognitive deficits that keep so many of its inmates from doing anything constructive about their current trajectory have become a massive political fact.  Anything that allows even a little additional clarity about those deficits is thus a gift worth having.

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that some of the most crucial of the self-inflicted blind spots that burden Americans just now have a very straightforward source. They follow on the gargantuan cultural impact of a work of fiction, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

J.R.R. Tolkien. It really isn’t his fault.

I hasten to say that none of the blame belongs on Tolkien’s shoulders. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, as I think most of my readers are aware, was an eccentric Oxford professor with one of the world’s oddest and least objectionable hobbies: he liked to create imaginary languages. Because he reached intellectual maturity when historical linguistics were all the rage, his languages had to have a history; that meant they needed peoples who spoke them, stories and poems composed in them, and a whole world to shape their development. That intersected with his habit of telling elaborate bedtime stories to his children and birthed a bestselling children’s novel, The Hobbit. When he set out to write a sequel, it spun out of control and turned into a sprawling three-volume saga for adult readers, The Lord of the Rings.

In politics, Tolkien was a stalwart conservative; in religion, he was a devout and traditionally minded Roman Catholic. His fiction was powerfully shaped by both those commitments. He never expected his trilogy to find a large audience, much less one on the other side of the political spectrum, and for the first fifteen years or so after its publication The Lord of the Rings duly found a place on the literary fringe, despised by liberal critics but treasured by a small if passionate fandom.  Then—well, then the Sixties happened, and all of a sudden Tolkien’s work found a huge and enthusiastic audience among people whose values, habits, and beliefs summed up nearly everything he loathed.

(It’s intriguing to note that he wasn’t the only leading author of imaginative fiction to encounter that curious twist of literary fate. Frank Herbert, the author of Dune—widey considered the greatest science fiction novel ever written, and an equally huge influence on the counterculture in its day—was also a rock-ribbed conservative. Meanwhile the brilliant fantasy novels of William Morris, the grand old man of British socialism, languished in obscurity despite the efforts of Lin Carter and the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series to find them the audience they deserve.)

Star Wars started out as a cheap knockoff of this. (And went downhill from there.)

Then the Tolkien knockoffs started pouring out of the nether orifices of mass market publishers. Hollywood got into the act, too—and no, I’m not talking here about Ralph Bakshi’s abortive animated version, much less the unimaginative and lumbering Peter Jackson films. George Lucas’s meretricious Star Wars franchise borrowed ideas from just about every source that didn’t run away fast enough—Akira Kurosawa’s much better movie The Hidden Fortress was only the most obvious of these—and while Lucas was careful enough with the details to dodge lawsuits from the Tolkien estate, he borrowed freely from the wider penumbra of Tolkienesque fantasy. (“Dark Lord of the Sith”? Nah, that’s not even slightly reminiscent of anything in Tolkien…)

From there it spread all through popular culture in ways direct and indirect, and shaped the thinking of an entire culture.  The result was that a set of literary devices that an eccentric British professor coined for his own enjoyment and that of his friends, and wove into a brilliant but idiosyncratic novel, got turned into the common currency of thought all over the American left, not to mention its Mini-Mes in other countries too heavily influenced by the United States to think clearly. I want to talk about three of these ways in particular before we go on, with the help of a much less iconic novel by an even weirder writer, to talk about what they mean.

An enormous amount of Tolkien’s imagery comes straight out of Allied war propaganda.

The first of these habits of thought may as well be called the Orc Fallacy.  Orcs?  Those are the foot soldiers of the Dark Lord Sauron in Tolkien’s trilogy.  They’re bad.  They’re so bad they’re a caricature of badness.  Not only that, they don’t even pretend to believe in the rightness of their own cause; they know they’re on the wrong side, and glory in it.  In Tolkien’s world, no orc anywhere ever had a generous thought or did a kindly action.  The closest they get to loyalty is a kind of malicious team spirit, coupled with stark terror of what their bosses will do to them if they don’t follow orders. The closest they get to courage is bloodlust coupled with a clear sense of what everyone else in Middle-earth will do to them given half a chance. When they’re winning, they swagger; when they’re losing, they panic and run.  For all their apparent strength, in other words, they’re lousy soldiers, and their main function in the trilogy consists of showing up in vast numbers and then being slaughtered en masse by their outnumbered enemies.

As a literary device this sort of  gimmick has its problems.  As a basic assumption about reality, shaping the way that liberal politicians and bureacrats in the Western world think about the people they hate, it has much greater problems. There are plenty of examples, but the one that comes first to mind just at the moment is the fate of last summer’s Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“A crown of steel he bore, but between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes.” See what I mean?

According to recent news reports, the counteroffensive was planned out in detail by NATO generals. They’re the ones who insisted that the Ukrainian forces should drive south across Zaporhizhia province to the gates of Crimea, and their countries provided the Ukrainian army with the tanks and other equipment that would supposedly guarantee victory. They wargamed out the offensive in repeated exercises, always with the same results. At the heart of their plan, however, was the conviction that Sauron’s hosts would panic and run once the heroic defenders of the West came charging onto the scene. Since “orcs” is a standard slang term for Russians in Ukraine these days, it probably sounded like a slam-dunk.

Unfortunately for Ukraine, nobody seems to have made sure the Russian soldiers in Zaporhizhia agreed with this. As a result, those soldiers went on believing that they were the heroes of the piece, fighting to defend Mother Russia against neo-Nazis at their gates. Instead of milling around aimlessly while the Ukrainians got ready to attack, and then fleeing in terror and dying like flies once the assault began, the Russian forces dug themselves in, built three hardened defensive lines behind the line of contact, and then fought like tigers once the battle got going, mauling one elite Ukrainian armored brigade after another. By the time the counteroffensive ended this autumn, 150,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died uselessly, billions of dollars of NATO armored vehicles had been blown to smithereens, and the Russian Army still held firm.

This same debacle also displays another fatal flaw in mainstream Western thinking, which we can called the Anduril Fallacy.  Anduril?  That’s the Sword that was Broken, the weapon wielded by the hero Aragorn in Tolkien’s novel. It slices orc armor the way a blowtorch goes through butter.  Of course Tolkien modeled this on other famous blades of legend—Excalibur, Durandal, Nothung, Gram—and there’s authentic history behind those. From the fall of Rome through the early Middle Ages the quality of steel in the West was highly variable, and a swordsmith who knew the trick of blending different grades of steel in a single blade could make a sword that would literally chop other swords in half. Such blades were treasures to fight and die for.

It really did matter, once upon a time.

Those days ended a long time ago.  Unfortunately for Ukraine, somebody forgot to tell NATO. Worse still, the NATO commanders who planned the counteroffensive made the lethal error of believing the sales pitches of their nation’s arms industries. The British Challenger II tank, to cite only one example, has been marketed to gullible armies in the rest of the world for years by fast-talking British arms salesmen who insist that it’s the Rolls-Royce of tanks, so powerful that it would take ten or fifteen ordinary tanks to stop one of them. The German Leopard tank got similar star billing, and so did any number of other NATO armored vehicles.

The assumption that these wonder weapons would slice through the Russian lines like Anduril chopping through a dozen orcs in a single blow played a large role in the overconfidence that sent so many Ukrainian soldiers to their deaths last year. Nor did the NATO vehicles live up to their billing. Russian rocket grenades, artillery, missiles, and suicide drones blew them up quite handily. Meanwhile plain old ordinary T-72 tanks, the backbone of the Russian tank fleet, turned out to be just as effective on the battlefield as their high-tech and far more expensive rivals.  Anduril? The Sword that was Broken broke again.

What if the Shadow you see is one that you yourself are casting?

The third bad habit of thought I have in mind didn’t feature so obviously in the total failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but it’s had an overwhelming role in the entire Western response to the Russo-Ukrainian war. We can call this one the Sauron Fallacy: the conviction that the only reason there’s any trouble at all anywhere in the world is that some wicked individual makes it happen out of pure malicious evil, and somehow comes up with armies of orcs that have to be slain by Anduril. Sauron the Dark Lord, the Enemy, the Shadow in the East, is Tolkien’s most disastrous invention, and that same invention has been rehashed over, and over, and over again in the pop culture of our age. Lord Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine, Donald Trump—why, the list goes on and on.

It’s a very convenient mental habit if you don’t want to think about why other people might not appreciate the consequences of your actions. “Always, after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again”—if this happens to you, dear reader, you need to reflect seriously on the possibility that the Shadow in question is one that you yourself are casting, and your own actions are making it rise anew.  That’s certainly what happens when, as Tolkien did, you live in an empire in decline that’s propping up its faltering prosperity by stripping wealth from the rest of the planet, and trying to fight off jealous rivals who want to do the same thing for their own benefit rather than yours. Blame it on the Kaiser—or, if you prefer, Putin.

Thus you’ll hear endless diatribes by American pundits—again, seconded by their Mini-Mes in other countries—insisting that if only something happened to Vladimir Putin, surely the Russians would happily consent to the dismemberment and despoliation of their country that think tanks in the West have been planning right out there in public for decades. It’s all got to be Putin’s fault! If you believe this, dear reader, I have a pair of Russians to introduce to you.

Nikolai Patrushev in one of his more kindly moods.

The man on the left is Nikolai Patrushev.  He’s the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, a leading figure in the current Russian government, a close ally and adviser of Putin, and is widely thought to be the most likely person to succeed to the presidency if Putin dies. The man below on the right is Dmitry Medvedev. He’s the most influential of the younger generation of Russian politicians, the deputy chairman of the Security Council, and has also been named as a potential Putin successor. What makes these men relevant to our present discussion is that they’re both far more hostile to the West than Putin is.

Dmitry Medvedev. Are you sure you want to see Putin leave office?

Both of them, like Putin, belong to the leading party in Russian politics, the United Russia Party, which is squarely behind Putin’s war aims. So are most Russians—Putin currently has an 80% approval rating among the Russian public, which makes an interesting contrast with Biden’s far more flaccid ratings. Most of the people who don’t approve of Putin, by the way, think that he’s too soft on the West. The #2 party in Russian politics?  That’s our old friend the Communist Party, whose members consider the fall of the Berlin Wall to be one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century, and look back fondly to the days of the Cold War.

The point of this quick lesson in current Russian politics, of course, is that if Putin dies suddenly, the Russian forces in Ukraine won’t break and run, the way the orcs did when Sauron suffered his improbable defeat via a couple of hobbits and a magic ring. They’ll do the same thing that the US forces in the Second World War did when Franklin Roosevelt died:  they’ll brush aside a tear for someone they’ll consider a fallen hero, and keep on fighting under new leadership. They might find themselves fighting alongside a few hundred thousand more Russian soldiers, too, because Putin is a cold, cautious bureaucrat who’s held back most of Russia’s military strength from the Ukrainian war. Patrushev is unlikely to be so restrained.

And of course many of these same points can be made of that Dark (or rather Orange) Lord of current American politics, Donald Trump. It’s astonishing to watch the political establishment scurrying around like a mob of drunken hobbits, flinging every available scrap of magic jewelry into every volcano in sight, under the frantic delusion that if only they can make Trump go away, the populist movement that adopted him for its leader will vanish in a puff of smoke. Not so; once again, the Shadow will take another shape and grow again, because what drives that movement is the embarrassing failure of the current managerial class to address the problems that matter to most Americans, coupled with the shrill hatred that this same class directs toward every American who doesn’t instantly kowtow to the latest twist of the party line.

The King in Orange brandishing his Twitter sword. Always, after a defeat and a respite…

Of course it’s not hard to see what underlies all three of the habits of thought I’ve sketched out above. All of them are attempts to insist that nobody really disagrees with the political class, the self-anointed Good People of the tawdry narrative we’re discussing. In their imaginations, there can be no other side of the story, no counterpoint to the monotonous theme brayed out endlessly by the trumpets of the status quo.  No, the orcs have to know that they’re orcs—they have to recognize that they’re on the wrong side of history, and flee in terror once somebody draws some simulacrum of Anduril and waves it in their general direction—and the only reason the Good People haven’t achieved everything they want has to be the evil actions of some titanic scapegoat who can be blamed for everything and then, at least in theory, banished forever by some gimmick or other.

It’s not at all uncommon for the decadent aristocracy of failing imperial powers to fall into such counterproductive habits of thought in the last years of their power.  I’m reminded just now of the plaintive words Nicholas II, the last Tsar of All the Russias, said to the people who came to let him know that the Russian Revolution had just broken out:  “But the Russian people love me!”  The one great difference, of course, is that Nicholas understood that he was living in Russia. He never made the mistake our current political class is making; he didn’t convince himself that he lived in Middle-earth.

It’s at this point I want to turn to the other author whose work inspired these reflections, the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Dick wasn’t simply eccentric; he was quite literally crazy.  He belongs to that select roster of people who have turned serious mental illness into the raw material for significant works of literature. It’s not uncommon for the cracked mirror of a mind in chaos to offer an unexpected glimpse into the heart of things, and Dick was remarkably good at doing that; it’s one of the things that makes his novels worth reading.

A very, very, very weird book. (Though not Dick’s weirdest, by a long shot.)

The work of his that I have in mind just now, as SF aficionados will have guessed already from this essay’s title, is his novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I’m not even going to try to summarize the plot, to the extent that it has one—some of Dick’s novels have plots, others have no more narrative structure than your average psychotic break, and this one falls about halfway between. What matters for the purpose of this essay is the future in which it’s set, and the desperate means humanity uses to deal, or rather avoid dealing, with that future.

Dystopian? You bet. (Dick effectively reinvented the entire genre of dystopian SF.) The Earth is so far gone into global warming that a summer day in New York City hits 180°F in the shade—you die in minutes if you go outside without a cooling suit—and people vacation in Antarctica if they’re rich enough. There are human colonies on three planets and six moons, and those are even worse, so much worse that nobody moves there voluntarily. You get a draft notice in the mail and, unless you can get a deferment, away you go to a bleak and barren world with no way back.  Once you’re there, slogging through a hopeless routine that maybe someday will make the colonies self-sustaining, your only refuge is Perky Pat.

Perky Pat is Dick’s version of Barbie—you know, the tacky little plastic doll that got a bunch of regurgitated Hollywood clichés spewed onto screens in her name last year. Perky Pat and her boyfriend Walt live in an imaginary world where the climate didn’t go crazy, so they can lounge on the beach without getting broiled alive. People on the colony worlds frantically collect Perky Pat accessories, because there’s also a hallucinogenic drug—illegal but tolerated—that will allow the wretched colonists to become Perky Pat or Walt for a few precious hours, basking in a simulacrum of luxuries none of them will ever know in the real world.

Tune in tomorrow to the Perky Pat show!

It’s a brilliant and harrowing bit of satire.  In 1966, when Dick’s novel first saw print, it had a lot to say about the media culture of the time, especially but not only channeled through television. Now it’s even more apropos. In a very real sense, the people I’ve been discussing—the ones who insist that everyone who opposes them must be an orc, everything that supports their side of the question must be Anduril, and there must be some one Great Evil Scapegoat behind it all who can be banished by some simple trick and will carry the blame for their failures away with him forever when he goes—are spending their time hallucinating that they’re Perky Frodo Baggins, or Perky Luke Skywalker, or Perky Harry Potter, or one of the endless, dreary rehashes of the same overworked clichés. They’ve fled into an imaginary world where they never, ever have to face the possibility that they might be wrong.

A great many people have followed them there, and not necessarily for the same reasons. It’s occurred to me more than once recently that one of the most distinctive things about the Western cultures of the last century or so is the way it’s become so obsessed with wholly imaginary worlds, as different as possible from the one we actually inhabit. That’s a very odd habit, when you stop and think about it. Is it possible that, for all our lavish material abundance, we’ve made a world so miserably antihuman that most of us would rather copy Dick’s colonists and flee into worlds that don’t exist?


I’m reminded by a reader that January has five Wednesdays, and so as per this blog’s tradition, readers get to vote for the subject of the fifth Wednesday’s post. What do you want to read about? Inquiring Druids want to know. 😉


  1. Thank you for this, that’s not one of the Dick stories I’ve read, so I’ll have to check it out. Having finished The Weird of Hali, I just started Jack Vance’s Emphyrio, which as its own share of satire of the 1960s baked in.

    Also, though you didn’t make an official call for topics, I see that January has five Wednesdays. If you are taking topic suggestions, I’m going to keep flogging “Deindustrial Future Military History” until it gets its day in the sun. If you’re waiting for a future post, or not following that custom this month, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for future chances.

    Thanks and my blessings to all who welcome them,

  2. Our fleeing into worlds that don’t exist has advantages for our elites. For example, if people could not get justice in their fantasy worlds, they might well seek justice in the real world. For the elites, that could prove to be… inconvenient.

  3. Fascinating.

    “They’ve fled into an imaginary world where they never, ever have to face the possibility that they might be wrong.”

    Strangely your thoughts here also relate to the subject I brought up at the end of last week’s open post; but there I was wondering about the occult where Le Guin’s writing got me wondering about whether the metaphors and foundations of occult practice are as ‘sound’ as people think.

    Abominations such as ‘The Secret’ are easy enough to spot, but I have wondered if is it possible some occult ideas fall into the same trap as you outline here. i.e. occult cliches that might result in broken Andurils.
    Perky Transhuman at one end and Perky Astral at the other…

    “That’s a very odd habit, when you stop and think about it. Is it possible that, for all our lavish material abundance, we’ve made a world so miserably antihuman that most of us would rather copy Dick’s colonists and flee into worlds that don’t exist?”

    Obviously different, but maybe similar motivation to drive a flight towards a second religiosity?
    I think it was you who mentioned one time that maybe people went so full-on for the covid lock-ups because it was a way to escape miserable work existences…

    If what you’re saying here is as accurate as it ‘feels’, the coming year could be a real doozy.

  4. John–

    Quite the prompt for self-reflection as we begin the new year! I have to admit that I am fascinated to see how the American psyche–particularly that of our ruling elites–responds as reality slowly seeps through the cracks of the walls of fantasy and denial that have been constructed. Between the efforts to dispel the Orange Shadow by means of legalistic rites and utter failure in the Ukraine (and now the entanglement in the Middle East), I suspect that 2024 is going to be a year of revelation–in the old-fashioned sense of “unveiling”–and the stark reality of the world-as-it-is will have to be confronted.

    But your broader points are helpful too at the personal level. We should each be aware of how and where we fall into traps such as the ones you’ve described in order to avoid facing hard truths about ourselves and our choices. This is level of self-understanding for which the well-developed person should constantly strive.

  5. JMG, your most recent was interesting, and does, I think, describe the behavior and attitudes, the word ‘thinking’ hardy applies, of a subset of our governing classes and attendant wanna-be sycophants.

    For my part, I don’t think Trump is a WWII bad guy, nor do I find him particularly competent in the art of governing. His signature accomplishment was a major tax cut for folks who didn’t need it. I also find him, my opinion, petty and vindictive. Cancelling the treaty with Iran, because his bro Bibi asked him to, was a major strategic blunder, and moving our embassy to Jerusalem a dumb#$% publicity stunt. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe Israel still governs mostly out of Tel Aviv. Howsomeover, I do not fear the Orange Julius. What I do fear is his following.
    The MAGA–I make no apology for what I am about type, so please don’t ask for one–gals and guys, from where I stand, are the bought and paid for control freaks who want all of us plugged into mass market happy consumerism. Never mind that that utopia is in serious decline; lefties are not the only folks who reside in fantasyland. Collapse now and avoid the rush? Your home garden is an affront to these folks, because their buddies in the grocery field might lose a sale or two, and besides it just looks messy. Dress second hand or make your own, what, my cousin’s dress shop isn’t good enough for you, you freaking hippy, you? You might even be taking your life in your hands if you presume to be so perverse as to walk or bike along a public road.

  6. JMG,
    Television is not even the most extreme form of escape available today. The immersive world of online video games offers the possibility of a 24/7 escape from the world as it is. And unlike television is offers the user not only faux companionship and distraction from material concerns, but the opportunity ( symbolically at least) to confront and defeat enemies that torment their progress in this world.
    I think that one day when the internet goes down, there will be millions of frustrated folk denied their usual escape. It is hard to say how this will play out. Will these people used to living in an artificial world retreat in to a dark room, or will they harness their online skills in a vengeful quest to vanquish their tormentors in the real world.

  7. I wrote a paper on the “Imagery of swords in Beowulf” while I was in grad school. I was pretty proud of it – thank you for reminding me of it!

  8. There has been so much talk about revolution on Substack I thought I would write a series I called Rules for Revolution. I fairly talked myself out of it, because, as to your point, people would not simply step aside and let the revolution happen, it would quickly devolve into civil war and all the horror that implies.

    The focus of my work this year is going to be to self-improvement and helping others do the same, preparing for anything, because the word so many have on their lips for this year is chaos. .

  9. Hi John. Your latest essay reminds me of a book I just finished reading, “Love and Let Die: James Bond, the Beatles and the British Psyche” by John Higgs. In the book Higgs describes two cultural phenomenon that arose simultaneously out of the ashes of post imperial Britain and during the height of the cold war. Both the Beatles and James Bond had (and still have, as judged by the number of Bond movies they keep cranking out each year while the Beatles remain as popular as ever 50 years after the band broke up) a profound affect on pop culture yet they couldn’t have been more opposite in what they represented. The Beatles are about love, in a word, and James Bond, with his infamous “license to kill”, is all about death. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  10. I do have a tendency to wander into imaginary worlds, whether my own or others. I have far too much fanfiction I’ve written to argue that point. I also created my first imaginary creature at age 3 and later, a world to go with them. I drew critters called cogalogs which consisted of a circle like body, six legs sticking out, and a smily face. They changed into multiple species, biomes and two very different ecologies later, and proceeded to have a war and raid each other. I’m not sure why they did that, but I do remember that there were ‘good’ cogalogs and ‘bad’ cogalogs that did sort of fit your standard evil villains vs good guys, no actual reason for the bad guys behavior. I guess that sort of attitude starts really young in our culture.

    I’m not sure my case was primarily caused by factors outside my own head – but I think school bullies, an inability to fit in at school socially, followed by physical issues leading to a lack of a job as an adult probably contributed a lot too.

  11. Okay. You got me. At the age of 12 I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons and my world was never the same. What followed was an endless parade of fantasy fiction, movies and hours and hours of play in worlds of imagination I found far preferable to the “mundane” world I felt now cast into. Fast forward 43 years and I still find myself struggling with an overwhelming nostalgia for those long lost escapades of fantasy my youth was filled with. I always defended fantasy as so much preferable to a world where you can’t tell the good guys from the bad. At least you know the orc, goblin, or “fill in the dark blank” is unquestionably evil and is good only for slaughtering. But you’re right. Your metaphorical analysis of the war in Ukraine via the LoTR myth is spot on. It’s a myth that clearly doesn’t serve us well. You’ve written about this before c.f. Your excellent essay, The Myth of Pagan Origins.

    Ironically enough, fantasy was my introduction to magic and the occult as well. One which led me to make several brief forays into practice, that never went anywhere. Again, because in magic I was seeking a gateway into a magical fantasy world. I wanted this world to be reenchanted to its “pre-mundane magical origins.” Well, it’s pretty clear why my magical practice never went very far. And why I settled more on Lovecraft than Tolkien in my middle age.. Magic is hard work. Work on the self. And I wasn’t ready to grow up yet. I think you e hit on one of the central malaises of the west. Peter Pan syndrome—perpetual youth—we don’t grow up.

    My trouble now. I’m stuck. I have a respectable job I consider an absolute soul deadening chore. I’m in survival mode 90% of the time. I’m at odds with my church, who also cleaves to outdated myths. And the world is dying. Or at least changing for the worse, for a long, long time. So the question is what do I do about it? I’m sick and disillusioned by the farce that has been foisted upon us. But what can I do? Because like one of Dick’s characters on a barely habitable planet, an illusory two hour escape into the next Star Wars movie sure seems appealing.

  12. Hello JMG and kommentariat. It’s been a long time since I wrote here last time…

    “Dune—widey considered the greatest science fiction novel ever written”

    I agree!

    “Meanwhile the brilliant fantasy novels of William Morris, the grand old man of British socialism, languished in obscurity”
    It was a pity, “News From Nowhere” is really a good book, even if you aren’t a socialist!

  13. Quite interestingly Tolkien’s works had a huge impact on the far-right in Italy:

    “Tolkien appealed to the Woodstock generation in the 1960s, but a preface to the first Italian edition, published in 1970, interpreted him as a voice for tradition against progress. For far-right activists who grew up with Meloni, Tolkien is an intellectual pillar who represents the struggle to defend the Christian and Western identity against modernization, globalization and invasion by foreign peoples.”

    The current Prime Minister of Italy Giorgia Meloni came of age at “Hobbit Camps” associated with the youth wing of the MSI (the political successor of Mussolini’s fascist party). She has quoted from Tolkien quite profusely during her speeches.

  14. Mary Bennet, thanks for daring to type that. James and i were talking about how we didn’t want the Republican/conservative vision for the world, either. We’d get run off the streets on our bicycles, and whenever I forget myself and comment on a substack instead of staying in Papa’s online world, I’m reminded the other side eats its own as well. I remember why I’d feared them in the first place and went all in on being wild.

    Politically homeless, indeed.

    Preoccupied with healing James, I’ve not been thinking about this Third Place or Third Way very much lately, but… maybe I’m inhabiting it. This multiple leo thing and my American ego make me want to advertise and scream my humanity as a pitch, but I’m kinda lost because a half dozen covidian true believers have now said loudly in front of others that they think the shots were poison and that the gov’t is trying to kill us.

    I see it as an opportunity to blend both sides so I just calmly agree and listen. One of the women is one who talked trash to me surrounded by others during the lockdowns about how selfish I am.

    I forgave her instantly as I can take it.

    But… ? I now see how my animated self scares them like Alex Jones once scared me.

    I don’t know anything anymore.




  15. Are you implying they’ve closed in on themselves and have become – solipsistic flowers?

  16. “the thoughts that a person or a nation won’t allow itself to think” One of which is a lower energy future based on what you call “retro technologies” with a more basic lifestyle. I teach high schoolers and I have a practice of giving them homework that is due in 30 years. Two assignments are seeing if fusion power pans out and saves the energy day (I tell them I have been waiting for that one for 50 years) and the other is seeing if a new drilling technology, now being implemented, grants abundant access to geothermal energy any place in the world not just in favored spots like Iceland. And a forbidden thought you persuaded me to think is that my Christianity is a form of henotheism not monotheism, which one it is will be revealed in my life sometime in the next 30 years or so, but it still feels monotheistic to me. I come from a long lived family.

  17. Someone said… “Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light.”

    Thanks for this pink beam of illumination, John.

    I do note that every year as the Christmas glurg approaches I have a strong desire to read a really long novel or thick escapist tome, whether it be fantasy, SF or just a twisty thriller. I think it has something to do with the counterpoint between lavish material abundance and misery, especially amped up that time of of year.

  18. The mothership trope is the term used to describe when the destruction of the mothership instantly renders all the minions nullified. It’s used all the time in sci-fi. One magic solution solves a whole host of problems. An awful lesson.

  19. It is so bad in Japan that their most popular light novel (dialogue heavy novels aimed at teens to young adults) genre is “another world”, where the protagonist dies in our world to awaken in what is usually some sort of DnD fantasy world. Jobless Reincarnation, Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World, That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime, Saga of Tanya the Evil (which could be called that time I got reincarnated as a Nazi), KonoSuba, the list goes on and on. After watching enough of these, you get the distinct impression that modern life really sucks compared to what people want, which, for men at least, is adventure, wonder, more socialization, less monotony, and a more meaningful place in a more local world.

  20. Maybe next week you can give us some coping skills as to how to live as one of those rare people with their eyes open in the US today? A friend said that I “have the rare courage to look into the dark abyss of reality with [my] eyes open. ” This was in response to the frantic maelstrom of denial most of the posts on my Face Book page generated almost daily between 2015 and 2021. A Progressive liberal that acknowledges both side of the story is not a welcome voice. If it weren’t for my sincerity, integrity, and razor sharp logic, I would have no friends left, except the small circle that admired my telling the truth they weren’t willing to speak. Friends kept reading and howling. An acquaintance said, “I despise everything you believe in but I think of a single response to prove you wrong,” and I realized I was just torturing people that I really cared for to no good effect. Now I just sit with clenched teeth watching our nation tear itself apart.

  21. “It’s occurred to me more than once recently that one of the most distinctive things about the Western cultures of the last century or so is the way it’s become so obsessed with wholly imaginary worlds, as different as possible from the one we actually inhabit. That’s a very odd habit, when you stop and think about it. Is it possible that, for all our lavish material abundance, we’ve made a world so miserably antihuman that most of us would rather copy Dick’s colonists and flee into worlds that don’t exist?”

    If I may, I actually think this ties into your writings about enchantment. When the cultural consensus is hostile to any belief that the universe consists of anything but dead lumps of matter, and no self-respecting adult would ever admit to believing otherwise, fleeing into fiction is the natural action for those who wish to rekindle that sense of enchantment in a mental space safe from that kind of criticism. It doesn’t matter if magic is “fake” and gods “don’t exist” in a fictional setting, which allows people to indulge their inherent need for magic and wonder with a minimum of cognitive dissonance. Given that, I think it is only natural that this would be accompanied by a feeling that one would much prefer to live in those worlds than this one!

    And as children are born who have never known fiction in any other way, they assume that being wholly detached from reality is in fact the norm for fictional work (I certainly did, when I was younger). This reinforces itself, as these children don’t even consider reality when they go on to write fiction of their own.

    In other words, I think modern fiction still plays the role that classical myth more or less did back in the day, but this detaching from reality that we have seen was simply a natural response to a culture that is hostile to models of reality that contradict the materialist consensus. This might not apply to everyone, but at least, that is the role I feel fiction had played in my life, until I realized the world is much less clear-cut than I’d been led to believe.

  22. Thanks for this essay, and for the link to unherd at the end of last week‘s open post. 🙂

    As for the fifth Wednesday, my vote is for a post about mystery initiations. In particular what we can learn from historic initiation rites, and how that could be applied today – or anything else you deem important.


  23. Mr. Greer,

    Growing up in the 90s I had a different experience with fiction then a lot of peers. My first real experience with Lord of the Rings was when the movie the Fellowship of the Ring came out when I was about 16; I had barely heard about the series beforehand because high fantasy wasn’t really my thing. I also never got into Harry Potter. A lot of the fiction I read were books my Dad owned; Louis L’Amour, C. S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Higgins, etc… and novels like Jack Higgin’s The Eagle Has Landed are pretty far removed something like Harry Potter. I did also read a lot of science fiction, especially military science fiction, and a lot of it was pretty much the polar opposite of Star Trek and dealt with the decline and fall of civilizations.

    For example, David Drake and S. M. Stirling’s The General series was one I read and it is a science fiction retelling of the career Byzantine general Belisarius; taking place on a planet named Bellevue after the interstellar federation collapsed and technology had regressed back to roughly late 19th century levels. Bellevue’s Byzantium analog was ‘The Civil Government,’ or ‘Gubernio Civil,’ a theocratic state that worshiped technological relics of ‘The Holy Federation’ and ‘The Spirit of Man of the Stars’. Funnily enough they were descended from Hispanic colonists from the southwest United States and their main rival was the Colony, a Muslim state based on the Sassanid Empire.

    The same thing also overlapped with my experiences with video games. For example, the Fallout series is a roleplaying game series set after the peak oil crisis causes China and the United States to go to war over the world’s remaining oil reserves in 2077 and takes place in the dark age that follows as new nations and cultures emerge from the ruins. So I guess there are reasons why I am not surprised about which way the world is headed.

    On a side note, I have distinct feeling the Left is going to long for the halcyon days of Trump by the end of the decade.

  24. When I encountered “Perky Pat Layouts” in PKD’s novels, my first thought was model railroads: An escape into nostalgia for the past into which one can invest endless amounts of time and money. And then you die.

    And, Mary Bennett @#7: Thanks for bringing up some of the Orange Man’s palpable failings. Not exactly a “peace candidate” in my book. Let’s hope for a viable third party option this year.

  25. Hi JMG,

    In the time I spent in Russia I was made aware of their own cultural obsession with Tolkien and lord of the Rings. Tolkien did put some references to Slavic culture I think at least on Reddit there was this I found “the name of the wizard Radagast is directly taken from the Western Slavic mythology, where there is a god Radegast or Rodogost.

    It was pointed out to me by my father – his thought – was that Russian culture was even more obsessed then Western. That brings me to question -how are we escaping into imaginary worlds at this point in time if humanity, almost on a global scale outside of the Islamic world, has manifested the moral framework of middle earth onto Earth proper. Is Tolkien’ s work a kind of specialized myth uniquely appealing to pseudomorph cultures ?(even though Russia is in process of developing an new civ, it still maybe has to play out) How is it different then Germany historically following the path of Ragnarok and the wild hunt? Whatever side is closer to Sauron loses, and whatever side closer to the Free peoples of middle Earth will win spectacularly and accordingly, and the neutral powers represented by Gandalf will have to pick side eventually as it become clearer who is on the side of good. As far as world conflicts go, Lord of The Rings does have the framework or system from which a war that size could fit into and be played out as you outline.
    In these confused and absurd times what would be more appropriate then humanity manifesting a fantasy framework, patched together from different aspects of cultural myths to contain global conflict? It;s what we have all internalized after all – no one is reading fairytales anymore in childhood. and Tolkien compliments Disney perhaps in this way as he is much more widely read then Brothers Grimm etc, as disney is even more so bee internalized by the plast several gens. Although Tokiens’ intentions were not nefarious as you point out. I think it is a natural expression of our collective conscious playing out. We are better cast as Sauron – the corrupt body of the Western political establishment. Canada needs to build up their military strength before being able to integrate role as Sarumon with UK etc.

  26. Thank you John for discussing the two authors I have found to be the most interesting. I read Tolkien when I was teenager and have enjoyed it ever since. As for Dick, I first read his work as an adult. Both writers have important things to say, if only we are willing to listen closely.

    Long after Western Civ. is a lost myth of material abundance, I hope that the new civilizations that grow in the Illinois Bottom Lands and the Volga Basin will have saved and studied these works of art. They are among the best our society has produced.

  27. Janet, and in quite a few other recent outbursts of stupidity as well.

    Jeff R, you’re quite right, of course, and your vote is tabulated.

    Jeff OTB, there’s always that.

    Degringolade, good heavens — another synchronicity involving Arktos Press…

    Earthworm, that’s one of the reasons I encourage people who want to take up a school of occultism to get to know people who already practice it, and ask themselves if that’s the kind of person they want to be like.

    David BTL, thanks for taking this as seriously as I intended it.

    Mary, a fine rant! You might be interested to know that a majority of the people I know these days who have backyard gardens and use alternative health care are on the right wing, not the left. That is to say, your preferred stereotypes may need a bit of revision. Like all social movements, the pro-Trump populist movement is a very mixed bag, and trying to cram the whole thing into the kind of simplistic caricature you’ve offered here says much more about you than it does about them.

    Clay, thanks for this. I’ve been wondering that myself for a while now.

    Michelle, you’re welcome!

    William, glad to hear it. I think your newer focus is a more useful one.

  28. Lately I have been wondering what it will take to get a subset of our elites out of power, specifically the neo-cons the folks who have never seen a war they didn’t like. I don’t know if they actually believe their propaganda, but they certainly rely on the beliefs they outline to sell their point of view.

  29. Running an empire and cramming the whole world into that kind of thinking makes the world baffling. David Goldman says something to the effect that the popularity of zombie moves came out of not understanding what was going on in the middle east.

  30. Firstly, while I agree that the black-and-white mythological thinking of Tolkien’s story does not map well onto how one should act, it does act as an excellent myth describing the nature of good and evil.

    Evil, as a force, cannot last. Not only is it driven by self-consuming motives, but it often can’t even comprehend good intentions (Sauron being unable to imagine anyone wanting to destroy the ring). I’ve seen this drama play out constant times in life. As a story, it’s heartening and affirming, true in a metaphysical sense if not a literal one.

    That being said, if you want a fun example of realistic war in fiction, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam is fantastic. It follows the crew of a single ship in the waning days of a war between the “democratic” Earth Federation and the “evil” Principality of Zeon in the orbital colonies.

    The typical good federation vs. evil empire motif breaks down quickly. We’re first introduced to Zeon’s Sovereign, the Emperor Palpatine of the story, being informed about the death of his son. In fact, he’s the first one to attempt peace talks, though the scheming of his eldest son does that in.

    The series and its many, many sequels work to show that war itself is the villain. There are good and bad people on both sides whose motives can range from noble to utterly deranged. And the sequel shows that, for all its claims to human rights and peace, the Federation can be just as murderous and evil as its vision of the Principality.

    Also, Star Wars has some particularly good media in it outside the movies. Legacy of the Force in particular stands out.

  31. I like the urban myth about how during the space race, NASA spent millions on r&d to develop a pen made from exotic alloys that works in zero gravity. The Russians used a pencil.

  32. ‘Let dead hearts tarry, and trade and marry
    and trembling nurse their dreams of mirth,
    While we the living, our lives are giving
    to bring the bright new world to birth ‘.
    (William Morris)
    Apparently he knew the exiled Prince Kropotkin, so two of my personal heroes would have been together in the same place and time. Perhaps in the garden at Kelmscott Manor 🙂

  33. I wondered how you were going to integrate two authors who were so different, and of course you didn’t, using one to make one point and the other for a different point. That makes sense given how vast the gulf is between them. Tolkien’s simplistic morality tale is orthogonal to Dick’s concerns about whether individuals can know what is real at all. Tolkien’s Everyman is a reluctant hero who triumphs; Dick’s is a pitiable nebbish who never reaches any resolution, not even defeat. Dick’s world is just revealed to be more tawdry, malignant, and confusing than the protagonist originally realized. The Zero’s Journey, from despair to greater despair.

    I had thought for years that something went terribly wrong in American pop culture at some point in the mid twentieth century, when the complex moral landscape of (say) Casablanca was replaced with black and white morality (exemplified perhaps by the Marvel movies). I hadn’t thought to pin the switch on Tolkien. Frank Herbert’s Dune has a hero but a flawed one whose reign leads to mass slaughter and tyranny, so the transition was certainly not complete by then.

    Dick’s worlds are often close to Lovecraft’s – uncaring, inhuman, bewildering – but the inhuman powers in Dick’s work are motivated by crass, often blatantly commercial interests. Palmer Eldritch (extremely unsubtly named) himself is locked in a battle to preserve a monopoly over the Can-D drug that the colonists use to escape reality. If we live in a Dickean dystopia, PKD himself might put much of the blame on the disproportionate emphasis our culture places on private profit over collective needs and values. He would have been appalled by Facebook, self-crashing cars, Ring cameras, etc. – but he might not have been surprised by them.

  34. Kurt, I’ll have to read the book first! It’s an interesting theme, though.

    Pygmycory, I’m with you there. I was crazy about fantasy fiction all through my childhood and teen years, and have had to work to cultivate a taste for realistic fiction — and of course you know what kind of fiction I write! In my case, too, school bullies and social problems were also involved. But I still wonder if there’s something broader going on.

    Christopher, with me it was The Lord of the Rings, which I read for the first time at age 10. Yes, I also adored D&D and other RPGs, and yes, I also got into occultism by way of fantasy fiction — but I had the great good fortune of figuring out that magic takes hard work, and the core of it is work on the self. As for what to do about it, I can’t answer that question for you; I’ll simply point out that there’s a lot of work to be done, and not so many people willing to do it.

    Chuaquin, it fascinates me that so many people default to News From Nowhere. Did you know that Morris also wrote medieval fantasy? Did you know that he invented that genre? If not, I encourage you to find a copy of The Water of the Wondrous Isles — his most accessible fantasy novel — and give it a try.

    GP, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it mostly in the English-speaking world that Tolkien got picked up by the left? Most of what I’ve heard about Tolkien fandom in central and eastern Europe places it squarely among the people who agree with his politics, i.e., hardcore conservatives.

    Other Owen, nothing so harmless. They’re not closed in on themselves — they’re demanding that the rest of the cosmos conform to their fantasy.

    BeardTree, I like pointing out to people that both those were being waved around as imminently available solutions to our energy problems back when I was in high school. You’re right, though, that the retro future is one of the thoughts most people won’t let themselves think!

    Justin, you’re most welcome. I have a similar reaction, though it usually leads me to plunge into some century-old work of history or philosophy.

    Douglas, thanks for this. I hadn’t encountered the phrase.

    Dennis, yowch! That definitely says something far from good about the current state of things in Japan.

    Bruce, I wish I had something to offer other than “get born with Aspergers syndrome.”

    Untitled-1, that’s a fascinating thesis and one that I’ll want to think about. Thank you.

    Milkyway, your vote has been tabulated.

    Karl, fascinating! I haven’t read the Drake and Sterling stuff, but the other writers you name are first-rate, of course, so you got exposed to better writing than your more high fantasy-inclined peers…

    Phutatorius, model trains hadn’t occurred to me, but of course you’re quite correct.

    Ian, I’ve read about the popularity of Tolkien in the Slavic world, and it intrigues me. As for Tolkien as a general model for global struggle, though, I wonder whether the result will be what the novels predict. Normally if you fight a war against a superior opponent, and your sole hope of victory is that he will turn out to be incredibly stupid and inept while your side stalls for time while pursuing a one-in-a-million long shot, the outcome is very simple: you lose.

    Raymond, I have no idea if Dick will even be comprehensible once modern America is a dim memory, but I expect Tolkien to be around for the very long term, simply because his story and its values translates so well. But we’ll see; Dick may surprise me.

  35. Thank you for this, JMG. It ties together a lot of what you’ve said before about the tropes that the western powers in particular seem to be fixated on. Aurelien’s latest, wherein the concept that what “matters” is not what you _do_ but rather what you _are_ via a fixation on identity-through-belief (as opposed to concrete facts and external realities) which hearkens strongly back to Calvinist Christianity, resonates strongly with your last paragraph’s rumination:

    > It’s occurred to me more than once recently that one of the most distinctive things about the Western cultures of the last century or so is the way it’s become so obsessed with wholly imaginary worlds, as different as possible from the one we actually inhabit. That’s a very odd habit, when you stop and think about it.

    The juxtaposition with Aurelien’s essay struck me immediately: of course they’re obsessed with imaginary worlds – if belief-without-evidence is what matters and identity comes through belief (with salvation in some sense coming from demonstrating that identity through mindless repetition of articles of faith), then it’s absolutely necessary to believe in, and practice mental/verbal participation in, imaginary worlds to the detriment and ignorance of the reality one faces directly.

  36. I’d like to pitch a topic for this fifth Wednesday, which is political assassinations.

    In this essay, our host talked about the notion there is one big Sauron type character who is the source of all evil. Political assassinations are often carried out in the hopes of preventing political change by killing a leader associated with promoting it, to a varying degree of success. But political assassinations much like the UFO phenomena also produce a lot of conspiracy theories, most famously in the US the JFK assassination, which I think shows the collective subconscious is very much affected by such acts.

    I believe there might be an occult dimension as well. Here in Israel, the most famous political assassination happened in November 1995. What I find interesting is that it turns out a group of ultra orthodox jews (Haredim) performed a ritual knows as Pulsa DiNura (פולסא דנורא), which is supposed to curse someone to death, sending angels his way to kill him, shortly before the assassination.

    What’s even crazier is that there were a couple of other instances where performing this ritual caused notable figures in Israeli politics to die, sometimes from health issues shortly after, the most famous example is Ariel Sharon, who entered a comma that removed his from public life six months after Pulsa DiNura was performed. Naftali Bennet, the prime minister before Benjamin Netanyahu, had the ritual performed on him as well, and he ended up resigning from public life a after month. Bennet is an observant jew, so I wonder if taking this ritual seriously influenced his decision.

    I am sure there are other examples of people using magic to take out politicians in other places in the world. I remember JMG wrote in his original Trump essays that became The King in Orange that people with no political power often turn to magic to achieve their aims, and even non magically caused political assassinations probably cause change in the consciousness of individuals and societies.

    If reading about political assassinations and their effects on consciousness, occult or otherwise sounds interesting to you, please consider voting for this topic.

  37. “It’s astonishing to watch the political establishment scurrying around like a mob of drunken hobbits, flinging every available scrap of magic jewelry into every volcano in sight” – methinks you had a fun time writing this one, JMG. You certainly had me laughing! It’s always a joy to write something that is at once both humorous and deadly serious.

    Granted that most of the hippies who ‘discovered’ Tolkien were “people whose values, habits, and beliefs summed up nearly everything he loathed” I do believe that perhaps one segment of the population who ‘got’ at least part of Tolkien were also the fans of E.F. Schumacher, the back-to-the-landers, the tree-huggers, those who sported the bumper sticker that read, “split wood, not atoms” back in the day. Though too young to be a hippie proper, I certainly identified with the conservative, technology-hostile Ents. I sometimes wonder if Treebeard was the unofficial founder of the environmental movement in the ‘70s.

    It’s interesting and valuable to view NATO’s suicidal war against Russia through the lens of Tolkien’s stigmata: thank you for that. For close to two years now, I have watched in dumbfounded horror as the West consistently lied to itself, implemented the most bone-headed military strategies imaginable, pretended to care about a country which it was effectively destroying, willingly bankrupted itself militarily and monetarily, and continued to double-down until their ‘cupboards’ of military hardware were ‘bare’. Clearly, the West is ignorant and incompetent on matters of war with a peer (as those who can look at the West through Russian military eyes, such as Andrei Martyanov, have amply demonstrated) and appear to have gone stark raving mad. Your ‘diagnosis’ of the madness is instructive. Clearly, its high time to abandon Tolkien’s stigmata in exchange for a less delusional set of beliefs. I certainly don’t want my activities to fall into the same traps.

    I must admit, however, that Tolkien’s world is a seductive one, charged as it is with the energy of nearly-forgotten myths from the so-called Dark Ages. Also, some of his passages are extraordinarily beautiful and powerful: no small wonder that it captured the public imagination so. Too bad Tom Bombadil has always languished in the shadows of the public imagination (and was entirely skipped in the film trilogy): I find him the most wonderful and enigmatic character in the whole LOTR story. I guess Tom’s just my kinda guy!

  38. Candace, repeated catastrophic failure generally does the trick, and the Neoconservatives are working hard on achieving that.

    Bradley, ha! That sounds like Goldman — and he’s right, of course.

    Anon, of course it’s “heartwarming” to insist that your side is good, the other side is evil, and they’re incapable of understanding the nobility of your motives. “Smug” might be another adjective for the same warm glow of self-righteousness. Every time I’ve seen that acted out in real life, what’s always going on is that the side that loudly insists on its goodness is ignoring real issues in their own behavior and trying to pretend that the other side has no reason to oppose them.

    Benn, myth or not, yeah, it’s a good story and a useful characterization of the different cultures.

    Tengu, very likely yes!

    Isaac, the thing that fascinates me is that the moral compass of American culture broke in two directions at once. Casablanca is morally complex but it’s got a genuine hero in Victor Laszlo, a genuine villain in Major Strasser, and two others, Rick Blaine and Captain Renault, who rise to a certain degree of heroism when they have to. That tension collapsed in the mid-20th century, giving us on the one hand cardboard-cutout villains and heroes, and on the other the complete moral collapse of Dick’s fiction and of so much that’s far worse. Dune, which I’ll be discussing in an upcoming post, still maintains the complexity, but it was a holdout of sorts.

    V.O.G., fascinating! Yes, and that hadn’t occurred to me (although I read Aurelien’s latest, of course). I wonder whether that has a lot to do with the way that the establishment Left has been insisting on ever more improbable beliefs over time — the more absurd the things you believe unquestioningly, the more your salvation is assured…

    Four Sided, I’ve tabulated your vote.

  39. Tolkien’s work has been used and abused by both Right and Left for seventy years at this point. Speaking as someone who inhabits a very different part of the political spectrum from yourself, my greatest Tolkien-related fear is that he will become unto the twenty-first century what Richard Wagner was to the twentieth. Wagner didn’t deserve what happened to him after his death, and Tolkien certainly doesn’t.

    Regarding the Orcs, it is perhaps worth remembering that they evolved over the decades. Obviously Peter Jackson’s portrayal of war did them no favours, and I think Jackson is more to blame than anyone for the dumbing down of the story and themes.

    Orcs made their first appearance in 1916 when Tolkien was jotting down the initial draft of The Fall of Gondolin – and were initially creatures of subterranean heats, mud, and slime (they weren’t supposed to have characterisation at that point). But like the Dwarves, they took on a life of their own. The goblins/orcs of The Hobbit are lifted from George MacDonald’s Curdie books, of course, though even there Tolkien’s goblins are more competent.

    The Lord of the Rings? That’s tougher. I think the reader is actually supposed to have a degree of grudging respect for Ugluk, Gorbag, and Shagrat. They’re obviously unpleasant, yes, and you wouldn’t invite them around for tea and biscuits, but as Frodo tells us, the Orcs don’t live off foul air and poison – they might be ruined individuals, but they aren’t faceless mooks to the slaughter. They’re cunning, have their own dark sense of humour, and are adept enough to spot the way the wind is blowing. As per Tolkien’s neoplatonic influences, they exist as sentient beings, so therefore have some good in them, however warped. At the risk of stretching Tolkien’s text, a case can also be made that they have their own oral traditions, culture, and inventive ability. They just happen to believe that everyone else is as bad as they are.

    This was also the point at which Tolkien began to struggle with the metaphysical redeemability of the Orcs, and when he started writing essays whereby the Orcs were actually covered by the Elvish Rules of War (think a Middle-earth Geneva Convention). And with, for example, the Unfinished Tales account of the Disaster of Gladden Fields, we see a situation where the Orcs don’t flee as a rabble before our heroes, but methodically and terrifyingly win a battle of attrition until Isildur and his fellows are overwhelmed.

    I am reminded also of Tolkien’s line in a letter, where he says “we were all Orcs in the First World War.” His point, of course, was that the utterly dehumanising situation he found himself in turned humans into, well, the likes of Gorbag and Shagrat.

  40. Hello! I enjoyed very much this post. It has me cogitating – which I enjoy, so thank you.

    Some odd thoughts on the topic: The idea of decapitation of a head of state as the winning blow in a conflict is nothing new.
    Are we conditioned by the ages old game of chess where eliminating the king ends the game?
    Hierarchy has been how we form groups since time began for our kind, Deferment of thought and decision delegated to a leader is part of being one of the humans, I would say.

    Regarding the Trump as Sauron theme, I wonder if the Demo-bureaucracy has been doing all the things they can (open border invasion, psychological warfare on the children, etc.) come up with to enrage and unite the conservative folk in the land so that we (yes, I am in there) identify our sick selves as the secret Orcs that we are and can then be more easily collected into a cauldron and destroyed in grand Return of the King fashion in the upcoming ideological purges (since the ongoing ones haven’t worked out as anticipated).

  41. @mary,

    Left and Right aren’t as useful as they used to be. For instance, there’s no significant difference between the policies of the R’s and the D’s. Ignore the talk and theatrics and look at what they do. Uniparty.

    My tentative New Bifurcation is between what I call Redneck and Screaming Bluehair. Sounds like you exist somewhere on the Redneck side of things. It’s a spectrum, you probably aren’t a huge Redneck. Most people aren’t, I imagine.

  42. JMG # 29

    You are most welcome, John. There is significant synchronicity involved in that I happen to be at a juncture in my life where I am being compelled to strip away certain ideals and illusions that have been the driving forces for most of my life (I’m about a decade behind you), to confront the world-as-it-is, and to take greater accountability for my life-choices. It helped me to see that aspect of what you were saying more readily.

  43. 5th Monday Suggestion:
    Groups such as Operation Werewolf in the USA, in regards to the likelihood that such groups will be better able to cope with the changes on the way, as opposed to individuals that are not part of an established organization.

  44. I love your starting off your writing year with a bang! (Or an exploding volcano as the case may be!)

    It’s interesting to see how much the ruling class have bought into Tolkein’s mythology to define the world around them.
    (Shocked Pickle-eating Face) “Got a volcano handy? Eliminate evil forever with this One Weird Trick!”

    This helps explain “cancel culture’s” insistence that one misstatement proves absolute evil of the target. One unacceptable utterance is hardly ever a sincere mistake for which there’s a second chance! It invalidates any apparent good qualities the person’s ever shown.

    What a fascinating view. I’ve seen many times that stories shape how we think, even if we don’t remember the story after absorbing its message.
    I’m sure many people today who could not locate Old or New Testament within an inherited family Bible, nonetheless have picked up many of its memes from the culture. Even if they couldn’t tell you whether “from each according to his ability” is from Mark’s gospel or Marx’s.

    I saw the Extended version of Peter Jackson’s movies and found them inspiring, especially the grand settings (as I love well-done colored blobs moving around onscreen). It was useful to keep track of characters who had multiple nicknames or titles in the books.
    It was mostly very accurate, although it missed a few moments like Faramir and Eowyn: “And so they stood on the walls of the City of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air.” Was LOTR an inspiration for your own long hair, JMG?

    In a world where meaning’s collapsed, maybe PKD will be considered even more valuable. What was Dick’s weirdest book?

    Jeff # 2 while waiting for JMG’s take on “Deindustrial Future Military History,” you might be interested in discussions of “fourth generation warfare,” with 4GW and xGW as search terms.
    It’s about warfare involving the hearts and minds of a society, more than columns of maneuvering troops or weaponry. Plenty of military theorists look into insurgencies, terrorism, etc. going back to questions of why the U.S. lost in Vietnam, and Colonel Boyd’s “Moral dimension of warfare.”

    Christopher Jones # 13 I understand being stuck in a bad job to pay the bills, but why stay at a church that is meaningless to you? Leaving that would free up time for something profoundly meaningful. Whether it’s a better spiritual practice, or like-minded community and friends, or figuring out a new career path, or a walk in the park.
    At your age nobody’s throwing you in the back of the station wagon for an enforced unwanted Sunday School visit, are they?

    Bruce T # 22 I encountered a lot of similar reactions. Then I adopted the view that my perspective is available to those who’ve shown openness and enthusiasm for it, but it’s no longer an unsolicited and unwelcomed free gift to people who’ll just trample it underfoot. I’m not obligated to have an opinion about every issue, for those who’ll hate me for inconveniencing their preferred current memes that justify the way they want to feel.
    Before I gave up on social media entirely, I found it helpful to ask myself: Is there any evidence that his person forwarded this because they sincerely care about the objective truth of the matter?
    Or is sharing it only a feel-good (even if through outrage) moment of identity definition thrill for them, not an invitation to shared discursive meditation and analysis?
    Maybe you took on a self-imposed burden of Setting The Record Straight, that doesn’t have to be your obligation?

    I support Milkyway # 24’s request for a fifth Wednesday post on mystery initiations. I can’t see in good conscience how I’d invite someone to poke even a symbolic dagger at me, while I enact even a symbolic ritual inviting my heart to be removed if I reveal secrets. No matter how grand the brotherly fellowship, shared occult studies, and economic networking opportunities. No doubt there are all kinds of misunderstandings going on here!

    Karl Grant # 25 The era of mainstream 3D video games was kicked off by Doom, with its bloody and ultimately hopeless fight against literal demons in a ruined space station. I wonder if that’s a counterpoint to optimism a la Tolkien. Inspiring a couple of generations now, such as yourself, to see Progress as a hopeless myth with nothing to offer their future. Until “enjoy the decline, take the red (or black) pill” is all that’s left.

    Isaac # 35 thanks for clarifying JMG’s contrast between Tolkein’s certainty we can know objective, absolute morality, while Dick challenges whether we can actually know anything true at all. I missed that level until you pointed it out.

    As one dismayed by extremes of both parties, neither of which align that well with my own highest vision for my nation, I thank those bringing up concerns.

  45. It’s my opinion that conditions drive history, not people. Like you pointed out, if Putin goes away, some other person will be summoned forth from the current conditions and history will keep grinding on. People appear as they are needed to satisfy the conditions.

    I chuckle to myself whenever anyone thinks going back in time to kill Hitler would’ve prevented WW2. I would claim, that if you had done so, WW2 would’ve still happened and someone else’s name would’ve been associated with it. And people would be dreaming of going back in time to kill Otto Schwab instead.

    Conditions are getting stormy out there. Take an umbrella and dress warm.

  46. One of the things I love about Dick’s books are that his main characters are all everyman’s, usually some janitor or vending machine repairman. His non SF attempts at literary fiction are also quite good. For instance “Confessions of a Crap Artist” is about a man who is ridiculed because of his belief in UFOs etc while the lives of his sister and her family in the suburban hell around him are falling to flaming pieces.

    Another thing to admire in PKD is his use of telepathy and psy powers. They are all through his books. He got to write that kind of thing before the SF scene put the smackdown on most of that kind of mix.

    I think that is one of the brilliant things about Dicks work, his characters are relatable to us caught in crosshairs of the grinding machinery that is the American corporate kleptocracy.

    This of course relates to our populist moment now.

    (I also dig into something intellectually meaty too as a way of escape. It’s been a coping mechanism since I was a kid. )

  47. Clay Dennis, Mr. Greer,

    There is a couple of funny little tidbits about the online video games Clay mentions. One of the most popular online role-playing games right now is Final Fantasy XIV which is in many ways the opposite of Tolkien. The cycle of empires is a core plot point of the game. The game’s world of Etheirys used to be ruled by a technologically advanced civilization that had achieved spaceflight about 5,000 years ago before collapsing. There is even an older civilization called Amaurot – the name was taken from Thomas More’s “Utopia” – which collapsed 10,00 years prior and most people in the world had pretty much forgotten about.

    The main villains, the Ascians, are originally depicted generic evil fantasy villains but get fleshed out much more as the game goes on. Namely, they are the surviving members of the Amaurotine government and they are trying to resurrect their homeland and people. The game also pushes the subject of reincarnation during this and it is later found out your character is the reincarnation of a high ranking Amaurotine official. The other enemies in the game are also given fairly realistic backstories and sympathetic motives. The Garlean Empire is an expansionist empire whose founding members were refugees who couldn’t use magic and were forced into the inhospitable northern part of the continent of Islabard. The Ascians decide to help them industrialize and unite the Garleans into empire to be used a shock troops for their plans.

    Interestingly the Garleans are modeled after Imperial Rome with some bits of both modern America and Russia thrown into the mix. There is quite a bit of death iconography and themes running through their society. Their Emperor is really an Ascian named Hades – after the Greek god of death and he was also your character’s best friend in a previous life – and their soldiers have helmets meant to invoke skulls, an armored vehicle called a Reaper which is in turn named after one their older martial orders which used scythes as weapons, their battle standard is ivory; etc…

    The game’s cosmology is interesting as well. I have already mentioned the reincarnation aspect. Another aspect is that these energy fields are running throughout the universe -dynamis and ether- and that if enough people act in unison upon them to change the world. This includes both creating gods and turning men into gods; deification is pretty big plot point in the game.

  48. JMG – Thank you for the response. I think you mistook my meaning. When I said “heartwarming,” I meant the fact that evil, bad times, whatever darkness we experience, can’t last forever. Good always wins in the end, as evil cannot comprehend it. My personal experience proves this true. Not that I, as a good person, always beat the bad people.

    It comes from the old Christian belief that all things, no matter how dark or bleak, will work for the glory of God in the end – a belief I’ve found a lot of peace in due to some rather unfortunate happenings in my own life. Tolkien references this a lot – he even viewed all of history as a “series of defeats” if I recall one letter correctly, with small foreshadowings of the eschatological victory at the end.

    I was *not* saying that X irl group is good and Y irl group is evil. I think Tolkien wrote a myth, wherin good and evil are distilled. The darkness in the heart of every man is refined into the orc, a creature driven solely by evil impulses. It’s important to note that the orc is paired against the elf, who is symbollic of man uncorrupted by evil (Ursula LeGuin has a good essay on this). The wars of Middle Earth are battles that play out more in our hearts and in the broad strokes of heaven than in the muddy reality of the mundane world. I think Tolkien was aware of this, too.

    I think the problem is that modern folk are too literal. There are no spiritual battles, just material ones. So Tolkien’s simplistic but spiritually rich mythos gets haphazardly mapped onto material reality, with poor results.

    I also think the “our side good, their side evil” schtick long predates Tolkien. Sadly, his mythology was picked up for it, since it can play into it with a simplistic reading.

    Of course, I could be wrong. I don’t subscribe to a highly relativist view of reality. In my mind, good and evil are real and objective things, opposite poles of a spectrum, and they manifest in context. I don’t believe material things can be solely good or evil, but I also don’t think they’re all neutral simply because good and evil can manifest in them in differing amounts. Nor do I think two good people will agree 100% in all situations.

  49. Phutatorius and JMG,
    What about all those hours-to-paint “model” Warhammer figures for a different kind of “Perky Layout”?

  50. Re: JMG
    I’m glad! Thank you, in turn, for your writing. It’s not an exaggeration to say the perspective it has provided and the discussions in the comments have profoundly changed the way I see the world (for the better, in case you were wondering!) I mostly prefer to lurk, so I will return to doing so, but know that I always look forward to your future work.

  51. It has been years since I read Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago so I don’t know how he fits into the discussion, but I recall a statement like: The line separating good and evil does not cut between one group of people and anther, rather, it cuts through the heart of each person.

  52. Frank Herbert (Dune), C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, E.F Schumacher, Ivan Illich, Chesterton, Kropotkin, Lewis Mumford, Yeats, George Orwell? I could list more names. It feels to me the creative energies of our culture have dried up or did we ignore the prophetic voices and are reaping the consequences?

  53. An appropriate date to post this essay, given that Tolkien would have been 131 years old today. Time for second breakfast.

  54. JMG,

    If it’s not too simplistic, I’d like to suggest a discussion of the Wizard of Oz from an occult perspective for the fifth Wednesday post.
    Thanks for another thought provoking essay. The first two sentences made me stop immediately and pose that question about myself. That will be an ongoing reflection.

  55. Thank you for this great essay!

    For the fifth Wednesday, I would like to vote for an update on peak oil, gas and coal.

  56. It would be interesting to sample American popular entertainment every, say, 10 years or so, from the 1700s to now, and try to track the degree of moral ambiguity. Obviously there are difficulties – many songs, plays, books, and music weren’t preserved, and the assessment would have to be subjective. I wonder if there are observable trends or cycles. I would expect that wars and imperial expansion might correlate, as might the waves of revivalism.

    I sometimes half-jokingly note that between the Pilgrims and Jamestown, America’s founding was a mix of religious fanatics and incompetent get rich quick schemers, and little has really changed. I wonder if the former predisposes us to morally simplistic tales. If we are the Elect (or sinners in the hands of an angry god, on the flip side) then moral nuance is not really on the menu.

  57. Well, little of this is really new, and, whilst I can see that some of it was refracted through Tolkien, there are historical and political origins to it as well. Tolkien, remember, was essentially an anarchist, and distrusted power and those who sought it. Evil, in LoTR is not an independent force but a corruption of the soul: “even Sauron was good once” says Gandalf. This is the reason the ring can only be carried and destroyed by someone (Frodo) who is not tempted by power. Although Tolkien said he disliked allegory, the Ring clearly symbolises the temptation to power, and the various characters of the book are partly judged by the extent to which they are tempted and resist it.
    As regards your three points, the brutishness and ferocity , but also the incompetence, of the Russians has been a staple of western (certainly European) propaganda for centuries now, and it’s depressing to see tropes that were old when Goebbels used them wheeled out yet again. There’s also a more specific origin in popular books about the Eastern Front in WW2, of the type that I read in my childhood. These were largely based on the self-serving accounts of German Generals, burdened as they were with an ethos of racial superiority and plans for wholesale extermination, trying to explain why they were soundly beaten. The mass of scholarship that has appeared since the opening of the Soviet archives in the 1990s has revolutionised serious historical writing but hasn’t dented the popular image of the savage, incompetent Russian soldier, which is the one that western politicians are fixated on. It does appear, from interviews with Ukrainian soldiers, that they had literally been told that the Russians would run away.
    The same is true of equipment. Famously, the Germans were astonished at the relative effectiveness of Soviet equipment in 1941, but throughout the Cold War, denigration of Soviet military and technological capability was the rule. What was not understood (without going into detail) is that the Soviet Union intended to fight a different kind of war. By having very large number of “good enough” tanks, for example, more robust and easier to support and operate than NATO’s, their doctrine called for battles which NATO would probably “win” individually, but at the cost of losing a large proportion of its own forces, which it could not replace. But then the second echelon arrives and fights, and by the time the third echelon arrives, it’s all over and the Soviets have won. Russian tactics are fundamentally the same, with the difference that in Ukraine tank vs tank battles are very rare, and the Russians have invested in technologies, notably missiles, drones and certain types of electronic warfare to which the West has no counter. (Needless to say, ingrained anti-Slav racialism meant that nobody bothered to keep track of this.) Whilst individually a Challenger or a Leopard II is probably superior head-to-head with an updated T-72 or a T-80, that’s not the point, because you can take a tank out these days with a drone.
    Finally, the superman of evil idea is very old: it goes back at least to the Kaiser in WW1. But it’s a trope that developed greatly after WW2, when a whole host of largely-forgotten leaders were shuffled forward to play the role of the New Hitler, for complex reasons there isn’t the space to go into here. Suffice it to say that there’s nothing new in the level of hysterical denunciation of Putin: we saw it with Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Ho Chi Minh; Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, even Nelson Mandela, to name only those that come immediately to mind. The (essentially Romantic) western imagination can only think in terms of Great Men, so it follows that all the problems of the world must be caused by Great Bad Men, who, if they can only be removed, will lead to the resolution of all problems.
    So yes, the LoTR has a cultural influence, but I think there’s more to it than that.

  58. The u.s Was named a hyper power After the u s s r collapsed. Russia Winning a war against the west was inconceivable In the public imagination At least to anyone living in north america, and perhaps Russia Until recently. How will Russians Imagine their victory against the west once the war is Concluded? framed as a great battle Against evil, an incredible long shot involving a return of a great king(Putin being initially favorable towards the West). Practically it lotr is of course idiotic when it comes to battle strategy, but works in myth making for an emerging civ.

  59. Thanks for the wonderful essay! Like you say, orcs represent the shadow, not living creatures. Epic fantasy is not real, it’s entertainment.

    Two books come to mind. The first is “The Last Ring-bearer” by Russian author Kirill Yeskov. It’s a view of the War of the Ring written from Mordor’s perspective. I skipped a night of sleep to finish it!

    The second is the 1st century philosopher Dio Chrysostom’s 11th Discourse. Chrysostom dissects the epic fantasy “The Iliad”, and shows by logic that the Greeks didn’t capture Troy. Homer was just pleasing his audience!*.html

  60. Re: “Smug” might be another adjective for the same warm glow of self-righteousness.

    For a second there I read smug as Smaug …

  61. JMG,
    Do you think that the cognitive dissonance, along with the blatant hypocrisy required to believe Tolkien’s Stigmata applied to US geopolitics along with the other beliefs one is required to have to be a loyal Bidenista are taking their toll on the sanity of the elites?
    Is there any evidence from history or the occult that would lead us to believe that when a group of people succumb to this level of self delusion that it slowly ( or quickly) drives them insane?
    Whenever I contemplate the scene in Washington DC these days it makes me think of the famous German movie ” Downfall” which takes place in Hitlers bunker at the end of WWII with Huge Ganz’s brilliant ( and much parodied) portrayal of Hitler.

  62. It’s quite amusing that the left picked Tolkien up because to me it always seemed like they were the people he was pillorying. Progress and control is what Sauron is all about; to me the tale of the Lord of the Rings is not about fighting a foreign enemy, it is about the shadow within Faustian culture itself.

    The Ring represents quite specifically the Faustian bargain of Western European culture, and Tolkien is basically waving it readers faces saying ‘Do not challenge Gods creation, you cannot better it!’ In the wider mythology Sauron and even Morgoth are not inherently evil. They are discordant themes within the wider creation, and importantly middle earth would not exist without them. Some may call this Catholic but I I think it’s more in line with older Germanic legends that Faustian Catholicism is overlaying. There’s a reason Tolkien loved Beowulf.

    It’s interesting too that in the earlier works like The Hobbit the orcs and goblins have things like personality, family legends, ideals goals. They are certainly not mindless automatons, but have specific gripes with the Dwarves they are acting on.

    Could it be that the progress loving, future focused, devil bargaining wing of Faustian culture took something that was in many ways satirical of their own way of thinking and missed the point entirely by adopting it as their own?

  63. Hello Isaac. Thanks for your comment. An observation: the Empathy Box from _Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep_ is a prescient anticipation of all things Social Media. I suspect PKD, seeing FB or whatever else, would yawn and say, “of course.”

    Concerning LTR, and ORCs etc., I feel blessed to have be plagued while reading by questions such as “how did that Orc raise to the rank of general? Who promoted him?” or “who prepared that food?” or “who selected those uniforms?” or “where any of these ever children?” or “Who built the cart that is shuttling those weapons? were they paid? with what? where did they learn to build? Do they take pride in their work?”

    Bizarrely, when it comes to escapist fiction, I’m drawn to those that illuminate how one copes with—and finds magic and purpose within—the mundane. Books like these I find most helpful in navigating what is after I close its pages.

  64. @ Ron M

    The rejection of Bombadil I think really links into what JMG is talking about here, as he represents something completely antithetical to the modern western viewpoint. He is localised, nature focused place bound but most importantly and incredibly, does not care about the battles being waged and the Rings of power. To many modern people, not having an opinion at all is the most incredulous thing one can do. He doesn’t try to do anything beyond his realm, and is content in doing so.

  65. I can’t recall where I read it – it may have been Tom Shippey’s Tolkien: Author of the Century – but I remember something to the effect that the relatively clear-cut war fought by Tolkien’s characters was his response to the messiness and moral inadequacy of the actual war in which he fought. There are little hints of this in LotR – one of the hobbits sees a fallen Haradrim or Easterling soldier, and considers that the man has a family back home and so on, which was drawn from Tolkien’s own experience as a soldier.

    It’s an awfully ironic twist of circumstances: a sensitive and intelligent war veteran attempts to process the horrors of the industrialised war of the 20th century by writing his version of a truly noble war, the very antithesis of the pointless slaughter of the Great War. I should imagine he would be appalled to see that the stories he wrote, primarily for the amusement of himself and his children, would be applied for the purpose of dehumanising propaganda in *another* industrialised war, equally as stupid, pointless, and tragically avoidable as the one he experienced.

    In response to Ron M’s comment, regarding the popularity of Schumacher, etc, among the hippies: while Tolkien may not have been very impressed with the hippies, his popularity among them speaks to an intrinsic conservatism latent within the counter-culture. Lefties in the sixties and seventies often viewed the obsession with the mystical, fantastic worlds of Merlin and Gandalf with suspicion; they quite correctly perceived a reactionary tendency totally at-odds with their worship of progress, technology, and the glorious socialist future. This schism is still with us, of course: an article in the Guardian (where else?) from a few years back had some smug Britlib praising Saruman and his orcs as representing the “modernising force of industrialism and progress”!

    Applying a simplistic binary narrative to reality is one thing, but identifying with the *evil* half of it is another thing entirely…

  66. @Isaac (#35):

    I find it completely fascinating that you wrote “Tolkien’s Everyman [Frodo, I assume] is a reluctant hero who triumphs.” Did you really forget that Frodo failed to triumph over Evil at the very end? Surely you remember that it was not Frodo, but Gollum, who — out of the basest motives of greed and hopeless despair — actually destroyed the One Ring at the very last possible moment, when even Frodo, after all his dogged and brave efforts, had finally succumbed to the allure of the Ring’s power. And Gollum destroyed the Ring by accident, without intending to..

    This was Tolkien’s all-time greatest masterstroke as a writer. (He may have read Lord Acton’s dictum on power somewhere, and taken it to heart: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Great men are almost always bad men.”)

    And this masterstroke of Tolkien’s is what redeems LotR for me, and elevates it to the rank of truly great world literature.

    Everytime I talk about LotR with others, everyone thinks it was Frodo who triumphed at the end, doggedly but still heroically. He didn’t triumph; he failed at the very end.

    What is going on here with this blind spot, I wonder? Any ideas, commentariat?

  67. @Benn (#33)

    It’s not a myth about NASA: my brother bought one of those pens. If I remember correctly, it cost about seven or eight dollars at a time when wooden pencils sold for ten cents apiece.

    One of my biggest peeves about western technology these days is that that kind of thinking utterly pervades the entire manufacturing industry, hamstringing that sector of the economy by pouring horrendiculous unrecoverable engineering cost into the products – which corporate management then tries to recover by taking value out of the product with the use of dirt-cheap materials and labor. But, like, that’s Progress, eh?

  68. JMG,

    My first year in college I took a course in Political Science, and my professor was an avowed Marxist. Quite nice young woman actually, one who was not entirely oblivious to the economic and human wreckage that Marxism had wrought – this was long after Khrushchev and Solzhenitsyn had laid bare the horrors of the gulags, the manufactured Ukrainian famine, and Stalin’s reign of terror. But, she was careful to remind us, despite all that carnage, the socialists and communists should be credited with good intentions, their hearts were in the right place, they were trying to build a better world.

    Okay, I later reflected, but weren’t the Nazis, who my professor clearly regarded as one-dimensional Orcs, also in their own way, “trying to build a better world”? From what I understand, Hitler and the Nazis were essentially millennialists, seeking to save civilization from sinking into ruin and chaos. A very ill advised effort, to be sure, but by my professor’s reckoning re communism, they should have been credited with trying to make the world a better place.

    Of course even today, the Nazis are regarded as pure Orcs, while communism via current Woke-ism remains, for many, a viable option … because supposedly, its heart is in the right place.

  69. On reading your reply to Ian in your comments #36 the thought “World War II anyone?” came into my mind.

  70. Very thought provoking essay, thank you!

    re: escapism

    Is not escapism of all kinds: hedonism (sex, drugs, materialism, etc.), pie-in-the-sky religions, novels, RPGs, etc., the natural response of the individual or culture that feels powerless to change an unacceptable reality? I read a LOT as a child for example.

    5th Wednesday vote: An overview of Best Practices to Survive or even thrive during periods of extreme social change. (What would have been most helpful for the average Gazan to know or do a year ago?)

    So, what about a Wednesday of discussing historically successful efforts to “keep one’s head down until the rubble stops bouncing”? Who did okay when the Legions pulled out of Britannia? Who did okay in the American South during the Civil War and afterward? Who did okay, or not, when the American Revolution was finally settled? In more recent events, what happened to different groups after apartheid ended in South Africa?

    What I recall being most surprised by during the chaos in the Balkans during the ’90’s was how easily and quickly the machinery and regalia of civilization fell apart. One way to look at that is to say their social structure was already extraordinarily fragile. But, of course, most social structures ARE extraordinarily fragile, especially those where the forms of the civilization have been imposed by outside forces, rather than arising organically from the needs and preferences of the actual people. By some standards, that “civilization imposed by outside forces” applies to most of us.
    (I’ve been re-reading Orlov’s, ‘Communities That Abide’ and it’s got me thinking… )

  71. Thanks for this interesting take on Tolkien’s influence! Since you draw such a sharp distinction between the beliefs and intentions of the author himself, and on the other hand his influence on the generation of 1968, would you care to spell out for those of us who didn’t live through that time which were the parts of Tolkien that the generation of 1968 ignored and left out?

    I agree that the Orcs are a problematic literary gimmick. From JRRT’s letters to his son Christopher, and from his recollections of WWI, it is clear he thought there were a good many “Orcs” in the English army, too, not only among the enemy. The core idea of his first writings was that the Gnomes, the embodiment of creativity, became transformed into Orcs though long imprisonment and torture underground. Orcs were always associated with explosives, from the Fall of Gondolin through the Hobbit to Helm’s Deep. So originally it was quite clear that virtuous, creative persons could become Orcs in warfare, particularly in industrial warfare. But somehow JRRT himself seems to have lost sight of this, and the Orcs started to “breed” and became a wholly separate “race” that could and should be killed for sport.

    In the same vein, I think Morgoth and especially Sauron both exemplify the spirit of modern warfare and totalitarianism. Sauron in the Lord of the Rings is more of a concept than a person. That is why he never appears “on stage”. But it continues to be a bad idea that totalitarianism can be defeated by a single act of destruction, such as the failed assassination attempt of July 20th, 1944. The Allies at that time were wiser than this and would probably not have accepted a deal with the new regime, had Hitler in fact died on that day.

  72. Hi John Michael,

    Down here we err, enjoyed?, the longest lock downs of anywhere on the planet due to that which-dare-not-be-named. It looked like tyranny to me. ‘Show me your papers and ID’ said guys and gals with guns. And that was something I was asked to do regularly whilst going about my ordinary every day business. It was a miserable experience.

    The thing is, when the last big protest occurred which maybe put an end to the mischief, I believe the media under reported the numbers – by a considerable margin. Also it was hard not to notice the attempt to paint protesters as far-right (whatever that means these days), 5G folks etc. As an amusing side not, I have a hunch that nazisistas are available for hire to shut down protests. Hmm. Anywhoo, to me the protesters looked like everyday people. I don’t protest. I walked away.

    For Anduril to be effective, it has to be tested against reality, survive and be used, otherwise it is a purely a symbol. And symbols which are expected to have impact on the physical plane, have to wield power over multiple planes. The best of Númenor fell too.



  73. Hi John Michael,

    Oh, almost forgot to mention. I struggle reading Philip K Dick novels. Everything is just soooooooo extreme in the plots and with the characterisations, but not in an amusing way, or even gritty or realistic. And I tried.



  74. JMG and all.
    There is a famous quote from George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Throne, about fantasy and the role of imaginary worlds, and their function as semi-religious myths, which seems to me to be spot on:
    « The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
    Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
    We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
    They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle Earth. »
    ― George R.R. Martin

  75. Dear JMG,
    Thought provoking post as usual. Two tangents. For some years I was reading Hobbit and LOTR starting each Advent. I followed those, usually about a couple of weeks after Epiphany with Lewis’ Space Trilogy. One of the most refreshing features in the latter were the species who went about their ways without regard for our schemes. Though I haven’t read much of him, you frequently reference Lovecraft’s view of a universe indifferent to humanity. Lewis’ sci-fi seems parallel in some ways but with each race doing its own thing under the care of a benevolent God. We are not nearly all there is but valued.
    Second, I understand Dick was sort of mentor to the founders of Steampunk. I’ve been drawn to that genre in its retelling of 19th century history and wondered about its durability as a mythical core for the long descent.

  76. JMG
    Thanks again for your insights. I’ve added “Stigmata” to my reading list.

    A game I play with some regularity is Age of Empires 2. It’s a real time strategy game that I play against the computer. There is no good vs bad. The goal is to out produce the opponent, and crush them. I don’t understand the games I see being played irl.

    I saw Jung mentioned above. I’ll second him for the fifth week. I’d like to see your thoughts about his work again.

    I must keep this short. The electric sheep need tending.

  77. Mr. Greer,
    I quite literally–as in New Year’s Night–just finished re-reading and re-watching The Lord of the Rings, after a long time having not delved into them. One thing that struck me immediately upon reading your essay was your focus on Anduril. I was thinking, as I re-read the books, how surprised I was that none of the USA’s overseas adventures have, until now, been named “Operation Anduril” or some similar reference. It’s not like nobody would get the reference.

    I found your critique of Tolkien’s work to be most astute and applicable. Nevertheless, I confess that I still enjoyed the books and movies very much. I guess I’m hopelessly lost in fantasy myself.

    Also, I note that I was most appreciative of your comment regarding “Barbie.” That movie, too, I just recently watched, and I found it to be most disappointing and disheartening–certainly not as good as everyone seems to be making it out to be. I don’t find “screed as script” to be all that appealing. I was beginning to think I was the only one on Earth who was not totally in the thrall of that thing.

  78. A rigid good-vs-evil worldview can be bad for individuals, as well as countries.

    In Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, the antagonist Javert is a police inspector, raised in a prison, who relentlessly hunts criminals as the Bad People Who Must Be Punished. He’s basically Batman: leaps across rooftops in the dark, encyclopedic memory for faces, etc. Then the criminal Jean Valjean saves his life. Javert can’t cope: in the musical adaptation he sings an entire song (‘Javert’s Suicide’) about how his worldview has been destroyed by a criminal showing mercy, then kills himself rather than live in ‘the world of Jean Valjean’.
    His rigid ideals saved him from becoming a criminal, so he’d rather die than let them go.

  79. @Christopher from Ca: What was Dick’s weirdest book? That’s quite a contest! I’d say “Ubik,” which is one of my PKD favorites. It has spiritual vampirism, for one thing: as in Jory. In my experience of reading PKD, I always felt that he started off strong with a great idea — for the first half of the novel, and then lost interest and just hurried up to finish it and get paid. The wolf was always at the door, right up until he died. There were some exceptions of course. I’m also pretty amused by his Embarcadero Freeway hallucination in “The Man in the High Castle.” (In real life it’s gone, now, and PKD would be pleased.)

  80. Hi JMG and Friends,

    I noticed the topic of Slavic takes on Lord of the Rings in the comments and I had to bring up “The Last Ringbearer” by Kirill Eskov, a Soviet/Russian biologist and author. It’s a work of fanfiction which was pretty popular in late Soviet Russia, and the jist of it is that “Sauron, as a representative of the forces of industrialization, was good actually, and it was the reactionary, Luddite elves who were the bad guys.” It’s an interpretation of the story which is very much in line with the Soviet vision of societal progress, which was firmly rooted in industry and materialism. Actually, I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s a Slavic version of LOTR, rather a communist one, and I don’t know if its popularity lasts to the present day. Still, there are some interesting ideas in the book, such as the idea of “Orcs” being humans and their depiction in LOTR being racist (something which echoes the modern labeling of Russians as “orcs” in the context of the Ukraine conflict), and a rather blunt look at what sort of relationship a 3000 year old Arwen might have had with her 80 year old husband Aragorn.

    On another note, as my username suggests, I have long had a hobby of writing, mostly in the spheres of fanfiction and fantasy. Escapism is definitely a part of it. Is it harmful? I’d say no, or at least no more harmful than engaging in escapism via social media, much less other, more destructive behaviors. The vision of the world in my fantasies is appealing to me, obviously: a place where civilizations flourish in a sustainable manner, where everyone is treated well, where spiritual exploration and experimentation is common. Do I think these worlds will become reality? No. But I like them anyway.

  81. Christopher from California,

    It depends on the game because some of these video games, especially strategy and role playing video games, have pretty in-depth world building sketching out alternate possibilities to the civilization we currently have or what might come after. Take the Fallout series I mentioned, in the aftermath of the Third World War and civilization is in the process of collapsing a group of U.S. Army soldiers under the command of Captain Roger Maxson found a neo-crusader order called the Brotherhood of Steel dedicated to the preservation of advanced technology and knowledge in the new dark age descending on America. He gives an interesting little speech when he founds the Brotherhood:

    “Words have power. They build identity. They take on a meaning if you keep using them, even if it didn’t exist to begin with. It was the Knights and Scribes after the fall of Rome that protected what was left of Western civilization. So we are the new Knights and our role is similar. But we’ll need more than names. We’ll need new traditions, our own, well, mythology. Something people can believe to their core.”

    I am pretty sure anybody whose had been reading Mr. Greer for awhile can recognize the implications of a statement like that and millions of boys and young men in America heard it.

  82. Once again, encore!! Yes I think even the fact I was drawn back to Tolkien was a reconsideration of his work, or rather, how the work usually gets taken and also by myself, to divide it a bit and re-sort stuff. There’s. A kind of primal natural freshness you can find and fall back on in Tolkien, respites from the sauron narrative, which reminds me of your unheard essay on the God of the house of bread, well worth reading. Btw Dugin has an essay on the metaphysical nature of paganism as a pole to Christianity that goes really well with your points there. You’ve probably seen it but in case you haven’t …. May Nature and the gods and even the God bless you for your work

  83. I second “The Last Ring-bearer” by Russian author Kirill Yeskov – I read the first edition ages ago and it is a really interesting take on the war of the ring

  84. Greetings!

    Tolkien probably was aware that he was writing a fantasy book, not a guidebook for strategy and geopolitics. And I think that even the characters in the Lord of the Ring were aware that their strategy to defeat Sauron was desperate.

    I think English and American liberalism and progressive thought have integrated Tolkien’s work into the modern western world view, but the same kind elements of good vs evil were present in English-language propaganda in WWI and even in the Crimean war.

    Following Tolkien the western popular culture has been more simple with it’s moral. Like in Star Wars after killing the evil emperor became the happy ending. In reality the rulers usually have heirs which tries to continue the war, or if the ruler is irreplaceable, then the empire will collapse to chaos and civil war, not to transition to liberal democracy. Harry Potter is maybe the worst case. J. K. Rowling is some ways talented writer, but the evil guy Voldemort is evil just for sake of evilness.

    For cold strategic point of view the war of Ukraine is a Eastern Slavic civil war, for both Ukraine and Russian armies’ roots are in the Soviet military and in the early war Soviet material was widely used by both sides. So you cannot describe the conflict as battle between Western Men against Orcs of Russia. And when the much hyped Ukrainian counter-offensive in last summer was stopped by the Russians with dark military innovations like trenches and minefields, western leaders and NATO-generals should reflect themselves and their estimations.

  85. Ron, I’m quite sure you’re right, though whether it was Treebeard or Tom Bombadil who played the largest role in founding that most promising and tragic product of the 1960s is a fine question!

    Strda221, once again, it’s not Tolkien I’m criticizing here. His work, especially if you set aside his popular fiction, is far more nuanced and subtle than what’s been made of it by the popular culture of our time. As a fairly serious Wagnerian, btw, I agree with you that Tolkien seems to be facing the same dire fate, and just as inappropriately. (How many people nowadays even remember that Wagner said that sniveling, nasty Mime was his own self-portrait, or that this supposed anti-Semite insisted on having a Jewish conductor for the premier of Parsifal because Wagner knew he was the best man for the job?)

    Zhao, you may well be right about chess! Maybe we all need to play more go/weiqi. 😉

    David BTL, it’s a rough path; may it go well for you.

    Bliss, I’ve tabulated your vote.

    Christopher, I haven’t read all Dick’s novels so I couldn’t tell you which one was weirdest.

    Other Owen, that’s certainly one way to look at it. It seems unnecessarily one-sided to me, but whatever floats your boat.

    Justin, thanks for this. I’m not a fan of Dick’s work but I certainly acknowledge the guy’s skill.

    Karl, I notice that the reaction against Tolkien in games does seem to be quite a phenomenon these days! Ascians, though — I wonder if they took those from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, where they feature significantly.

    SLClaire, so tabulated.

    Anon, yes, I gathered that you see good and evil as objective realities rather than value judgments. As for the rest, thank you for the clarification; I don’t agree with your point of view, but that’s just one of those things.

    Scotlyn, ha! I think it’s Bloodthirsty Bruce rather than Perky Pat, but the point stands.

    Untitled-1, you’re most welcome.

    Michael, yes, that’s Solzhenitsyn, and crucially important, too.

    BeardTree, if Oswald Spengler was right the creative energies of our culture have aged out in the usual way, and now we’re making the transition to a culture of preservation rather than one of creation.

    Harry, oddly enough, I wasn’t aware of that until somebody mentioned it here.

    Mike and Executed, so tabulated.

    Isaac, that may be the best single summary of the United States yet penned: “a mix of religious fanatics and incompetent get rich quick schemers.”

    Aurelien, well, of course! My point is not that Tolkien invented it, but that the immense popularity of the form of fantasy he created has welded these specific habits into place in a particular culture and generation — also that one effective way to challenge those habits of thought is to point out the conflict between those habits and the world in which we happen to find ourselves.

    Ian, I just hope they don’t fall into the same habits we have. That’s one of the few things that could doom the future Russian great culture to failure and defeat.

    Thinking, I knew about The Last Ringbearer but I didn’t know about Chrysostom’s rewrite of the Iliad! Too funny.

    KAN, back before I read The Hobbit myself I thought the dragon’s name was Smog…

    Clay, the challenge here is finding a definition of insanity that covers all the available ground. It’s quite common for a ruling class that’s insulated itself too far from the realities outside its little bubble-space to embrace policies that have catastrophic consequences for itself and everyone else. Their reasoning is valid but the “facts” they think they’re facing are nonsense amplified by too many yes-men. Is that insanity? Depends very much on your definition.

    PumpkinScone, basically, yes.

    Brandi, makes sense to me! When I was writing my para-Lovecraftian novels I was constantly asking myself, “Okay, how would that actually work?” Thus my efforts to give shoggoths a plausible biology and culture, etc.

    Luke, it’s a familiar irony, unfortunately. As for the intrinsic conservatism of the counterculture, oddly enough that’s what I’m planning on discussing two weeks from now…

    Will M, exactly! That’s the thing so many people these days won’t allow themselves to understand: the guys on the other side really do think they’re in the right. The Nazis thought they were the good guys, fighting for the future of humanity against the Bolshevik-Jewish menace. The Communists thought they were the good guys, too. Next to nobody actually sees themselves as the villains of the piece.

    JillN, why, yes.

    Ken, I’ve tabulated your vote. Of course that’s one reason for escapism — but what if you could change things, if only you weren’t so busy hallucinating about being Perky Pat?

    Aldarion, a huge number of things got left out of Tolkien once his work got scooped up for mass consumption. Robert Mathiesen noted one of the most important things earlier: Frodo failed. All his efforts would have gone for nothing if not for Gollum’s frantic addictive clutching for his Precious. Another, very important point is that the trilogy is the story of the final defeat of the High Elves. Yes, the war against Sauron was a victory, but the entire panoply of wonder and magic that the Noldor brought with them when they fled Valinor, or rather the last fragile and flickering remnants thereof, was doomed the moment Gollum saved Middle-earth from itself. The trilogy is a tragedy, a wreck from which heroic actions on the part of various people managed to save something.

    KJL, funny! Thanks for this.

    Chris, it looked like tyranny here, too. There’s a meme I appreciate; it has no image, just the following text: “Some of you wouldn’t recognize tyranny if it slapped a mask on your face, forced you to get a medical procedure, and wouldn’t let you visit dying loved ones in the hospital.” As for Dick, I’m not a fan either; he’s one of those writers whose brilliance I recognize but whose novels I dislike.

    Laurent, all I can say is that I disagree. Reality doesn’t have to be like that, and the habit of running off to spend time as Perky Pat is one of the reasons it so often ends up like that.

    Daniel, I’m pretty sure Lewis read Lovecraft — he and Tolkien both devoured reams of pulp SF and fantasy — and reworked Lovecraft’s insights into a form that fit his Christian faith. As for Dick as a mentor of the early steampunks, hmm! I hadn’t read of that. Anything retro is useful as we pick up speed on the Long Descent, and if steampunk serves that purpose, more power to it.

    AA, no, it’s just one vote. I’ve tabulated it.

    Piper, just don’t start dreaming of them. 😉

    Malchats, I’m not the fan of Tolkien I once was, but I still enjoy his prose. If the US does ever launch an Operation Anduril, expect it to be a total disaster! As for Barbie, I have rarely been so glad that I don’t watch movies these days…

    Kfish, thanks for this! An excellent point.

    Hobbyist, I see The Last Ringbearer has a fandom among my readers! As for fantasy, given that I write it professionally, I’d be hard put to say that there’s anything wrong with it — but there’s fantasy and then there’s fantasy…

    Celadon, thanks for this. I haven’t read much Dugin yet, and this one’s new to me. I’ll put it on the to-read stack.

    KAN, okay, that’s three recommendations!

    Roger, of course Tolkien didn’t see his book as a guide to geopolitics! As I noted in my post, it was a fairy tale for his own pleasure and that of his friends, and he was astonished and dismayed by the way it got scooped up by the counterculture. As for the Russo-Ukrainian war, no argument at all — but then, of course, my description of it in Tolkienesque terms is purely meant as a reference to what was going on in the brains of NATO planners too clueless to realize that Zaporhizhia isn’t a province of Gondor.

  86. PS: In Tolkien’s first version of the mythology, as you stressed some months ago, the “good side” (the Gnomes) fails. Period. I suppose this was written or at least sketched out in 1916-1917. Later, the ending was changed so that a huge army from beyond the Western Sea swoops in too late to matter because almost all the protagonists are already dead. The countries where the war was fought are unrecognizable to the survivors. This might count technically as a victory for the good side, but is not meaningfully different from a defeat. Very 1918… In fact, I find it telling that JRRT never found the heart to actually write this ending out in full length – his son had to improvise to flesh it out posthumously.

    The eucatastrophe of the Lord of the Rings was fixed long before the end of WWII, though the destruction of the Shire remains as an echo of the earlier visions. I wonder what made Tolkien decide to write a worldly happy ending? What you call the three stigmata or fallacies obviously only applied to this latest vision.

  87. Christopher (#46) for my money, VALIS is the weirdest PKD book that is still mostly readable (he has a number that are just a mess). It takes the concept of an unreliable narrator in a direction I have not seen elsewhere. Vaguely reminiscent of the movie Memento in that way, though in no others.

    Robert (#69) I did forget that Frodo didn’t save the day, instead having his mission rescued by what I would characterize as a convenient deus ex machina. My misremembering may be due to having only finished the trilogy twice since I find it a slog – neither the plot nor the Prose Edda inspired style appeal to me.

    I wish Le Guin got more recognition – her work often featured ambiguous, difficult moral situations, especially her later work and some of her short stories, and her characters are so well drawn. She also showed the way that culture can trap people in particular modes of behavior that may be self defeating but which the characters themselves can’t see any alternatives to.

  88. Hi JMG,
    I wanted to offer a take on what you said. “Always, after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again”—if this happens to you, dear reader, you need to reflect seriously on the possibility that the Shadow in question is one that you yourself are casting, and your own actions are making it rise anew.”

    I’ve been a fan of the Babylon 5 sci-fi series. The two uber-“enemies” were, in the first 4 seasons, the Vorlons and the Shadows. Yes yes I know, “good” and “bad”, but let me explain.

    The Shadows would say, “Every light casts a shadow.” In the series, this meant that the Shadows were everywhere, hiding in the shadows. They were inescapable.

    One day a thought hammer crashed into my brain, which is related to the quote of yours above. Everything I do casts a shadow! Can I do a totally disinterested good deed with no hope of receiving something in return? No! Even when I know that I will receive anything in return, the hope is still there. I absolutely, unequivocally hate this. I know it’s part of the human condition but I hate it nonetheless.

    My one hope is this. We all will one day die. As the Minbari from the series would say, “We will meet again beyond the Veil, where no shadows fall.” I look forward to that day more and more. No more shadows from me.

  89. @ Mary Bennet #7

    2 of my offspring live in MAGA territory. I visit there, and I have the opposite thoughts compared to my “liberal” SF bay Area of CA.

    They do not mind bike trails and have them and respect them. They have HUGE Trump signs, and flags off the cars sometimes. Seems no different than the “We Believe …” “We stand with Ukraine…” “Im with her….” signs around here. Nobody there puts me down walking in as an Obvious old CA hippy sort, at all. I feel confident that if I had one of the signs I see here up there, I would be safe. ANd, I have seen this up there, a minority of the county having a thing where they have those signs, and nobody attacks them or takes away their signs, I have seen this, a few people standing with those kinds of signs in a public downtown corner in the small town. On the other had, if I walked into a coffee shop here with a Trump hat, I would be afraid of not just words but physical reprecussions. One of my offspring up there is a die hard NPR listening woke etc… and I know that everyone else knows it in that area, and that makes no difference to her treatment by them , they just don’t talk politics with each other. I was kicked out of a quilting group for the most minor of a supressed chortle at something someone said, I didnt even elaborate.

    The MAGA supporters open their own second hand stores, I have seen and been in them. They buy from the farmers market and small fishing oats off the dock and take it home and can it, again, I have seen this, and it was not a minority or an anomally. Many have their own gardens, some have started small operations where they sell their wares, one family upmost in my mind, growing blueberries and selling not just the fruit but jams and pies in a small stand on the county road. They seem to have no problem supporting small operators, even if they have kitchen towels from WalMart. I think they support the small time artisans and growers more than I see here, they are staying afloat and getting good prices for their pottery/woodwork/jams/soaps/fish/produce etc…, especailly given that the median income is so much lower their, they are paying just as much and supporting more than around here.

    They opened a new mountain bike park. There are bike trails along some roads and bikes on the road on the sides with no danger. I would say there is more understanding than the Tesla drivers here, who are the new version of entitled ( used to be BMW drivers) about sharing the road.

    Not to mention, that it is nice to be treated nicely when in a store, I love the customer service and smiles there

  90. I like the “I am Legend “ plot twist where the super good guy fighting the super bad guys, at the end realizes he will be the legendary evil guy spoken of in future myths.

  91. Daniel, Mr. Greer,

    If you like steampunk or anything retro might I suggest the 1632 novel series, also called the Ring of Fire series, by Eric Flint? The premise is that in the spring of 2000 the small West Virginia mining town of Grantville (land, people, resources, infrastructure) is taken back in time to central Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War. There is something like 20 books in the series and great deal of discussion is given to what pieces of modern technology can be built and maintained on a 17th century industrial base. Since it also takes place during the start of the Little Ice Age having to deal with a changing climate is also a major plot point in a lot of the books. Plus the book covers seem to do a good job of painting a picture of where we might be headed:

  92. Great essay! Thank you.
    One thought just popped into mind: the futile motions of the western elite & company reminded me of the Ghost Dance movement of the 1890s. That did not end well.

  93. Funny enough, I addressed this same issue in an essay on my blog a few months back. One of the suggestions that I made is that the proper bard for our time is not Tolkien and certainly not George Lucas, by Homer. In the Iliad, there are gods on both sides, heroes on both sides, and heroes who act like monsters on both sides. There is no Dark Lord prancing about in a black mask or a swastika so you know who to fight against. In a setting like that, morality consists not in picking the side of the angels– since angels fight for the enemy, too– much less the elves or the Jedi. It consists, rather, in picking the side which it is your duty to pick, and then doing your very best on its behalf. And in doing so not because of the fact that the other side is “evil,” which is the mindset of the child, but in spite of the fact that many on the other side are good.

  94. Brandi – and anyone else who likes to think about the nuts and bolts of fantastic worlds – may I recommend the Temeraire series, starting with His Majesty’s Dragon? The premise is the Napoleonic wars, but with semi-plausible intelligent dragons used in the air forces. It pays attention to items like logistics (how to get large numbers of livestock to a single location in order to slake the hunger of a massed unit of carnivorous dragons, how to strap rigging on a dragon), inter-service rivalries (the main human character is chagrined to have to give up his semi-respectable Navy career to join the disreputable aviators, as doing so impacts his marriage prospects), etc. It definitely takes a modern critical approach to the British Empire, with the dragon Temeraire asking increasingly awkward questions about slavery and imperialism.

  95. I just took a look at ‘The Last Ringbearer’, and I admit I don’t like it. Partially because it does really weird stuff to the worldbuilding, and some of the canon events are wrong.

    In particular, there were only two elves (Elladan and Elrohir) present at the battle of the Pelennor and after. They both survived. There was no way for the orcish character to get hold of an elvish cloak in that set of battles, and their chance of being poisoned by elvish arrows is vanishingly low. Assuming any arrows Elrohir or Elladan shot were actually poisoned. The use of poison is illegal among the eldar but did happen twice I know of in the elder days (Nargothrond during and after Celegorm and Curufin’s stint in power, and Eol’s javelin that he threw at Aredhel.

    The Last Ringbearer also skews canon characters all over the place (Gandalf), such that he’s hard to recognize without hearing his name.

    Pretty weird seeing Sauron described as Sauron the umpteenth, suggesting he’s mortal in The Last Ringbearer.

    By the time you’re changing major canon characters (Gandalf in canon expressed pity for Sauron’s slaves, not contempt and a desire to exterminate them) and events (there was no elvish army at the battles of the Pelennor or Morannon in canon) this much, it feels more like character assassination and less like fair comment. Now if I didn’t like the original work, I might feel differently, but as it is, nah. Think I’ll pass.

  96. Aldarion, of course they only apply to his popular novels. That was, ahem, part of the point that I made in my post, you know — this isn’t about blaming Tolkien, it’s about seeing what some ideas borrowed from one big, idiosyncratic, and wildly popular book did when misapplied to the real world.

    Bird, alternatively, you can learn to stand so that the shadow you cast goes where you want it…

    Dashui, that was certainly fun in the original novel!

    Karl, the problem is that it’s one thing to suspend disbelief and another to have to hang, draw, and quarter it!

    PatriciaT, yes, that comparison has occurred to me as well.

    Steve, hmm! That’s a suggestion I could definitely approve of.

  97. Thanks, JMG. I’d like to read about why new religions spring up and/or why formerly adequate religions become no longer adequate. (or maybe you’ve already covered this elsewhere?)

  98. Wonderful essay.
    It makes some sense of one of the things about the Ukrainian war that has just flabbergasted and confused me to no end. The complete contempt and distain that almost everyone in the west has of the Russian army. When the invasion began almost two years ago it terrified me. This was the Russian army attacking, not a bunch of civil war re-enactors, not the some disorganized desert insurgents, heck it wasn’t even the Israeli army. These guys are the Russians. They know how to fight wars. They are serious about this stuff. They beat the Wehrmacht for the love of god. Yet everyone with any power or position in the west dismissed them with contempt or with glee. It was nonsensical but if they really are just a bunch of orcs then I guess it makes sense.

    My vote is for a certain mid 20th century Central European political movement and its hold on our imaginations. It might be linked to the ideas in this essay.

  99. You won’t have seen it probably, but the Amazon adaptation of Tolkien’s second age went where Jackson didn’t. It portrayed Orcs as self-deterministic uruk, twisted elves who’d had enough of rule from Morgoth and Sauron and who rebelled, creating a homeland of Mordor. Mt Doom, in this version of the narrative, was triggered simply to shade out the sun, so that the uruk could move about during the day. This is the version Hollywood, who funded Jackson, wouldn’t have filmed 20 years ago (but probably would today). I think it would have pained Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillippa Boyens who normally write nuanced characters, to portray them in this way. Tolkien himself was never able to reconcile the uruk issue anyway, and the cosmology he created doesn’t sit nicely with them. Someone should apply the Cos Doc to Ea one day, and they’d sit a lot more nicely I think.

    If Tolkien is to become the Wagner of the 21st Century, that is a truly awful and undeserved fate.

  100. Aurelien, #60

    >> …. throughout the Cold War, denigration of Soviet military and technological capability was the rule.<<

    Not sure if this was true for the entirety of the Cold War. I’ve read that there was a mid-50’s to early-60’s assumption by many of the Western elite that the Soviet system was actually superior in terms of economic and scientific accomplishment, an assumption particularly bolstered by all those Soviet “firsts” in the Space Race. The assumed superiority of the West was on a *moral* level – we championed freedom, democracy, free speech, they did not, and that made the struggle worth it.

  101. When I was young, I imagined I would be a blind America Patriot but then did all the wrong things if I wanted to maintain that status, like asking hard questions and reading history. I caught out my teachers for teaching historical lies, white washing fact and was punished for doing so.

    During that time, I read LOTR and the hobbit for the first time. It captivated me, of course but in that mindset, I could not see the deeper, unspoken threads of belief undergirding it.
    Later, I read the books outloud to my children. I got to see those books with new eyes, after a long transformative journey. Needless to say, what I saw was entirely different than my first imaginings allowed. I still live those books but their tone and tenor do read like war propaganda and batter at my brains like Grond at the gates of Minas Tirith.

    Kudos to you, JMG, for talking about this hard reality in so graceful a way.

  102. re. Lord of the Rings canon
    I forgot Legolas, of all the silly things! Obviously he was at the battle of the Pelennor and the battle of the Morannon too, and he is definitely an archer. Like Elladan and Elrohir, he survived both battles, and how would the orc character have gotten his cloak? There’s also no mention of him using poisoned arrows, despite the fact you see him using that bow repeatedly during the Lord of the Rings, but that’s the sort of thing hobbits might have decided to leave out of their account of events. They should have known if a teammate was using poisoned weapons though, because of the risk of accidents from poisoned arrows carelessly handled.

    So, slightly less flat-out wrong, but still very fishy.

  103. I am now eagerly awaiting the Downstream Writing Contest, envisioning the change we wish to see in the world, one story at a time! I guess it would have to be the Reconstructionist version of the Grist contest since Gristle already exists, but the idea intrigues.
    As for a 5th Wednesday topic, how about some digital ink spilled on Occult detectives? I see JMG has a sequel coming out in the Ariel Morevac series and it got me diving headlong into the storied tradition of occult detectives of the last century or so. I was surprised to learn no less than Arthur Conan Doyle himself was very into spiritualism at various points in his life, given how skeptical his famous detective stays throughout his stories. Interesting how that part of Doyle’s life never made the leap over to Sherlock’s adventures, thus turning him into an Occult detective by default.

  104. I vote for Ken’s suggestion for 5th Wednesday vote: An overview of Best Practices to Survive or even thrive during periods of extreme social change. (What would have been most helpful for the average Gazan to know or do a year ago?)

  105. I’m going to base my comments on the Peter Jackson movies of The Lord of the Rings, because this is how I think people today (not, back in the day) primarily encounter the content. For me, the movies, as well as Star Wars and the Harry Potter movies, caricature evil, even to the point of making Orcs, the Emperor and Lord Voldemort look ugly (as unpolitically correct as that might sound, but I believe that that is the visual intent, playing on that caricature). The problem here is that as soon as one picks a side, the side which is against evil, then anything that one might do is ipso facto good. This is the big danger in this kind of depiction, I think. If Putin or Trump are inherently evil, and I am anti-Putin or anti-Trump, then anything I might do to counteract the Putin or Trump of my imagination is inherently good, which effectively masks any real evil which my actions might entail. This, I think, is the real problem with the Tolkien of the Peter Jackson movies, the Star Wars mythos, and the Harry Potter mythos.

    Luke Dodson: “… while Tolkien may not have been very impressed with the hippies, his popularity among them speaks to an intrinsic conservatism latent within the counter-culture. Lefties in the sixties and seventies often viewed the obsession with the mystical, fantastic worlds of Merlin and Gandalf with suspicion; they quite correctly perceived a reactionary tendency totally at-odds with their worship of progress, technology, and the glorious socialist future.” I confess that I don’t understand this. The hippies of my acquaintance “were into” astrology, Rudolf Steiner, Tarot, and, in some cases, magic. I might be missing something here.

    Robert Mathiesen: “Everytime I talk about LotR with others, everyone thinks it was Frodo who triumphed at the end, doggedly but still heroically. He didn’t triumph; he failed at the very end.” Yes, absolutely yes. It is Gollum who triumphs, but not for the right reasons. This might be a way to redeem Tolkien from what I described above: while there might be “evilly evil” in LoTR, there is no unalloyed good.

  106. The Other Owen @ 43, I think that ‘left’ and ‘right’ are categories of European politics which do not apply in the USA. Don’t forget, the French Revolution, from whence those terms came, happened over 200 years ago.

    Aurelian @ 60, Sauron is surely Lucifer, the fallen angel, and the Nazgul are men who have sold their souls, and thereby became no longer human. Why do you see Tolkien as an anarchist?

    BeardTree @55 abstracting the three Americans from your list, do you think that LeGuin, Dick or Mumford would find a major publisher today?

  107. One more thought for the night…

    …in this essay we have the vision of one writer from the one true faith, and the vision of another writer from the most paranoid end of the heretical gnostic side of the spectrum.

    One of the things about the adversary / villian in the one true faith / LOTR is it always seems to be lurking in the background but never seen very much. The Sauron effect always has the evil be over the mountains “over there.” And much modern fantasy and sf followed suite. The evil is off screen for the most part, and if only it wouldnt touch our hobbiton, all would be well and we could smoke our pipes and drink our ale and have elevenses.

    Yet for the PKD paranoid gnosticism, it is hard to know when the deities are deities. The satellite that appears as a savior may just be the demiurge, ready to rip the veil off this hallucinatory layer of reality, and show that you are trapped in the black iron prison. Or 4th century AD…

    I think both ends of this spectrum have somethings that relate to your recent essay on Unherd about what pagans can learn from Christians, and the comments you made about the Cosmographia in a recent podcast.

    There are a lot of beings in this cosmos and they arent all shadows or demiurges. Some are here to teach and help, others are here for other reasons, but not all unfriendly.

    I have a sympathy for PKD and the state he was in. “The paranoid style” in literature may also be a thing in America just as it is in our politics.

    Wherever PKD is now, in whatever life he is in, I do hope gets to experience a more sane kind of gnosis.

    Also, I kind of wonder why the SJW types havent caught on about the orc effect. Youd think they might object to that.

    I still like reading LOTR and PKD all the same.

  108. @Steve T: Where is the blog you wrote that? It reminds me of the Bhagavad Gita. Thanks.

  109. A 5th Wednesday topic nomination: the ritual of voting and other cultural rituals, what might be worth preserving. Also a discussion if possible of your work on the Johnny Appleseed myth.

  110. Perhaps ironically, the main political theme in The Hidden Fortress is that Princess Yuki (the ruling class) must come down from her mountain hideaway (ivory tower) and walk among the common folk so that she can become a good ruler by learning to utilise the vices of her subjects and turn them into virtues. In other words, she has to learn to see her subjects as real human beings, something our ruling class appears unable to do. If only Kurosawa movies were as popular as Star Wars.

  111. One of the most ironic things about Russian politics is that Putin and Medvedev were widely regarded as pro-Western liberals when they came on the political scene. Both men ended up changing their views due to the way the American government and its European satrapies have behaved towards Russia. Medvedev, who was president of Russia between 2008 and 2012, was infuriated by the duplicity of the Obama administration and NATO when it came to Libya, and saw the NATO war against Libya as an act of treachery and a slap in the face. It was afterwards that Medvedev reinvented himself as a hard-line nationalist.

  112. The degree to which the movies and other modern interpretations have gotten Gollum and Sam wrong turns me off the whole thing. The Jackson movies surely didn’t reject the idea that Sam’s service to Frodo left Frodo in a place where he could be merciful to Gollum, which ultimately made the whole business work out, but they didn’t show or explain it either.

  113. @Christopher from California #46 Thank you. I finally realized that that is the sad truth. The majority (not totality) of the far left are lost in their own desperate fantasy and denial, with no interest in exploring the truth even to preserve the fantasy. Perhaps, out of the karma accrued from seventy five years of Unipolar world domination, our nation has been cursed by some god or other to tear ourselves apart in a blind frenzy of virtue signalling nihilism. Or something else inevitable. In the end, I’ve realized that as difficult as it may be, the only answer for me seems to be following the advice of Epicurus and retreating to a simple life in my “garden,” minimizing the suffering that I feel on behalf of a world that doesn’t care and that I can’t change, and hope the conflagration never reaches my own gate.

    @Daniel #79 I’m a sort of a Steampunk dilettante, really more simply Neo Edwardian, but I’ll take a sympathetic community where I can find it. I don’t know if the steampunk narrative has the strength to carry us through the Collapse, but somewhere in my library I have a little pamphlet titled “Steam Punk Guide to the Apocalypse” (I think), that has some amazingly solid survival skills in it, including a DIY water purification system made with a 55 gallon drum, and basic materials. If nothing else, they are far more psychologically prepared for de-industrialization than most. Although, realizing that you can’t actually hunt for wild game with a pocket ray gun may be disappointing to a few of them.

  114. Dear JMG,

    I believe CS Lewis once wrote in his Space series that the greatest joy one can experience is fully justified hatred. I think the attitude you described goes beyond Lewis and Tolkien to Zoroastrianism and the Old Testament where the “Good God”(TM) necessarily dictates that anything other than his illustriousness is the “Ultimate Evil”(TM). By setting things up this way, large masses of people can indulge in negative emotions like hatred and fear while simultaneously feeling good about themselves. They can gleefully go on sprees of murder and destruction while feeling justified and smug about it. This is apparent in the conflict in Gaza today where many religious Israelis feel justified in doing anything to the “animals” on the other side–and equally religious Americans are more than eager to indulge them. This cartoonish dualistic type of thinking is why I never liked the story of the Lord of the Rings even though I loved the magical world that Tolkien described. I felt there was too much of this us-vs-them thinking that Tolkien smuggled in from his devotion to sectarian monotheism. I always thought the Hobbit was the much better story–even better are the original myths which were the sources of Tolkien’s books. The pagan myths don’t have this good-vs-evil mindset which is an unrealistic and harmful fantasy.

  115. Yoyo, so tabulated.

    Will O, I know. It made absolutely no sense to me — not least because the Russians had already been quietly supporting the Donbass insurgents for seven years, and doing it quite efficiently. I’ve got your vote tabulated.

    Peter, I sat through the Peter Jackson movies out of a certain misplaced loyalty to the trilogy, and have regretted it ever since. I promised myself I wouldn’t suffer through anything further, thus no, I didn’t take in Amazon’s version.

    Donkey, thank you. There are chunks of the trilogy I skip these days, for exactly that reason.

    StarNinja, hmm. I’ll consider such a contest. As for Ariel Moravec et al., the sequel is in press and the third book in the series is in the publisher’s hands, with more to come. I’ve tabulated your vote!

    KJL, duly tabulated.

    Asdf, that’s certainly one of the real problems of those franchises!

    Justin, and true to form, I tend to like fiction that’s somewhere in between those two extremes…

    Candace, tsk tsk tsk! You get one vote. Which of those would you like to propose?

    Simon, gods, I wish they were! Kurosawa’s films are so much better it’s embarrassing to compare them.

    Ariel, very true. And yet nobody in the governments of the West is willing to notice that.

    Justin, the best comment I ever heard about those misbegotten movies was as follows: “Peter u bagronk sha pushdug Jackson-glob bubhosh skai!”

    Tony, exactly. Exactly. That’s the secret downside of all religions and philosophies that propose an ideal of human behavior that most people can’t maintain; there is always an exception to the rule, always a place where you get to wallow in whatever the forbidden feelings are, and oh dear gods, do they wallow in it. And in the resulting rivers of blood.

  116. @Mary Bennet #7 One of the first MAGA Trump supporters I knew owns the local witch craft, tarot card, magic supples and crystal store, along with some properties, is on the board of the Montessori school her children attended, is good to her employees and is generous and giving to local organizations. She is not comfortable with the technocratic, big corporation world, and would prefer a local, small business, family based, personal reality to be the norm. She would be a wonderful neighbor.

  117. Great post as usual!
    For 5th Wednesday, I’ll support Jeff #2 “Deindustrial Future Military History”

  118. Very frequently your writing gives me new information and new angles on things to consider. I’d never realized it before, even with terms like “orcs” and “Mordor” being used, but the narrative on Russia really does resemble LOTR. There were reasons aside from wishful thinking to hope that a major assault by Ukraine would scatter said “orcs.” The first time Ukraine tried a surprise attack, Russia wisely retreated from numerous areas where its people would have been vulnerable. Also, it is easy enough to find people in Russia, like the languishing Navalny, who want to see Putin dead, hate what Russia has become and want to integrate with the West (and Medvedev was once said to be among the latter). It is an easy step from there to exaggerate their prevalence and surmise that Russia’s military must have the same motivation as a pack of orcs, which a mass mobilization would only make that much worse. It was a lie, but I see your point that, really, it was a fantasy based on a popular template and the people involved in it did not want to awaken from it, so they ignored all signs to the contrary.

  119. @Robert Mathiesen re: the public’s ‘blind spot’ of Frodo’s failure. Like you, I see this failure as key to the Tolkien’s brilliance; I also see it as a reflection of his Catholic faith (we are all sinners – even the best of us – and anyone may slip into weakness and sin any time regardless of our vigilance or cultivated purity). I suspect that the public cannot ‘square the circle’ of the self-sacrificing heroic Frodo with the fallen Frodo for the same reason that most people remember Noah as the hero who saved humanity and nature from annihilation but not as the drunken naked man after the flood. Sadly, we in the West seem to demand that our heroes be unsullied (well, maybe with the exception of Batman) and so we conveniently turn a blind eye to, and promptly forget, their shortcomings. At least that’s my take.

    @Steve T: thanks for the reminder about the Iliad (“there are gods on both sides, heroes on both sides, and heroes who act like monsters on both sides. There is no Dark Lord prancing about in a black mask or a swastika so you know who to fight against… It consists, rather, in picking the side which it is your duty to pick, and then doing your very best on its behalf.”). The same is true of the Indian epic Mahabharata in which both sides of the fratricidal war have warriors who possess extraordinarily admirable qualities. The demigod Bhishma fights on the side of the aggressors due to an oath he gave generations previously even though his heart is with the wronged party in this conflict – which makes the tragedy of his death all the more poignant. The conflict forced the virtuous prince Arjuna to kill his venerable archery teacher Dronacharya on the battlefield. Nobody comes out of the conflict smelling like roses – not even the god Krishna who uses lies and deception in order to tip the balance of the war in favour of the wronged party. Many shades of grey in that epic.

  120. One of the big problems with Tolkien and other fantasy writers is his separation of magic and “real life”. Hobbits aren’t magical because they cannot glow and get rays to shoot out of their fingers like wizards and elves. Of course wizards and elves were receding from the Hobbit/human world… there always had to be an element of “once there was magic, but it’s not like that anymore” in tons of fantasy stories. At least Dune sort of made the Mentats quasi-magical because they could do cool things with their brains (while high as kites on Spice, of course). The sad part about the above is the hidden message that using lots of drugs will make you smarter, and more than one of the kids I knew who read Dune cover to cover at age nine ended up frying their brains on acid/shrooms at age nineteen. The segregation of magic from “our world” is the driving plot of all of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and the entire Harry Potter series as well. I guess I’m a little bitter. For a very long time, I labored under the delusion that magic was rays literally shooting out of fingers, teleportation, mind reading, and levitating spoons because that’s how it was in every single movie and book, including Dune and LOTR. It took a great deal of reading, observation, discursive meditation, banishing rituals, divinations, and prayers to see magic as anything deeper than that. We truly live in an atheist-materialist age, and the one thing “special” about this time around seems to be the number of forces hell bent on keeping people from making the connection.

  121. @Mary Bennet #111 Have no idea if those three would get published today. Pleading ignorance on what is publishable nowadays.

  122. I’m seconding Ken (#73)’s suggestion of “best practices to survive (or even thrive) during periods of extreme social change.”

  123. @Mary Bennet
    That is interesting.
    I consider myself right wing and people who know me would mostly agree.
    I am not an American, so i cannot support Trump, but if I was, I would, although I’d prefer to see DeSantis this year. Not necessarily a fan of Trump, but I’d take him over Biden/Obama/Clinton any day of the week.
    I have a large backyard garden with a lot of fruit trees and veggies. Thinking of getting some chicken if i can get some with the proper right wing attitudes.
    I prefer cycling and walking and (dare I say it) public transport over using my 15 year old car.
    From where I stand, the woke, gender and climate confused left are caught up in mindless consumerism a lot more than my fellow conservatives. Consumerism itself seems connected to the religion of progress.

    So what is happening here.
    We look at each other and see the same Orcs.
    Are we projecting the same shadow? Are we really that different? Is the right-left dichotomy just an artifact of divide and conquer? Of the fracturing of society?
    I have noticed this before. Someone from the other side of the fence accusing me of exactly what i associate with their side.
    Maybe I do the same without noticing.

    Kind Sir,
    may I suggest this phenomenon as a topic for this months fifth wednesday?

  124. @Donkey I read the trilogy at about the same time as you, and also read them aloud to one of my kids. I noticed different things. The language is rich and archaic; I was always irritating my kid by looking up the definition of a word. The Christian elements became clearer too. Frodo is a Christ figure, carrying the burden of humanity’s redemption. Of course, he breaks at the end, because he’s a man, not a god. It made the Christian elements of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series seem trite and childish in comparison.

  125. Hi John,
    The idea of the Mentat raised in Dune may be particularly useful heading into the post-petroleum future. Rather than continue to depend on the prosthetics that our machines have become, why not start regaining our personal powers? (And an underappreciated component of positive psychology is the desire for personal mastery. Perhaps Herbert lamented the inner poverty that grew alongside outer affluence?)

  126. What I find interesting about Tolkien and all his imitators in pop culture is the aspects of LotR that they don’t imitate. Tolkien created in the character of Aragorn a brave, daring warrior who rose to become a king – but Aragorn is pointedly not the protagonist. Frodo is. The character of Gollum likewise rarely appears in Tolkien imitations. Novel series like the Sword of Shannara, a blantant Tolkien imitation, cast an Aragorn-type as their hero rather than a Frodo type.

    Tolkien intended his myth-cycle as a Christian counterpoint to the polytheistic myths embedded in Western civilization. His heroes were distinguished by their humility before their bravery. He made it clear that the most courageous and strong-willed characters, like Aragorn, Galadriel or Gandalf must not touch the Ring because they would be incapable of resisting its corrupting force. Sauron disregarded the idea of anyone sneaking into Mordor and destroying the Ring because he believed no one was capable of resisting it and he was right. Gollum’s action that led to the destruction of the Ring could be seen as divine providence, but it was crucially enabled by Bilbo and Frodo’s choice not to kill Gollum.

    As a ruined hobbit, Gollum could be said to reflect the fallen nature of man in Christianity, and Frodo’s mercy toward him can be seen as an acceptance of his fallen nature. Conversely, a traditionally heroic character like Aragorn who would slay Gollum could be seen as prideful and dismissive of his fallen nature, which is not the path to a Christian spiritual victory. Gandalf’s words about how “even Gollum may have something to do” reinforce this. In the end, Frodo defeated Sauron because he was different from Sauron; he showed mercy to a defeated enemy, which Sauron would never do. It stands in stark contrast to the stories of heroes like Odysseus massacring his wife’s suitors.

  127. Hi JMG – thank you for another interesting essay, and including enough detail on Tolkien’s characters that not-so-well-read people like myself can follow along. I always thought of fiction as a downstream reflection of culture, but your view turns that around.

    Your comments on the military escapades in Ukraine seem spot on. I believe in the 1970s a Soviet pilot flew a Mig-25 Foxbat to Japan to seek asylum, and U.S. engineers were amazed to find the finish of the plane to be so rough – that the rivets were not smoothed. They then determined it didn’t appear to affect performance too much, and the cost savings over the F-15 and similar fighter jets in the West resulted in the Soviets getting much more bang for their military ruble.

    The incentive for self-reflection on the ideas you’ve written about here is very high. You’re certainly helping unwind the cause and effect of what I think of as The Madness of Crowds and Delusions of Selfish Living. I don’t know how much time we’ll have left with the luxury of dissecting the guts of those issues – at this point we’re just rearranging the proverbial deck chairs on Space Ship Earth with the iceberg looming in the rapidly shrinking distance….

  128. …would love to hear your thoughts on:
    1) decline of mainline Protestantism in the U.S.
    2) rise of / impact (or lack thereof) of Pentecostalism in U.S…. …long-term?
    3) decline of Christianity in its former European home… …any hope of revival?

  129. JMG,

    This may not seem like a direct response to this week’s post but I recommend _The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict_ by William T. Cavanaugh, New York : Oxford University Press, 2009. Here is the review of it that I wrote for Library Thing:

    “Cavanaugh makes three main points: that the category of religion is not universal and that therefore, branding particular incidents of violence as religious is problematic; that the history of the European wars of religion has been distorted by both Enlightenment and modern thinkers to lead Westerners to view secular governments as rescuers from sectarian violence and to make allegiance to the modern state seem the only alternative to constant conflict; and that these beliefs have enabled secular Western states to label third world non-secular states as irrational and in need of rescue from their backward condition. Much of the latter discussion centers on relations with Muslim territories. However, the author is careful not to claim that this myth of religion as uniquely violent is deliberate propaganda.
    This book is relevant to students of current affairs, students of the history of religion and of the study of ideas about religion. It is a little overwritten in parts, repeating some ideas in several places, but overall the argument is clear and the evidence persuasive. The book includes endnotes and an index, but no bibliography.”

    re war in Ukraine: I recently read an article (pretty sure it was by Matt Taibbi) that noted how much of reporting on the war resembles advertisements for the various armaments with headlines like “Ukraine supplied with 250 Brand Y rocket launchers.”

    In any government one will find the true believers, the cynical profiteers, the people just trying to keep things working (whether it is a good thing like a hospital or a bad (from some point of view) thing like a prison camp), people just trying to survive, people trying to effect change from within, the “I just do as I’m told” worker bees. And of course, the roles, except for the “worker bees”, can overlap. You could be a true believer in The Party (whichever party that is, and still think that a particular policy is misguided or that a department is poorly led and work from within for change. And as for cynical profiteers we know that high ranking Nazis were hauling in the loot and that high-ranking Soviet officials enjoyed luxuries denied the ordinary worker.

    I have read in a couple of different places the assertion that democracies do not war against one another. Apparently, this is known as the” Democratic Peace Theory.” What are your views on this?

    Don’t know if you are aware that a Stan Nicholls has written a fantasy novel from the POV of the orcs. Title _Orcs_. I haven’t read it. Has anyone else in commentariat?


  130. @JMG
    Don’t know if it would make a great topic for a 5th Wednesday, but I am curious about your firm belief that human space exploration is doomed to be impossible due to radiation. Having only that single reason seems to me like the belief a while ago that travel by rail would make people insane.

    Please, don’t get me wrong, I love your novel Retrotopia and do not welcome every new thing in the name of progress, but space exploration by humans seems to be becoming just about possible by now. Are you aware of the 2 latest works of your literary colleague Daniel Suarez exploring a possible near future tackling most of our current problems on the way?

  131. Sauron = Satan
    Orcs = Demons & Heathens
    Anduril = The Gospel

    Trace these nefarious clichés back far enough and, like most of the moral evils that plague our world, you will find that you can go no further than Christianity.

  132. Reading through this post instantly brought to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with a distinct image springing to mind of a Challenger 2 tank as a Knight on a wooden hobby horse approaching a castle garrisoned with French Knights, although there are so many parody’s in that film that could easily apply here.

  133. Greetings all
    I vote for Deindustrial Future Military History since it seems that with the Gazah war we are getting glimpses of it.
    Highly original essay! (like most of your essays are anyway!) Let me see if I have understood today’s lesson well.
    Orc Fallacy: Palestinians are bad, bad and just Bad and so useless! (That includes most Muslims, I think.)
    Anduril Fallacy: Our western military technology is so superior that just waving it around should scare the living daylights out of Orcs (Muslims)
    Sauron Fallacy: If only we could get rid of the Iranian Ayatollahs, everything should be fine.


  134. I agree with the three phenomena you describe and their deep entrenchment in our culture. However I would not attribute their cause to Tolkien but instead think that both Tolkien and the temporary west draw those three beliefs from the same old sources.

    The first and second belief can be summed up to military superiority. Western history of all eras is full of tales of the brave few who slaughtered vast amounts of enemies, being it at Marathon, at Cajamarca or at Rorke’s Drift, just to name a few. Many of the heroes of old who fought in those battles are still cherished today in books and movies. While the west conquered basically the entire planet, no nonwestern power ever succesfully conquered the core lands of western civilization. Generations of historians came up with many theories to explain this history, but the fact remains, that military superiority is an important part of the collective memory of the west based in millennia of actual events.

    I also think that the tale of the evil person is much older and much deeper ingrained in our culture. In occidental civilization evil Satan is the counterpart to a loving God and childrens fairy tales that have been told for centuries are full of evil witches and wolves whose role in the tale is just to be the evil counterpart the hero has to defeat.

    I am sure that a man as religious, historically educated and conservative as Tolkien was deeply influenced by the implicit assumptions our civilization holds about history, moral and its place in the world. So I think the three phenomena you describe are not invented by Tolkien and then spread into our culture but instead both Tolkien and temporary western elites reflect much older and deeper lines of thought and belief.

  135. Hello John Micheal and fellow commenters,

    First of all, I missed the opportunity to wish you a good new season of light, so I wish you all the possible best for this new year.

    Thank you for this essay, I guess you are right in the depiction of the main tropes from LoTR. It struck me when I read this novel some decades ago when I was a teenager and got exposed to the works of Tolkien in english class by my teacher (who happened to be a novelist himself). At that time, I had been reading other works of fantasy, mainly Moorcock and Leiber and was an avid reader of Lovecraft. I found LoTR quite bland and too manichean to my taste but I enjoyed it anyway as I appreciated the movies from Jackson, it’s entertaining back in the day when going to the movies didn’t cost the GNP of a small carribean country.

    I find rather difficult to think that such a work of fiction could shape that much the mind of the PMC. I’m pretty sure our local garden variety of PMC here in France and, at large, in continental Europe didn’t read the LoTR but, they obviously share the same mindset of the US counterparts (maybe some viral memetic exposure?).

    I can’t think of any work of fiction from a French writer that could account for the fallacies that pollute the mind of our ruling class in France. My take is they haven’t even read anything worth reading in their youth and so, their imagination is underdeveloped. Add to this a gross lack of historical background and a half-baked training in academic pseudo-sciences such as economics.

    As a data point, the SciFi genre is loathed by the established literary moguls here in France. Thus, what passes best for fringe literature are scifi novels. It’s even to a point that novels by J. Verne aren’t still considered classics by everyone (the same with most of the works from Dumas in another genre: “le roman de cape et d’épée”)

    So, if I follow you correctly, your ruling elites are of the same variety and got exposed to the Tolkien Ray that make them develop those three fallacies. It’s my guess.

    As of fantasy in general, that’s a genre I mostly despise nowadays because most of the authors got caught in rehashing endlessly and with no originality either LoTR or the Hero Journey. And that’s boring.

    If you want to read something original, try to get a copy of “Gagner la guerre” by Jean-Philippe Jaworski as it is the only work of fantasy I found worth reading in the past 30 years.

    What I find really interesting in reading your essay is that you really did a fine job at clearly pinpointing those three tropes: the Faceless Horde of Mooks, the Weapon of Ultimate Rigtheousness and the Not-So-Cunning Dark Lord.

    It happens that I’m a roleplaying games player and I showrun a campaign in an urban fantasy setting (which is our world’s Europe after WW1 basically). And, most unknowingly, I took the exact opposite stance. The ennemies are most of the time rival teams of powerful individuals with the own coherent and even honourables motives. The Orcs are from proud warrior culture similar to ancient tribes from central Viet-Nam. No magical gizmo ever saves the day (quite the contrary, the players learnt the hard way to be careful with random magical stuff). What saves the day are cunning plans executed with flair, style and spirit. The rivals are powerful individuals (a merchant baron, an academic dean and a “weird scientist”) the characters of the players happen to annoy as they unknowingly interfere with their plans. The players are still almost clueless about them even if they met several times.

    As for the subject to be dealt with later this month, I did know if you’re familiar with the work of François Roddier about out-of-equilibrum thermodynamics applied to economics and civilization? I’d like to know your opinion about it. Roddier’s book can be read here in English:

  136. I remember there was a time here in Germany when I was growing up (90s and early 0s) when there was a serious effort in pop culture to combat these Lord of the Rings-like black and white images. In school, the topic of “prejudice” and “stereotypes” and how harmful they are was talked about a lot. You should look at each person as an individual and so on. I find it remarkable that in the last 15 years or so there has been a complete turnaround from this and the groups of people you would least expect often have the most negative stereotypes and see no problem with them.

  137. Christopher #46
    “This helps explain “cancel culture’s” insistence that one misstatement proves absolute evil of the target. One unacceptable utterance is hardly ever a sincere mistake for which there’s a second chance! It invalidates any apparent good qualities the person’s ever shown.”

    And here you have put your finger on what makes JMG’s comment threads so refreshing. His moderation style is very simply expressed as “moderate conduct, not content”.

    A thing I was reminded of lately when, in conversation with an old friend, we tried to untangle some of the baggage around the word, which becomes an epithet, then an accusation, and then a condemnation – “racist”. It seemed that it was impossible for this person to separate hearing someone say they experience a large influx of immigrants as “living during plantation times”** (content, which fell into this person’s conceptual boxes as “racist”) from being beaten up by far-right protesters – which did happen to my friend (conduct, which fell into this person’s conceptual boxes as “racist”).

    Whereas, if we want to figure out how to (all) live together, holding very different viewpoints, and yet able to find the common ground without which a society cannot hold together, we could do worse than to begin to follow JMG’s living example, and carefully distinguish between conduct and content. Having a low tolerance for poor conduct would actually be far more protective, in the long term, of diversity and difference in content of thought and conscience and speech, than what we see now, where any kind of conduct is considered appropriate for policing the “wrong” (whatever that is from your point of view) content.

    ** around here (near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland) the phrase “plantation times” refers to the influx of “planters” 3-400 years ago, largely protestant and scottish, who were encouraged/incentivised/pushed into Ulster as part of a policy of calming the rebelliousness of the, largely catholic, natives. The “Ulster Plantation” has, instead, led to continued conflict over the succeeding centuries between the two largely endogamous communities – natives and “planters”. A conflict which is currently in a temporarily calmed phase, but which has not entirely gone away.

  138. “Did you know that Morris also wrote medieval fantasy? Did you know that he invented that genre? If not, I encourage you to find a copy of The Water of the Wondrous Isles — his most accessible fantasy novel — and give it a try.”

    I didn’t know it. Thank you for your suggestion, JMG. I hope to find a decent spanish translation, if not, I’ll read it in plain English.
    On the current Ukrainian mess: I think Western war machines are overrated by our own propaganda too; however, I think that part of the absolut failure of the Ukies offensiv(s) last year 2023 is due to the poor training of the unfortunated Ukie troops. Making a tank crew can’t be done in a few weeks, I think it, under the continous menace of missile strikes. Now, if you lack the time to train the crews and you give them a foreign vehicle, disaster is ready to begin, too.
    By the way, Russkies aren’t perfect as soldiers, but they can be trained without the permanent risk of air raids from the enemy. Maybe the aerial advantage is a serious part on this situation.

  139. JMG,

    Thanks for this! I’ve been looking forward to reading this.
    I was similarly incensed at how little of what is in Tolkien got picked up by the leftists of the 60’s as the other commenters, but after reading the comments, I realize that was the point.

    I can’t blame anyone for escaping the world through fiction-those that don’t seem to turn to chemical escape. I think very few people like to spend any mire time in the inhuman reality of daily life than they have to.

    Please add my vote for deindustrial retrofuture warfare. How would a conflict over a city on the the border between the Lakeland Republic and the Atlantic Republic look on the ground?

  140. Here’s one, just a repost from Ran Prieur (excuse the imposition)

    December 21. Posted to the subreddit, a fascinating essay about the occult origins of tech culture. “I’m suggesting that the once-transgressive ideology underpinning the Western esoteric tradition — that our purpose as humans is to become as close to divine as possible — has become an implicit assumption of modern life.”

    This touches on a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about. I don’t feel smart today, so I’ll just say that I think modern technology is totally a manifestation, a giant magic spell, and not only that, it’s dark magic, because as the essay points out, it’s about bending reality to our will. Reality doesn’t like being bent to our will, any more than another person does. We’re running out of room to dominate nature, so our culture, which still romanticizes domination, is now turning inward. Millions of people who can’t imagine a meaning of life other than seeking power over others, are getting increasingly frustrated, and I expect it to get a lot worse before it gets better.”

  141. We are in JMG’s debt for explaining so forcefully the facts of life about Russia. I’m not so sure that Mr Putin is a cold bureaucrat, although no one could rise so high in government without a hard edge. One American woman who had dealings with him early in his career claimed that he was the only honest Russian bureaucrat she had met. And he seems to be eminently moral and decent as well as law-abiding almost to a fault.

    “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”.
    -Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (“The Gulag Archipelago”)

    Incidentally, don’t be put off by JMG’s characterisation of Philip K. Dick as “literally crazy”. He was one of the very best SF authors, and indeed some of his work transcends SF. He certainly did drugs and had strange experiences – see, for example, “Valis” – but, IMHO, everything he wrote was good and some was outstanding. The great contrast between Dick and the Tolkien wannabes is that Dick couldn’t help being original. I remember vividly his description of how, as a boy, he would sit in the garden of his parents’ house – so far, so normal – and look at the couch grass. He wasn’t fooled by its seeming passivity, he said. He knew it was up to something, but what exactly? Just what was its game?

    Once, when Dick was broke, Robert Heinlein sent him a fine typewriter. As one does with a person one wants to help, but who just might squander cash on drugs or booze. Dick was grateful and appreciative. Heinlein and he were poles apart, he said, but nevertheless the conservative Annapolis engineer recognised Dick’s talent and reached out to help him in a practical way. At that time Heinlein was known as “the dean of SF writers”, and Dick was practically down and out. But today, whose books have been made into numerous successful films? Not Heinlein. And the films are good ones, too – insofar as books can ever be made into good films.

  142. @Mary #7
    I understand your concern about the “MAGA” crowd. Just wanted to say that I voted for the Donald in 2016 because my hatred for Hillary Clinton and her rapist husband was so deep that there was no other choice. That said, I live in the Washington, DC area and 2016 – 2020 were the most chaotic years I have experienced as far as the government was concerned in my 40 years here. Everyone was afraid to say anything (you didn’t know whose side people were on) and nothing got done. I didn’t vote for Biden in 2020, but whoever is running him, because he is completely gaga, is just operating business as usual for a failing empire. They will see how much more blood they can suck out of us and the rest of the world before the whole game goes down. They are somewhat more organized that the people Trump had running things, for good or ill.

    I share your revulsion for Trump at this point, but I have a specific gripe: the injections that he spearheaded and his support of Pharma. I know there is much more, but that is my rationale for never voting for him again. Btw, I always vote in every election, but am under no delusions that my vote matters — or is even counted…

    So maybe I am “MAGA” because I voted for Trump, but I have a garden out back, I brake for bicyclists, I sew and knit my own clothes, and I would only see an allopathic doctor, maybe, if I had a gunshot wound, but for no other reason I can think of. We could probably have some pretty good conversations. We former Trump voters are a mixed lot…

  143. JMG,
    Do you see a materialist component for the rise in imaginary worlds? If there is nothing beyond this world, that leaves the human mind with nothing to do but to create worlds–ironically with the help of the “non-existent” astral plane! On the other hand, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but he didn’t believe in his world as much as fans do today.

    As you can see in my reply to JMG, I’m an occultist. I’m also MAGA, so I don’t fit into that caricature that you’ve made. All the MAGA folks I know despise consumerism. The MAGA-loved, parallel economy is a back-to-nature and small town movement. MAGA voters are, in a very large part, old democrats who were abandoned by kleptocrat globalists that became the Uniparty. (Trump’s famous breaking of the Blue Wall.) Maybe that’s why they’re hated so much? How dare they not vote for the people who manipulated them.

    Many MAGAs are Federalists. I’d recommend going to a local Republican meeting and, you know, talking to people. Or, you could read about Dr Karla Borysenko and how she realized that Trump hatred was fabricated. Brandon Straka is a gay, New York hairdresser who loves Trump. There are millions more people like that.

  144. @ Asdf jkl (#110):

    “I confess that I don’t understand this. The hippies of my acquaintance “were into” astrology, Rudolf Steiner, Tarot, and, in some cases, magic. I might be missing something here.”

    Yes, exactly. The *hippies* were into astrology, Rudolf Steiner, Tolkien, and so on; but the *lefties* often weren’t. Many lefties viewed hippies with a great deal of suspicion, even though there was a lot of crossover. I have a snippet from an alternative magazine published in the early 1970s, in which a left-wing journalist complains about the implicit reactionary and patriotic tendencies he perceived (quite correctly, I think) among those British hippies who were flocking to Glastonbury to soak up the old mythic energies and suchlike.

    There were a handful of right-wing or right-adjacent hippies; John Michell, who was fully immersed in the London counter-cultural scene but was an admirer of Julius Evola, springs to mind, as does Robert N Taylor, an folkish Heathen and member of the Minutemen, who continues to record psychedelic-folk albums under the name of Changes.

  145. JMG, I appreciate your thoughts about the Russia-Ukraine war, and I can tell you don’t approve of American involvement, but what do you suggest we (the West) do about it instead? Say “it’s nothing to do with us”, turn our backs and let them slug it out to its inevitable conclusion (Russia wins)? We tried that before when Hitler invaded Austria, then Czechoslovakia, then Poland. World War 2 started when it became clear that he would just keep invading until he was stopped. In the present conflict, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania can see that they are next after Ukraine. If that’s your proposed plan, well fair enough, but with all due respect it doesn’t sound like a very good one.

  146. The reason American hippies adopted Tolkien’s fiction so enthusiastically seems straightforward to me. Mainstream/conservative culture at that time was all about valorizing greed and ambition as “upward mobility”. It was part of anti-communism, proving that the free market would provide for the masses better than a planned economy, and we were all expected to do our part by flaunting our affluence. George Goodman (under the pseudonym Adam Smith) wrote in 1968, “You have a duty to get rich, or at least to try,” and I’m not sure his intent was entirely satirical.

    The hippie counter culture was formed partly in reaction against this set of values. They saw their parents, carrying widespread, unresolved trauma from the Great Depression and World War II, not experiencing very much happiness from their pursuit of upward mobility but clinging to it anyway. The fact that Tolkien’s hostility to upward mobility arose out of his European throne-and-altar conservatism was lost on them. Europe was a long way away. In the struggle against All American business go-getter-ism they had found their Ally.

  147. This isn’t the first time you have mentioned this interpretation of Tolkien, and it’s explanation for some of the modern ills of our current time. The first time I found this framework entertaining but it did seem off in a way and this time I took the time to try to think this through, why is it off.

    The answer of course is that our modern day liberals, busy bodies all of them have not read to little Tolkien but far to little. The entire trope of the Evil Putin over there that we need to kill in order to save the world is a beyond simplistic understanding of Tolkien and his deeply spiritual quest. Because the difference between the mythic dark lord in the east and the actual guy in the east, is that the latter does plenty of real world stuff which affects the plot while the former actually never does anything. What is in focus is instead the Ring of Power. A small trinket that is not a McGuffin but actually an actor in the plot. A constant whisper, a temptation, a voice that tells of all of the great deeds you would do if you only stretched out your hands and grasped Power for yourself. More specically, wordly power over others.

    This desire for Power is what drives the entire plot of those books. Sauron barely appears at all but the ring is present in every scene and it is the ring that seduces good men such as Boromir into corruption. And here we get to the core message of the Lord of the Rings, the one that our current ruling class of managers cannot grasp.

    The power to resist the ring, is held by a select few in the book. the angelic Gandalf ( who dares not touch it in for fear of falling to it’s lies) Galadriel (Who is so restored spiritually by the ordeal of resisting that she can leave Middle earth for the heavenly Valinor as a reweard), the messianic King that was promised Aragorn who is the human who has total faith in Illuvatar, and the humble hobbits, who would be content to lead a small life of simple pleasures. Gardening, raisning children, having tea and smoking weed under a tree. In short, a very nice motley of rigt wing populists who just want the big eye of Sauron to f… off and leave them well alone.

    But our ruling managers can’t see this, as they have become the orcs they so despise. Bound by the power of the One ring they serve a single master. A master which doens’t share power, only delegates authority over slaves. So their they stand swaggering in front of the cameras when things go well, and there they run away when confronted by unwelcome realities. and there we have the tyrannical rule of whipps who in turn are whipped by the ancient fallen Kings of Numenor, the ring wraiths, the agents of the Dark Lord, who constantly strive to conquer the free peoples of the earth and install a totalitarian tyranny of industry and mass produced goods, the tyranny of quantity.

    And the point of the book, and of the spiritual quest, is that everyone, all humans are prone to the arrogance and hybris that will lead them to take the path of becoming a servant of the dark lord and none more so than those who think that they will use this power to do Good in the world.

  148. I would love you take on Rudolph Steiner’s concept of Ahirman and his incarnation. It seems that you both have much in common regarding the future of humanity and where it new roots are likely to spring from but diverge on what you believe the immediate future will bring. Perhaps I am wrong and we are looking at a world in which you are both correct (truly terrifying!) I would like you thoughts on the similarities and diffrences in your version of the near future relative to his.

  149. Hi JMG,
    This post coincides with something I was meditating on: “Symbolic Space” which I define as the subjective space in our consciousnesses where we think and feel about our ideas about ourselves, the shoulds and should-nots, the oughts, and ought-nots, basically the parts of persona that don’t align with the world of representations. Of course, Perky Pat identification would be something that fills symbolic space. A quick internet search tells me I didn’t make this concept up, but none of the authors I see ring a bell with who I might have originally seen discuss it. Anyway, I’d like to vote for mystery initiations for the 5th Wednnesday post.

  150. Did prior generations not have these same biases while fighting World Wars 1 and 2?

  151. Hi JMG,

    Thanks for this great essay! Probably my thinking has been so influenced by yours that I have had many attempts at discussions on these points with friends and family, most often meeting a brick wall, but often just a surprising amount of anger. Typically Russia and Trump are always a hair away from defeat anyway, so discussion of them is rendered pointless unless it is wallowing in this imagined victory – any attempt to point out that this has been their status seemingly forever, and bringing out the reciepts to prove it, is what gets their rankles up.

    I agree wholeheartednly though, in your assessment that neither Trump nor Putin, beloved as they are by their supporters, are all that important, and both seem (to me) to be relatively reasonable figures, all things considered, who could be worked with. I was surprised, and dissappointed, for instance, that Bernie Sanders didn’t reach across the aisle, throw some praises Trump’s way, and try to get some of his plans for student debt relief through.

    Your piece makes me wonder again of the long term effect of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli animated films. I’m not sure how closely you are following this, but they have gone from the fringes in the West, one of many in the “Japanimation” scene of the late 80s, to becoming completely mainstream here over the span of the last 30 years. I am in Canada, so I can only assume the phenomenon is the same down in the US, but here they are almost as ubiquitous with kids as Disney proper once was.

    I mention this because one of the interesting things about them, is that they do not have the standard good guys/bad guys binary, and it is very common instead for conflict to be born out of misunderstanding, or for multiple waring parties to find common ground and unite. Pixar films, I would think the largest producer of children’s movies, many of the creators of whom worked on the 90s Disney English dubs for Studio Ghibli, have adopted a lot of this same outlook, and again it is quite difficult to find movies of theirs where there are clear bad players who aren’t able to be helped rather than defeated, or more commonly, aren’t actually another version of the good guys (or vice versa).


  152. Hi JMG,

    Apologies for the formatting on that last message – it looked ok before I hit send!

    I forgot to mention too that among Philip K Dick fans online, Three Stigmata has moved up his ranks to becoming the most praised, and most often singled out as a favorite among his works. In contrast, his meta fiction later works like Valis, and his award winning Man In The High Castle have receded somewhat.

    Thanks again,

  153. I would imagine one of the greatest Anduril fantasies which is now being exposed is the invincibility of US carrier battle groups. The Houthi can launch one $2,000 drone, which the Americans then shoot down with a $1,000,000 missile from a destroyer, until they run out. Then having done away with their missile resupply ships, they have to go back to base somewhere to resupply, which would leave their carriers vulnerable. I guess they have perhaps figured this out, since they are withdrawing their carrier battle group from the Red Sea

  154. One thing I’d like to point out is that the dualistic good vs. evil looks rather different in Tolkien’s Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales.

    In particular, the House of Feanor (a Noldor elvish royal house who are extremely prominent major protagonists in the Silmarillion. Also the people who raised Elrond, who seems to have taken their actions as an example of what not to do in his own life…) is a bunch of antiheros/antivillains who are responsible for all three of the named kinslayings/elf vs elf battles in elvish history. They’re violent and do some very questionable things, but they also fight hard against Morgoth. They’re fascinating, compelling characters varied enough you’ll probably find one you like against your will, and they are flawed enough that the whole ‘elves are unfallen’ thing makes me raise a skeptical eyebrow and go ‘Oh really’. It’s not just them either: Maeglin, Eol, Thingol, Saeros are varying varieties of eek… and the others major elven characters have flaws as well. Fingon jumps into stuff before thinking things through, Angrod loses his head when he’s angry, Fingolfin’s reaction to what seems like the loss of the war is to run off alone challenge Morgoth and get himself killed, Orodreth is a gentle person trying to be a warrior king and failing miserably, Aredhel is sort of fickle, Finrod is probably a better human being and diplomat than a king, Turgon doesn’t listen to good advice, Luthien values her love for Beren over absolutely everything else and acts accordingly, Dior and Elwing seem to value the Silmaril over the lives of their own people…

    Did I mention they also lose that war, and every single elf or mortal kingdom falls, and the land itself is swallowed by the sea?

    And it isn’t just the elves who are um… questionable at times. Is Turin’s terrible fate the result of Morgoth’s hatred, or his own pride, stubbornness and arrogance? The story leaves it open to argument. You’ve got Ulfang who defected back to Morgoth’s side, wrecking the last hope of the Free Peoples of Beleriand, and Bor who cheated Morgoth’s hope and died trying to stop Ulfang. Beren may have done amazing things, but his sheer stubbornness drives me up the wall. And then you’ve got ordinary people who are just trying to stay alive in Hithlum under enemy occupation who you see in Unfinished Tales.

    And between Mim and the Dwarves of Belegost who murdered Thingol over the Silmaril, the dwarves don’t come off very well. Though Azaghal definitely does.

    As for the Enemy, first age Sauron is a bit different from Third. He’s a lot more deceptive, and can be beautiful when he wants to. He uses this to mess with elves and men via espionage. It doesn’t make him any less cruel, though. Morgoth is basically superpowerful ‘If I can’t have it I’ll wreck it for everyone else’ evil.

    Basically, what you have in the Silmarillion is Evil, vs flawed people some whom are doing their best and others who really aren’t.

    I think the problem with how Tolkien has impacted modern thinking is a product of a careless reading of the Lord of the Rings, mixed with the movies and wishful thinking about how the real world ‘ought’ to be.

  155. I also vote for how to survive in chaotic times.
    Erica, thank you for your comment. I have painful memories of the angry intolerance which self-described conservatives inflicted on eccentrics in former decades. I am afraid recent court decisions do not give me much reason for hope, nor do recent far right antics in Congress. Rep. Greene is not, no way, a working class person and I take leave to doubt that she has any sympathy for anyone who has less wealth than herself and friends.

  156. Mr. Greer,

    I understand. Time travel stories always demand a pretty massive suspension of disbelief. And I would also like to support Jeff’s suggestion for deindustrial military future history and military developments during an age of scarcity.

  157. Ukrainistan will succeed now that they want to send Women to the Front… Or maybe not!
    If it weren’t for the Billions in PROFIT (very soon will reach the Trillion mark) I would claim that it was a utter North Atlantic Terrorist Organization failure.
    They like to play way to many “war games” on the PC’s and their exercices are just like going to a ballet show!

  158. “. Is it possible that, for all our lavish material abundance, we’ve made a world so miserably antihuman that most of us would rather copy Dick’s colonists and flee into worlds that don’t exist?”

    Yes, yes we have.

    Have you heard of the Isekai genre? In case you have not, it’s a fantasy genre come out of Japan– anime and manga both, though increasingly westerners use it in amateur-written literature– where the hero is a normal guy from our world who is somehow thrust into a fantasy world. The cliché is by being run over by a truck, which has led to the “Truck-kun!” meme. As in : “Take me now, Truck-kun!”

    I mean, I get it. I’m a millennial and we’re famously in love with hating our lives. I’ve had points in my life where I’d have gleefully dived head-first into Truck-kun’s gleaming grill of destiny if it got me reborn into a magical world where my actions actually meant something, beit as “the chosen one” or “just some farmer”.

    (One of the great things about the effervescent flouring of anime/manga is that it makes room for all sorts of ‘slice of life’ stories, like “Farming Life in Another World”. Not every protagonist is the Chosen One and not every is plot is high-stakes, save the world nonsense. Sometimes, you just need to bring in the harvest, and that’s enough. Why this should become popular when Japan’s rural areas are virtually empty I do not know. Somebody over there needs to start a “Farming Life in Another Prefecture” meme campaign. Actually, I think if Japan liberalized its immigration rules you’d have no shortage of weebs wanting to live the “farming life” in rural Japan… thanks in part to this Ikesai anime.)

  159. While I had before cast my vote with Jeff for the future of warfare, it seems we are already getting a dose of that the past few posts. Warhammer and LOTR influencing the way people are fighting either with guns or as the background to their ideologies.

    My vote probably won’t get many votes, but how about this “Future Echoes of the Tamanous in American Literature”?

  160. One thing I wondered about LOTR; why can’t Elrond and his council get the Eagles to fly the Ring to Mt Doom rather than relying on two little hobbits?

    5th Wednesday I vote for a certain Austrian corporal with a mustache and how he’s become the archetype of Absolute Evil in our culture.

  161. **Sheepishly returns**. Voting ritual sine we are going to spend the next year dealing with it.

  162. Thank you JMG for this. I have been so severely induced to feel more absurd and lunatic than I actually am, first by doubting the same narrative tropes deployed during the Covid madness, and then the pivot to Ukraine/ Russia (which the whole Russiagate was but a warm up to make the hate go down smooth). Is it wrong to wish to leave this land? Partly because of the egregious overreach of the orchestrators of these deliberate parodies of intelligence & partly for the appearances of a uniform wave of fools passionately embracing the stupidity. I feel so conflicted.
    I do truly appreciate the opening paragraph’s sentiment, and my own deconditioning practices help me to keep looking for human beings disguised as presumed orcs everywhere and looking for any appearance of the orc in every mirror. Only Love defeats Orcs

  163. Great essay, JMG.

    This narrative also plays out pretty much every time we have an election in this country, whether its local or national. The partisans of both sides cast the others as inhuman monsters that MUST be defeated for the good of the country! And this election will be it! This will be the one where their power is broken forever, and then will start a new golden age where blah blah blah.

    Then the election happens, and the same thing always happens: usually a stalemate, with one side having a slight, temporary advantage. And thus the cycle repeats. I’m only 36 years old and I’m already tired of it haha.

    I’m with Jeff, I cast a ballot for a military history of the de-industrial future.

  164. The Ecosophia Prayer List celebrated its one year anniversay on December 22nd! In the last year, there were many more prayer requests than I originally anticipated, but I’m happy for it. Several people reported serious illness recovering faster than doctors expected, including cases which weren’t expected to turn around at all.

    One piece of feedback that I’ve gotten is that some people are overwhelmed by the sheer number of prayer entries. This is completely understandable; there are indeed many, and is a bit daunting even to me. I think some new tactics are warranted to manage the list.

    First of all, as I’ve been warning I would do for some weeks, I’ve removed all old prayers older than 6 months (with a couple of exceptions that my intuition encouraged me to keep). Next, I am revising the policy regarding how long entries remain on the list:Except where specifically requested otherwise, all prayers for the dead will come off of the list after a month and a day. The same goes for prayer requests for pets: a month and a day, unless specifically requested otherwise. All other prayers can remain for 3 months without an update (though updates are appreciated). This will be a harder line than I allowed before. I reserve the discretion to allow certain prayers for longer, when serious medical issues or the like are involved.As before, updates on how things are going with what you’ve made a request about are always appreciated. Every time you do, if your prayer is not yet resolved, the 3 month clock starts over. As I’ve changed the terms, all entries that are currently remaining on the list are grandfathered in, and safe from such removal until the Spring Equinox.

    May the coming year be filled with blessings for all!

    * * *This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.
    May the surgery for Yuccaglauca’s mother Monica‘s malignant mass be safe, successful, and conclusive of the matter.

    Tyler A’s pregnant wife Monika is at high risk for an ectopic pregnancy. May it turn out that the fetus has implanted in the right place, and may mother and child enjoy good health going forward.

    May Frank Rudolf Hartman of Altadena California (picture), who is receiving chemotherapy, be completely cured of the lymphoma that is afflicting him, and may he return to full health. 

    May the brain surgery that Erika’s partner James underwent for his cancer on October 16th have gone successfully; and may he be blessed, healed and protected, and successfully treated for all of his cancer.

    May Kyle’s friend Amanda, who though in her early thirties is undergoing various difficult treatments for brain cancer, make a full recovery; and may her body and spirit heal with grace.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all.
     * * *
    Old guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ. (It does not yet accord with the new policies I’ve listed above; I’ll update it soon.)

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  165. Hello All Most enjoyable read JMG!
    I second #50 SLClaire
    I vote for a post on Jung and occultism.

  166. Well, some people here in Russia certainly know we’re orcs. Eskov has already been mentioned, but there is or at least was a flourishing subgenre of Tolkien fan-fiction (sometimes resulting in major published works) in a similar vein. “Black Tolkienists” write about the Middle Earth from the perspective of Tolkien’s villains, and the geopolitical angle (i.e. orcs as stand-ins for ourselves, elves as stand-ins for Anglo-Saxons) often shows through in their works. There was also a nonfiction book called Wrath of the Orcs. As one would expect from the title, it was about the coming struggle between Russia and America. It was published in 2003. A persistent idea among our “self-identified orcs” is that the “forces of good” are hypocritical, arrogant and selfish with a strong emphasis on propaganda and appearances, while orcs are rough but honest, pragmatic and acting in their own best interests. It is just a different myth, of course, but one that works pretty well.

    I am also reminded of Aleksandr Nemirovsky, a prominent historian and “dark gray” Tolkienist (the version in his poetry is pro-orcs, pro-Sauron, anti-Melkor, anti-Eru Iluvatar). He once wrote that the orcs were the only characters in LotR that he found relatable – they reminded him of his friends in the Soviet Army. That may have partly been the result of the first Russian translation, in which the good guys came out more stiff, while the orcs were still exaggeratedly evil but also lively and fun in a way that resonated with army humour.

  167. Thank you for introducing Dick into the ongoing discussion. I had a fascination with Tolkein in my hippie-adjacent youth that later morphed into a fascination with Philip K. Dick’s work, but this essay made me realize how much of my own thinking remains stuck in the realm of Lord of the Rings.

    Nonetheless, I recently heard someone remark that his reaction to reading the news is often “which Philip K. Dick story are we living in today?” I can’t agree more. While the grand narratives our culture is telling itself — regardless of location on the political spectrum — may indeed be structured by Tolkein, the Amazon deliveries, streaming services, cell phone contracts and “self-driving” cars thrust into our daily lives are pure Philip K. Dick. Just yesterday I read that California is wrestling with the fact that traffic cops can’t write citations to “self-driving” cars. Dick is rolling in his grave because he’s laughing so hard.

    Dick may have been crazy — and one article I read about him claimed he took doses of amphetamines that would kill a mere mortal — but one of the sanest quotes I’ve ever read is attributed to him: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Which, perhaps, brings us back to the Russian Army…

  168. Wasn’t there another ring-based story floating around during the late 19th / early 20th too? An opera named The Ring Cycle, I think? And everybody in it was fighting over this one ring that could dominate the world? It’s a 15 hour opera, sung in German? I guess people in the 19th c didn’t have ADHD and had bladders that could hold 2 gallons at a time. While listening to German. They don’t make them like they used to.

    Methinks Tolkien was ripping off Wagner, or maybe making a more accessible version of the same story. Now you can enjoy the ring cycle in English in 2 hour increments and you only need a 1 quart bladder. In any case, where have we heard that before? Copy something complicated, simplify it and translate it to a new medium. So Tolkien rips off Wagner and translates the story from opera to literature. Then Blizzard rips off Tolkien and translates the story into video games. Games Workshop does the same and translates it into tabletop.

    You know, in all of this, when you actually take a look at what this Ring is supposed to do – why are they fighting over it again? Nobody ever questions that – the Ring is this great thing, that everybody wants (except for Tom Bombadil) and don’t ever ask why.

    So really, we should start with what inspired Wagner. And I bet you he was ripping off someone else too. That’s the foundation of whatever is driving all of this.

  169. I’m re-reading Zelazny’s “The Chronicles of Amber” for about probably the 5th time, but the first in maybe 15 years. I first read them when I was 11 or so. I’m realizing how profoundly they shaped my personality – or maybe I liked them so much because of my personality. I haven’t been reading much fiction lately though, I think the last was “Book of the New Sun” last year – excellent, can’t believe I hadn’t read it yet.

    It certainly seems like the modern world is quite miserable. I have more dead friends of my age (mid-thirties) than I dare to contemplate, mostly from suicide or overdose, mostly men who couldn’t take this world anymore. I get your point, and find it a good one, but I think there is a lot of value to imaginary worlds too (as I’m sure you agree, being an author of some), allowing us to see reflections of ourselves and our world, our unacknowledged beliefs, that can tools for illumination as much as for escape. Like scrying. And of course, your point that they can also be used as tools for shaping the world is not to be missed. I wonder though, why do certain stories get caught by the zeitgeist and some don’t? Who actually authors these stories, and why? I know that as a songwriter, I was never more than half the equation, if that.

    As for votes, I’d like your ideas on what the mid-term future of esoteric currents in the US is.

  170. Jon G, speaking for myself, on this “side” of things Supposedly Non-Liberal, there’s already too much infighting, more of the usual cannibalism and vengeful glee for me to feel cozy by your fantasy of yourselves/ourselves or whatever is “MAGA.”

    Reactions to CJ Hopkins and Naomi Wolf, as well as myself, keep me in reality and from the kumbaya hallelujah chorus. (Smile)

    I dont have any stereotypes at hand re MAGA… but mostly I think it’ll simply come down to class in the end…and thus I’m not and won’t be fighting You.

    Happy New Years, Brother and Friend.



  171. Jean @ 151, I share your loathing for Mme. Clinton and spouse. (There needs to be an audit of what did ol’ Bill do with the literally $billions which were donated to Haiti.) I wrote in Bernie in 2016 and 2020. I agree with your characterization of the present administration. I do fervently hope that you and me, and others who are into gardening and other forms of self-reliance are not at risk in the coming Republican administration. I think we all will be very much at risk, but I will rejoice if I am proved wrong. Right now it looks as if the next president will be Haley, and Trump has no one but himself and his penchant for “lookers” to blame for that. My guess is that, even now, Republican operatives and their corporate masters are drawing up the lists of appointments which will constitute the real administration.

  172. Re: pygmycory #100

    “Pretty weird seeing Sauron described as Sauron the umpteenth, suggesting he’s mortal in The Last Ringbearer.”

    It sounds like the work is a communist polemic far more than an attempt to honestly deconstruct Tolkien’s world. In order for Sauron to be a proper hero of socialism, he must be a mortal man. The presence of immortal supernatural beings indicates a hierarchy that no human artifice can dissolve. If such creatures exist in the story they can only be villains.

    asdf jkl #110:

    “Luke Dodson: “… while Tolkien may not have been very impressed with the hippies, his popularity among them speaks to an intrinsic conservatism latent within the counter-culture. Lefties in the sixties and seventies often viewed the obsession with the mystical, fantastic worlds of Merlin and Gandalf with suspicion; they quite correctly perceived a reactionary tendency totally at-odds with their worship of progress, technology, and the glorious socialist future.” I confess that I don’t understand this. The hippies of my acquaintance “were into” astrology, Rudolf Steiner, Tarot, and, in some cases, magic. I might be missing something here.”

    In response to both asdf and Luke:

    Countercultural admiration for abstract conservative concepts is quite common, at least in the West. It’s been pointed out that many hippie granola types admire things like Buddhism, East Asian martial arts, Japanese kimonos and tea ceremony, etc. More than once I’ve entered a stereotypical hippie apartment with a coffee table covered in drug paraphernalia where a giant Buddha wallscroll was overlooking the proceedings. These are artifacts of non-Western cultures that are specifically associated with the most conservative elements of those cultures. Comparatively fewer Westerners are into things like the Japanese yanki and visual kei scenes, which reflect non-Western counterculture. It may be that these people are subconsciously drawn toward some conservative ways of thinking but are put off by the conservative elements of their own culture so they seek it out in other cultures.

    Re: asdf, I think when Luke mentions “hippies” and “leftists” he’s drawing a distinction between them. In the 60s and 70s there were many orthodox Marxists who believed that communist revolution in Western countries was imminent as opposed to hippies who mostly just dropped out of society. The Marxists would naturally distrust escapism and fantasy as “opiates of the masses,” particularly when associated with classist British cultural traditions.

  173. Although all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring are all heroes (Boromir has a special place in my heart), to me it is quite clear that the most inspirational, the greatest, the truest, the bravest, and the wisest of them all is Samwise Gamgee.

    He never strayed from the task of destroying the ring.
    He held the ring felt is power and was still able to give it back to Frodo.
    He was wise enough to know not to try and carry the ring again, instead he carried the ring bearer.
    He returned and restored the Shire.
    He asked for a small box of dirt as his gift form the Elves (i thought it was dumb at the time, how wrong i was lol))

    It is the one who appeared to be the least of the nine, turned out to be the greatest.

  174. Regarding Tom Bombadil:

    I recall, as a precocious and arguably slightly autistic early teenager, debating with some people on a Terry Pratchett fan forum who were claiming that Tom Bombadil was just ‘filler’. I doubt that I could articulate it effectively at the time, but I could sense that there was something deeply profound that they were missing.

    Fast forward to 2023, and I was delighted to discover that online memesters have adopted Bombadil as an icon, alongside Pepe/Kek, Gigachad, and so on. Type ‘bombadil’ in the Twitter search bar and you’ll most likely find some amusing memes that make use of the Merry Fellow. One features Tom with a Gigachad six-pack, and the text: “> barges into the narrative > sings a song about how he’s older than the world > puts the ring and takes it off with no effect > refuses the elaborate > leaves”

    In addition, there has been thoughtful commentary on the real significance of Tom Bombadil in the narrative. While the rest of the characters are engaged in a life-or-death struggle on one side or the other, and even the ancient Ents are roused from their forest home to fight for survival, Bombadil briefly disrupts the narrative; he is joyfully indifferent, totally unaffected by the power of the Ring, and knows that all this business with Sauron will be over in the blink of an eye for his vast, geological scale of time.

    The fact that Tolkien was apparently as surprised as anyone else by Bombadil’s appearance in the narrative, and that he is apparently moving again in the strange, mercurial world of internet memery, suggests to me that he may be rather more than just a bit of whimsical ‘filler’.

    On a rather different note, I’d like to put in another vote for deindustrial warfare.

  175. Jon G, again, I do hope that you are right, and that you and me and other DIYers have nothing to fear from the incoming Republican administration. I don’t believe it, but I will be delighted to be proved wrong.

  176. Okay, to begin with, everyone’s votes are tabulated. Thank you all for your enthusiasm.

    Patricia O, exactly. “But a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…”

    Kimberly, yes, and that’s a crucial point. Most fantasy fiction is about how you can’t have magic. Only special people get to have magic, and if you’re reading a fantasy novel, you’re not one of them. It’s very much part and parcel of the “mind-forg’d manacles” Blake wrote about — and it’s one of the core reasons all my fantasy fiction, tentacled and otherwise, is about how magic is everywhere and you don’t have to be special to participate in it. It’s the supreme lie of the modern world that magic isn’t accessible to everyone, and it’s high time to challenge it.

    Greg, that’s an excellent point. I addressed it back in the days of the Archdruid Report, but it probably deserves another discussion soon.

    Logo Dau, that’s another very good point. Most of the things that made Tolkien’s fiction stand out, in fact, were ditched by the industry of cheap Tolkien ripoffs, of which, yes, The Sword of Sha Na Na (to insert a very outdated joke) was among the first and worst.

    Drhooves, oh, granted. To my mind the iceberg hit in 2005 when conventional petroleum production peaked worldwide, and at this point we’re in the awkward interval between then and the point that the people in the first class salons realize that just maybe something has gone very wrong. At this point the available practical actions all amount to damage control — but I’ve already said plenty about that, so we might as well discuss iceberg physics while the ship settles into the water beneath us.

    Aaron, those are three different votes. You only get one. Which would you like?

    Rita, thanks for this. I’ll have a look as time permits. As for “democratic peace theory,” it’s nonsense, propped up solely by arbitrary decisions about who is or is not a democracy. Both Russia and Ukraine, for example, have elected executives and national legislatures; both are democracies in the strict sense of the term. How are the peaceful relations between them working out?

    Michael M, it’s not just radiation — there are plenty of other good reasons why nobody’s gone outside of Earth’s magnetosphere in more than half a century, with the crushing economics of manned space travel high on the list. Still, that’s not an argument I bother with these days. Space travel plays the same role in the religion of progress that the second coming of Jesus plays in Christianity, and in both cases it’s a waste of time to dispute a faith-based conviction.

    Sybok, I wonder if you realize how remarkably simple-minded that equation is.

  177. @ JMG – I’m perplexed by an idea central to this essay’s thesis. You write that habits of thought from Tolkien’s narrative became lodged in the subconscious of “the American Left” and the “liberal politicians and bureacrats in the Western world”. Setting aside the necessary distinction between “the left” and “liberals” for a moment, who do you think runs the Western world?

    Put another way, do you really think the Western economic model is somehow “Leftist”? For that matter, do you think the corporate and political PMC are uniformly liberal in their outlook?

    As for the fifth Friday pick, I’m going to cast a pair of votes. make of that what you will.
    I’d still like to see an essay about warfare in the deindustrial world.
    But I’d also like to suggest an essay with the theme of, ‘which historical revolution most resembles the current American situation?’

  178. @Aaron #135 Mainline Protestantism clings to an outer form of Christianity, but IMO they should just get it over with and become Unitarian-Universalists, which many of them are at heart, over night making that denomination the largest in the USA. I have sat in liberal Episcopal services where they dutifully read OT verses as part of the standard round of readings they do through the year containing scorching words of judgment from God, which they don’t accept, ditto for much of the NT. And ditto also for the recital of the Nicene creed.
    As regards Pentecostalism, as reflecting it’s American origin is endlessly fissiparous and also has its appeal centered in the working class and the poor so I don’t see it attaining institutional organization and dominance like the Calvinist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican Churches did in their day.

  179. My vote for the topic is

    “Bird, alternatively, you can learn to stand so that the shadow you cast goes where you want it…”
    I knew you were going to find some way to incorporate the shadow into yourself but a bit more advice on how to do that would be welcome.

    I know it’s a fine theme for a series of meditations, and i have started on that process.

    Science is a very bright light that illuminates things that you can measure well, but everything you can’t measure well is in the shadows. This is so much so that some people have started to believe that only things you can measure are “real”, because that is all science can see. But how much does Love weigh? What is its electrical potential? How big is it? None of those questions even make sense to me. But i know love is real important.

    This may have to do with why the Monomyth is so deadly, many ways of thinking can potentially illuminate part of our reality while simultaneously hiding other parts. having several sources of illumination allows you to see much more of reality.

  180. Since so many people are mentioning the American elections, i would love to see a mass awakening where everyone writes in Tulsi Gabbard. In my dreams.

  181. @Quin (and prayer list aficionados)

    We’ve past the hurdle of ectopic pregnancy now, thank all the gods. (And thank you to those who invoked said gods!) I had guessed, but wanted to get the OK from the doctor, who we saw today. If anyone wishes to pray for Monika and our child, that is still very much welcome! It’s still a high-risk pregnancy so prayers for the health of mother and child would be very much appreciated by both of us.

  182. re: Isekai. I only heard the term isekai for the first time maybe a couple of years ago. But I ran into ‘girl dies and falls into Middle-earth’ self-insert fics in the 2000s. I’m not sure that Japan is where fanfic got that idea. It’s been a trope longer than I’ve been reading fanfiction. Which is a long time.

  183. My vote for 5th week is the mental health impact of people realizing that Progress isn’t delivering the shiny future they thought they were promised, and the variety of ways people will cope with that or probably more accurately in many cases fail to do so adaptively.
    I suppose you do this already, one way I’m thinking of is the flip side of Progress, the myth of Apocalypse which you have discussed at times, but I can see there might be other ways people could respond psychologically.

  184. I’ve never gotten heavily into Fantasy and Science Fiction for some reason, but I see I will need to tackle Tolkien else much of this discussion will be over my head. You said The Hobbit was geared towards children; would it be easier for me to digest the World of Tolkien if I start with reading the Hobbit before the Rings Trilogy?

    JMG (answer to V.O.G.): …the establishment Left has been insisting on ever more improbable beliefs over time — the more absurd the things you believe unquestioningly, the more your salvation is assured…

    Which brought to mind the Queen in Alice in Wonderland:
    “Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
    I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    Sometimes I feel like Alice! In fact, the modern day craziness seems to line up with Wonderland the more I look at it. I’ve heard that there are many Jungian interpretations of the Lewis Carroll tale, and now I want to re-read it! Maybe your fifth Wednesday topic could be the connections between Alice in Wonderland and Carl Jung?

    Joy Marie

  185. Hi John Michael,

    Undoubtedly Mr Dick’s (sounds a bit pervy when I write his name like that) works are brilliant, I just struggled with the characters and their total absence of compassion. Might as well have been writing about Orcs.

    Speaking of Middle Earth, it was not lost on me that the Elves attracted the troubles to Middle Earth in the first place. The Big Boss creature was eventually killed, yet the Elves didn’t learn their lesson, and so they were left with the Little Boss creature of Sauron. What I never really understood about the Elves was that as a group they looked down upon their kindred who had decided to adapt to conditions in place, and even had a name for them: Dark Elves.

    The High Elves in the face of adversity and loss decided to ‘sulk their socks off’, and head West. “Oh man, we can’t have stuff and things no longer, so that’s it, we’re done here!” The cultural parallels to that loathsome film: “The Big Chill”, were not lost on me, despite the excellent soundtrack. “Oh man, we’ve done so much!” Entropy consumes everything and there is a significant cost just to stay in one place. As an amusing side note: Conan’s expectations were lower, and his cost of cost of governance was equally lower. Hardly surprising what the fictional character stated about Barbarism. 🙂

    The meme was spot on.



  186. #124 The two ways I see Western pundits talk about Navalny is firstly they think of him as a viable alternative president to Putin just waiting to take over if there were to a ‘free election’™ in Russia. I don’t know how many even of the liberal critics of Putin see him that way but my intuition is it might not be very many. My impression from not a lot of knowledge is he had a reasonable following as a campaigner against corruption but not really as an alternative president in waiting.
    Secondly is what would happen if he did get to be President, the Western pundits seem to think everything would be exactly as they say they want it to be.

  187. Hi John Michael,

    Sorry to digress, it’s something of a personal problem! 😉 But 2005 was my best guess too, and for that very reason. Noticing the ship taking on water, well, by 2008 I headed bush. Even then it is very difficult to get any distance.

    As a funny side story, I used to have a car which was made in 2004. The vehicle lasted 18 years, being regularly attended too and with only the most minor of issues, until things began going wrong at a pace which I could not manage. Now in 2022, I replaced the machine with a similar small lightweight go anywhere thing, and I get the distinct impression that the newer machine may not last as long. I’m scratching my head wondering whether I should have kept the older machine going. Dunno, it became an economic decision in the end.

    But mostly the entire episode reminds me that decline pops up in all manner of unusual ways. And also the issue is not purely related to vehicles, by no means.



  188. nice essay — thx for sharing!

    my vote for a 5th Wed topic is the future of human migration and what you think it looks like. Here in Chicago, the response to “migrants” getting bussed here from Texas is this

    So “we are open to all, but we will fine anyone who drops off migrants and impound their buses”.


  189. I don’t believe JRRT was necessarily against hippies. He was pretty intensely focused on his job and his writing and existed in a sort of eternal 1930. I think orcs were pretty clearly patterned after the kinds of men churned out by industry and the military. Bullies one minute and cowards the next, with no loyalty. They’re a type and not meant to be taken over seriously. There’s a vaguely sympathetic scene about them where they wish the war was over so they could go off and form a freelance bandit gang. They’re mostly employees of a tyrranical boss who keeps them on their toes all the time.
    PKD I don’t think was insane. Just self-medicated. Ahead of his time in that regard.

  190. “All of them are attempts to insist that nobody really disagrees with the political class”


    Its just one big culture of validation seeking behavior born out of people making decisions that are more akin to gambles than well calculated actions. ….When your bets are bad you want a pat on the back all the more.

  191. I took a long walk in the woods after reading this, putting it together with your previous essays, some concepts from Aristotle and mathematics and… I’ll skip the rest.
    The summary is I believe that too few people actually bother to reduce their ideas down to their fundamental axioms and then build up from there, which is why so many apparently intelligent, caring people, so many leaders, so many who are in charge are so susceptible to enticing ideas that spiral too far out of the realm of the real and get lost in fantasy worlds full of things that are just not true. If you will, they have moved so far beyond the stage of figuration into abstraction that they no longer relate to anything real or useful. And eventually, reality bats last, and reality plays hardball. Which is essentially the point I drew from the example of this particular essay.

    For another example, because it is hot topic, observe that none of the earnest upper class college students carrying around signs with slogans about “stolen land” and who babble about ‘decolonizing’ and such have ever apparently examined the fundamental question… what gives indigenous people special rights to any given piece of land? (I’m not actually asking for an answer from anyone. I am just pointing out that nobody in the chattering classes is asking that question or even talking seriously about it. There are, in fact, very good answers long worked out, but currently unpalatable to our delicate social sensitivities.) Why should any given people have the right to deny anyone else from coming to any place, just because their ancestors got there first? (We will skip the psychotic pathology of the same people simultaneously demanding free access by any migrant who comes to the border…)
    Axiomatically, since a single person cannot survive beyond their own lifetime, we need to live in groups. Let us imagine a retreating glacier, leaving behind virgin land, quickly filled with game and invasive plants. Some group of gatherer-hunters is going to accidentally wander onto that land first. What happens when a second group wanders onto the land? Do those there first get to demand (If they are strong enough, of course) that the others must move on, even at the risk of starvation? Is that not cruel and brutal? Or perhaps they could invite the newcomers to share. Or why, if the second group is stronger, do they not have the right to just take over that rich space? Or subsume the inhabitants into their larger tribe? Of course, there are multiple possibilities, but no one is exploring that, everyone is going around either self-flagellating because they are bad ‘colonialists’ or whinging because they have been ‘colonized’ &c. &c.
    There are, of course plenty of other issues that are not receiving, and have never received, any deep consideration and thus are not built from any solid set of axioms or observations, which is probably why Ms. Gay, for example, has now been forced to resign from President of Harvard because she couldn’t defend any of her attitudes and policies when publicly challenged about their inherent contradictions. In the same way, most of the leadership left, right, and centre, collapses when actually challenged to defend any of their policies, because they aren’t solidly thought out, however fashionable they may be.
    I guess it comes down to the fact that no one follows Epictetus’ observation from 2000 years ago, that it may sound plausible, but check to make sure it is true.


  192. JMG,
    I checked out the promotional blurbs on a couple of the books that previous commenter @Micahel M. was endorsing. It only takes a few lines to see who’s agenda they are pushing,

    “The bestselling author of Daemon returns with a near-future spacetech thriller, in which a charismatic billionaire recruits a team of adventurers to launch the first deep space mining operation–a mission that could alter the trajectory of human civilization.”
    Gee, I guess it is up to one of our two charismatic ( cough cough) Billionaires to save us.
    But it occurred to me that such ” spacetech” fiction serves the same purpose for the Tech Billionaire Space Moguls that Tom Clancy’s Books served for the Military Industrial Complex. Clancy helped to legitimize the idea that superior technology welded by the good guys could easily defeat the evil goat herders who threatened the empire. Thus all we had to do to be safe is put our trust in Raytheon and General Dynamics.
    While this new guy Suarez is promoting the idea that if we put our trust ( and taxpayer dollars) in the hands of Elon and Jeff they will deliver us from the drudgery of gardens and clothes lines by exploiting space.

  193. JMG, there was one big moment in recent history that minds too enthralled by Tolkien might have misunderstood: the fall of the Soviet Union. No wonder so many took it as the “end of history”: they saw it as akin to the fall of the Dark Lord and the ushering of the Fourth Age.

  194. Okay, two things to begin with. First, I’ve tabulated everyone’s votes; thank you. Second, I’m drawing a hard line under the pro- and anti-MAGA business; that’s off topic, and people seem to be mostly talking past each other about it. I probably shouldn’t have let the first post on the subject through, as it was pretty clearly an attempt to start a fight.

    Kevin, ha! Yes, that works, complete with Biden’s press corps shouting “Shut up! Shut up!” at those annoying peasants…

    Karim, yes, that’s pretty much on target.

    Deedl, and yet those specific notions didn’t have their current role in elite culture before the late 20th century. US politicians in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, were seriously worried about the Russian military.

    Sébastien, no, our elites are much less educated than yours; they all went to American universities, remember, so in all probably none of them could pass the French baccalauréat, much less cope with the academic standards of a French university. Many of our computer-industry magnates are passionate fans of science fiction, which is why they keep on pouring money down high-tech ratholes such as virtual reality, and many of them absorbed reams of cheap Tolkien knockoffs when they were teenagers. Your RPG campaign sounds great — I wish it were a fantasy novel! (I’ll see if I can find a copy of Jaworski’s novel.)

    Executed, interesting. Thanks for the data point.

    Chuaquin, as far as I know Morris’s fantasies have never been translated in Spanish, but they’re long out of copyright and free for the downloading from Project Gutenberg.

    Sirustalcelion, that was indeed the point.

    Jasper, hmm! Do you have a link for this? It’s worth citing for an upcoming post.

    Tom, I have no idea what Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is like as a person. I know his political behavior has been cautious, cold, precise, and meticulous. As for Dick, I enjoy reading Christopher Smart’s great poem Jubilate Agno, and Smart wrote that poem while confined in a madhouse…

    Jon, yes, that’s very likely a factor.

    Toxic Plants, before we have that discussion, may I recommend that you look into the history of NATO expansion since the fall of the Soviet Union, the plans drawn up by think tanks closely associated with the US government for dismembering and disarming Russia, and the history of Ukraine’s treatment of its large Russian-speaking minority? The situation is much less one-sided than you appear to think.

    Joan, that’s very likely an issue. It’s still intriguing to me that this is only one example of a conservative issue suddenly being embraced by the radical left. More on this as we proceed.

    Quift, that’s why I talked at length in my post about the vast industry of Tolkien ripoffs in late 20th and early 21st century American, which had all three of the dubious features I’ve listed above but lacked the spiritual dimensions you find moving.

    Dennis, I’m going to encourage you to look that up for yourself. Remember that I’m referring to three specific cognitive dysfunctions, not just a general moral dualism.

    Johnny, I suspect that the Studio Ghibli films are going to have as big an impact over the decades to come as Tolkien had over the decades just past. That’s the one studio I’d be willing to have turn my books into movies, for whatever that’s worth!

    Stephen, I notice that the USS Gerald Ford is hurrying out of the war zone around Israel, now that things are heating up. So a certain clue may have been gotten.

    Pygmycory, of course. Notice that the Silmarillion is very much a minority taste these days — it doesn’t feed the same bad habits as the popular novels.

    Karl, it’s one thing to have a person or a small group of people travel in time. An entire town, complete with all infrastructure? Ahem…

    Tyler, I hadn’t, so many thanks for the data points.

    Mackenzie, the land needs people who can step aside from the human foolishness and do something constructive instead. Other than that, yeah, I get it.

    Andrew, oh, no question. Every single election is the Most Important Election Of Your Life! Until the next one, that is — and it’s always pitched as an attempt to keep the Bad People from doing Bad Things, so you don’t get the mistaken idea that maybe you should expect your party to do something useful for a change.

    Quin, thank you for this as always.

    Daniil, fascinating! I was aware of Eskov’s work, but not the rest of the “Black Tolkienist” scene.

    Frictionshift, to borrow something from an old joke, Dick may have been crazy, but he certainly wasn’t stupid!

    Other Owen, you’re about half a century behind Tolkien scholarship. Tolkien didn’t borrow from Wagner, he took his story from the same Germanic myths that Wagner mined for his music-dramas. If you want to know where they both got the ideas, you’ll want to take in the Nibelungenleid and the Volsunga saga.

    Isaac, why does one story get scooped up by the zeitgeist while others are left in the dust? I wish I knew — it would be great marketing for my fiction. 😉

    Ben, go look at the number of Fortune 500 corporations that are busy pushing “diversity, equity and inclusion” agendas. Maybe your preferred subset of the left isn’t running things, but those aren’t conservative policies, you know! As for your vote, you get one, not two. Name the one you want to vote for.

    Joy Marie, by all means read The Hobbit. It’s basically the same story in a simplified form, and much more accessible to readers who aren’t into fantasy.

    Chris, barbarism as an economy move! I like it. As for decline, yes, the general crapification of products is an important aspect of that.

    McBragg, I’ve read biographical discussions of Tolkien that suggest that he was in fact disgusted by them. Plenty of conservative Englishmen were. I’m not saying they were right to do so, mind you, but the fact remains.

    GlassHammer, that’s certainly one important factor.

    Renaissance, exactly. That’s what Vico called the barbarism of reflection — the point at which the collective thought of a culture gets so deeply mired in abstraction that they lose track of reality, as well as basic decency.

    Bruno, that’s a valid point, of course.

  195. Renaissance Man @ 207, regarding your example of second, stronger groups moving into sparsely inhabited land, good place to study this phenomenon is the Greek and Carthaginian colonies around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea (and Atlantic shore for Carthaginians and Black Sea for Greeks). BTW, it is not true that Phoenicians only established trading depots, not whole cities. In some places, as Michael Grant points out (Rise of the Greeks), the inhabitants were more less turned into helots. In the Crimea, the indigenous Scythians established their own kingdom, which traded with Greeks, especially Athens. This they were able to do because they had the commodity, grain, which the visitors needed. The Carthaginian cities in Sardinia forced the indigenous inhabitants into the interior of the island. The Massiliots seem to have subsisted by fishing and trade and mostly lived peacefully with their Celtic neighbors, to whom they are said to have introduced the olive and the vine.

    Mawkernewek, clearly, the paymasters of the Western pundits think Navalny is someone they can buy. Probably, they already have.

  196. @Joy Marie,
    The Hobbit is an excellent place to start, and it is a fun read for adults as well as the kids it was mostly written for.

    Much as I love the Silmarillion, and despite it being set earlier than either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, I can’t recommend the Silmarillion to someone who has never read Tolkien before and isn’t particularly into fantasy. A lot of people find it very difficult to get into, because it reads somewhat like a history book and/or the bible in places and there are way too many Noldo princes whose names contain Fin. Finwe, Fingolfin, Finarfin, Fingon, Finrod, Curufin… and there’s also Finduilas, though she’s a princess. I was pretty confused the first time I read it, though I’d love The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Then I read the Sil again, and it grew on me because of the worldbuilding, the characters and the half-fleshed out stories that begged to be finished and added to. Writing fanfic in the Silmarillion fandom is quite a bit like writing historical fiction.

    Anyway, the Hobbit is a lot more accessible.

    The reading order I’d pick is 1) The Hobbit, 2) Lord of the Rings, 3) The Silmarillion if you find you’ve enjoyed the previous two.

    Happy reading.

  197. JMG,

    Yeah it took me most of my life to see that many of members of the Professional Managerial Class take crazy risks because it’s a rush for them to do so. To them that “rush” and what we call “power” are the same thing. The slogans, the plans, and the post-hoc justification are just decoys for the rest of us.

  198. Hi JMG,

    I hope all is going well with you.

    Fifth Wednesday

    💨Northwind Grandma💨
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  199. Renaissance Man, it’s amazing how little thought these deep academic thinkers put into the implications of their ideas and utterances and actions. They rattle on about stolen land? Doesn’t it occur to these kids that they’re the ones living on and making use of said stolen land?

    W.R.T. their condemning privilege do they not realize that their attendance at an American college is a privilege unimaginable to the vast majority in the world?

    As far as the stolen land goes, what are they gonna do about it? If they’re so convinced of the injustice, well, they can literally put their money where their mouth is, that is, leave. Pack up and abandon this continent and go back to ancestral places, ie somewhere in Europe presumably.

    If people are so convinced that they came by their wealth and position by way of a racist system, then they could give up their ill-gotten gains. There’s nothing stopping them from quitting their post and donating their possessions to noble causes. They can go work on a farm. They can do something useful for a change.

    The piece of dirt that my own ancestors cultivated was conquered by every imperial power with a bit of excess population. During the A.D. era there were Byzantines, Huns, Goths and in the B.C. time-frame there were Romans, Greeks and Celts. And who knows who else was there, lost to the historical record.

    Which colonizer am I supposed to be angry with? I likely have have in my genetic make-up a bit of every one of those conquering folk. A kid once asked if my granny is Chinese. It was true, that whole side of the clan has a distinct Asian cast to their faces. It musta been the dratted Huns. No matter, if they hadn’t done what they’d done, I wouldn’t be sitting here today doing what I’m doing. I’m assuming that most individuals with a European background has an analogous personal history.

    ‘Woe to the vanquished,’ said Brennus a long time ago. No doubt, not a great experience. But the dead are buried and the clock keeps ticking and life goes on.

  200. I just finished an interesting pair of scifi novels which I picked up in the library, One Way and No Way. The first manned mission to Mars happens when a company called SpaceX – er, called “XO” – is tasked with having robots set up a base ahead of a manned landing there. Supposedly they send just one guy to do it. The problem is that the robots don’t work, so XO gives up and sends a team. But they’d been paid by NASA to send robots, and don’t want to admit the robots don’t work, so XO – which also owns a bunch of private prisons – drags up several prisoners to send and do it instead. A doctor who was so compassionate she killed her patients without their asking her to becomes the team doctor, a war criminal becomes the team leader, and so on. I’ll avoid further spoilers, but XO becomes only more evil from then on.

    Interestingly, the book is by one SJ Morden, who his bio says trained as a rocket scientist. It’s possible he’s somewhat cynical about this stuff. Anyway, that part’s relevant to JMG’s usual themes of elites overpromising and underdelivering, whether in military stuff like this week’s post, or more generally.

    Not having seen the authour before, I looked him up, and came across his webpage, and this essay relevant to this week’s JMG article.

    …. I tried to summarise my thoughts on it, but I’m still digesting it, so I’ll leave it to others to read and think on.

  201. Clay Dennis at #8 says,

    “I think that one day when the internet goes down, there will be millions of frustrated folk denied their usual escape.”

    I saw a cartoon yesterday where some kids are sitting around a campfire roasting some meat on a stick and wearing animal skins with the outlines of a dark city behind them, and some older folk also sitting in the animal skins are holding rectangular pieces of glass, one of the young kids says to another, “What are those things?” “I don’t know, the old guys carry them around saying, “one day the power might come back on,” whatever that means.”

    I now have this vision of a deindustrialised future where people have small household religious shrines like in Japan or in Italy, but as well as pictures of deceased family members or Jesus with a glowing heart, and candles and incense, there’s a cracked old mobile phone sitting on top, “We pray for the Second Coming of Tesla.”

  202. By the way, when I say I’m drawing a line under a subject, that means that any further comment addressing it will be deleted. I did that to several comments before that last comment of mine and I’ve just done it again.

    GlassHammer, and they’ve been shielded from the consequences of their actions so sedulously that it never occurs to them that those risks could wreck the system on which their power depends.

    BeardTree, yep. That’s a good article, btw, but it doesn’t mention that according to Ukrainians who’ve tried to use them, the Abrams tank has low-mounted air intakes and the filters get clogged with mud after about fifteen minutes in the field — whereupon somebody has to climb out of the tank and clean them from outside. As usual, our weapons systems are only useful for carrying out raids on the US taxpayer…

    Northwind, I’m doing fine, thanks. I’ve tabulated your vote.

    Hackenschmidt, I’ll see if my local library has them. They sound fun.

    Karl, too funny!

  203. @Christopher from California #46 re: 4GW

    Thanks very much for the recommendation! I’m familiar with some of the literature on the subject, including books by H. John Poole, which I picked up from the PX back in the Army, and which cover a lot of the nitty gritty of infantry tactics, including those tactics that the US’s guerrilla foes have been better at than us. Since then, I’ve read less on that subject specifically and more on strategy and military history more broadly. I found this post spelling out the “Generation Theory” of military history, including its strengths and weaknesses, very interesting, and you might as well:

    Unfortunately, it’s one of his paywalled articles, but I have found all of his writing on strategy excellent.


  204. @Mary Bennet #111 @BeardTree @55
    >abstracting the three Americans from your list, do you think that LeGuin, Dick
    >or Mumford would find a major publisher today?

    Le Guin died six years ago, and she was writing/publishing until her death.

    The Library of America is currently producing her books in a uniform set of seven printed volumes plus four e-books. The first volume was published in 2016, and the final volume will be released on February 20, 2024.

    FYI, Le Guin coordinated several workshops on writing, and the published results would interest many of us.

    Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story
    by Ursula K. Le Guin
    The Altered I: An Encounter with Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin and others
    by Ursula K. Le Guin (Author), Lee Harding (Editor)

    Those two books give you everything you need to produce a weekend writing workshop, or to conduct your own learning process.

    Also see:
    Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew (an earlier version)
    The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination
    Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing

  205. Jmg

    While we are at the subject of Medvedev you can read his thoughts here on russian of course:

    Needless to say that the western governments should count their lucky stars that evil Putin is sitting on the throne and not Medvedev. The man absolutely hates them and despises them .and if he was in charge he would not blink an eye and send few hypersonic missiles right into nato bases every time they send aid as FU. He trashtalks them every chance he gets and you can feel that he would go full force on western Europe and turn the whole west side of the continent into large smoking pile of ruins. But he isn’t on the throne. Putin is and that might be for the best .

  206. The Black Book of Arda is probably the most famous “Black Tolkienist” work (or maybe works, since the name refers to several significantly different books that were written by the same authors pursuing the same revisionist thesis). Its authors are Natalya Vasilyeva and Natalya Nekrasova, AKA Nienna and Illet, who have since parted ways to develop the “Black Tolkienist” canon in different directions. I haven’t read them, I confess – I only know of them by their reputations. I should note that there are many more orthodox “White Tolkienists” in Russia and Ukraine as well, who obviously take great exception to “Black Tolkienists”. Many prominent “White Tolkienists” are Catholic, Catholic-leaning and/or pro-Western, while “Black Tolkienists” tend to have anti-Catholic and anti-dogmatic inclinations, unsurprisingly enough. I’m not sure as to their geopolitical stances – some are definitely anti-Western, but that’s probably not universal either. I am fairly certain that this hasn’t started as a geopolitical opposition – it’s just that this schism within a prominent fandom soon developed some curious interactions with real world politics.

    You are correct that it is a remarkably influential fandom here, by the way. To give just one example, roleplaying character backstories are commonly referred to as квенты/”quentas” here, even in non-fantasy games.

  207. I can’t help but think Tolkien would have embraced the hippies if he knew the backgrounds of some of his most public fans nowadays.

    I’m speaking of silicon valley tech bros.

    A commentator above mentioned the company Anduril. Their ambitions actually lie beyond just drones — they essentially want to create a privatized DARPA, or to put it another way, a Bell Labs for military projects.

    There is a company called Palantir (usually mispronounced with the stress on the first syllable) which is a software for intelligence agencies.

    Another company called Varda aims to build factories in orbit.

    All of these have connections with Peter Thiel, who is a fan of Tolkien. Thiel is also obsessed with immortality.

    I mean Tolkien himself predicted what would happen if The One Ring existed on earth — Men would try to claim its power and build new weapons. It is ironic that some fans of his failed to draw those lessons.

  208. #211 The assumption would be that they would buy Navalny, and then thanks to the hyper-presidential system in Russia he would buy/threaten subordinates and so on all the way down, and everything would be well.
    Though that doesn’t really fit with the idea of installing Liberal Democracy™ in Russia, although that would be nothing new in the practice of color revolutions.

  209. Hello John Michael,

    Your references about the french education system seem to be outdated 😀 I wish they weren’t.

    Our campuses are as much driven by ideology as yours in the US. Mostly from departments that are soft-science (history, sociology and the like), I’m not even talking about economics, that’s BS-science. Our STEM departments still resist thanks to our “Grandes Ecoles” system but these do not churn actual scientists but PMC offsprings.
    Moreover, the global level of the studies took a drop ten years ago. For instance, long after my final degree (mechanical & electrical engineering, specialization in robotics), I kept on taking the math paper from the baccalaureat exam. For years, it took me roughly 3h to complete it on the 4h maximum. At a point in the 2010 or so, I took it and finished it in 1h30 only after wondering why the questions asked were so simple. Nowadays, it’s almost a MCQ about vague notions in calculus and algebra laced with small algorithmical puzzles one student has to answer coding a little program in Python. I can go like this ad nauseam quoting official statistics but I guess you see my point.

    Thank you for your kind words about my RPG campaign, I feel honoured. Alas, I think it’s preposterous to have it written in a novel. First, it’s not that original, it’s basically “the A-team/Mission Impossible crew deals with the Dresden Files”. Second, the setting is an adaptation from an official setting from WotC which is Eberron and third, I suck at writing. But I can publish the rough synopsis of it somewhere if you’re interested, are fond of Magitek/Dungeon Punk, NeoNoir plots and cheesy cinematic action.

  210. Hey JMG

    Concerning the sub-par films based on the Lord of the rings, I think that LOTR is just one of those books that is too big and complex for a few films to handle, maybe a very long and involved TV series could do it justice, but I don’t think such a show would ever be made.

    Also, for 5th Wednesday, it’s a hard choice between the future of population decline and aged care, and the future of wildlife conservation. since you have said that you would probably do a post on the former anyway, I shall vote for the latter subject.

  211. @Daniil Adamov #176,
    Thank you for explaining the orcs for me. I shall forever view them with greater appreciation.

  212. Mr. Greer,

    That ain’t the real funny part. The guy who owns Anduril Industries is named Palmer Freeman Luckey who got his start at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. He was part of the design team for BRAVEMIND, a U.S. Army Research Laboratory effort to treat veterans suffering from PTSD. He then went on to develop the Oculus Virtual Reality headsets. He even designed a virtual reality headset that could literally kill the user if they died in the virtual reality game; stating that

    “The idea of tying your real life to your virtual avatar has always fascinated me—you instantly raise the stakes to the maximum level and force people to fundamentally rethink how they interact with the virtual world and the players inside it.”

    So you have a guy named Freeman Lucky who made a fortune selling the ability to experience virtual worlds to both the private sector and the military is building war robots with the name of Tolkien’s sword slapped on the side of them. Sounds like a plot out of a Phillip K. Dick novel but it is real life.

  213. Very astute and entertaining post, JMG. I’ve been a Tolkien fan since my early teens, and still go back for another read every now and then.
    I find LOTR and Clown World have something in common – they’re best considered as entertainment.

  214. Thanks JMG, I have done as you suggested and found as follows:

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been a general expansion of NATO westwards away from the Russian border. It is probably more accurate to describe it as a westward rather than eastward expansion, because as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been caused by NATO muscling in on states to the east of it, but by former Soviet Union satellite states looking westward and voluntarily opting to join NATO.

    It is difficult to resolve the competing claims about maltreatment of the Russian speaking minority in Ukraine. Most sources claim that it is not true and that this was just a pretext used by Putin to justify the invasion. A small number of sources claim that it is true and that Russian speakers in Ukraine have been disadvantaged. It is difficult to say which is true and which is false unless you are a Russian speaker living in Ukraine, which I am not. However, you can look at proxy evidence. When peoples are oppressed, they often migrate to safer areas, so if this was true one would expect to see a general migration of Russian speakers from Ukraine to Russia. And no doubt, some Russian speakers have gone to live in Russia. However, there appears to have been a much greater migration of Ukrainian speakers from Ukraine into Western Europe – about 6 million in the last two years – which would suggest that it is Ukrainian speakers, not Russian speakers, who are feeling oppressed right now.

    “Think tanks” come in all shapes, sizes and political colours. There are various definitions of them including “private nonprofit policy research organizations” (Britannica). However, one thing they all have in common is that they don’t have any power to implement their policies themselves, but instead seek to influence decision makers to implement their policies. You can’t say, therefore, that because some think tanks advocate dismembering Russia, that it is therefore official government, or Western, or NATO policy, or that it will ever happen.

  215. >he took his story from the same Germanic myths that Wagner mined

    And where did those come from? Or is that like the Ring, a question not meant to be asked.

    I wonder what Murican myths look like? Or is that another question best left unanswered? Will someone 500 years from now mine the carcass of our fairytales?

  216. I’ve generally thought that Lord of the Rings is a warning of the seductive powers of the religion of Progress. The obsession of Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son, with the power of machinery is tied up with the belief that Progress means we ourselves can build a better world. Ted would turn the Shire into a new proto-Mordor, oblivious to the fact that it destroys the world of nature which is what allows us to be fully human.

    The word ‘oik’, derived from the Greek word for ‘home’ or ‘household’ seems to be falling out of use these days, notwithstanding a revival of the concept of ‘oikophilia’ championed by the late conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. Scruton’s application celebrates those who are deeply passionate about the virtues of their own locale and culture; in fact, it described hobbits pretty well. However, in Tolkien’s day, and indeed in my own youth, it meant the industrial working classes: the masses huddled in shoddy housing and alienated from the natural world, uneducated, uncultured, irreligious, utterly materialistic, and unable to think of matters beyond their immediate physical needs. It seems pretty obvious where he got the inspiration for ‘Orcs’.

    In LOTR there is, of course, magic; there are otherworldly beings; there are mighty warriors. However, as you note above, JMG, there’s also the awareness that we can’t be one of those and we can’t do what they do. We are expected to identify with the hobbits: we are simple folk, and flawed; we can just hope to do the best we can.

    … which is what makes the comparison with Dune so interesting. JMG notes above that magic is everywhere and you don’t have to be special to participate in it. It’s the supreme lie of the modern world that magic isn’t accessible to everyone, and it’s high time to challenge it. Indeed. One of the most inspiring aspects of Dune (to me, anyway) is that it subtly demonstrates that human potential is genuinely astonishing. The mentats are trained to excel in abstract reasoning. The Bene Gesserit, through intensive training, to attain levels of control over body and psyche which appear magical but aren’t. Warriors, through intensive training, achieve almost unbelievable skill and resilience. All of these things are genuinely possible for us. Frank Herbert’s genius was that he was knowledgeable in traditions of developing human potential, and conveyed these in his story whilst keeping the characters credible and flawed. In LOTR we’re told that we don’t get to have special abilities; we’re human, we’re flawed, and we just have to do the best we can. The message of Dune is that we can have special abilities – but we’re still going to be human, we’re still going to be flawed, and we will still just have to do the best we can.

    A secondary aspect is that we’re not required to choose just one archetype; Dune features, for example, a mentat-duke, mentat-assassins, troubadour-warriors, etc. The potential exists in us; the skillsets and the training are available to us. We just need to make our choices and put the work in. Perhaps, JMG when you revisit Dune in a future article, you could give us your take on this?

  217. I know I already voted for this months 5th wed. post. Yet I just remembered something I’d had in the back of my mind for a 5th wed. post. I’m just throwing it into the ring now so it will be known and can maybe garner some other votes in the future when I put it forth for an official post:

    Robert Graves -overview of his work and influence.

    I always loved reading The White Goddess even if I couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of it. His Greek Mythology books are really good, as is his poetry of course. I haven’t read any of his novels.

    For that matter I’ll throw another poet in the ring: William Blake.

    We have had in the past fifth Wed. on Steiner, Yeats, Hesse and posts about Jung… so I’d like to see something on Graves and Blake. Does anyone want to join me on a future campaign trail?

    I will be happy to read a post on the future of warfare or whatever else gets voted into the fifth wed. office.

    For general discussion: where does the “fire in the head” of the inspired poet burn up too much that it becomes the inspired madness of someone like PKD?

    What I like about PKD and his Exegesis is that he was trying to figure this out himself. Was he insane? Had he had a religious experience? Were non-physical entities or satellites just messing with his head? Did he live in a different century and this world was actually just a superimposed hologram?

    I guess the madness is what makes his work so “mind bending.” But many other great poets and writers also had a touch or more of madness. I’m thinking here of the under-read John Clare. I love his early romantic nature poems, but the stuff he wrote in the madhouse, is well mad, in the good way! He was undoubtedly suffering on a personal level though.

    Then you have your people like Holderlin and Nietzsche who each had breakdowns. Gerard de Nerval had more than a touch of madness, but also more than a touch of brilliance.

    Are these the words of someone who is crazy or someone who has penetrated reality?:

    “Man, do you think yours is the only soul? Look around you. Everything that you see quivers with being. Though your thoughts are free, one thing you do not think about: the whole. Beasts have a mind; respect it. Flowers too- look at one. Nature brought forth each petal. There is a mystery that sleeps in metal. Everything feels, and has power over you.”

    The list of musicians afflicted with melancholia would be too long to write. Poe and Plath had a hard time shaking the blues.

    Personally, I don’t want to end up in the nuthouse, so I had to give up the way of Rimbaud and his systematic derangement of the senses. He did seem to pass through his season in hell, but giving up poetry was the price.

    And in the end, who is it that decides who goes to the madhouse? People who were imprisoned like the Marquis De Sade knew that it was really the self-proclaimed Good People who most adamantly denied the darkest urges of their shadow, and that those who most denied those dark urges were most likely to act them out. Is it any surprise the revealed names on that Espstein list are from the highest echelons of worldly power? Those who receive social condemnation as being immoral most often display true virtue. Thus political opponents such as Snowden and Assange, though not mad poets, remain locked up or in exile.

    I don’t think bringing up De Sade here is amiss either. The pious moralism on the far ends of either side of the political spectrum are veils for widespread personal cruelty and give way to projecting shadows on the cavern walls of our politics, and from both of these ends the Demoncrats and RepubliCons who make up the Gerontocratic Uniparty Blob.

    Most psychiatrists are more sadistic than the man sadism was named after, and that is saying something as he was a profligate libertine. I mean, sticking a knife inside someone’s skull to cure them? The debased form of water therapy in asylums where people were subjected to fire hose strength cold water. I have a cousin who is a fine artist and graphic designer who has been doing photography in abandoned insane asylums. He showed me some photos of what amounts to a sex toy -or in this case weapon- that they sodomized patients with against there will as part of a mental health cure. That to me, is insane.

    The medicine is also quite insane. You have to take medicine to counteract the side effects of the medicine. Tardive dyskinesia. Some amount to chemical lobotomies.

    This has me thinking of another topic that might be interesting for a fifth wed. We all know that mental health in the U.S. and Western countries isn’t all that great. Mental healthcare in the dark ages would be something worth exploring.

    In any case, some of these topics might have to be an instance where I have to “write what I want to read.”

  218. Regarding the fifth Wednesday post, it looks like deindustrial warfare is way ahead. Pity, because I think it’s been covered enough in past posts and, in any case, I doubt many of us will be around to see it (plus, so much will depend on local conditions that I’m dubious how useful it could be).

    So, in hope rather than expectation, I’d like to propose a post on something discussed in one of your recent podcasts (I forget which one), and that’s the topic of seeding change in the culture we live in. What tips, tricks, and toolkits can the commentariat use to inoculate our networks and communities with the spores of ecosophia?

  219. Daniil #176
    That’s interesting. Any examples in English available that you know of?

    Off topic to Black Tolkienism but your post reminded me of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch (ancient battle between good and evil, there is a truce in which a balance is maintained, “good guys” have a night watch to police the night hours against renegade evil and evil has their own day watch – some of the “good” may not be good as we would like to understand it).

  220. @Mackenzie #172
    “Partly because of the egregious overreach of the orchestrators of these deliberate parodies of intelligence & partly for the appearances of a uniform wave of fools passionately embracing the stupidity.”

    Hahaha… that is delightfully put and sums up the last few years nicely! Thank you.

  221. >the Abrams tank has low-mounted air intakes and the filters get clogged with mud after about fifteen minutes in the field

    But wait, there’s more! It uses a turbine engine for power. Turbines are great in airplanes for several reasons (you can go faster, higher and cheaper all at once). But on (or even near) the ground, they are horribly inefficient. And they don’t spool up and down very well either. There was an interview that Tucker Carlson did where some retired colonel called them an “8 hour tank” because once you spin that engine up, it has to stay running and it has fuel to run for 8 hours.

    Plus turbines run really really hot, so they light up like a christmas tree everywhere they go. Perfect target for a budget kamikaze drone.

    I think I’ll make a prediction. That turbine engine will be quietly replaced with a piston engine midway through the next war with a peer adversary.

  222. JMG

    Their was no “system or game” in their minds to begin with, its just “Can I act right now or not?” Its a “one move deep no outcomes considered” framework not a “chain of moves no outcomes considered”. Everyone thinks it’s a “chain of action with no outcomes considered” at worse… but that’s actually the best case scenario.

  223. @Patricia A. Ormsby #230 Happy to help! If by any chance you know Russian or can put up with translators, Nemirovsky’s essays, poems and other writings on the subject can be found here: I’m sure a lot of it can be argued with, but I found it fascinating.

    @Scotty #238 I don’t think the Black Book of Arda – let alone most lesser-known fanfics – were translated. But the Last Ring-Bearer mentioned earlier was. I also think there was some English-language author who independently developed another, somewhat similar revisionist take on the subject… after searching, I’m pretty sure I was thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering duology.

  224. Mawkernewek #198 – thanks for the idea. I too, from the county next door, would like to vote for the 5th week article being on the mental health impact of people realizing that Progress isn’t delivering the shiny future they thought they were promised.

  225. @ JMG – I don’t know if you read my question as snarky, after all, the internet practically runs on snark, but I asked my questions in good faith. It seems unbelievable to me that private industry and their subsidiaries in government, could be considered on the Left. After all, these are the people who drive down wages, bust unions, and push policies that serve to enrich (primarily) shareholders. Yes, they use state power to pursue unbridled profit-seeking, but so did the robber barons of the gilded age. Do you really think that the business leaders, and the corporations they lead, are somehow ‘on the Left’ when it comes to political economy?

    To your point about Fortune 500 CEOs pushing “diversity and inclusion” agendas, well, okay. I have no doubt that window-dressing plays well with the PMC crowd. But do you think they take those policies any more seriously than they do greenwashing all the polluting and resource consumption their businesses engage in?

    As for my vote, I’ll cast a vote for de-industrial militaries. Napoleonic-looking armies equipped with rifles, radios and ultralights? I’d love to read your thoughts on the subject.

  226. I second this from Bryan:

    JMG, my 5th-Wednesday topic suggestion: Carl Jung, especially any observations about the Red Book.


  227. Apologies if this has already been addressed, but does any commentator or our gracious host have hard info on NATO munitions production capacity? I’ve read reports claiming that NATO cannot quickly replace dumb artillery rounds, let alone more advanced systems like guided missiles. The signal to noise ratio on the internet is not good enough for me to have an opinion on the subject. However, this would be very much in line with what seems be the main purpose of Western defense industries. If I may quote – “our weapons systems are only useful for carrying out raids on the US taxpayer”.

    I have a bad feeling about this.

    Lothar von Hakelheber

  228. @Bogatyr: Much as I like Dune, I don’t think it is entirely correct to contrast it in this way with the LoTR. After all, of the four hobbits in the Companionship, two become magically grown warriors; one contributes to magically re-greening the Shire, and one (plus his uncle) travel to the Elven otherworld instead of dying a normal human death.

    I don’t mean to distract from the main point of JMG’s essay, which is about the misuse of Tolkien’s world. There are points in LoTR that lend themselves more easily to misuse, especially the Orcs, but I don’t think LoTR teaches us that we are confined to what we were born as.

  229. Once again, I’ve tabulated everyone’s votes; thank you.

    Emily, thanks for this. Yes, I’ve been paying attention to Medvedev for a while now, not least because he’s very likely to end up in the presidency once Putin’s generation sunsets out. I get the impression he’s still furious at himself for thinking well of Western politicians, back before their actions took him through an unusually harsh disillusionment.

    Daniil, hmm! This is really intriguing. Are there other English language works of fantasy or fiction generally that have the same scale of fandom in Russia?

    Alvin, nah,Tolkien didn’t suffer from the common modern delusion that the opposite of one bad idea must be a good idea. As for Thiel, I think he wants to be Sauron when he grows up.

    Sébastien, ouch! If France’s university system has fallen as far as ours, that’s really bad news. As for your RPG scenario, if you think that an unoriginal premise would prevent it from getting published, you’ve missed most of the last half century of fantasy publishing! Please do post it somewhere; somebody might be inspired by it.

    J.L.Mc12, oh, granted. Even if the length wasn’t a problem, I’m not at all sure the story lends itself to cinematic treatment.

    Karl, okay, that’s way out there. Next you’ll tell me that at the moment of his death, Dick’s personality was beamed up to a vast, mysterious alien satellite in orbit around the earth, where it’s controlling the events of our history. Oh, wait… 😉

    Karalan, granted!

    Toxic Plants, good. Now think about what all this looks like through Russian eyes, given the millennium-long history of European invasions of Russia.

    Other Owen, you’ll find that discussed at vast length in the literature on comparative mythology.

    Bogatyr, the next post in which I discuss Dune will be discussing a different (though also important) aspect of Herbert’s novel, but I’ll keep Mentats et al. in mind for some future discussions.

    Justin, there’s a passage somewhere in Discordian literature: “Do not think that these things are false because I am crazy. I am crazy because they are true.”

    Other Owen, oh, granted. If you were to do a complete survey of all the fantastic stupidities included in the Abrams tank, or in any other piece of overblown US military hardware, it would take a good long essay. (Except for the F-35; that would take a trilogy the size of Tolkien’s.)

    GlassHammer, ouch. Yeah, that makes sense.

    Ben, no, I didn’t take your comment as snarky, and it’s helped me understand one of the frequent sources of miscommunication online. Consider the following spectrum:

    You—–Big Corporations—Me—Donald Trump—Genuine Nazis

    From your perspective, the big corporations are on the right, because they’re to your right. From mine, they’re to the left. Did you know there are neo-Nazis who consider Trump a sellout to the Left?

    Lothar, I haven’t seen anyone brandishing serious numbers — just claims that various NATO nations are running out of munitions and that Ukraine has had to cut back on its use of artillery because of a shell shortage. I’d like to see verifiable numbers.

  230. Variations on a theme of the appeal of the rapid (if not necessarily easy) decisive blow in a conflict…

    Near the end of LoTR Samwise asks Frodo, “Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of Nine-fingered Frodo and the ring of Doom?” Not “Frodo the Mighty” or “Frodo the World-Saver” or “Frodo Mordorsbane.” Even Samwise understood, at the end, that Frodo’s failure at the key moment was as notable and as allegorically significant as his successes up until then.

    I’ve long had a grudging respect for Dennis McKiernan’s Silver Call duology, which he wrote as a sequel to Lord of the Rings. Generations after the War of the Ring, a dwarven army aims to retake Moria, and of course need the help of some descendent Hobbits who have been the custodians of the memoirs of the Fellowship of the Ring, including the route the Fellowship took through Moria. When McKiernan wasn’t allowed to publish it for obvious reasons, he changed all the names but he also had to rewrite LoTR with all the names changed (the Iron Tower trilogy) for his duology to be the sequel of. Silver Call has its share of faults (such as incredible coincidences and characters acting out of character for plot reasons) but it makes some good counterpoints to LoTR about not putting all your hopes in desperate long-shot missions. It also has a chapter-long narrative of a capable army fighting a powerful monster that for once doesn’t end with (1) the army forgetting it’s an army and fleeing in terror, (2) the monster forgetting its own formidable abilities and allowing the army to overrun it like ants swarming a scorpion, or (3) some hero stepping up with a weapon made of just the right material to strike a blow in just the right vulnerable spot to win.

    Sauron and the Ring (and to some extent the fierce-looking-but-flimsy Orc army) is just an evolved variant of that latter Vulnerable Spot trope, on the scale of nations. The Wicked Witch of the West’s pail of water. The Independence Day aliens’ weapon aperture (and unsecured computers). The War of the Worlds’ Martians’ lack of immune systems. The dragon’s (choose your favorite) one missing armor scale. The Death Star’s thermal exhaust port. Wooden stakes and silver bullets.

    I wonder if some of these examples were inspired by the story of David and Goliath, even though there’s nothing in 1 Saumel that suggests Goilath’s forehead was any more vulnerable than anyone else’s (and that’s not at all the point of the story anyhow). There’s also Achilles’ heel, Balder and mistletoe, and so forth.

    Just about every boss fight in every video game requires targeting the boss’s vulnerable spot, but that’s in addition to having to deliver a certain amount of destructive force to it and/or evade a certain number of its lethal counterattacks before the vulnerable spot will appear. I would say that’s closer to a usable mental model of what’s needed to win a war: there may be opportunities for a decisive strike against a vulnerability but they won’t appear unless you can win or at least hold your own in the (literal or figurative) trenches. American football follows that pattern as well, in a looser way; the outcomes often appear to depend on “big plays” (long runs or passes) but it’s the pushing and shoving at the line of scrimmage that determines how many chances for big plays arise. A team relying on long shots but not able to block the pass rush offensively or open gaps offensively at the line of scrimmage can still win a game sometimes but it’s a losing strategy in the long run.

  231. Dear Lothar von Hakelheber

    Brian Berletic at The New Atlas and Alex and Alex at the Duran have spent lots of time looking at shell and ammunition production from many different perspectives. You can find clips of Justin Trudeau’s recent interview where he claims NATO is out of ammo to the guys who claim the US has space alien technology – see the Hawaii fires – and when this shows up in the battlefield Hamas and the Russians better watch out. Unfortunately weapons production is a massive industrial undertaking and keeping it quiet would be difficult if we (NATO) were mobilizing our economy to a war economy to fight the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and everyone else.

    There has been to my knowledge verifiable numbers as to the 155 mm shells from S Korea and Pakistan for the Ukraine offensive and NATO production. The Russian, North Korean and Iranian numbers do require interpretation but we are seeing the results on the battlefield.

    There seems to be a group in power that wants a big expensive military for the graft part of it, you know the shiny jets and the medals and cool uniforms, and the neo-cons, that want a big expensive army to use as an army, to invade the world. It will be interesting to see which group dominates in the immediate future as the neo-cons are definitely running the show right now. We will see how crazy they are if the US invades Yemen and/or attacks Iran. Maybe the ammunition shortages are a fake and we really do have all this secret space alien technology and we will go on a roll!

  232. @Aldarion, the one involved in regreening the Shire also went to Valinor, a few decades later.

    Sam’s transformation over the course of the Lord of the Rings is something I mostly missed when I first read the Lord of the Rings as a kid, but it’s actually really interesting on rereading as an adult.

  233. JMG,
    Your thesis of “The Three Stigmata of J.R.R. Tolkien”. makes sense because something must have happened to the US between WWII and the Ukraine war. Minimization of the enemy and reliance on wonder weapons was certainly not how the U.S. fought WWII against both the Japanese and the Nazi’s. Our propaganda dehumanized both of our enemies, but never minimized their danger as military opponents. And despite developing some nifty gizmos ( Norden Bombsight ) we won the war in Europe and the Pacific ( well in Europe the Red Army did the heavy lifting) with mass production of basic ordinance and equipment. The lowly Liberty ship, and 3 ton truck were certainly more instrumental to winning the war than fancy bombsights or the P51 mustang.
    What other things do you think contributed to the US war effort going down this road besides the influence of Tolkien?

  234. One way to look at Medvedev is as a foil for Putin. Currently they have a good cop / bad cop routine, where Medvedev makes Putin look more reasonable and calm. When he and Putin were swapping titles to keep from violating term limits, the laws were changed so that Putin would always be in the role with the power. During that time there was a joke:
    Putin and Medvedev go to a restaurant. Putin orders a steak. “Very good, sir. And for the vegetable?” “He will have steak as well.”

    The joke proves nothing about Medvedev’s independence, but it suggests that some saw him as Putin’s minion, not as an independent political figure.

    That’s not to say there aren’t siloviki who have their own power bases and could be plausible successors to Putin. But the powerful men may well not hold official positions the way Medvedev does – holding office does not translate to real power in a straightforward way. The late head of Wagner was not a governor or party chief, for example.

  235. @Toxic Plants Blog, #233

    Surely you can do better than to rehash you preconceptions with different wording…

    Imagine a million Mexicans, with Chinese/Russian weapons and equipment, sable-rattling at the margin of the Rio Grande and chanting “Reconquista!!!!”. Nowadays, USA cannot suffer us because “they come to steal our jobs”. What about stealing their lives and their land? They’d squash us like bugs, and rightly so, because allying oneself with your strongest neighbor’s enemy may as well be (and has always been) a declaration of war in itself. It does not matter that our corrupt government would *willingly* ally itself and us all with Powers from Beyond the Sea (and I pray to God our leaders are not DUMB enough to do that, because my boys are/will soon be military age).

    So far in this current administration, its been just a long series of empty gestures. And they clearly are playing both sides. But for a future, kleptocratic populist, it does not matter if the affair makes economic sense, or geopolitical sense, or even National Security sense. There are many old hatreds that, rightly or wrongly, would applaud the move. And those fat cats always land on their feet; it is always one other to pay the price.

    Is it that difficult to understand the Russians might have too… I don’t know… some resemblance of a preservation instinct?

  236. “Our propaganda dehumanized both of our enemies, but never minimized their danger as military opponents.”

    Possibly true of the Germans, but not true of the Japanese. Hence Pearl Harbor, Bataan, and Savo Island. Then there was the little matter of the Type 93 torpedo which was way far ahead of ours. And the Zero which was way better than what we had until the Hellcat and Corsair were in service.

    The British made the same mistake, and so much for Repulse and Prince of Wales, then the fall of Singapore, Malaysia, and Burma. There was way too much “The Japanese can’t possibly…”

    In the end they were buried by mass production as well as new designs they couldn’t match, as well as a cultural inability to train people at a high enough rate to keep up. (The brand new Taiho blew up because the damage control team messed up.)

  237. @Clay Dennis,
    From what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure US propaganda about Japan minimized the potential threat from them at least up to Pearl Harbor. I got the impression the US pretty badly underestimated Japan initially.

  238. Once again, everyone’s vote has been tabulated. Thank you!

    Walt, the trope of the one vulnerable spot is one trope among many. What fascinates me is that so many people these days can’t think of politics without trying to identify somebody they don’t like as the Boss Bad Guy who inevitably has One Vulnerable Spot. It’s as if they really don’t know any other story…

    Clay, I’m not sure. I’m really not. It seems so stupidly counterproductive…

    Isaac, funny.

  239. Deindustrial Military Futures has my vote. In light of this vote I am in process of forging out a walking cane axe, or Canadian version of a Fokosh, for my friend. A fokosh, or light axe, can take different forms, sometimes the head itself can be removed and hidden in a pocket if a commoner doesn’t want the local authority to know they have a weapon. It is also small enough it can be disguised as a cane with the right leather sheathing. A great tool for fencing actually, used in WWI trench fighting, and historically was trained by Hungarian peasantry in their in folk dances.

  240. My daughter and I are reading Peter Pan at bed time. Today we read the part where two pirates take Tiger Lily, the Indian princess, to a rock to abandon her there, tied up, so she will drown. My daughter asked me: ” Why would they do that?” Since I couldn’t give any good explanation, she cried: “Learn from true pirates! They have a reason when they do something, and you don’t!”

    So much for evil evildoers with an evil laugh…

  241. Clay, Mr. Greer,

    The answer to that question is the Vietnam War. The unpopularity of the Vietnam War forced the military to abandon the draft and resort to a largely volunteer army; which lead to a downsizing of the army which in turn lead to a focus on superior weapons to compensate for a lack of mass units.

    A lot of it was also the legacy of Robert McNamara, a technocrat and a true believer in progress. He is the man who brought in the JASON advisory group to help the Pentagon win the war and a lot of the US military’s focus electronic warfare, drones, information dominance etc… can be traced back to projects like Operation Igloo White and the McNamara Line. The US military also having lost the propaganda war and public relations battles over the Vietnam conflict caused an overreaction when it came to war propaganda and minimization of the enemy is part of that overreaction.

  242. @Clay Dennis
    “What other things do you think contributed to the US war effort going down this road besides the influence of Tolkien?”

    TLDR: Mechanisms for feedback from below have been systematically switched off since the 1970s.
    Pet Theory: Ruling classes for the processes of industrialization are inherently incapable of leading an industrialized society. Therefore, once a society reaches a certain level of industrialization/modernization, its ruling class loses its purpose, then its morale, then its morals, and starts to decay. This was seen in the US first (“The Sixties”), followed shortly by Europe, Japan around 1990, China now.
    Pet Theory 2: If a society is driven enough by information rather than by capital/plant and infrastructure (or before that, land), then that information had better be clean, not dirty. A society in which information is both a weapon (as secrecy) and a form of property is inherently incapable of keeping its information clean. Such a society can not be run well for long and so far no known such a human society has succeeded in doing so.

    Examples of larger switched-off feedback mechanisms:
    1) Corporate purchases of main media outlets and deregulation to allow media conglomerates eliminated the partial autonomy of the mainstream media. Transforming journalism from a nearly working class occupation to the province of elite university graduates was another part of this process.
    In more recent years, lowering educational standards while imposing stricter ideological ones has also intensified the insulation of our elites (both corporate and government-university) from feedback.
    2) Criminal penalties for elite crimes have been all but eliminated. (Compare: FDR set up the SEC in the 1930s to root out corporate crime. In the 1990s, the leaders of Enron were prosecuted but it was treated as an aberration. Obama not only did not prosecute the ringleaders of the crimes that caused the financial meltdown in 2008 but put them in charge of the cleanup.) {Obama campaigned as FDR, governed as Hoover, resulting in Trump’s election}
    3) Quantitative easing had the effect of largely abolishing the market mechanism for capital markets. (This was an intensification of a longer-running program of intervention in the stock market.)
    4) It is worth noting that the shutting down of feedback mechanisms also operates fairly high up in the social structure, perhaps even more destructively (for the elites). It is one thing, for example, for the Hillary Democrats or the Remain faction in the UK to refuse to publicly discuss the possibility that their opponents had any merits to their arguments whatsoever. It is another for them to fail to engage in serious internal discussion of “What the ___ just happened”?
    The Hillary Dems success is suppressing the turnover in Dem leadership that the 2016 debacle would have normally caused is one of the immediate predecessors to the Ukraine fiasco. (“Blackballing/witchhunting dissent worked once. Why not again?”)

  243. Belated comment – should have said this earlier but have been too busy this week:
    I agree that the evil-orcs syndrome can be misapplied to our real world. However here are two points I’d like to make in defence of the Tolkienian depiction of total evil.
    First, the purely literary defence, which perhaps you agree with, that just because it doesn’t work as an approach to real world problems, does not mean that it doesn’t work in Middle Earth terms – in fact the book succeeds in its own terms brilliantly; otherwise it wouldn’t be read. The moral laws of literature seem to differ from those of real life; how that can be, I don’t know, but then (surprise surprise) I don’t know everything…
    Second, and here we probably disagree, the idea of involuntary evil is one worth stressing – it has been disastrously forgotten in our culture. Orcs are evil because they’re made that way – in fact I think there are hints in Tolkien that they were fashioned by deliberate distortion of elvish material. Sort of fantasy equivalent of genetic engineering. Anyhow, they can’t help it and so can’t be blamed although they must be resisted. That’s where the liberal mind-set is helpless: when it comes to the need to combat blameless, involuntary evil. And yet for most of human history, the principle has been understood: e.g. a vampire can’t help being a vampire but you wouldn’t therefore seek to accommodate vampires.

  244. One is most capable of the worst crimes when you believe your enemy is a Dark Lord who will destroy the planet if you lose, and all his servants are nothing but inhuman monsters who worship evil.

    I cast a vote for Carl Jung.

  245. @John Michael Greer #249 Fantasy? Not really… there are certainly some Western fantasy writers who have become popular here, but they don’t have a comparable impact. I’d say the closest is Roger Zelazny, as I’ve seen references to Amber pop up pretty often in local fantasy and sometimes in scholarly works, but he is a distant second to Tolkien.

    Fiction generally? Conan Doyle and Kipling are both still extremely popular. Conan Doyle benefitted from a well-received Soviet TV series about Sherlock Holmes that remains watched to this day (Dumas drew a similar benefit with the Three Musketeers). This led many to read the books, and sometimes move on to other things he wrote as well. He certainly influenced the way most people here perceive Britain, at least (and therefore the late and post-Soviet crop of Anglomaniac affectations).

    Kipling was popularised as a children’s writer in the early Soviet period, rather hilariously – everyone did their best to turn a blind eye to his, er, somewhat uncommunist views. It probably helped that children’s books faced less ideological scrutiny in the early USSR than books for adults… but of course children’s books could then serve as a gateway to an author’s other works, and Kipling’s poetry eventually became well-known too. Later, there was a Soviet Mowgli cartoon. I understand that it was more true to the original than Disney in many ways – Kaa was genuinely menacing and impressive, for one. Putin famously evoked that version of Kaa and taunted the opposition as “Bandar-logs” at one point, setting off memes. On a different occasion, a liberal poet quoted a translation of “Servant when he Reigneth” with reference to Putin. So one can say that Kipling is part of our shared political vocabulary.

    Thinking about it, Milne and Carroll probably warrant a mention too, for similar reasons. There was a Winnie the Pooh cartoon that remains well-liked. Alice in Wonderland is still a popular way to teach kids English, among other things, while the Jabberwocky presents a fun challenge for translators (the version that eventually won out is called Barmaglot). I wouldn’t say they are as influential, but they certainly have left a cultural footprint on the entire population. Plenty of others are read, of course, but their influence is more niche. Hemingway was very popular among writers at one point, Chesterton among Catholics and the Catholic-leaning, etc.

  246. Oh yes, and @Sébastien Louchart #228, I can only second our host on this. I for one have enjoyed reading tabletop stories from time to time, and would love to read yours. I think the set-up where the protagonists keep crossing the antagonists’ paths without understanding the big picture is fascinating (and similar to the effect I often try to achieve when running games myself). And it assuredly would not be any worse than much of what gets published and sold for actual money. 😉

  247. Hi John Michael,

    If memory serves me correctly, one of the core narrative themes in Robert E Howard’s fictional Conan world, was that other nearby rulers looked bad, mostly because Conan as a ruler imposed a lower economic burden on his people + not to mention being more even handed with them. That was one of the motivations for the other rulers continually getting their pet Sorcerers to do all manner of unpleasant things to the protagonist.

    I’d read that the author had a hard time of things economically during the Great Depression (can’t see what is all that great about that period of time) despite his prodigious output – which largely went into print. I’d often wondered whether the author was writing about his take on the economy in those stories?

    Another big storm is due to arrive Sunday night.



  248. @Aldarion, #248 After all, of the four hobbits in the Companionship, two become magically grown warriors; one contributes to magically re-greening the Shire, and one (plus his uncle) travel to the Elven otherworld instead of dying a normal human death.

    You’re actually confirming and reinforcing the point I was making! Could Merry and Pippin ever have grown through their own efforts? No: it took an external magical force, which is not available to other characters or to the reader. Sam is acknowledged as a good gardener, but could he re-green the Shire through his own skills and knowledge? No, it took magic Elven soil. Can you point me to somewhere I could get some of that? My garden could use it… but I don’t think you can. Frodo, Bilbo and Sam sail to Valinor. If they had trained and worked all their lives to become master boatbuilders and navigators, could they have got there on their own? Nope, it required an external permission from elves. The reader can’t hope to emulate any of these.

    The reader could, in contrast, hope to emulate a mentat or Bene Gesserit. It would take many years of training, competent instruction, and dedicated instruction, no doubt about that, but the skillsets are real and it would be entirely possible to reach levels of ability which would seem supernatural to an untrained person.

    So, agreeing with JMG’s point, LOTR fosters a worldview which doesn’t actually map very well to the realities of our own world. Dune, I would argue, establishes mental models which are far more transferable. Of course, both are stories; Dune also contains fantasy elements, LOTR contains many important insights into the human condition. I enjoy both, for different reasons.

  249. I grew up amidst the stories of my grandfather, a hero of the fight against the Japanese in Burma in WW2. His stories found their embodiment in a “Gunto”, a Japanese sword which kindled a morbid and visceral fascination in me. Especially once I learned it had been pulled from the gut of a soldier who had committed seppuku rather than be taken alive. Even though this was in the 1980s, the “Orc-ification” of the Japs, as we called them, was still widespread. Propaganda imagery such as that at the link still circulated in the mainstream psyche. Tales of kamikaze and hara-kiri only convinced us further of Japanese fanaticism and depravity.

    Possibly stirred to action by my asking, about aged 8, how many “Japs” he’d killed, my grandfather took me to the attic and we sat with the sword. He explained that after the war, he’d heard that inside the sword handle Japanese soldiers kept photos of families and loved ones. On unravelling the sword grip, he discovered this to be true, photos of who he assumed to be the slain man and his family, together with indecipherable letters in tiny kanji. Unravelling the handle again, we looked at these tragic mementoes together. The dead soldier was no Orc, indeed he was not much older than a child. I believe the sight of the lives these photos revealed changed me profoundly.

    I grew up on tales of ancestral participation in armies and militias, and assumed this would be my rite of passage too. But when the moment came, aged 18 to take the King’s Shilling, something in me rebelled. The war in Iraq was still a few year’s off, but I figure that had it not been for that long ago afternoon sitting in my grandpa’s attic, carefully scrutinizing the possessions of a young man; clearly no Orc but a person with a family and loved ones, I would have charged into that misguided war along with so many other young men.

    I tell this tale, because no matter where we sit on the politics of Ukraine and Russia, we must not forget the tragedy of young men sacrificed to the grievance and psychosis of the power-crazed.

  250. [Postscript: Hi JMG, I was inspired to write this after reading your post. I am not sure the image at the link came through as it did not appear in the preview that flashed up at my end. I defer to your judgement about whether it’s possible to show the image. Otherwise hope you’re well and happy new year.]

  251. @JMG,

    Thanks for another great essay – it really is fascinating the degree to which Tolkien’s light-vs-dark, one-vulnerable-spot tropes (imitated, as you’ve explained, by a great many less skilled authors) have hobbled so many people’s ability to think rationally these days.

    Back in August, when you were talking about the same theme with respect to the Ukraine War, it occurred to me (though too late in the cycle to post) that in all likelihood a big, big influence on Tolkien’s use of the “eucatastrophe” trope was the story of Judith and Holofernes. He would have known it inside and out – both as a devout Carholic (it gets a whole book in the Apocrypha) and as a scholar of Old English, because of the famous epic poem about Judith written around the same time as Beowulf was written.

    And if you want stories were a righteous but badly outnumbered force is saved, at the last minute, by a single person’s very unlikely heroics… then Judith walking out of the Assyrian camp with Holofernes’ head in a basket is at least as high up there as anything that Frodo or Luke Skywalker ever did.

    For the 5th Wednesday, could you update/post again your instructions for electrifying garden soil to improve yields/disease resistance in plants, and links to sources for future study? I pasted in a link above of a new study that supports your position that we need to resurrect the study of electricity in gardens, especially since mined and/or fossil fuel fertilizers are getting too expensive and supply chains are breaking.

  253. Friday’s Washington Post had a front-page (continued on back page) story about a recent poll. Headline: “False beliefs on Jan. 6 take root: 25% of adults say FBI instigated riot, Post-UMD poll finds 34% of Republicans hold view”.
    This does not surprise me, though I have no personal opinion on the matter. What DOES surprise me is not the 34% of Republicans, but the 30% of independents, and 13% of Democrats. Of course, the exact question matters: 11% say there is solid evidence, while 13% say “suspicion only”. (Not broken down by party). So, about these Democrats. I want to know whether they believe that the FBI was acting properly in the national interest when they (allegedly) instigated the riot. Do they believe that Trump is the Source of All Evil, against whom all tactics are justified? And if they believe that the DoJ should incite violence to discredit their political opponents (a/k/a “save Democracy”), would they have any objections to organized voting fraud?
    In an NBC poll of June, 2023, 93% of Democrats, and 58% of independents believe that Biden won fairly. Given that a 7% swing could change the results, I find this very puzzling.

  254. Daniil Adamov @ 267, I would love to see the Soviet era Holmes series and the Mowgli cartoon. Was or is Simenon read in Russia also? I am afraid I have never understood the world-wide appeal of Hemmingway. I think, for what it might be worth, that the USA had far better writers in the mid-20thC.

    Bogatyr @ 270, that was a most interesting discussion of differences between LOTR and Dune. I think the points you made reflect important differences between an European and American worldview. It seems to be a fundamental American belief that a person can make him or her self whatever they want. This belief does have its’ dark side and lamentable consequences, most apparent in cruelty to the poor.

  255. @Handsome Hiram (#266) :
    Your first paragraph seems to me spot on, and makes a very important point. No human has ever been an “inhuman monster” who is completely evil.

    @Robert Gibson (#265):
    I wasn’t raised Christian, and most points of Christian doctrine seem wholly incompatible with my own experiences of the Divine. But one doctrine that has always resonated deeply with me is Calvin’s teaching on the inherent depravity of all human beings, even unborn human babies still in their mothers’ wombs. Involuntary evil, indeed! It seems to me to be inherent in our very blood and bones.

    And these two hard facts (as I see them) are the basis for insisting on keeping a fair balance between justice and mercy in every judgement one makes about one’s fellow humans. All-encompassing mercy allows evil to flourish harmfully.

    But absolutely strict justice, without any touch of (seemingly undeserved) mercy, is equally bad, if not more so. Indeed, I suspect it may be the greatest evil that humans are capable of doing.

  256. @Bogatyr: I agree that the hobbits don’t show us how to achieve mastery through long training. However, you wrote “In LOTR we’re told that we don’t get to have special abilities” and that is what I was responding to. LoTR shows ordinary people, who act courageously and honestly, and some of them do get to have special abilities in the end, though they didn’t set out to get them. I find LoTR a respite from utilitarian ethics and so-called meritocracy.

    Again, I find the depiction of Orcs deeply problematic, and as JMG argued, fighting Orcs is a bad model for acting in the real world, but a presentation of virtue ethics seems to me much less problematic.

  257. @Mary Bennet #277 My late maternal grandmother was very fond of Simenon, at least. He was definitely read, just not on the Conan Doyle level.

    Most of Soviet TV can now be found on Youtube, with amateur but generally decent subtitles.

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: I understand they were eventually very well-received in Britain.

    The Adventures of Mowgli:

  258. @Robert Mathiesen #279 You might be familiar with the Great Polish Chronicle: “Justice without mercy is cruelty and mercy without justice is stupidity.”

    I think I am in the same place as you with regards to the doctrine of total depravity. I consider it a concept whose usefulness goes far beyond its original context. As I understand it, it means that NO ONE can possibly DESERVE [Calvinist] God’s infinite and perfect grace. God simply grants it out of mercy to beings that could never earn it on their own, because the gap between the ideal and their fallen state is so wide. It doesn’t matter how innocent they may be or how much they try to be better than their neighbours or their past selves – they still won’t even come close. Get [Calvinist] God out of the equation, and it means that humans can’t possibly “deserve” utopia and intrinsically lack the means to achieve it. Once one accepts this, though, it becomes possible to put aside that distraction for good and start thinking about what limited improvements can be achieved, without expecting human nature to become radically different. It also helps avoid judging others for falling short of an impossible ideal, because it is beyond us all (unlike some less ambitious standards of behaviour, such as – off the top of my head – this blog’s posting rules).

  259. Dear JMG and Fellow Commenters:

    With respect to the idea of the “super weapon” (the idea of Anduril), I am struck by the way the NATO seems to be regarding things like the M-270 MRLS, Challenger II and Leopard tanks, the F-16 in the same way as the German Wunderwaffen in World War 2. We aren’t talking about lots of units: according to Wikipedia a “as of January 2023, Western countries have promised to deliver more than 300 tanks to Ukraine, including Leopard 2, Challenger 2, and M1 Abrams tanks”. Nobody in NATO seemed to have any idea that a crash training course in wartime on running totally different equipment isn’t a winning proposition.
    I believe the US (and western) swing to overemphasizing quality weapons/troops (few, high-cost, complicated) over quantity (think Sherman tank – OK tank, lots and lots built, mechanically reliable, easy to keep running) has a lot of causes (although plenty of Allied weapons were solid to high quality as well, but we made certain we built vast quantities of them). The German generals the west interrogated after World Wat 2 all emphasized the Soviet hordes; high quality as a way to avoid the demands on industrial output, money, and manpower; the Military/industrial complex can make big money that way.
    Finally, I think the idea of the superweapon got its start in the early-mid 1800s. Naval designs and weapon development emphasized the Monster Gun in the 1870s, the antiship mine, later the torpedo, the airplane, etc. However, new weapons generally lead to new countermeasures.
    As a final thought, in a half century or so, will Russia and the second and third world talk about the US in the same way as we talk about Hitler regarding agreements. We make them, we break them, so did Hitler. And after the fate of Gaddafi, if Kim Jonh-un ever decided to do the things the west wants him to do, that would prove to me he’s insane!
    On a last tangent (I promise!!), I never thought I would see the day when a Waffen SS veteran of an eastern European SS unit would be APPLAUDED in the Canadian parliament. Did they know he fought against the Soviet Union, our allies in that war? His side was shooting at Canadian troops on D-Day for heaven’s sake!!
    My vote for the Fifth Wednesday is Herr Hitler and how he has captured the west’s brain (I think Hitler is a significant data point that the west really believes in reincarnation – I’ve lost track of the number of “Fill In The Blank is the next Hitler.”
    Finally, #257 CR Patiño: Yes, you are absolutely right. If Mexico cozied up to Russia, China, any other of the BAD GUYS etc. and then started talking about fixing the outcome of the Mexican-American War, the USA would FREAK OUT!
    Cugel (The wondering why the west and NATO are so unclever!”)

  260. I also vote for the various gardening tips hard to find elsewhere, like electricity applied to the soil, soil tubes, small scale models of temple or step pyramid (what ratios)? Especially the nuts and bolts of what to experiment with now — the time may be upon us

  261. Once again, I’ve tabulated everyone’s votes; thank you all.

    Ian, we’re two to three centuries from the point at which that will be more than a backup weapon, but might as well keep the tradition going!

    Aldarion, I recall that the famous list of rules for evil overlords recommends hiring a child as a close adviser; any fatal flaw the child in your master plan for world domination is to be fixed before the plan is implemented. I think your daughter has a stellar career ahead of her in that field!

    Karl, the timing certainly works.

    Robert G, (1) well, of course! You’ll notice that I didn’t object to Tolkien’s use of orcs as a literary device; it’s the habit of trying to project that device into the real world that’s the problem. (2) No, we don’t disagree at all. Most of the evil in the world is strictly involuntary, and much of it involves no moral evil at all. Consider the outcome of Tom Godwin’s fine SF short story “The Cold Equations;” though everyone involved has good intentions, a monstrously evil outcome is inescapable. It’s precisely the denial of involuntary evil that makes the Orc Fallacy so destructive — the people who fall into that fallacy are convinced that everyone who opposes them must have deliberately chosen moral evil.

    Hiram, exactly. Those who preen themselves on the sole possession of virtue are most readily liable to the most monstrous of crimes.

    Daniil, most interesting. Thank you for this.

    Chris, I could really throw the cat among the pigeons by proposing that Donald Trump is our Conan. 😉 We’re also supposed to get a storm, the first snow of the season — and the prediction is that it’ll be followed in a few days by more rain. In January. In New England…

    Boy, the link didn’t post, but I was able to copy it. Here it is:

    (Yes, I know that it’s a horrible image. It’s worth remembering that this is the sort of thing the self-described “good guys” did during the Second World War.)

    Thank you very much for this story. Whatever else is or isn’t going on in eastern Europe right now, a lot of lives are being snuffed out, and a lot of families are having to deal with the ghastly experience of hearing from their government that their son or brother or father has just been killed in action.

    Sandwiches, hmm! You may well be right. I’ve read the Bible but I’m not as familiar with its odd corners as, say, your average devout Christian, and that hadn’t occurred to me.

    Lathechuck, you’re not the only one who’s asking such questions these days, obviously.

    Cugel, that parallel has been discussed elsewhere, mostly in pro-Russian blogs (where the weapons in question have come to be called “wunderwaffles”). It’s a valid one — the same Faustian fixation on limitless power instantiated in a machine.

  262. Speaking of orcs. Here is a portion of Tolkien’s initial description of them in The Hobbit – “It is not unlikely that they have invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.”
    Yes, I was there loving Tolkien back in the seventies along with E.F. Schumacher, his book Small is Beautiful and his concept of Appropriate Technology, very un orc like, more Hobbit and Shire like – real magic in my books as in Green Wizardry
    An opportunity passed up!

  263. I’ll say this, after a couple of year hiatus, Greer is never at a loss for words.. No matter, the point just keeps rushing ahead.

  264. And concerning hobbits “ -one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous” and “there is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary and everyday sort”. Again, hurrah! for that everyday Green Wizardy of good food, comfortable shelter, comfortable clothes, the tending of the earth, working with your body and hands, dance music, sleep, the sky, the trees, birds, herbs, beer, wine, honey, flowers, clouds, rain, wind, stories told and listened to, animals, the wild wood, the cultivated earth, friends, family, neighbors, friends, shared lives over time, arts, crafts . . . . . . .

  265. @ JMG – I had heard about Trump being denounced by neo-Nazis. Can I start by saying that being denounced by Nazis is a requisite for being US president?

    More to the point, the fact that literal Nazis were even considered part of his voting coalition is, problematic. You know, for a country that trades really heavily on “we won a war against Nazis”.

    Anyway, the political spectrum you created is fine I suppose, but I think I see where one of our misunderstandings comes from. To take the conversation back to first principles; where do you think the Left/Right dividing line would be on this spectrum?

  266. “What fascinates me is that so many people these days can’t think of politics without trying to identify somebody they don’t like as the Boss Bad Guy who inevitably has One Vulnerable Spot. It’s as if they really don’t know any other story…”

    Sometimes it works! Or at least, figures so prominently in an ex post facto narrative that it seems to have worked. For instance, “Willie” Horton in 1988.

    But then there’s 2016, when Trump’s opponents (primary and general) kept Skywalkering away at one perceived vulnerable spot after another, instead of engaging in actual campaigning. And then echoing Marvin the Martian: “Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.” It was a strange spectacle to watch, and the One Vulnerable Spot trope does seem to have figured prominently.

    To me this election year feels very different from 2016, but we’ll see.

  267. Very perplexing post this week–
    Ukraine is in a terrible predicament; Russia wants to gather it into a new Soviet Union, and they well remember what happened the last time _that_ wealth-pump was engaged. But will they be better off if they are drawn into the US/EU empire? I wish it would be, but I don’t think so.
    Also a predicament in the US election–If Trump gets re-elected, he will not do anything for anyone but himself. If Biden survives long enough to be elected, also nothing will change–Democrats seem never to have asked the question, “What is it about Trump that draws so many to him?” In the US, we have reached that phase of Empire Collapse in which it becomes apparent that “…no one is driving the bus.”
    I am looking and hoping for a third alternative in all of the above, but so far, no luck.
    Thanks for a provocative and evocative post, JMG!
    Fifth Wednesday Topic–I vote for a discussion of Mystery Initiations.

  268. Thanks JMG,

    That would be a great pairing! Are your novels available in Japanese?

    I hope that you are right about Studio Ghibli’s influence – I would certainly prefer a future shaped by that over one shaped by Warhammer 40k! = ) I would love to hear more on your thoughts about the studio at some point, and what you make of their influence.

    I thought of something that was related to this discussion. When their film (de-industrial SF no less) “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” was originally released in North America in the 80s, the English dubbing involved quite an extreme rewrite to “clean up” the complications of the plot, essentially to push it closer to a standard good guys vs bad guys structure, and Miyazaki really hated it. I learned about this doing some research into the translator/editor Toren Smith who is a somewhat forgotten now, but quite essential part of the development of the North American manga culture.

    Smith was exposed to some samples of Japanese comics in the mid 80s, was blown away, and dutifully learned the language and went over there with the intention of trying to acquire the rights to some of these comics for release in the west. He didn’t really have much to back this up with, but at the time they hadn’t really thought too much about this possibility, and Smith wore a suit to meetings so he at least looked the part, and he managed to impress on Miyazaki with his sincerity that he would not bastardize his Nausicaa comic series in the same way the film had been. When they signed that deal it, it gave him a lot of credibility which so impressed other creators that it led to him getting many more deals like this, and he then brought these comics out at a time when very little of it was available.

    I know it’s visual media, so I wouldn’t recommend it normally, but since I have seen you mention reading some manga in the past, if you haven’t read the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind series (Miyazaki’s only manga) it is truly excellent, and surpasses even the film.

    All this leads me to wonder, what do you make of the cultural impact of Japan on global culture at large? All things considered it seems a relatively small place, with rather peculiar and particular ideas, and seem somewhat insular compared to some other places, at least culturally, but they have created quite a large impression. Is there something to take from this in line with your general point from this week’s essay?

    Thanks again,

  269. Speaking of Tolkein and orcs and World War II propaganda I remember a table top roleplaying game series from the 90s called Rifts. The game was set in the 24th century after a nuclear war in the 21st century inadvertently caused a bunch of portals to other dimensions, bringing in both Lovecraft beings and more standard fantasy fare like Elves to Earth. After a dark age new nations are emerging in the world. One of the campaigns was called the Coalition Wars and the Siege of Tolkeen.

    In North America the rising empire was the Coalition States, centered on the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. The capital city was Chi-Town, built upon the ruins of Chicago. Their leadership deliberately modeled their army after Germany’s during World War II; their enemies calling Coalition troops Dead Boys because of their heavy use of the death’s head symbol. Well, one of their rivals was called the Kingdom of Tolkeen; a peaceful and accepting agrarian kingdom with a mainly magic-based society compared to the collectivist industrialized military dictatorship that was the Coalition States. Well, these two groups eventually go to war over a territorial dispute with the Kingdom of Tolkeen convinced of their moral superiority over the Coalition States they will win.

    Long story short, Tolkeen doesn’t win. The Coalition Army soldiers very much believe they are fighting for humanity’s future on the North American continent and do not break no matter what Tolkeen throws at them. In contrast, the people who volunteered for the Tolkeen Army to fight the Coalition were largely untrained civilians. They were sent into battle with little to no training; unprepared for the stresses of long-term combat; and Tolkeen’s Army lacked the logistical support structure of the Coalition Army which included things like unit chaplains and political officers to deal with moral problems. Tolkeen gets increasingly desperate as the war goes on; resorting to summoning demons and making pacts with Lovecraftian entities to try and turn the tide of the war. None of it works to stop the Coalition Army and the effort causes a bunch of their allies to abandon them, if not outright defect to the Coalition States.

    I kind of get the feeling somebody at the publisher, Palladium Books, really didn’t like Lord of the Rings.

  270. BeardTree, that opportunity was missed, but we’re moving into a period when the same approach will again be highly relevant. I’d like to do my best to make sure we don’t miss the next opportunity too.

    Jorma, put it down to Aspergers syndrome or something.

    BeardTree, it’s a good ideal!

    Ben, “left” and “right” are two ends of a spectrum, so there’s no dividing line between them. Where is the dividing line between “hot” and “cold”?

    Walt, oh, now and again you can pull off something that matches a cliché. The problem comes in when that’s literally the only strategy you can think of…

    Emmanuel, to judge by previous examples of the fall of civilizations, the wider range of options don’t start surfacing until the existing order of things is obviously broken beyond repair. We’re not there yet. I’ve tabulated your vote, btw.

    Johnny, as far as I know, no, my novels haven’t appeared in any language but English; I’ve had a couple of nonfiction books published in Japanese editions, though, so I have high hopes. As far as the cultural impact of Japan, it’s fascinating, not least because it’s happening at a time when Japan is in deep trouble as a nation, with its population dropping like a rock and its economy propped up by exceedingly dubious financial gimmicks. I’m not sure what’s behind it, but it’s a point I’ll consider for a future post.

    Karl, I wasn’t doing RPGs by the time Rifts came out, which is a pity — it sounds as though I’d have enjoyed it.

  271. This feels very much like the energy of the slowly approaching Saturn/Neptune conjunction. After a very long time of Neptune being able to liberally splash around illusion and delusion like some kind of Fae Princess, Old Man Saturn is creeping up behind like Old Hickory, eager to give a thrashing with his beating stick. When they finally conjoin, I think a lot of people’s brains are going to get broken. And also, possibly the internet, literally.

  272. Re: Robert Mathiesen’s remark about Frodo’s failure to cast the ring into the fire, Tolkien had this to say:

    “Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far.”

    J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 192; The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

    Putatively, Frodo’s task was to deliver the ring to its place of destruction and then to destroy it. But in fact neither he nor most likely anyone else could have completed the second part of the task unaided. Gandalf was afraid even to touch the ring and Galadriel refused it when offered, both rightly fearing its power to corrupt their best intentions. Of all the great and powerful people in the story only Bombadil clearly could have cast it away of his own free will, and that wasn’t his job; he had other fish to fry. A hobbit was the best choice for the job because the ambition of hobbits for power – the ring’s principal temptation – is as small as their stature. Also they are “very tough in the fibre, I deem,” as the master healer of Minas Tirith said – a useful attribute for the purpose.

    Frodo’s real task was to get the ring to the place where it could be destroyed. The rest was up to providence – that is, up to Eru Ilúvatar, who arranged for Gollum’s greed and malice to serve that end. And when this happened, Gollum’s malicious attack on Frodo inadvertently did for Frodo the greatest kindness anyone could have done: it freed him from the ring.

    I have the impression that Tolkien’s religious convictions were so deeply ingrained that Christian themes of providence, grace and redemption inevitably appeared in his story with little conscious contrivance on his part.

    This interpretation is not all of my own making. Kudos to Robert, creator of In Deep Geek, a YouTube channel where he discusses such matters in depth, and who got me thinking along these lines.

    I won’t join in the lambasting of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. I enjoyed it. Despite some flaws, I found many passages of it very beautiful, particularly those involving the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Also, the musical score by Howard Shore is inspired.

    In book and film alike, my favorite scenes are those in which the two hobbits face their severest tests – when they are getting very close to Mordor, and then are in it. In the darkness they shine.


    The principal point of orcs, I think, is that they are adversaries whom a hero can slaughter without qualms. When beheading or thrusting a sword through a human being, one might be apt to feel a twinge of conscience; not so with orcs. When you want to enjoy the satisfaction of cutting down enemies in their tens of thousands without a trace of regret, such intrinsically evil creatures are ideal antagonists. This seems to me to be an artistic flaw, as well as an unresolved philosophical problem. Surely it can’t be in keeping with the aforementioned idea of redemption. And it does rather lend itself to abuse as seen in the war in Ukraine.

    Not that I’m blaming Tolkien, nor dishing him as an artist. His achievement at world-building and storytelling is still pretty stupendous.

  273. I’d like to cast a vote on a post on the limits of Spengler’s model, perhaps dealing with Japan as a case study which doesn’t cleanly fit into one of the great civilizations he identified yet was profoundly influenced by them.
    I don’t have high hopes that it will achieve the required votes this time round but hope it starts something in motion.

  274. JMG: the next post in which I discuss Dune will be discussing a different (though also important) aspect of Herbert’s novel. I’ll look forward to it; it’s a book with many powerful themes. I occurs to me that the Gom Jabbar test – are you a human, or an animal in human form? – is very Druidic, and in keeping with the theme of reincarnation laid out in Barddas, and to what you’ve said about souls being reincarnated too quickly. I wouldn’t recommend the same approach to testing, though!

  275. @Emmanuel Goldstein, #291: Ukraine is in a terrible predicament; Russia wants to gather it into a new Soviet Union. Russia wants to do no such thing – that’s just an explanation conjured up by western pundits who have to look back to 1980s tropes because they don’t understand contemporary Russia. Instead, they’ve based their policies and strategies on the kind of simplistic model of the world that JMG’s talking about.

    I suspect that Russia will absorb the Russian-speaking territories that were historically a part of Russia but were hived off by the Bolsheviks to form part of the Ukrainian SSR: apart from the Donbass, that will mean Kharkov in the north-east, and the Black Sea coast up to Transnistria and the border with Romania.

    As for Ukraine, properly-conducted research in the late 1990s showed that the Ukrainian nationalists in the west – the Ukrainian-speaking territories which had mostly been in the Austro-Hungarian empire before WW1 – simply don’t believe that being a Russian-speaker is a legitimate identity.

    It’s these ethno-nationalists who were put in power by the US after the 2014 coup, and their forced-Ukrainisation policies since then have, imho, made any prospect of a bilingual, perhaps federal, Ukraine impossible. Certainly many people from the western areas gave the impression that they wanted to force the Russian-speakers leave the east and migrate to pre-2022 Russia, so Ukraine would keep the land but not the people. Hasn’t worked out for them. So, the Russian-speaking areas will become Russian, and the Ukrainians will get their ethno-state – although it will be much smaller than they had hoped, lacking resources and landlocked.

  276. Ben – re Left/Right spectrum –
    I’d like to share a different perspective, the perspective of an ordinary peasant.

    Which is to say that from where I stand, and stick my shovel into the good earth, Left and Right are flavours of rulership. They are flavours marking different approaches to running things and people from a throne, for which they contend.

    It took me a wee while, but realising that Left and Right are not flavours of people, was an eye-opening, and liberating discovery. Ordinary people are more like Druids, in that there are as many themes for living as there are people, and when rulers aim to divide us, they often succeed. Because we have differences that can be stressed. But we also have common places, which, when we search them out, allow us to work alongside one another on projects and for aims that seem good to us.

    In other words, we don’t HAVE to accept anyone else’s prefabricated enemy, we don’t HAVE to choose a team, we don’t HAVE to go along with any particular project of rulership, we can simply get on with taking responsibility for and directing our own small, but REAL, personal powers towards the purposes and agendas that seem good to us, while navigating as best we can the hazards that those who aspire to rule – whether from Left, Right or Centre – WILL place in our paths.

    Anyway, those are my 2c. Be well, stay free!


  277. JMG (and others),

    after several days of this profound discussion, I think I now understand better why the application of Lord of the Rings narratives to real world wars has been so misguided.

    When it is decided, at the Council of Elrond, to destroy the One Ring, everybody understands that the chances of winning the war this way are extremely low, almost zero. On top of that, Elrond knows that he will lose either way, and though the books doesn’t state it, Boromir also loses either way. The Council decides to go through with the plan because they think it is the right thing to do, not because they think it will work.

    In 2023, generations of Americans (and Europeans) have been raised on stories where the “good side” improbably wins at the last moment by exploiting the enemy’s weak spot; many of these stories were inspired by LoTR. The LoTR protagonists, to the contrary, have been raised on stories where strong fleets arrive from Gondor, from Númenor or from Valinor at the last moment to save the day (in fact Aragorn re-enacts that story once more). Those stories have a surprise element, but the victory depends on overwhelming military advantage. The protagonists have no reason to be overly confident in a plan based on weakness.

    It is like a psychological experiment that can be applied only once, because if the participants have heard of it before, their behaviour will change.

    Being confident in your victory based only on your supposed moral superiority is very bad strategy, and it is very different from enacting a plan without much hope of victory.

    I think what you call the Orc fallacy and the Andúril fallacy are very much subordinate to your Sauron fallacy in LoTR, and may have arrived in modern discourse rather from other sources, such as video games.

  278. Not a fan of Joseph Campbell I assume! To be clear, I detest the man, that a real poison pill he injected into the collective psyche; the more I read about him the worse he gets. Thomas Mann told him where to get off, that took some doing (i.e., making light of the Third Reich’s book bonfires, which included TM’s work).
    Anyway, the monomyth in the hands of Disney – the Vogler essay – not the greatest moment in Western Cultural History, to my mind at least.

  279. >I’ve lost track of the number of “Fill In The Blank is the next Hitler.”

    Every politician is the next Hitler. All Hitler was, was a politician, telling the people he wanted support from, what they wanted to hear. If it wasn’t him telling them what they wanted to hear, it would’ve been someone else.

  280. JMG
    Vote for 5th wed: Herr Hitler and his continuing hold on imaginations (although I’ve found that anything you write about well worth reading).
    Thanks for the explanation on the existence of “magic” swords. Good to know that something of fantasy had reality!
    LOTR and Dune, both wonderful worlds to ramble through and PKD always intrigues.

  281. If the conflict is rigidly two-sided, then when that’s the only strategy either side can think of, one of them still has to win.

  282. John you found the mono-mythic Star Wars “meretricious” and the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings series to be “unimaginative” and you think the “Tono-scope” rendered Hidden Fortress was superior.
    I value some of your opinions but strongly disagree with you on your film criticisms.
    These are all genius!

  283. Hello JMG and commentariat, I realized that a little thing I composed at work on Friday and sent to myself by email was actually a reflection on the themes of this week’s post. I tend to think of my ditties as funny (I won’t disgrace poems by calling it one). For your amusement, assuming our host passes it on to you, here it is:

    Many people imagine a great evil plan, implemented
    By brilliant great evil planners, soon to be imposed
    To our everlasting sorrow, shame and anger, because
    We did not skillfully resist the great evil planners

    And their great evil plan. But the good news is that
    We all suffer because we are stupid. The planners are
    Not brilliant (they may be clever) and they are not
    All-powerful, and the great evil plan, if they have one,

    Can no more be implemented than a bad plumber
    Will be able to fix your toilet. Yet more good news is
    That it’s very possible that we will just muddle through
    As our ancestors in their day muddled through, and

    Whatever sorrows come to our lot are simply our own,
    Whether we deserve them, or whether we do not.

  284. Hello Mr. Greer,

    Normally I vote for Manly P. Hall but there is a massive eclipse coming this April 8th. I would love to hear you pontificate on that.

    As far as your article goes there is another feature of Tolkien’s work that you touch on but don’t list as one of the fallacies. Namely, as far as I can tell Tolkien was the first author to build an entire fantasy universe to place his stories in. As you mention this results from his eccentric love of building languages. First came the hobby, and then the stories seemed to follow. This is unique because he was basically a one man mythology machine. Other cultures can produce a mythology over several generations or centuries but Tolkien did it all by himself. This is extremely useful if your goal is to retreat from the real world and live in somebody else’s where the good guys always win. I would place this in equal importance to the other three points raised, if not list it as the single most important selling point and argue that the other three fallacies are derived from it. In one sense this is nit picking but I think it might be useful to see all of the other fallacies as reducible to this one simple desire to pretend we live in this kind of world. After all, believing in a world where the good guys always win is just another way of saying the religion of progress is true.

  285. I was struck by this claim: “…one of the most distinctive things about the Western cultures of the last century or so is the way it’s become so obsessed with wholly imaginary worlds…”

    Well, what about the entire history of mythology and religion? (Which is what Tolkien was emulating, no?) Olympus, the Pure Land, Heaven and Hell…obsessing about imaginary worlds, even to the point of ignoring the “real” one in favor of the imaginary one, seems like a long-time human thing.

  286. @Kevin (#295):

    Was it Tolkien, or was it you, who wrote the following paragraph?

    “Frodo’s real task was to get the ring to the place where it could be destroyed. The rest was up to providence – that is, up to Eru Ilúvatar, who arranged for Gollum’s greed and malice to serve that end. And when this happened, Gollum’s malicious attack on Frodo inadvertently did for Frodo the greatest kindness anyone could have done: it freed him from the ring.”

    If it was Tolkien, then I have to stand corrected on the point I was making. If it was you, then we will still have to disagree. Either way, thank you for going to T’s other writing to shed light on the question.

  287. Beige Shiba, Mr. Greer,

    I just looked up Saturn-Neptune Conjunction and the last time that happened was in 1989-1990 when the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact broke apart and collapsed. It also occurred during the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Revolutions of 1848, in 1773 right before the American Revolution and during the Boston Tea Party. I might not know much about astrology but that is a very interesting pattern.

  288. Is it allowable to cast a negative Fifth Wednesday vote? I think Internet-wide rather too many pixels have already been darkened talking about Herr Teppichfresser and given that one imitates what one contemplates, how much contemplation is a good idea? If permitted, please deduct one Hitler vote on my account.

  289. What Bogatyr (#299) said! Especially what he said about western pundits’ lack of understanding of contemporary Russia, and also their foolish ideas about the proper conduct of both diplomacy and war. I have been utterly appalled by our collective stupidity for several decades now.

    What Western pundits know about Russian history is far too little and far too shallow to be an effective basis for either war or diplomacy. The enormous cultural differences between the eastern part (formerly the Grand Duchy of Moscow) and the western part (formerly the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) of the old Kievan state go back at least as far as the 1300s, if not the 1200s. I think they have less to do with the Austro-Hungarian Empire than with this older divide. Each Grand Duchy soon came to regard itself as the one and only legitimate successor to the Kievan state, and viewed the other as a traitorous pretender to the Kievan throne. This sort of historical animosity lasts for millenia.

    What Putin is trying to do — and he is almost certain to succeed — is not to resurrect the former Soviet Union, but the former Muscovite state with its old claims to be the third and final world-capital called “Rome,” that is, “Holy Mother Russia.” He is defending its rebirth after the catastrophic interregnum of anti-Russian Bolshevism. He (rightly) notes than many leading Bolsheviks were not even Russians in their ethnicity, even if they had been subjects of the Russian Tsar’. His many speeches make all this abundantly clear. (Those who are interested can find them in English translation on the English version of Putin’s official Predidential website:

    And as for the Western pundits’ notions on the effective conduct of war, don’t get me started! They seem to view war as a sort of (American) football match, a game of minimal subtlety and maximum violence, with occasional bursts of speed and a time-limit. Whereas Russian experts, to the best of my understanding, see war (and diplomacy) as a vast, slow game of chess played on a giant board over many years; and chess is a far more subtle and demanding game than football.

    (In the game of chess Russians have produced many more true grandmaster-level players than the entire West taken as a whole. They have also produced very many of the world’s most profound mathematicians. These two facts are not unrelated.)

    OK, this is already becoming too long a rant, and I’m just warming up. Sorry! I’ll shut up now.

  290. @Scotlyn (#301) on the Left/Right spectrum:

    It’s definitely a spectrum, and not a linear one, either. I used to characterize myself, when discussing these matters, as a radical moderate or radical middle-of-the-roader. That confused almost everyone: doesn’t “radical” imply “extremist”? Well, no, it doesn’t.

  291. Scotlyn at #301,
    I agree with you about the left/right divide. I usually agree with your comments. Maybe it is an age thing or maybe you should be worried as I can be a pretty disagreeable person.
    Re a post on Hitler: obviously if that is what people want it should happen but I think far too much attention has been paid to him for the last 90 years. He was not just a politician of his times. He was a seriously flawed man but obviously very charismatic, or is that also a flaw? Why are we not more fascinated with those who show at least some concern for others and some positive vision for the future? I guess his vision was positive for him.

  292. I’ve got everyone’s votes tabulated — with two exceptions, which I’ll discuss below.

    Shiba, that’s occurred to me more than once. I’m busy studying classic texts on mundane astrology right now, which is one of the reasons the pace of posts on my Patreon and SubscribeStar venues has been slow of late; I hope to have quite a bit more to say about the great conjunctions as we proceed.

    Bogatyr, a Druid gom jabbar would probably work like this:

    Aldarion, excellent! Yes, that makes perfect sense, and of course it follows Tolkien’s own theory of eucatastrophe as discussed in his essay “On Fairy-Stories.”

    Dermot, no, not at all. I read Campbell’s work years ago and found it facile, shallow, and tendentious.

    JeffinWA, I only found out about the magic in magic swords a decade or so ago — I’d read some hints, but it wasn’t until I started researching low-tech methods of making steel that I found out about crucible steel. Look it up sometime!

    Walt, yes, and the fallacies I discussed in the post are among the reasons our current leadership insists on defining conflicts that way, and pursuing them accordingly.

    Aidawedo, by all means. I don’t claim my tastes are universally valid — but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

    Clarke, that’s really quite good. Thank you.

    Stephen, my reflections on eclipses and ingress charts now take place on my Patreon and SubscribeStar venues, for readers who can handle a very modest monthly fee — it’s part of how I pay the rent. Your reflection on Tolkien — hmm! Yes, that makes a great deal of sense, and suggests an alternative to the view I proposed in the last paragraph of my post. Are we so enamored of invented worlds because we aren’t willing to put up with the fact that this one won’t cater to our whims?

    Tom, I take it you’ve never noticed that it’s only modern Western materialist atheists who think that those places are imaginary.

    Karl, yep. It’ll be intriguing to see what happens this time.

    Walt, nope. I don’t tally negative votes; those would make it too easy for a faction among my readers to make some issue or other out of bounds for fifth Wednesdays. If you want me to write about something different, by all means propose a theme or support one that’s already been nominated.

  293. @ JMG – sure, there’s no exact ‘break point’, but that’s why terms like ‘center-left’ and ‘center-right’ exist. I see current US economic policy as being center right when the Blue Team is in charge, and right wing when the Red Team is in charge. To loop back to the points you made in the essay, I recall the Pentagon under George Jrs administration constantly going on about how the Iraqis would great us as liberators after our superior firepower blasted all the pesky Orcs into the Tigris and Euphrates. And I don’t think anyone would regard the administration of baby Bush as either Liberal or leftist.

  294. @ Ian # 261 – glad I’m not the only one banging the drum for de-industrial militaries for the 5th Wednesday post! Your cane axe project sounds interesting. I can see such a tool being useful for one on one confrontations, but do you think such a tool would be useful on a battle field, over, say an entrenching tool? For that matter, what do you see as the likely floor for military tech in, say 400 years?

    (My guess is it reverts to something like 1840s armies with needle guns and radios on land, tall ships with steam boilers (for the flagships) at sea.)

  295. @ Boy # 271 – to make a longer story short; my grandpa told me about the day in 1945 he and his copilot assisted in taking 150 German POWs. I his words, they captured a school’s worth of boys and their elderly teachers. He said he didn’t look at the war the same way after that.

  296. @Stephen, you wrote: “Believing in a world where the good guys always win is just another way of saying the religion of progress is true”. Are you speaking of people who get their Tolkien knowledge filtered through second-class imitators or at most through the movies? Because anybody who has paid the least attention to the details of Tolkien’s world building will know, from the Silmarillion or even from the bits and pieces contained in the Appendices or recounted as stories-within-the-story, that the good guys don’t always win. I think it would be fair to say that in Tolkien’s world, if you do the right thing, you won’t regret it afterwards, and that may make it a different world than ours. It doesn’t mean you will always win.

    Further, even when the good guys win, that doesn’t mean that the world is “progressing”, i.e. getting better. In Tolkien’s view, it has generally become worse over the ages, with occasional and temporary respites. That is a widespread mindset in many places and times, see Hesiod or Dante.

  297. @Tom Swiss #310: There is a very interesting lineage of stories that take place in a “third realm”: not the realm of things that we see with our eyes, and not the realm that we believe to be even truer than the visible world. Stories about the third realm began as allegories in the Roman empire and turned into tales of Faerie. These are things we know not to be true, but still like to read and write about because they make points that are difficult to make in ordinary stories. While Spenser’s Faerie Queene is not quite as realistic as Tolkien’s world, it sure takes up a lot of words! You can find the whole lineage traced out in C.S. Lewis’ The Allegory of Love.

  298. For the 5th Wednesday I cast my vote for a discussion of the Myth of Er in “The Republic.”

  299. Mr. Greer,

    The timing of this Saturn-Neptune Conjunction is rather interesting as it is occurring during 2024-2026 which is on:

    1. The USA’s 250th anniversary
    2. The 100th anniversary of Benito Mussolini transforming Italy from a constitutional monarchy into a dictatorship
    3. The 100th anniversary of both Hitler publishing his book and founding the SS
    4. The 100th anniversary of Francisco Franco becoming a general
    5. The 100th anniversary of the creation of the Estado Novo regime in Portugal
    6. The 100th anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Hirohito
    7. The 500th anniversary of German Peasants’ War, Europe’s largest and most widespread popular uprising before the French Revolution and the start of the European Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation

  300. Regarding the “Anduril” arms, and according to analysis I’ve read (of course not from establishment and MIC mouthpieces) one of the major issues with those much tooted “advanced” arms are that they overcomplicated crap, the arms equivalent of modern “smart devices” that prove dumb money-making machines with fluff features.

    It’s because the western arms industries want to sell new gadgetry with little regard to issues such as reliability, local repairability, learning curve, etc.

    First, as they’re overcomplicated, and full on “smart” bullshit , they tend to have various functionalities break down easily. And of course in a war situation, there’s also stuff like enemy fire, explosions nearby, rough terrain, panicked manouvres, and so on, which also tends to help tear and break complex weaponry (unlike on a nice arms comference showroom or a peace-time field demo)

    Second, when those complex weapons break down, they are impossible to fix locally, need special parts that can only be made and be imported from abroad, and can take weeks to repair.

    They also come with special long training which means you can easily bring new soldiers in to use them, and need expensive consultants for basic setup and training too, further slowing things down.

    Of course they’re way more expensive too – that’s the whole point of all the “advanced” crap piled on them from the manufacturer’s perspective. So you can’t just get enough new ones to replace the one’s that broke down.

    Meanwhile the opponent can still hammer you with their less “advanced” weapons that work reliably, and which they can trivially and cheaply repair their stuff when it breaks down.

    So, a lot of the same issues as with overcomplicated, unrepairable, modern consumer devices.

  301. Ben, I see you don’t hang out with conservatives much. I know people who insist that both Bushes were center-left. That’s why I don’t find it useful to draw a line; when anyone says “left” or “right,” what they mean in effect is “left of me” and “right of me.”

    Phutatorius, duly tabulated.

    Karl, granted, but centenaries don’t have any astrological meaning. As time permits I plan on casting and delineating the chart for the exact moment of the Saturn-Neptune conjunction; that chart should tell us quite a bit.

    European, oh, granted. That sort of problem was pretty much guaranteed once the American passion for technogimmickry went decadent.

  302. In my neck of the words in John Steinbeck country in California, there is a saying – Okie” ingenuity” for hands on figuring out a technical real life challenge in the here and now.

  303. Mr. Greer,

    Thanks. The astrological site I looked at said it was supposed to be sometime in February 2026, seems to be the same week as my 40th birthday so that gives me another reason to be curious about this.

  304. @Ben, it’s true I regarded bush jr as center or lean left, and trump as a classical liberal. That’s what makes it all so weird to me. Overton window shifted fast and furious in the 90s, and even Reagan in retrospect was a classical liberal who happened to be a populist or bit of. I’ll go w Burke on the definitions, or Khuenhelt Ledhin. America hasn’t been right wing in a century or more

  305. @Ben

    I had to look up needle guns. I hadn’t seen the flechette ammunition before.

    So the idea for the light axe came when I was watching these fellows spar;

    And that led me to an actual fencing expert here;

    There is accounts of Hungarians carrying them in the trenches. I don’t think ever as a primary weapon, but as a sidearm they are very versatile and quick. We have exaggerated the function of an axe as a weapon with viking movies etc I think. I don’t have a fencing background but entrenching tools can be clumsy and hard to handle. A fokosh doesn’t weigh more then 1.5 pounds. Traditionally these were probably used in dozens of applications including hooking higher up fruit tree limbs for harvesting, directing swine, etc.

    For near future use I am envisioning a fokosh more as a civilian armament ( a similar long hafted tomohawks was recently used by the Iroquois). Cheaper to make then a sword, easier to make, can be disguised as a cane for everyday carrying, could potentially deter/restrain threats in dangerous urban situations. Could also shave wood for kindling, harvest Chaga, defense against wild dogs. Cultures used to have civilian martial traditions like the English quarterstaff practice and I think there were good reasons for it, including mutual respect, crime deterrence, physical exercise, confidence building.

    As for 400 years from now… yes I would agree we go sailing ships again, though they are lumber intensive. There is another man on you tube who created an automatic crossbow out of basic lumber and a makita battery drill. If we still have small battery packs available for military applications maybe something like that makes sense. Arrows from heavy bows can penerate some ballistics body armor btw. Thanks for the question!

  306. Apropos weapons adaptations: in the Korean war the Americans used an 81mm mortar. The Chinese started using an 82mm, so they could use captured American ammunition, but the Americans couldn’t use captured Chinese ammunition.

  307. Actually the entrenching tool is a very good close combat weapon, and it is also a shovel

  308. Tyler,

    Congratulations on clearing that hurdle! Of course that will be fine; I’ll put your revised prayer on the list.

  309. Maybe you were thinking of the posthumously edited and compiled Silmarillion, or the Tolkien movies that turn the source material into fodder for an extended superhero universe?

    Because the overarching tone of Lord of the Rings, the book, is rather grim – not about slaughtering orcs by the thousands for fun and sport like, say, in the Hobbit movies. Instead, just a few orc arrows are plenty for the strongest man. Trolls, too, are almost unbeatable in direct battle with their inhuman strength and unnaturally thick skins, no elven machine gun archery by Legolas here.

    Those superior, mythical weapons like Anduril are good for one-on-one battles – or for heroic stands where the main general of Sauron (a mighty, mythical hero in his own right, but even he less invincible in the end than expected) is not defeated by the king wielding the reforged sword, but by the smallest, most insignificant soldier using an old (and, by the way, therefore the more powerful) sword as well as the courage to wield it, gained from hearing an old legend.

    On the army battle level, these artifacts do not matter – Battle of the Morannon especially was careening towards a disaster without a miracle. And, well, the most powerful weapon on the board must never be used.

    The myths and the legends from various sources mingle and try to grab control of the narrative… but they only do that for a moment, in a limited way, for example in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. And the protagonists rarely escape unscathed for the next adventure – recovery is imperfect and takes time.

    Meanwhile, on the other hand, the God – Christian or any other – is never mentioned, but the way the story is constructed, with the occasional spiritual encouragement from an angel (Gandalf) and the fairly frequent miracles (of coincidence, or momentary allies, or the eagles) as some of of the main ways the tide is turned. That’s the part where Tolkien’s Catholicism shows, but being a great author, he shows instead of tells.

    And, of course, the main story of heroic sacrifice by a small yet plucky pair… turns out to be a heroic failure (in the mold of the old myths from Kalevala, for example) only turned into an unheroic success by Gollum. The plaudits bestowed on the miraculously saved hobbits themselves are perhaps slightly ironic, remembering the way the medals of honor and the actual reality did not always line up in the war. But here, too, Tolkien does not try to force the narrative, but allows the mini-stories to play out straight.

    The story is apparently taking place sometime in the Dark Ages, between the fall of Western Rome and Renaissance, still during a period where the contemporary histories contained numerous references to portents, miracles and such. But it is told through the prism of the eyes of the practical-minded hobbits, and hidden there somewhere are Tolkien’s own world war one trench warfare experiences. It’s very un-legendary for a fantasy, is what I am trying to say…

    To tie it all up, for me, the true power and longevity of Lord of the Rings comes from it not trying to push any one narrative overmuch (even the Christianity). And I admit, I kind of resent a particular interpretation of Tolkien being forced to serve an overarching essay on the fecklessness of the West (and the same would apply if Tolkien was used to literally compare Russians to orcs, or similar).

  310. @Ben #319 I am fine with using the “conventional” (but as can be seen from other responses, by no means universal) understanding that Bush et al. were right-wing, but I can definitely make the case for them being leftist liberals. Their missionary fervour for spreading democracy, at least, was very much in the tradition of the original (First Republic) French left. I might say the same for their fondness for expanding government powers in the name of protecting liberty. In economic terms, deregulation was long a liberal priority (and another First Republic policy), while right-wing conservatives have usually preferred greater protectionism and government intervention. But of course, it is true that mainstream politicians and intellectuals who call themselves “conservatives” these days are mostly economic liberals in the old terminology, especially in what is called the West.

    As for the left and right, it depends on one’s criteria and definitions as well as relative positioning (though that is a big part of it). If the left is defined as taking the side of the less powerful in society, then the big corporations that were under discussion earlier at least pretend to be left-wing on social issues, though self-interest puts them on the right economically. Which position outweighs the other depends largely on one’s priorities (and also, on how seriously one takes their social stances). Likewise, your Republicans typically favour big business and oppose big government (at least rhetorically), but not all left-wing traditions hold business to be a worse threat to “the little people” than government. Anarchists (excepting anarcho-capitalists) tend to dislike both equally. Some pre-October Russian Marxists were more strongly opposed to existing government institutions than to capitalism, finding the latter circumstantially “progressive” and useful. To call Republicans left-wing from a left-wing perspective would surely be a fringe position, but, well, I’ve seen it and I understand it. From a right-wing perspective, one can more easily declare Republicans left-wing by pointing to their de facto embrace of government powers and interventions that are often associated (IMO at least somewhat ahistorically) with the left, rhetoric be damned.

  311. A bit late to this one, but anyway… so many fascinating comments – but too many to catch up, if fear. So much has been said so I’ll keep it short and want to mention one name which hasn’t come up in all the comments (unless there’s a typo so I can’t find it): Patrushev. I haven’t heard his name until I read an interview with him on the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. It was fascinating to read and he said a lot of things I can agree with (for example the role of teachers in a society: Teachers form it’s backbone, they have to be accomplished masters – compare that with the western view on education…). But at the same time reading this guy made the hairs on by neck stand up for a reason I can’t fully put in words. To me, Patrushev comes along very Saturnine – hard, disciplined, just in a very strict sense of the word, old and cold. In my opinion, you find many public and powerful figures in Russian society which seem to express some archetypal energies – for a lack of a better description – in a very pure form. Compare that to their western counterparts, too. I would say the term “accomplished master” is much closer to the truth for the former, than for the latter…


  312. re #285: Ah, but by “involuntary evil” I meant “involuntary moral evil”. Blameless moral badness. Sounds like an oxymoron but without the idea of it one is helpless to resist it. Perform the thought experiment: if there were such things as vampires, what could liberals do about it? The sharp-stake treatment, even though it would be the best for all concerned including the vamps themselves, would be disallowed as vampophobic or whatever.

  313. Hi John Michael,

    That’s an amusing observation. The other elites were not fond of Conan, nor his policies, so yeah, there are some similarities going on. 🙂

    With snow that brief and an otherwise warm-ish winter, you may be able to plant the really cold adapted varieties of citrus such as Lemon Meyer. The plant has survived snow here.

    With sea surface temperatures on the rise, well, water vapour in the atmosphere must also be on the rise. Since Christmas day over ten inches of rain has fallen here. As you’d imagine there is now flooding in other parts of the state of Victoria, with some evacuations in place. This particular growing season has been the most challenging yet. Other parts of the country are also receiving super-intense rainfall.



  314. About Tolkien and the influience the Lord of the Rings has had and still has on the Western world, maybe the influences go both ways: the dualist mindset of the Abrahamic religions, which has had an important influence on Western culture, and at the same time the state of lionguistics woth its interest in linguist reconstructions, which were prominent during Tolkiens lifetime, has had an influence on him, whereas at the same time, the Lord of the Rings has had the mentioned influence on the Western world, so that there is a feedback loop and somewhat of a egg-chicken paradoxon.

    I would like to cast a vote for the subject of the obsessive grip on Western imagination of Hitler and the National Socialists.

  315. JMG,
    Great topic, I would never have guessed the influence of Tolkien on our supposed betters and their short sighted thinking. Any kid who gets in a fight at or after school knows that being the “good guys” doesn’t mean anything once punches start flying. To paraphrase a meme floating around, “some of you have never been punched in the mouth and it shows”. Actions have consequences, and the consequences can really hurt.

    Please put in my vote for Deindustrial Military Futures. My apologies for not contributing to the discussions, but I remain a very faithful reader of both the columns and comments. My entire family got copies of Retrotopia, the first step in making a better world is to imagine it.

    IMHO, the Bush family is very much in the pro XL government liberal side of the house. A true right wing goverment would have just mandated reinforced cockpit doors and locks, Bush II created Homeland Insecurity and promised to make the world safe for democracy much like Woodrow Wilson, the orginal progressive. All of the current immigration issues can be traced to “compassionate conservativism” of Bush Sr which opened the floodgates after he signed the Immigration Act of 1990.

  316. Tolkien fans, please don’t feed me to the wargs. Three main points that are relevant to this week; the supposed “bad guys” are more diplomatic than the “good guys”, have more legitimate causes, and crucially the team we’re supposed to cheer for are constantly the aggressors.

    Sauron has constructed a vast alliance of many different and long suffering peoples with legitimate grievances compared to the meagre diversity hire fellowship. Some alliance of elves, dwarves and (some) men that is. Meanwhile team black has various orcs, uruks, probably some dwarves (Gimli says Sauron offered friendship and gifts), men of Dunland, Harad, Rhun, and corsairs who show up to fight in battalions.

    It should be noted that Sauron is trying to recover personal property that was cut from his hand by the “good” guys when they invaded his home in a previous war.

    The constant aggression of team white strikes me as too consistent to be unintentional. The white council assault Dol Guldur prior to the war. In the Fellowship the black riders are never shown to strike first. In the Shire and Bree we’re just told about the b & e, at Weathertop Frodo stabs first, at the Rivendell fords they wash away the riders without cause. Moria is a home invasion by the fellowship. Sam and Frodo attack Smeagol in cold blood and kidnap him.

    Consider an alternate interpretation of Helm’s Deep. Saruman was aware of his hostile neighbours and tried to save his employees from the entish assault by sending them away. The ents destroy Isenguard and siege Orthanc. Only later is Helm’s Deep attacked in order to secure the release of their imprisoned master.

    Maybe I’m a perpetual contrarian but on a casual reread of novels I’m not convinced the whole war of the ring isn’t some elvish plot to put Arwen and a very convenient long lost heir on the throne of Gondor. I think a (partially tongue in cheek) case can be made that the fellowship sponsors are the real villains of the story and we’re reading their propaganda.

  317. Daniil Adamov @ 337, G.W. Bush’s “missionary fervor for spreading democracy” was a result of his conversion to Evangelical Christianity, which was quite real. Speculation, but he may have thought such advocacy would bring him redemption for the sins of his earlier mode of life, which seems to have included chronic alcoholism. He was certainly, about this there can be no doubt, manipulated and influenced by a pack of former Trotskyite neo-con ideologues and intriguers. As the late scholar Bernard Wolf pointed out decades ago, the Bolsheviks, and their American imitators, took their clues from the French example–Wolf even mentioned locating events in Soviet history on the French revolutionary calendar. I rather suspect that GWB’s own foreign affinities were not French at all, but pro-British and monarchist, founded in an idealized vision of the beauties of an ordered, hierarchical society. Such a vision has its’ attractions. I don’t personally subscribe to it, but I have no use for neo-con induced chaos either.

    American politics is complicated and the mapping of it onto a 200+ year old schema from another continent is, IMHO, worse than useless.

  318. Once again, I’ve got everyone’s votes tabulated.

    BeardTree, thanks for this! I didn’t know that story.

    Karl, the conjunction is on February 20th, 2026, at 16:53 GMT. It’s going to be one for the record books, because a conjunction of outer planets at the beginning of Aries always launches a new age of the world in whatever the planets rule; the last time Saturn and Neptune conjoined early in Aries was in 555 BC, and that was at 7° Aries. This one will be at 0° Aries. I’m still in the early stages of making sense of it, but Saturn rules institutions and Neptune rules the mystical and personal aspects of religion; it’s possible that the time of prophetic religion is over, and something very different will take its place.

    Stephen, so noted!

    Mike, no, as I explained in the post, I’m talking about the way that some of Tolkien’s ideas were taken out of context, recycled by an entire industry of derivative fiction and cinema, and turned into the default notions of the modern Western intelligentsia. If you’ll read my post a little more carefully you’ll find that spelled out fairly clearly.

    Nachtgurke, no argument there. The guy has a very Saturnine vibe.

    Robert, thanks for the correction. Yes, there we disagree; if there’s no capacity for choice there’s no moral guilt. That doesn’t mean you permit the evil; that means you don’t judge the person in question in moral terms, any more than you would accuse a rabid dog of being morally evil. Shooting it is a compassionate necessity.

    Chris, so noted! Meyer lemons are tasty; once Sara and I have a place of our own, if that happens, we’ll consider it.

    JustMe, thanks for this.

    Booklover, granted. Tolkien didn’t invent the themes he used; it was just that his trilogy was the vehicle by which they exercised a very remarkable influence on the intelligentsia of the Western world.

    BobinOK, I like that meme. I’ve also appreciated the one that did the rounds when people were going on endlessly about their “Inner Child”: “Your inner child needs a spanking.”

    Jo, I see you’re right up there with the Russian “Black Tolkienists”!

    Lazy, glad to see it. That’s a firm that could use being taken down a few dozen pegs.

  319. JMG, you replied: “Yes, there we disagree; if there’s no capacity for choice there’s no moral guilt. That doesn’t mean you permit the evil; that means you don’t judge the person in question in moral terms, any more than you would accuse a rabid dog of being morally evil. Shooting it is a compassionate necessity.”
    Actually I’m less sure now that we do fundamentally disagree, for my category of “involuntary moral evil” is not one which I define in terms of guilt. I define it like you do, in terms of compassionate necessity. Where we probably differ is in the application or scope of the principle. In my view the real-world analogue of vampirism is sexual perversion: just as nobody deliberately sets out to be a vampire, so nobody deliberately sets out to be a pervert. The equivalent of the sharp-stake treatment is less drastic in the latter case: it is simply the maintenance of a strong taboo, which helps those who would otherwise be in thrall to the evil to sublimate it. If this view is right, then the unkindest measure to take is to undermine that taboo.
    I’ve also been reflecting on the example you gave, of Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”. It shows how our categories of definition differ, for I would term that a tale of tragic misfortune rather than evil. I suppose one might argue that it shows society ought to educate youngsters more in the laws of physics and how they apply to everyday life, so that the girl would known she must not stow away on the spaceship. But if education had been slanted more that way, it might have been neglected in some other way, equally disastrous, for there are only so many hours in the school day. So – life has its quota of unavoidable misfortune.

  320. Mr. Greer,

    Yeah, that is three days after my 40th birthday. The 555BC timing is interesting as this coincides with Cyrus the Great’s rise to power and the founding of the Achaemenid Empire or the First Persian Empire. Cyrus was crowned king in 559BC and the war that lead to the foundation of the First Persian Empire started about 553BC.

    Cyrus’s empire was generally regarded as the blueprint for a great many later empires as it was one of the first to feature a centralized, bureaucratic administration. It was also one of the first empires to have a multicultural policy when it came to its internal population and the nations it conquered. Alexander the Great was an ardent admirer of Cyrus the Great so the Achaemenid Empire was kind of a blueprint for the later Greek and Roman Empires.

    Hell, Cyrus is part of the reason the United States is the way it is now as the founders sought inspiration from Cyrus the Great through works such as Cyropaedia. Thomas Jefferson owned two copies of that book. One copy in particular had parallel Greek and Latin translations on facing pages and Jefferson had made extensive markings and highlights on those pages. In fact, it is kind of hard to understate the effect Cyrus the Great had on drafting the United States Declaration of Independence.

    Cyrus the Great was also the man who freed the Ancient Israelites from their imprisonment in Babylon so it is kind of hard understate the impact he had Western religious development as well. He is mentioned extensively in the Bible; the entire idea of religious tolerance and pluralism in Western culture can be traced back to Cyrus the Great. So that precedent coupled with Spengler’s predictions about another round of Caesarism starting in the West in the early 21st century and the recent political turmoil in the world makes me strongly suspect we about to see some great military and political leader rise to power.

  321. @Robert Gibson #339: Terry Pratchett had the answer to the vampire problem – the Discworld vampires who took the pledge to drink only animal blood, called the Black Ribbon Society.

  322. Fair enough, regarding negative Fifth Wednesday votes.

    My positive vote is for your take on liminal times, places, and qualities, and their implications (if any) for magic. What I’ve learned of the systems you teach don’t seem to emphasize liminality much if at all, but spells and ceremonies carried out at crossroads at midnight during the new moon, and all kinds of other betwixt’s and between’s, are widespread in magical folklore. (Just to get the topic out there for the future, as this is unlikely to win the current vote at this point.)

  323. @ Robert Mathiesen #311 – No, the block of text you’ve cited is my own, not Tolkien’s. It’s my interpretation of the way the story plays out, though not mine alone. The only only words of Tolkien’s I quoted are those I placed in quotation marks, followed by the source. Sorry I wasn’t clearer.

  324. Clarke aka Gwydion # 308 Thanks for the poem!

    Stephen D # 309 “as far as I can tell Tolkien was the first author to build an entire fantasy universe to place his stories in.” What about Lucian’s True Story, Divine Comedy, Barsoom, Gulliver’s Travels, Wonderland, The Well at the World’s End, Oz, Hyboria?

    Robert Mathiesen # 314 I was thinking today about how D-Day is far as you can get from “stop all evil with this One Weird Trick!” Goal of LoTR is to exploit the one weakness that will collapse the bad guys. D-Day was about one inch of beachhead to seize, and then expand inch by inch until a continent is controlled, despite defense-in-depth on a massive front. D-Day didn’t have One Loophole to wipe out the enemy.

    Aldarion # 322 “in Tolkien’s world, if you do the right thing, you won’t regret it afterwards” I hadn’t thought before of the similarity here with the Baghavad Gita’s message: God wants each person to behave, which we can choose, in a way true to our own nature. The outcome is then up to God.

    BeardTree # 328 thank you for the fascinating article on tanks and hedgerows!

    Jo Robear # 344 You could also point out that when the supposed good guys were in Sauron’s home, they gave him the finger.

    Hugh McTavish # 345 If he writes about AI, we’ll all be banned if we comment on the essay!

    JMG # 348 My Lunar North Node is at exactly Aries 0. I wonder if personally 2/20/26 will be an extra doozy of a time for me.

  325. @MaryBennet #347

    “American politics is complicated and the mapping of it onto a 200+ year old schema from another continent is, IMHO, worse than useless.”

    That is fair enough. There are several different ways to map it to that schema, but it is probably better not to do it at all. But of course, that is what everyone does when it is considered in terms of left versus right, with all their acquired connotations…

    “As the late scholar Bernard Wolf pointed out decades ago, the Bolsheviks, and their American imitators, took their clues from the French example–Wolf even mentioned locating events in Soviet history on the French revolutionary calendar.”

    Bolsheviks and Marxists generally were very fond of evoking the French Revolution in their writings and speeches. Trotsky and his followers accused Stalin of being “Thermidorian”, a moderate betrayer of revolutionary principle, to give just one example. Open embrace of “terror”, under that name, as a salutary measure probably counts as another. So yes, that was a fairly conscious and persistent pattern for them. I don’t know how conscious this imitation was for the ex-Trotskyists once they had gone over, but the Neo-Cons certainly retained enough of that mentality.

    I was given to understand that GWB’s foreign policy was mostly in their hands after 9/11. I confess my knowledge of his own thinking (beyond the basics of “compassionate conservatism”, Evangelical Christianity and an initial reluctance for foreign interventions that was soon forgotten) is somewhat limited. That he himself may have been more monarchist in outlook is a fascinating and unexpected notion. Can you recommend anything to read on this subject?

  326. For the fifth Wednesday, how about a discussion of the comparison between the recent history of Mexico and Argentina? Maybe with mundane astrology…
    In Mexico, the last government seems to be doing very well, in Argentina they just elected a rather odd character, to put it mildly…

  327. Hi John Michael,

    The oceans immediately next to your state seem rather warm this year, which I’m guessing is contributing to your warm-ish winter. The Tasman Sea, the Coral Sea and the Southern Ocean are likewise far warmer than expected, and so, err, things are far wetter than usual here (sea surface evaporation, storm intensity etc.) Here is a link which provides some colourful maps which show the deviation from the more expected usual – your colour is red. A true achievement!: Record global ocean warmth persists into 2024.

    A new normal, for the moment?



  328. @Ben (321). Thanks for that interesting response. As these stories pass out of living memory, they may lose potency…if we let them.

  329. Bit late in the day to comment but I remember your novel Twilight’s Last Gleaming’. My guess is that US military strategists did get serious about Russia’s military capacity when they got wind of R&D success (early Putin?) in unstoppable 10Kmph accurate missiles that could take out hitherto air superiority. A lot of US wars and threat of war relied on air launching from pretty invulnerable point sources e.g. the mobile maritime kind. Hence bringing up offensive missiles right to the Russian doorstop to close the time gap? Lunatic theory but empires get like that? Neat article btw at the moment on The Cradle about balance of power in Western Asia.

  330. @JMG, @Daniil Adamov

    Ok. You guys got me. Well, I’m not a writer, my English sucks and my French is only slightly better. I can try to start something in easy French I can manage to auto-translate to English after, something like a playscript, not a stylish novel, I can’t do that, I’m only good at writing code and playscripts. Now, the big question. Where the hell do I write that? Anyone can pinpoint a good free and non obnoxious platform that’s safe for work?

    Basically, you’re just interested in the characters, the plot and the dialogue, right?

  331. JMG
    Happy Tuesday
    I wish to amuse everyone with the following tale.

    There is a mouse in the house. I saw him in the garage early in fall, and I said to myself, “I need to get a trap.” Of course I didn’t. Last Sunday while I was putting away groceries I found some droppings in the pantry and I cleaned up what I saw. My wife said, “We need to clean the pantry.” Of course we didn’t. This morning I found the mouse living in an open bag of cookies in the pantry.

    So we spent the morning cleaning out the pantry. I found dozens of bags and boxes that had been opened, partially used, and then stashed. Several items had freshness dates nearly a decade old. Which means they followed us to two different homes.

    All told, we filled 5 garbage bags with expired and unwanted food. And I’m going to pick up traps on the way home today.

    Things get bad slowly. And things have to become intolerable before corrections are made. But the corrections are swift and dramatic. Hopefully they will be positive.

  332. Thanks JMG,

    It’s quite interesting to me, for the reasons you mention, but also in the way it has been selective. Their manga and anime have been hugely impactful, but Kurosawa aside, very few of their considerable output of classic films have been widely seen, similarly with novels only a smattering of them have been translated (from what I know), and I don’t know if any of their traditional plays have been attempted or performed outside of the country. I don’t know if there is something to learn from their example, but it seems an interesting case.

    Thanks again,

  333. @ Danill # 337 – When I read terms like Left and Right, I prefer to view that spectrum as dealing with economics. The farther one goes on the Left, the more one favors government as the driver of economic activity, up to and including full ownership (aka socialism). Conversely, when I read Right, I understand that to mean placing control of the economy in the hands of capital. Again, both can be on a sliding scale.

    I know that’s not 100% in keeping with the tradition from the French Revolution. When it comes to the role of government in the “Liberty vs Security” debate, I would think a different spectrum would be helpful, with Anarchism on one extreme, and Totalitarianism on the other. And of course, the are gradations.

    And with both spectra, there’s of course a ‘middle’ or ‘center’ which is where most people, at least in the USA, would consider themselves to reside, if for no other reason that distrusting anyone too far in any direction.

    As I discussed with JMG a year or two ago, there should probably be a third spectrum which graphs ownership of private (as opposed to personal) property, ranging from Concentrated on one end, to Distributed on the other. This is more a theoretical scale than one I’ve seen explicitly articulated, though of course the ideas have been widely discussed at different points in history.

    I understand how, in the classic French Revolutionary sense, a case could be made that the Bush administration was ‘Left’. For most Americans, that’s a bit of an intellectual stretch for a few obvious reasons: the USA isn’t France, a lack of knowledge where the Right/Left divide comes from, and the popular use of the terms as stand-ins for Republican or Democrat (or at least D and R leaning).

    As to your point about calling the Republicans ‘Left’ from an extreme right position, that makes (rhetorical) sense, if not common sense. In my experience, I’ve certainly heard right-leaning friends and co-workers say, for instance, that Bush wasn’t right-wing enough. And yes, I’ve seen the term RINO thrown (typically) at any Republican who’s positions doesn’t line up with the views of the speaker. I’ve also heard his administration called ‘incompetent’ and ‘corrupt’ which isn’t necessarily a vice of the Left or Right.

  334. @ Ian #332 – yes a cane axe would make a superb concealed weapon for a civilian! If it’s in the back of the minds of aggressive types, that anyone might pull the head off a cane and start chopping away, it might deter a bunch of arguments from escalating. Until alcohol gets involved, I suppose…

    In suggesting the needle gun would probably be the standard rifle or deindustrial armies, I did make a big assumption; that mercury would be available in sufficient quantities to make mercury fulminate. Without it, we’re back to flintlocks. My (admittedly limited) research suggests that most mercury comes from a few large mines. Of course, like bog iron, there could be more diffuse sources available when industrial scale mining is no longer viable. Do you have any insight on that point?

    Yes, sailing ships are lumber intense, but I’m guessing that after a few centuries of population collapse, in some regions, forests will regrow and with some prudent management, be able to supply enough lumber for the much smaller human populations. I recall reading an article by Dimitry Orlov about making (sailing) ship hulls from chicken wire and concrete. It’s been 10 years since I read the article so I might be getting the details conflated with something else. Have you heard of that?

  335. @ Celadon # 331 – If you have the time, read my comment to Danill about how I view the Left/Right spectrum. Just in terms of the economics, I could see the argument that Bush Jr’s administration was center-Right, because like Clinton and Obama, Bush Jr used state power to favor his donors in the business class. On the Anarchy/Totalitarian spectrum, pretty much every President since Daddy Bush falls somewhere on the line between Center and Totalitarian, embracing the creeping power of the security state for whatever ends they preferred.

  336. @ Mary Bennet # 347 – I think your assertion that Bush Jr was a pro-British monarchist, and his missionary fervor to spread democracy was rooted in his evangelical Christianity is about as close to the mark as one can get, without being in Bush Jr’s head.

    As for the Left/Right spectrum, if you’ve got time, read my response to Danill. In short, think spectra can be useful, but need to be confined to a particular questions: who runs the economy? liberty vs. security, is ownership distributed or concentrated? or on foreign policy, are you more hawkish or dovish?

  337. @ JMG – Sounds like we’ve entered Snarklandia, I’ll just say you’ve seen wrong, my friend. And I’ll let my twice-Trump voting friend know he’s not conservative when I see him Friday.

  338. “Involuntary moral evil”

    From my long ago philosophy class I remember the discussion that an act requires two things to be considered evil; one must have knowledge that the act is considered evil, and that there must be a non-evil alternative. In the case of the stowaway there was no non-evil alternative. It’s really a version of the trolley problem.

  339. Daniil @ 355, the best introduction of which I know to the splendors and miseries of American politics is that provided by the books of Kevin Phillips. You might like to begin with the one he wrote on the Bush family. Also of interest in this context are articles and books by Michael Lind. I have a rather more benign view of Lind than does our host. Then, getting into more depth, the indispensable volume is Albion’s Seed by David Hackett-Fischer. More recently, Whitney Webb and her co-authors at Unlimited Hangout have been providing a deep dive into the seedy underside of late 20thC events, without getting into Larouchite conspiracy mongering. If you like things to be “nice” and “positive”, don’t read Ms. Webb.

    As for monarchist sentiments, that is opinion on my part. Phillips pointed out in one of his books that there was all of a sudden, a pro-monarchist theme which popped up in popular culture during the Reagan administration. The flood of ghastly “princess” books for young girls was part of that. In the 60s and 70s, monarchs were figures of ridicule, see for example, Dr. Seuss’s 2 children’s books featuring one Bartholemew Cubbins–Seuss’s best IMO.

  340. Robert, fair enough.

    Karl, that’s an intriguing suggestion. Yes, I could see that.

    Walt, so noted and duly tabulated. For what it’s worth, the magic I practice and teach doesn’t use liminality at all — it starts from the axiom that magic is everywhere and in all things, and proceeds from there.

    Christopher, yes, but probably in a good way, since the north node is favorable for most things.

    Carlos, so tabulated.

    Chris, yes, that’s very likely an important factor, since parts of New England well away from the coastline are apparently getting their usual quota of snow. I’m not sure if that’ll last long enough to be a new normal, or just one more weird variation.

    Phil, hmm. I could see that. I’ve wondered ever since the rest of the Gerald Ford class of carriers was cancelled if somebody got hold of my novel, wargamed it out, turned bone white, and talked to the upper brass. Unlikely, I know!

    Sébastien, you should be able to set up an anonymous blog on a private server easily enough. Yes, characters, plot, and dialogue — three of the four pillars of fiction. (The fourth is setting.)

    Piper, I hope it’s an omen!

    Johnny, I once watched a No play translated into English in a Seattle theater, and I understand a vast number of those have been translated, starting of course with the ones put into English by Fenollosa and Ezra Pound. Other than that, granted — somebody fluent in Japanese and English could do very well for themselves by doing English translations of out-of-copyright Japanese novels.

    Ben, why do you insist on interpreting what I’m saying as snark, when it’s not?

  341. My votes:
    -Slavery (I have voted for it previously)
    -Dark Age cuisine (Less trade, including culinary ingredients less food in general)

  342. Hi JMG, my vote for the 5th Wednesday is an essay on Esoteric Hitlerism. Prior to your post on Dreamwidth, I had no idea what that was. In a previous vote, I had noted about the reference in the ‘Illuminatus! Trilogy’ to the ‘Voice of Destruction’ and the Hitler quote there in..

    If you think this is just about politics, you don’t understand what we are doing.

    I take it that falls under Esoteric but figured you know best. For any curious, below is the post I am referring to.

  343. Thanks JMG!

    That is interesting to hear – I’ll have to keep an eye out for performances! I am only familiar with adaptations of their plays in their films, mostly their old horror films, which are interesting since they have a different logic than I am used to, typically very much illustrations of karma in action, with characters straying from proper ethics and exciting/attracting demons and other spirits, and/or ultimately descending into/driven to madness (it’s typically somewhat unclear what is driving what, although it all stems from poor decisions and evil acts)..

    There is a scene of trading these around, along with other older Japanese movies, and bilingual speakers do fan subs. The number of North Americans who have learned Japanese is an interesting aspect of this phenomenon also.

    Thanks again,

  344. The very thing you critique in this essay seems to be popping up in the comments here: taking part of something, exaggerating it past where it makes any kind of sense, and then ignoring the rest of the material, especially the parts that contradict the thing being taken out of it.

    The Orc Fallacy, for example, is partially born out in the Lord of the Rings. Orcs are always evil. However, pay attention to the named orcs in the series, and a subtle but important point appears, one which the Orc Fallacy seeks studiously to erase: not all orcs are the same. Compare, Uglut and Grishnakh, for example. They have different personalities (Uglut being more serious, and preferring to using direct force; Grishnakh being more inclined to use sarcasm and preferring stealth); and after capturing Merry and Pippins, they disagree with each other over what to do with their hostages.

    So the narrative of the Lord of the Rings undermines the very fallacy that emerges from the story, but those details are erased. Likewise, the many commenters who ignore the fact you spell out that you are criticizing ideas, but not Tolkien, are ignoring major parts of the essay right in front of them.

    This makes me wonder if the various ways in which the movies and the rip-offs have stripped the Lord of the Rings of much of its nuances is, as I’d always assumed, intentional on someone’s part, or if this blindness to what’s in front of them has occurred here, and people genuinely cannot see that the orcs are not interchangeable, or remember that it was Gollum who destroyed the ring after Frodo was corrupted…

  345. @ Robert #315
    “I used to characterize myself, when discussing these matters, as a radical moderate or radical middle-of-the-roader. ”

    It seems to me that a person who is “rooted in place” is, by definition, at the very centre of everything. But of course, there are many centres, each being a rooted (radical?) at *some* perspective (place from which to look out and around).

    Thank you, by the way, for throwing light on the Russian perspective, in this and many other posts.

    @ JillN #316
    “I usually agree with your comments. Maybe it is an age thing or maybe you should be worried as I can be a pretty disagreeable person.”

    Lol! I tend not to worry much about either agreement, or disagreement. There’s plenty enough of both in the best of conversations. 🙂 Be well, stay free!

  346. Nearly Wednesday here. Ah, mice in the pantry. Long experience. Check for the hole and work out how they do it. It does the mice no good in the longer term to provide them with too much food. Traps not really an answer but we use humane traps – need to be emptied preferably in minutes or they are not humane. Of mice and men, humanity can pay? Glad your looking at the system. Could be an omen as JMG hopes.

  347. Ben
    Ferro cement is a not uncommon boat building material. Some of the WWII liberty ships were made of it. Cement is quite energy intensive to make, so I doubt it will be in use very far down the descent. It is not a particularly elegant boat building method. I have seen it mostly used for houseboats or liveaboards. If the cement cracks and salt water gets in the rybar rusts.

  348. Christopher,

    To be fair, D-Day did benefit significantly from the “one weird trick” of using a corpse as a fake spy to make the Germans think the invasion was coming in a different spot. I am very glad that ruse worked! WWII more generally was definitely not a “one weird trick” war – US industrial power and Soviet armed forces slowly turned the tide and overwhelmed Germany and its wunder-Waffen.

  349. @Ben, well, politics and economics are not separate subjects, I don’t think that would work, per your graph analogy for Daniel. I’ve increasingly come to believe that alienation is the Hallmark of the Left, although Left is a word, and could be co-opted. But the reality it describes and the people it fits do fit that metaphysical description. That’s just my opinion and I’m testing it but so far, it’s more accurate than anything else modern people have come up with. I do think as a second order heuristic your graph is useful. I remember you posting it

  350. I vote for any essay about Jung.
    Deindustrial warfare just makes me fixate on my brothers setting up those olive drab plastic army guys and my brothers making them fall by aiming marbles at their formations.

    Sorry guys…..

    Gimme Jung any day, please!


  351. @Ben

    In terms of mercury mining what I am reading is that it isn’t that we are running out, or will run out. It is that worker health is the biggest issue. In the 1950s China was using prisoners to mine it. I am assuming in 400 years the safety protocols will be… well non existent and mining toxic elements like mercury, found mostly in cinnabar, and the heating processes to extract it will be more issue with health if the knowledge is still in existence. It will be working class people, salves, or prisoners who will do the suffering to ensure weapons like needle guns stay operable.
    In terms of the concrete I think Stephen answered that above. My only comment is the British logged all the tall white pine out for ships in my county well before I was born and from what I understand the stock didn’t really recover. Neither did the yellow cedar logged for its rot resistant properties. I read as well at the end of the longbow era England had not only stripped its own supply of yew but also parts of Europe and people were complaining of the effect this had in the forests even then. So the trees needed for specialized works, like the white pine for the royal British navy masts, don’t seem to really recover if they are logged out heavily. So I guess ship builders really would do well to consider this in future or the will be building ships out of inferior wood.

  352. Since April 8th is off limits on this thread put me down for Mainly P. Hall.

    In response to the comment from Christopher from California in comment 354 – Okay, sure those settings in some sense build a world for their stories to operate in. To some extent all stories do that. The thing that makes Tolkien unique is that he first made a world and then populated it with stories. That is why he has full blown languages, historical levels of genealogies, and his own world’s scripture/creation myth. Other settings just don’t compare because those settings serve the story, as opposed to the story serving the setting.

  353. @JMG
    “set up an anonymous blog on a private server easily enough”
    Done aeons ago already 😀 I don’t use it that often. Maybe it’s time to change. Keep an eye on it. But before I post there, I’ve a bit of paperwork and narrative design to do.

  354. This also correlates with a primal scream about the biblical fall, or metabolic rift, or our achingly bizarre disconnect from the natural world, like Grendel howling for and about his Mama. I do understand that there are narratives saying this is a necessary step in the process of preparing us to become our own suns etc, and learning karmic law in every possible kinesthetically excruciating way. Humans gonna human sure, but like, yikes.

    That’s my request for fifth Wednesday: the fall, the origin story of our bizarre disconnect with the natural world. Would really really like to understand how we can root in and reconnect.

  355. I’d throw the Star Trek franchise into the mix of entertainment that encouraged a flawed view of reality.

  356. Dear JMG – This is the most accurate, concise and convincing descriptions of the Western empire of lies I have ever read. Thank you.

  357. On the emigration discussion, here are my 2 cents worth. I’m not considering doing it myself; I’m between Troy and Skeega and I’m old. This is most likely where I’ll stay. But people tend to overlook the places that aren’t in the news much, which in my book, may well be the best places to go. For example, when was the last time you heard the news from Uruguay? Is it a well-managed nation with a lot of Europeans? Does Montevideo sound attractive? How about somewhere in Patagonia? Puerto Montt? I hear that it has a large German emigre community. Don’t overlook the quiet corners of the world.

  358. A marvelous post. Top notch. 10/10.
    However: If you EVER ridicule Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy or Barbie again, I’m afraid I’ll have to get violent.
    PS “Like a blowtorch goes through butter” is magnificent.

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