The fourth section of Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner’s anthology deals with the international state system, and its ability, or lack thereof, to deal with global ecological issues, particularly climate change and mass species loss. The section opens with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, drafted in 1992. I was both struck that this document was drafted over twenty years ago, and found myself questioning the validity of many of the principles in face of the reality of the ecological problems before us. For example, the continued emphasis on sustainable development made me question whether sustainability is really the emphasis, or is it rather a mere “green-washing” of development as usual? What would happen if the term were reversed, and instead we created “developmental sustainability,” or some other means of prioritizing resilience over exponential growth? Overall, the declaration does not examine the underlying assumption that the economic growth model is the only way forward, or consider that it may inherently have a dire ecological cost.
Moving forward to the next chapter by Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne, entitled “Brief History of International Environmental Cooperation,” I was repeatedly discouraged by the numerous ecologically-oriented political gatherings that have been held over the last fifty or so years that have had relatively minimal impact compared to the scale of the ecological issues we face globally. Why has so much effort been put into agreements if very few of them are legally binding? Why are there seemingly no immediate social consequences when agreed upon goals are not met by various countries? Is there a way to make international state agreements more effective and binding or, like the ecological crises themselves, must they be both borderless and bioregional in order make a real impact?
Opening the first pages of Andrew Balmford’s book Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success, I found myself feeling immensely skeptical. I usually have held a somewhat wary view of conservation, tying it to the ideologies of Gifford Pinchot, a contemporary of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, who advocated for the conservation of wild places so that their resources might be available for future generations (as opposed to Muir’s preservationist view that desired to preserve wild places for their intrinsic value and sacred beauty). I have agreed with many of the critiques articulated by William Cronon, who sees preservation of wilderness—defined as wild landscapes untouched by human impacts—as a fantasy of civilization born of Romantic ideals. Yet I also know that it is absolutely vital that human beings begin to lessen our impact on wild landscapes and to make room for the countless multitude of other species with whom we should be sharing this planet.
Delving into Wild Hope and reading of the different conservation projects that are having positive impacts across the globe gave me just that: hope. It is such a nourishing experience to taste hope in the face of all the devastation we have caused. While the stories of conservation success clearly had shadow sides—deadly violence to protect endangered animals, economic incentives based on the same capitalist model that has created the destruction in the first place—what inspired me was that around the world people are taking action. Although the odds are clearly against those who wish to slow ecological decline, reverse climate change, and save thousands of species from extinction, I have always felt that we should still use all of the imagination, creativity, and will that we have to take action on behalf of the Earth. Sometimes when the air is particularly thick with despair I still know that at a karmic level this is what must be done, even when it seems hopeless on the surface.
Perhaps what I appreciated most in Wild Hope was the level of creativity and imagination expressed by those who want to make some difference in conserving the ecosystems of our world. I believe imagination is a great gift to ecology, one that gives those drawing on its power a sense of deep connection and aliveness. Drawing from the wellspring of imagination seems to inspire in others a desire to do the same. Perhaps the greatest value in reading Wild Hope for me was that as I saw how others were engaging creatively to find solutions and participate in holding actions, I felt more inspired to continue with the work as well.
“If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book in your lap.” In this one sentence, in the final chapter of her book, Elizabeth Kolbert implicates you, the reader, as the cause of the sixth mass extinction of species on this planet. When reading of the human impact upon Earth, upon the other species with whom we share—or do not know how to share—this planet, it can become so easy to want to seek the source of blame outside oneself, to charge other humans with responsibility for the ecological crisis. But we have been “othering” for far too long, and it is time to take that responsibility within ourselves. So I am sitting here with this book on my lap, I am writing these words on my computer screen, and I know that this crisis is my fault. What, then, do I do with this deeply personal recognition, a recognition that must break afresh upon us again and again if we are to move forward honestly in this field?
My response to Kolbert’s book was wholly positive, a response I do not take lightly. I felt that she was undertaking a task similar to Bruno Latour’s Science in Action in which she opens the mysterious black boxes that create our scientific knowledge to reveal the specific and all-too-human processes of knowledge creation about our planet’s geological and biological history. Her research undertaking in itself was highly impressive; to make it so accessible to a wide audience in such an intelligible way I find even more so. Somehow this volume on mass extinction was not written in a depressing tone, as so much environmental literature is, but rather in an empathic human tone, taking in the emotional reality that we hold many responses to this material and cannot remain in one emotional state for long. The human response is ever changing, and the tone of this book reflected that. Yet I did grieve too: for the loss of the amphibians, the calcites, the rhinos, the coral reefs, the rainforests, as well as the ancient losses of mastodons and the other great megafauna, the ammonites, the auks, the Neanderthals. Of course, I cannot name them all here. No one has ever named all the species we have lost from Earth, nor will we ever be able to name all those who we are bringing to extinction now. But as we wake up to the reality we have created, cannot we remember Aldo Leopold’s words and recognize how far we have come as a species as well: “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.”
Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York, NY: Picador, 2014.
 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York, NY: Picador, 2014), 266.
Upon reading the first three sections of Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner’s new anthology on the current state of the planet, I was struck by how succinct and compelling each of the short articles were that comprise the book. The volume is clearly made for a classroom setting, and I felt the content was accessible to a wide range of readers. What was particularly striking though was the continual interweaving of both hope and despair carried by the various authors’ voices. For example, Alex Steffen’s chapter “Humanity’s Potential,” while not naïvely optimistic, still gave me the sense that if we lose ourselves to pessimism we will actually be in a worse situation than if we engaged the crisis with some sense of hope. Hope is not certainty of outcome; I feel hope is something deeper, perhaps more akin to faith.
On the other hand, Stephen Meyer’s essay “End of the Wild” carries within it a true and necessary sense of mourning of the inevitable extinction of species accelerating on the planet due to the activities of our own singularly prolific species. Meyer makes the distinction that while there is nothing we can do to save the loss of the wild this is no reason to not do anything. He concludes:
The end of the wild does not mean a barren world. There will be plenty of life. It will just be different: much less diverse, much less exotic, far more predictable, and—given the dominance of weedy species—probably far more annoying. We have lost the wild. Perhaps in 5 to 10 million years it will return.
His final note is clearly one of despair and grief, deep emotions we must allow ourselves to feel if we are to engage with this crisis in any realistic way.
The book opens with two essays that both address the name of the new geologic epoch into which humanity has ushered the planet: the Anthropocene. Elizabeth Kolbert and Charles Mann both speak to the meaning and uses of this term: whether to use it ironically or seriously, what the impact of naming the epoch might be, when one might date the beginning of the Anthropocene—whether from the invention of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, or even further into the future when the effects of climate change are absolutely undeniable. The question that continued to arise for me in relation to the term Anthropocene is, will it awaken humanity to the fact we have become a force of planet Earth as powerful as the geologic and hydrologic cycles and that we must take responsibility for this power, or will it reinforce the anthropocentric hubris that led us to this crisis in the first place?
Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.
 Stephen Meyer, “End of the Wild,” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 57.
To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” – C.G. Jung
“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
This essay was the seed of what is currently being developed into my Ph.D. dissertation, which will be available in spring 2017. Many of the ideas have been expanded and revised as I have brought in new perspectives and further research.
When you close your eyes and images arise spontaneously, what is it that you are seeing? The inside of your mind? Your imagination? The interior of your soul? Are you seeing something others can see also? Is it real? Is it inside just you, or inside everyone? Is it only internal, or could it be external as well? Might you actually be seeing a place, a realm, into which not only you but others also can enter? Does this realm have a name? These are questions I have often asked myself, when I close my eyes and am beckoned down some new road I have never encountered in this green world beneath the Sun, or when I read a story flowing from the pen of some author and find that I somehow already know the tale, am familiar with the names, have seen the images of these places before. Reading stories is an anamnesis, a discovery of the new found by treading down the paths of the old. Creativity, creation from the imagination, is that rediscovery, that recollection and remembrance. As C.G. Jung writes, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” But how do we begin to undertake that task? And what does it look like when we do?
The Red Book. Carl Gustav Jung undertook the task of giving birth to the ancient in his time by following the meandering pathways of his imagination into the darkest depths of his psyche; the images with which he returned he inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, on large pages bound by two covers of red leather.
The Red Book of Westmarch. J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology—“a body of more or less connected legend,” cosmogonic myths and romantic tales whose “cycles should be linked to a majestic whole”—which came to the world in the form of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. But within the world of the story itself these tales are written out in a book that has been passed on from generation to generation: inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, in a large book bound by two covers of red leather. The book is referred to—by Tolkien who presents himself simply as the translator of this work—as The Red Book of Westmarch.
At first glance the parallel names of Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books just seem to be an odd coincidence. They could not actually have anything to do with one another, or share anything in common in content. On the one hand, Jung was one of the founders of depth psychology, an explorer of the unconscious, of the archetypal realm, of the phenomenon of synchronicity, a man of Switzerland born in 1875. On the other hand, Tolkien was firmly English, a philologist, famous author of The Lord of the Rings, one of the founders of the genre of fantasy literature, a younger man born in 1892. At first glance there seems to be little common ground between the two men, let alone between their work. There have, of course, been Jungian analyses of Tolkien’s work—focusing on both the content of his fiction, and on aspects of his biography. But, as of yet, there have been few, if any, extensive “Tolkienian analyses,”  to use Lance Owens’ phrase, of Jung and his work, particularly his work with active imagination and its product: the Liber Novus, also named The Red Book.
As I began to explore Jung’s Red Book in the context of Tolkien’s writings I started to find certain similarities between their work beyond the titles and color of the leather binding. There seemed to be a certain resonance between the two bodies of work, a convergence of images—a synchronicity, in Jung’s terminology—a synchronicity of imagination. The following essay is not so much the laying out of one particular thesis, but rather an exploration of this synchronicity of images, a journey through art, language, and story. Because of the nature of this exploration I will also quote at greater length than I usually might, because the original words of each of these men carries great power in themselves.
The first parallel that stood out to me was the timing of when Jung began his “Red Book period”—the time of his psychological descent when the fantasy images began to come to him in waking life—and when Tolkien began making an unusual series of drawings in a sketchbook he entitled The Book of Ishness. In 1913 both men, Jung an established psychoanalyst, Tolkien a young man early in his undergraduate studies at Oxford, took an unusual turn in their lives, turning away from the outer images of the world of common day and focusing instead upon the inner images of the imagination. Jung’s Red Book period is considered to have spanned the years 1913-1930, but the primary content of his visions came to him from late 1913 through around 1917, the first vision taking place on December 12, 1913. The majority of the sketches in Tolkien’s Book of Ishness were done over a shorter period of time: from December 1911 through the summer of 1913 he made his “Earliest Ishnesses,” but he continued to add to The Book of Ishness up until 1928. Alongside the visionary drawings another form of creativity was emerging through Tolkien as well: the arts of language. Tolkien was trying his hand at writing poetry and prose not only in English, but in languages of his own invention as well. The first mythic stories that were to become part of The Silmarillion Tolkien wrote down in September 1914. Although the primary creative period for both Jung and Tolkien was during these potent years of the 1910s, they each spent the next forty years of their lives developing the material they encountered during that time. As Jung wrote of that period:
The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.
One means of understanding the simultaneity of Jung’s and Tolkien’s periods of creative imagination is archetypal astrology, which interprets archetypally the relational positions of the planets in the sky at the time Tolkien and Jung were having these unusual experiences. Yet, although astrology sheds a strong light upon the timing of the outpouring of this imaginal material, that is not the primary direction this particular essay will be taking. However, I would briefly like to point out a few significant planetary alignments before moving deeper into exploring the art and writings of Jung and Tolkien.
From 1899-1918 there was an opposition between the slow-moving outer planets Uranus and Neptune. The archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.” He goes on to say that Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.” Finally, “The Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.” In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas also writes,
is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.
When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into geometrical relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect the combined energies of these archetypes. Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with
widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.
The visionary periods of both Jung and Tolkien perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. The most potent time of both men’s imaginal experiences took place in the sunset years of the early 20th century opposition alignment, from 1913-1917. Furthermore, they were not the only of their contemporaries to be having fantasy visions and translating them into paint and the written word.
The following two axial, or quadrature, alignments of Uranus and Neptune since the turn of the 20th century have also correlated to significant periods in terms of the work of both Tolkien and Jung. During the square alignment of the 1950s Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955. Under the same alignment, in 1957, Jung began working with Aniela Jaffé on compiling his autobiographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Finally, under the most recent alignment of Uranus and Neptune, the conjunction that lasted from 1985-2001, the film renditions of The Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson, were produced in New Zealand, with the first installation released in December 2001. Also at the end of that same Uranus-Neptune alignment in the year 2000, the decision was made by the Society of Heirs of C.G. Jung to at last publish the long-awaited seminal work of Jung’s career, his Liber Novus, The Red Book.
Intimations of the imaginal explorer Jung would become were present from his childhood, particularly in his relationship to his dreams, visions, and sense of having two personalities, one of whom he felt was connected to an earlier historical period. Jung referred to these two personalities simply as No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 was the personality who corresponded with his age and current time in history, a schoolboy who struggled with algebra and was less than self-assured. No 2. Jung felt was an old man, who perhaps lived in the 18th century, but also had a mysterious connection to the Middle Ages. Yet No. 2 was also not tied to history or even time, for he lived in “God’s world,” a boundless, eternal realm. Jung described this realm as follows:
Besides [personality No. 1’s] world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself. . . . Here nothing separated man from God; indeed, it was as though the human mind looked down upon Creation simultaneously with God.
In another description, Jung writes how he felt when experiencing life as personality No. 2, saying,
It was as though a breath of the great world of stars and endless space had touched me, or as if a spirit had invisibly entered the room—the spirit of one who had long been dead and yet was perpetually present in timelessness until far into the future. Denouements of this sort were wreathed with the halo of the numen.
The vision Jung paints in these descriptions brings to mind a quote from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” in which he describes a similar perspective, like a view from above, that one gains while in the realm of Faërie—Faërie being Tolkien’s term for the realm of imagination. He writes,
“The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time. Another is to hold communion with other living things.”
Tolkien too had the sense he somehow had been born into the wrong time. His interests lay primarily in the Middle Ages, and he was drawn to ancient languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and several other tongues no longer spoken in the contemporary world. Tolkien had an intuitive feel for these languages as if they were his own. He was most inspired by pre-Chaucerian literature, particularly favoring the heroic myths of the Finnish Kalevala, and the world of monsters and dragons presented in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Even his voice had an other-worldly or ancient tone to it. As his biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “He has a strange voice, deep but without resonance, entirely English but with some quality in it that I cannot define, as if he had come from another age or civilization.”
Both Jung and Tolkien painted and drew as children, but their art, leading into adulthood, was always representational in nature, usually of the surrounding landscapes. However, there was an abrupt change in the style of each of their artwork from the early 1910s onward, moving from depictions of topography to abstract, semi-figurative, and symbolic art. 
One of the earliest visions that came to both Jung and Tolkien was of major significance to each of them: an overpowering Flood, or as Tolkien sometimes called it, the Great Wave. The first of Jung’s Flood visions came to him while awake, on October 17, 1913:
In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. . . . I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.
Two weeks later Jung had the vision again, this time accompanied by a voice saying, “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”
An uncannily similar vision came also to Tolkien, both while awake and while sleeping, beginning when he was about seven years old and continuing throughout much of his adult life. He called the vision his “Atlantis-haunting”:
This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I wake gasping out of deep water.
When World War I broke out in August 1914 Jung recognized that his vision of the destructive Flood was prophetic of the war; his interior images were reflective of the external political and cultural situation occurring in Europe. The outbreak of the war indicated to Jung that he was not, as he had been afraid, going mad, but was rather a mirror of the madness unfolding in the external world. Tolkien, being an Englishman and of a younger generation than Jung, fought in that very war that Jung’s vision had prophesied. Needless to say, the war had a tremendous effect upon Tolkien, particularly the Battle of the Somme in which two of his most beloved friends were killed. Later in his life, as Tolkien was creating The Lord of the Rings, world events began to reflect what he had already written in his narrative. As his close friend, and fellow Oxford don, C.S. Lewis wrote, “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented.”
The next vision that came to Jung, and the first that he wrote out in calligraphic hand in his Red Book, marked the beginning of his “confrontation with the unconscious.” To get a fuller sense of the experiential nature of this vision, I will quote at length from Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
It was during Advent of the year 1913—December 12, to be exact—that I resolved upon the decisive step. I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off the feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness. After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he were mummified. I squeezed past him through the narrow entrance and waded knee deep through icy water to the other end of the cave where, on a projecting rock, I saw a glowing red crystal. I grasped the stone, lifted it, and discovered a hollow underneath. At first I could make out nothing, but then I saw that there was running water. In it a corpse floated by, a youth with blond hair and a wound in the head. He was followed by a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising up out of the depths of the water. Dazzled by the light, I wanted to replace the stone upon the opening, but then a fluid welled out. It was blood. A thick jet of it leaped up, and I felt nauseated. It seemed to me that the blood continued to spurt for an unendurably long time. At last it ceased, and the vision came to an end.
In this inaugural vision of The Red Book are contained many symbolic images. But for this particular study, what stands out to me are the numerous parallels to images in Tolkien’s own works of the many underworld, underground journeys that take place in Middle-Earth: the dark journey through the lost Dwarf realm of Moria in which Gandalf is lost in a battle with Shadow and Flame; Frodo and Sam’s fearful passage through the monstrous spider Shelob’s midnight tunnel on the borders of Mordor, which has resemblance to the giant scarab Jung describes; Aragorn and the Grey Company’s journey through the Paths of the Dead, in which they encounter a dead host of restless shades, another parallel to Jung’s encounter with the Dead deeper into The Red Book; Bilbo’s encounter with the dragon Smaug in the dark halls of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain; and Bilbo’s fateful encounter with the twisted creature Gollum, whose lair was deep within a mountain cavern, upon a little island rock set within the icy waters of a subterranean lake. Upon that rock, like the red crystal of Jung’s vision, lay long-hid the One Ring, the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. In both stories the heart of the narrative begins here, upon this island rock, where a lost treasure of unknown power is hid, awaiting for a new hand to grasp it.
At about the same time Jung was experiencing these early fantasies, Tolkien started to draw the visionary illustrations in his Book of Ishness. Two particularly stand out in correlation to Jung’s own vision, as they seem to symbolize a similar entrance into an underworld imaginal realm. The first is titled simply Before, and depicts a dark corridor lit with flaming torches, leading to a gaping doorway from which a red glow issues ominously (see Figure 1).
Lance Owens describes Before as “primitive, quick, a statement of the deep dream world.” Verlyn Flieger also comments on the sketch, saying that “The title Before conveys the dual notions of ‘standing in front of’ and ‘awaiting,’ or ‘anticipating.’ The sketch is remarkable for its mood, which conveys both foreboding (the dark corridor) and hope (the lighted doorway).”
The second sketch seems to be intended to follow directly after Before: it depicts a solitary figure walking out of a doorway of the same shape as in the previous drawing, and heading down a long hall lit with many torches. The drawing is titled Afterwards (see Figure 2). The coloring is in great contrast to the stark red and black of Before; Afterwards is sketched in yellows and blues, although it too conveys a sense of darkness and gloom, yet less foreboding than the previous drawing.
The Book of Ishness contained a series of Tolkien’s drawings, all of them symbolic or abstract in nature. As previously mentioned, Tolkien underwent a shift in the subjects he chose to illustrate. As Owens explains it, Tolkien felt “a need to draw not what he saw on the outside, but what he saw on the inside.” Interestingly, in 1911 not long before he began to draw his “Earliest Ishnesses,” Tolkien visited Switzerland, Jung’s homeland, for the only time in his life. He went on a walking tour through the Alps, whose majestic peaks had a tremendous impact on him. How close geographically Jung and Tolkien might have been to each other at that time, one can only guess. While in Switzerland Tolkien came across a postcard on which was a painting by J. Madlener, titled Der Berggeist, “the mountain spirit” (see Figure 3). The painting depicts an old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat, seated beneath a tree in an alpine setting.
Many years later Tolkien made a note on this painting: “Origin of Gandalf.” Within The Book of Ishness Tolkien also composed a painting he entitled Eeriness, that seems to depict a wizard-like figure bearing a staff who is walking down a long road lined with dark trees (see Figure 4). Like all the illustrations in The Book of Ishness, there is no explanation of the content of the pictures beyond their titles—we can only guess what inner images of Tolkien’s they are reflecting.
Perhaps the most striking of all the Ishnesses is the one titled End of the World (see Figure 5). In this drawing a small figure is stepping off of a cliff extending over the sea. The Sun is shining brightly down onto the scene, and seemingly within the water itself shine white stars, and a crescent Moon bends across the horizon line. Although the image of a man stepping off a cliff, and its corresponding title, may seem to be somber, even depressing, they convey a dual meaning: this is not only the “end of the world” in reference to its demise, or to the death of the individual, but it is the “end of the world” in that the individual has reached its edge and wishes to continue on his journey. As Owens says of this image, “that fellow has stepped, and he is not falling, he is walking into a Sun, into a Moon, into Stars.” One might see End of the World as a symbol of the threshold Tolkien appears to have crossed at this time—the doorway to the imaginal, into what he called the realm of Faërie.
Much of Jung’s fantasy material came to him not only as images but in the form of runes and words that he would hear. No easy translation of his fantasies was available to him. As written in the Translators’ Note to The Red Book, “The task before him was to find a language rather than use one ready at hand.”
When Tolkien began to take up the creation of his own language systems, it was because he too was hearing words, languages with no correlate in the outside world. Owens compares Tolkien’s hearing of languages to Mozart’s experiences of hearing full melodies playing out in his mind. He wished to compose languages as others composed symphonies. Accompanying these languages were races of people, Elves he soon discovered, who came replete with names and histories of their own. The images of story seemed to arise from the music of the languages themselves. In a passage in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien illustrates an experience Frodo has in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell while listening to Elvish music, which I believe may be a description of Tolkien’s own experience with the story visions that would accompany the Elven languages:
At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.
The same year Jung’s Red Book visions began, Tolkien came across a pair of lines in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled Crist, written by the poet Cynewulf.
“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
above the middle-earth sent unto men”
Many years later Tolkien wrote of his finding both the names Earendel and Middle-Earth: “I felt a curious thrill . . . as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.” Tolkien felt as though he had come across something he somehow already knew, a stirring of remembrance, of anamnesis. In September 1914, just after World War I broke out and while Jung was gripped by the visions of his psychological descent, Tolkien wrote his first poem about this figure Earendel, who was to become a central character in his mythology, with the slightly altered name Eärendil.
“The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star”
Earendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim; From the door of Night as a ray of light Leapt over the twilight brim, And launching his bark like a silver spark From the golden-fading sand Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery death He sped from Westerland.
The poem is describing the journey of a lone wanderer across the night sky, a single light entering the realm of darkness before making his descent into the West, the direction in which, according to Tolkien, dwelt the Faërie realm.
The journey of the Evening Star seems to have entered Jung’s imagination also, although by another name. Upon the cornerstone of the tower he built at Bollingen, Jung had inscribed this line, among several others: “This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.”
When Tolkien showed “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” to his close friend G.B. Smith, he asked Tolkien what the poem was really about. Tolkien gave an unusual response: “I don’t know. I’ll try to find out” He always maintained that the stories he was writing were true in a sense, that he was not making them up but rather discovering them. As his biographer writes, “He did feel, or hope, that his stories were in some sense an embodiment of a profound truth.” Jung too, “maintained a ‘fidelity to the event,’ and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.” What then was it that both men were encountering, that appeared to be an internal experience, and yet had such a profound air of reality?
The Liber Novus, Jung’s Red Book, “depicts the rebirth of God in the soul.” The Red Book is “Jung’s descent into Hell” and is “an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” Tolkien’s own Red Book, in the form of his mythology and The Lord of the Rings, is also an attempt to shape an individual cosmology and cosmogony, a world containing the God he loved and worshipped. And Tolkien also depicted a descent into Hell—into Mordor, and into worse Hells: the dark realm of Thangorodrim, the darkness of lost and corrupted souls.
Both Jung and Tolkien were drawn to the style of medieval manuscripts, with their calligraphy and illuminated letters, and emulated the medieval aesthetic in their artwork. Jung spoke of the style of language in which he wrote The Red Book, saying: “First I formulated the things as I had observed them, usually in ‘high flown language,’ for that corresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language of high rhetoric, even of bombast.” The language used in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and even in the latter chapters of The Lord of the Rings, has a similar tone, sounding mythic, almost Biblical in nature.
The term “fantasy” was of great significance for both Jung and Tolkien, and although the specific language in which they defined the term differs somewhat, there are certain significant overlaps. In A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, “Fantasy” is defined as the
Flow or aggregate of images and ideas in the unconscious Psyche, constituting its most characteristic activity. To be distinguished from thought or cognition. . . . “Active” fantasies, on the other hand, do require assistance from the ego for them to emerge into consciousness. When that occurs, we have a fusion of the conscious and unconscious areas of the psyche; an expression of the psychological unity of the person.
The Jungian dictionary finds a contradiction in the further definition of Fantasy, saying that Jung seemed to have “two disparate definitions of fantasy: (a) as different and separate from external reality, and (b) as linking inner and outer worlds.” Although these definitions seem contrary, perhaps when read in light of Tolkien’s definition of “Fantasy” they may not seem to be quite as at odds as first appears: “Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie.” Tolkien goes on to say, “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.” He also adds, “Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.” According to this definition, Fantasy appears highly similar to Jung’s practice of active imagination, that links a person of the external world to the internal realm of Faërie, yet is also the very heart of that separate realm of the Imagination.
Diving further into the content of The Red Book itself, there are many significant parallels simply between the style of artwork composed by Jung and Tolkien. For one, they both painted multiple dragons, symbols of the archetypal monster to be confronted in the heart of the underworld (see Figures 6, 7, 8 and 9). Another archetypal symbol both
men painted multiple times was of a great tree, that could be seen as the World Tree or the Tree of Tales. Tolkien “regularly” drew what he called the Tree of Amalion, which particularly resembled a single tree painted in Jung’s Red Book with large ornaments situated upon each branch (See Figures 10 and 11). Jung wrote in his memoir, “Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.” Trees were beloved, even sacred, to Tolkien: “he liked most of all to be with trees. He would like to climb them, lean against them, even talk to them.” The entrance to the realm of Faërie, for Tolkien, lay not underground, as was depicted in many traditional fairy-stories, but through the woods; in the world of trees lay the transition between realities. While for Jung the archetype of the World Tree played a significant role, Tolkien’s mythology had at its heart not one World Tree but two, the Two Trees of Valinor, whose intermingling silver and gold lights illuminated the newly created world before the Sun and Moon were formed of their last fruit and flower.
One of the most prominent figures Jung encounters in The Red Book is Philemon, an old man who provides guidance and teaches magic. Many chapters could be dedicated solely to Philemon and the teachings from his wisdom, but in this study I will focus primarily on his resemblance to another old man who provides guidance and is an embodiment of magic: Gandalf the Grey, one of the Istari, a wizard, who within the course of The Lord of the Rings becomes Gandalf the White and guides the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth to victory against the Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf not only plays a similar role as Philemon, but also his original name—his Maia name by which he was known in the Undying Lands in the West, before he was sent in human form to Middle-Earth—was Olorin. The name Olorin comes from the Elvish olor which means “dream” but, as Flieger writes, “that does not refer to (most) human ‘dreams,’ certainly not the dreams of sleep.” Furthermore, olor is derived from Quenya olo-s which means “vision, phantasy.”
The vision of the Great Wave stayed with both Jung and Tolkien and entered into their imaginal writings. Jung wrote out one particular fantasy of the Wave that came to him January 2, 1914 in the pages of The Red Book. Yet another synchronicity was that this recurring vision, which he seemed to share with Tolkien, occurred on the eve of Tolkien’s birthday, January 3. Yet because Jung always did his practice of active imagination late at night he very well may have beheld the Great Wave after midnight, on the date of Tolkien’s twenty-second birthday. As written in The Red Book, Jung’s fantasy unfolded as follows:
“Wave after wave approaches, and ever new droves dissolve into black air. Dark one, tell me, is this the end?”
The dark sea breaks heavily—a reddish glow spreads out in it—it is like blood—a sea of blood foams at my feet—the depths of the sea glow—how strange I feel—am I suspended by my feet? Is it the sea or is it the sky? Blood and fire mix themselves together in a ball—red light erupts from its smoky shroud—a new sun escapes from the bloody sea, and rolls gleamingly toward the uttermost depths—it disappears under my feet.
Tolkien also wrote of the Great Wave many times, in The Silmarillion, in his two unfinished tales The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, and as Faramir’s dream in The Lord of the Rings. He said when he bestowed the dream upon Faramir he ceased to dream of it himself, although he found out years later his son Michael had inherited the dream in his turn. One of the most powerful narrations of the Great Wave takes place in the Second Age at the Downfall of Númenor, also called the Akallabêth: “Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm . . . the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds.”
And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth. And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses.
The name Númenor, given to the island kingdom that sank beneath the waves in divine retribution for a mortal transgression of hubris, has often been mistakenly written as “Numinor,” even by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis. Tolkien felt such a mistake came from associating the name with the Latin numen, numina that is the root of the word “numinous,” a term of particular significance to Jung. Tolkien explains that the name Númenor is actually derived from the Eldarin base NDU, meaning “below, down, descend.” This base is the root of the Quenya word nume, meaning “going down, occident,” and númen “the direction or region of the sunset.” Not only does the mistaken name of the land that sank beneath the Great Wave refer to the numinous, but the actual name implies a descent, the very term used for the psychological process Jung was undergoing during his Red Book period.
The power of Fantasy comes directly into the visions of The Red Book when Jung encounters the God Izdubar, a giant somewhat resembling the Norse God Thor. In the course of their conversation Jung brings up an aspect of Western science, the disenchanted world view from which he comes. The encounter of a mythic being with the disenchanted perspective of the modern world mortally wounds the God, laming him so he cannot walk and sapping his life strength away. In an attempt to save him Jung realizes that if he can convince Izdubar he is a fantasy he may have some hope in saving him. Jung’s dialogue captures both the humor and profundity of the exchange, thus I will quote at length directly from The Red Book:
I: “My prince, Powerful One, listen: a thought came to me that might save us. I think that you are not at all real, but only a fantasy.”
Izdubar: “I am terrified by this thought. It is murderous. Do you even mean to declare me unreal—now that you have lamed me so pitifully?”
I: “Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough, and have spoken too much in the language of the Western lands. I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy. If you could accept this, much would be gained.”
Iz: “What would be gained by this? You are a tormenting devil.”
I: “Pitiful one, I will not torment you. The hand of the doctor does not seek to torment even if it causes grief. Can you really not accept that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “Woe betide me! In what magic do you want to entangle me? Should it help me if I take myself for a fantasy?”
I: “I know that the name one bears means a lot. You also know that one often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with a new name, they come by a new essence. Your name is your essence.”
Iz: “You are right, our priests also say this.”
I: “So you are prepared to admit that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “If it helps—yes.”
. . .
“A way has been found. You have become light, lighter than a feather. Now I can carry you.” I put my arms round him and lift him up from the ground; he is lighter than air, and I struggle to keep my feet on the ground since my load lifts me up into the air.
Through this exchange Jung demonstrates the tremendous power that Fantasy has, if allowed to work its enchantment. He writes, “Thus my God found salvation. He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination.”
Significant in itself, this scene of carrying one who ought to be heavy yet is somehow light also has a resemblance to one of the most moving moments in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam and Frodo are struggling up the treacherous slopes of Mount Doom.
“Now for it! Now for the last gasp!” said Sam as he struggled to his feet. He bent over Frodo, rousing him gently. Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.
Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!”
“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off.
Perhaps one of the most profound areas in which the fantasy visions, and respective world views, of Jung and Tolkien overlap is around the nature of evil. They both had a deep understanding of the nature of evil, and were able to articulate its presence in the world in a way that demonstrates the importance of confronting that evil and going into its depths on behalf of personal and collective transformation. Yet not only do Tolkien and Jung share a similar understanding of the workings of evil, they also share uncannily similar depictions of evil nature in both their art and writing. Within The Lord of the Rings, the clearest view we are given of the Dark Lord is his great Eye, “an image of malice and hatred made visible . . . the Eye of Sauron the Terrible [that] few could endure.” Frodo has two separate visions of the Eye, each more terrifying than the last. The first is while gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel in the woods of Lothlórien.
But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.
Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.
The second exposure to the Eye of Sauron that Frodo endures is upon Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing:
All hope left him. And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was.
These powerful depictions of the piercing gaze of evil also entered into Jung’s Red Book visions, in both image and word. Tolkien did many illustrations of the Eye of Sauron, showing a red iris with a hard black pupil. Within the illuminated letter on the first page of the Liber Secundus, the second section of Jung’s Red Book, is a nearly identical illustration: a red eye with a hollow black pupil in its center (see Figures 12 and 13). Yet Jung also writes further into The Red Book,
Nothing is more valuable to the evil one than his eye, since only through his eye can emptiness seize gleaming fullness. Because the emptiness lacks fullness, it craves fullness and its shining power. And it drinks it in by means of its eye, which is able to grasp the beauty and unsullied radiance of fullness. The emptiness is poor, and if it lacked its eye it would be hopeless. It sees the most beautiful and wants to devour it in order to spoil it.
The eye that symbolizes evil is an eye that looks only outward; it does not look inward, it does not self-reflect. The eye as symbol of evil cautions against the refusal to look deep into one’s innermost self, to face the Shadow within. If one only looks outward one becomes subsumed by that Shadow; it is all the world can see although the eye may be blind to it from within. Indeed, both Jung and Tolkien even used the term Shadow to refer to this darkness that must be faced and reflected upon.
“He who journeys to Hell also becomes Hell: therefore do not forget from whence you come . . . do not be heroes . . .” Jung writes in The Red Book. Indeed, the two Hobbits who journey into Hell, into Mordor, are not Heroes. They are but simple folk who do the task that is at hand, that has been set before them by the greater powers of the world. But Frodo succumbs to the Hell into which he enters; at the final moment when he is meant to throw the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom, within the heart of the volcano Orodruin, Mount Doom, he cannot do it. He takes the Ring for himself.
Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.
Frodo has, in that pivotal moment, become the evil he had set out to destroy. But it is only through that act, and through his ultimate sacrifice, that the quest can in the end be achieved. In the same section of The Red Book in which Jung writes of the eye of evil, he also writes, “the scene of the mystery play is the heart of the volcano.” The moment of transformation, the unexpected turn that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, takes place in the fiery heart of the volcanic underworld.
A form of art that Jung found to have particular significance in the psychological journey was the mandala, a circular and quadratic emblem that he came to recognize as a symbol of the Self. Without knowing what at first he was doing, Jung drew his first mandala on January 16, 1916 (see Figure 14). He came to understand that the mandala form represented “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.” In Tolkien’s artwork I did not expect to also find drawings of mandalas, and yet it seems that towards the end of his life he would wile away the time drawing ornate patterns on the backs of envelopes and on newspapers as he solved the crossword. Many of these emblems, which he later designated as Elvish heraldic devices symbolizing individual characters within his mythology, were mandalic in form (see Figure 15), as were some others of his more complete drawings (see Figure 16). Yet another interesting quality of Tolkien’s art was that he often designed his pictures around a central axis. If one were to imagine moving from the sideways perspective portrayed in the drawing to a bird’s eye view from above, these illustrations of Tolkien’s quite likely would resemble a mandala (see Figures 17 and 18).
“If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece.’” Jung wrote these words in reference to his own visionary experiences, as well as the experiences of the patients with whom he worked. We have already explored parallels in Jung’s and Tolkien’s encounters with the Shadow. But what of the encounter with Anima? The Anima for Jung is the female personification of the soul of a man, and the Animus is the male personification of the soul of a woman. Anima figures can take many forms, of course based upon the psychology of each individual. For Jung, one of the personifications of his Anima whom he encountered in the physical world at a young age was a girl he met briefly while walking in the Swiss mountains. As they began to descend the mountain side by side, he said “. . . a strange feeling of fatefulness crept over me. ‘She appeared at just this moment,’ I thought to myself, ‘and she walks along with me as naturally as if we belonged together.’” Reflecting later on the encounter, he wrote, “. . . seen from within, it was so weighty that it not only occupied my thoughts for days but has remained forever in my memory, like a shrine by the wayside.” This girl was one of several women who represented an Anima image for Jung, the female symbol of his soul.
The last story that Tolkien ever wrote in his life was called Smith of Wootton Major. It is a short story of a man who, as a child, is given a fay star, an emblem from the realm of Faërie, that grants him passageway into that enchanted world. On one of his journeys through Faërie this man encounters, in a high mountain meadow, a beautiful dancing maiden.
On the inner side the mountains went down in long slopes filled with the sound of bubbling waterfalls, and in great delight he hastened on. As he set foot upon the grass of the Vale he heard elven voices singing, and on a lawn beside a river bright with lilies he came upon many maidens dancing. The speed and the grace and the ever-changing modes of their movements enchanted him, and he stepped forward towards their ring. Then suddenly they stood still, and a young maiden with flowing hair and kilted skirt came out to meet him.
She laughed as she spoke to him, saying: “You are becoming bold, Starbrow, are you not? Have you no fear what the Queen might say, if she knew of this? Unless you have her leave.” He was abashed, for he became aware of his own thought and knew that she read it: that the star on his forehead was a passport to go wherever he wished; and now he knew that it was not. But she smiled as she spoke again: “Come! Now that you are here you shall dance with me”; and she took his hand and led him into the ring.
There they danced together, and for a while he knew what it was to have the swiftness and the power and the joy to accompany her. For a while. But soon as it seemed they halted again, and she stooped and took up a white flower from before her feet, and she set it in his hair. “Farewell now!” she said. “Maybe we shall meet again, by the Queen’s leave.”
Although clearly of a fictional nature, Smith’s encounter with the Elven-maiden has certain resemblances to the young girl with whom Jung walked in the Swiss mountains, and perhaps she had a similar significance to each of them too. Indeed, Jung even wrote in The Red Book that he sees “the anima as elf-like; i.e. only partially human.”During Smith’s final visit to Faërie his most profound meeting occurs:
On that visit he had received a summons and had made a far journey. Longer it seemed to him than any he had yet made. He was guided and guarded, but he had little memory of the ways that he had taken; for often he had been blindfolded by mist or by shadow, until at last he came to a high place under a night-sky of innumerable stars. There he was brought before the Queen herself. She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head burned a white flame. She made a sign for him to approach, and trembling he stepped forward. A high clear trumpet sounded, and behold! they were alone.
He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain. At length he looked up and beheld her face and her eyes bent gravely upon him; and he was troubled and amazed, for in that moment he knew her again: the fair maid of the Green Vale, the dancer at whose feet the flowers sprang. She smiled seeing his memory, and drew towards him; and they spoke long together, for the most part without words, and he learned many things in her thought, some of which gave him joy, and others filled him with grief. . . .
Then he knelt, and she stooped and laid her hand on his head, and a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the World and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace. When after a while the stillness passed he raised his head and stood up. The dawn was in the sky and the stars were pale, and the Queen was gone. Far off he heard the echo of a trumpet in the mountains. The high field where he stood was silent and empty: he knew that his way now led back to bereavement.
The encounter with the Queen of Faery may be as significant as the encounter with the Anima, and perhaps that is who the Queen of Faery is. Smith of Wootton Major is considered to be something of an autobiographical tale, or as close as Tolkien would ever come to writing one. Perhaps he is writing of his own encounter with his Anima, or rather an encounter with the archetype of Anima as present in all myths, within the individual human soul and in the mythic dimensions of the cosmos.
Jung identified what he called the “transcendent function” as that which bridges the conscious and the unconscious. The transcendent function takes the form of a symbol that transcends time and conflict, that is common to both the conscious and the unconscious, and that offers the possibility of a new synthesis between them. In The Red Book Jung writes of the power of such a symbol:
The symbol is the word that goes out of the mouth, that one does not simply speak, but that rises out of the depths of the self as a word of power and great need and places itself unexpectedly on the tongue. . . . If one accepts the symbol, it is as if a door opens leading into a new room whose existence one previously did not know.
Symbols are present in myths and stories, and in the living visions of the creative imagination. Symbolic, archetypal story can open doorways between the conscious and the unconscious, between this world and the enchanted realm of Faërie. “Such stories,” Tolkien writes, “open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself maybe.” Perhaps Fantasy, or Imagination itself, are the transcendent function of which Jung speaks.
In reading Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books side by side and seeing the profound similarities in their experiences, and in the writing and artwork produced from those experiences, I came to feel that they may have been entering into the same realm. Whether we call it Faërie, or the collective unconscious, or the Imagination, both men seemed to be crossing a threshold and walking down parallel and even overlapping paths in the same kingdom. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the ‘sympathy of all things’.” It is the fertile ground from which grows the Tree of Tales, it is the wellspring of the Imagination born anew in each creative person. Tolkien too had a sense that this place in which he witnessed his stories was the unconscious. In a letter to W.H. Auden, Tolkien writes,
I daresay something had been going on in the “unconscious” for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through.
I have come to believe that Imagination is a place, a realm, that is both inner and outer. The Imagination is not merely a human capacity, a function of the mind or the workings of the brain. It is a place that can be accessed through human capacity, through creativity, but Imagination extends far beyond human capacity as well. It is a world as infinite as the physical one in which we daily dwell.
Now that the particular leg of this journey is drawing to a close, we can ask how Jung and Tolkien can inform each other’s works. Jung advised that each person could make their own Red Book from the Fantasies that arise through the practice of active imagination. He said to return to your Red Book like you would to a sanctuary or cathedral, for your soul is within its pages. The Red Book that Tolkien created for himself he gave to the world in the form of The Lord of the Rings. It is a text that is treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. Why is that? Because The Lord of the Rings, like Jung’s Red Book, is an invitation to enter the realm of Imagination. It is an invitation to find our own stories and learn to tell them. Indeed, when Tolkien was first conceiving of his Middle-Earth legendarium, at the same time that Jung was writing down the visions of his Red Book, he saw it as a great mythological arc in which space would be left for others to take it further with their own art and stories. He once wrote, in his usual self-deprecating tone, “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.”
Sonu Shamdasani, the historian of psychology who took on the great task of editing Liber Novus, captures succinctly and elegantly what Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books are inviting each one of us to do. He writes, “What was most essential was not interpreting or understanding the fantasies, but experiencing them.”
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.” In Collected Works. Vol. 9, i. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.
–––––. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
“There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.” – Gary Snyder
A couple years ago I participated in the slaughter of two young, male goats on a farm in Big Sur, California. The goats were named Sweetie and Peaches, and were “culled” to keep the herd of dairy goats on this farm to a manageable size. The female goats provided fresh milk that could be consumed raw or made into cheese, yogurt, or even caramel, but after a certain age the male goats served their human caretakers most by having their lives taken and becoming meat. Participating in the slaughter of these goats, which was carried out in the most painless and respectful way possible, brought home for me in a new way issues surrounding the human consumption of not only animal flesh but also the other biological products of their fertility, from milk to eggs to even honey. To witness death in this beautiful setting also brought to mind all of the animal deaths that take place behind closed doors, in slaughterhouses where no respect or thanks is given for the life being sacrificed.
Religious and cultural traditions have provided the guidelines for the ethics of food consumption for much of human history, dictating rituals and taboos for the preparation and eating of non-human animals. Yet with the dawn of the secular age and the globalization of culture and economy, such rituals and cultural guidelines have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of economic efficiency and endless growth, leading to such cruel institutions as the factory farm that supplies cheap, abundant meat to a consumerist public. In this essay I will be focusing not on the evils of the factory farm, but rather on the ethical dilemma faced by the human omnivore who wishes to engage the question of eating from a non-dogmatic stand-point. What guidelines can we follow when making the choice every day of what to put into our bodies? Are there ways of finding deeper connection with our food, and the myriad creatures who become that food?
I am writing this essay from the perspective of an American citizen, raised in Northern California. The reason this fact is pertinent is because the culture of food in the United States is one that is constantly in flux, altering with the latest consumerist fad or medical study. Diets in this country change with great rapidity, which the food writer Michael Pollan takes to be a “sign of a national eating disorder.” Such instability in a nation’s eating habits “would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating.” Pollan goes on to describe the “American paradox”: “a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.” Why is it that so many Americans struggle with knowing what to eat, or more importantly, what it is right to eat? The complexity of questions surrounding food not only arises from a loss in understanding of what is healthy for our own bodies, but also what is healthy for the bodies of the organisms who we consume. Is it possible to find an ethical way to live and eat on this Earth, or must we always be compromising our moral standing with each meal? Is there one right way for human beings to sustain themselves, or a multiplicity of ways? Or could it be there is no right way at all, no pathway to ethical purity, and rather we are meant to learn from the complexity of being incarnated in bodies that must consume other bodies, of animals or plants, in order to survive?
Humans in most parts of the world have inherited a traditional culture which “codifies the rules of wise eating in an elaborate structure of taboos, rituals, recipes, manners, and culinary traditions” that act as guidance when it comes to consuming other species, particularly species of non-human animals. The nutrition researcher Sally Fallon draws on studies from a diversity of traditional cultures from around the world for her book Nourishing Traditions, in which she argues for a return to a diet rich in animal products, including fats, organ meats, raw dairy, and bone broths. Her argument, based on the research conducted in the 1930s by Dr. Weston A. Price, is that these isolated populations subsisting on ancient, traditional diets were far healthier—with stronger bones, lack of tooth decay or degenerative diseases, and with greater longevity—than their Western counterparts. Yet while she demonstrates the importance of animals as food for human health, Fallon does little to address the impact such a diet has on the non-human animals consumed. She naturally advocates for choosing products from animals who are pasture-raised and organic, but she does not address the larger issue of killing animals, or the loss of each individual life when an animal is slaughtered for consumption.
On the opposite side of the spectrum of healthy eating is Frances Moore Lappé, who first wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. Lappé is addressing, especially in the first edition of her book, the issue of feeding the surplus of grain and soybeans produced in the United States to cattle as a means of making a profit on large quantities of cheap and fatty beef while also disposing of the excess grain grown by industrial agriculture. She exposes the wastefulness of the system by giving a few shocking numbers: it takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce one pound of beef, and while that one pound of beef translates into about 500 food calories it takes 20,000 calories of fossil fuel to produce it. Lappé also quotes the famous Newsweek statement that “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” She is advocating for a turn away from the American diet built around the presence of meat at every meal to a plant-based diet that relies on the protein complementarity of grains and legumes to provide the adequate amino acids for a healthy lifestyle. Interestingly, it was the later turn away in the early 2000s from the low-fat, minimal red meat, grain-based diet that Lappé advocates that inspired Michael Pollan to write his own book on food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
A simple summary would say that Fallon and Lappé are arguing for nearly opposite diets, although both advocate for eating high quality, organic produce grown locally and preferably on a small, sustainable scale. As Lappé and her daughter, Anna Lappé, write in their book Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, eating organic and local food is a decision that is “defining of who we are.” One major contrast between Fallon and Lappé is that Fallon’s dietary recommendations are focused more on human health, while Lappé’s are focused on ecological health. Yet they are at times completely at odds with each other in what foods they recommend humans should be eating for optimum physical health. For example, Lappé says that she has come to find “that human beings need eat no flesh to be healthy,” and that one could completely eliminate all meat and fish and still get enough protein. Meanwhile, Fallon argues that fat and protein from animal products are the essential building blocks of the human body, and that the vitamins A and D supplied by animal fats are necessary for the body to even assimilate protein. Furthermore, Fallon points out that animal protein is the only complete protein, meaning it supplies all eight essential amino acids not synthesized by the human body. Lappé has a direct argument against the need to eat animal products for complete protein because certain plant foods can be combined to create “protein complementarity,” when the deficiency of amino acids in one food is made up for by an excess in another and vice versa, such as with grains and legumes. Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in their book The Ethics of What We Eat, have written that there is no difference in the quality of soy protein in comparison to meat protein. However, Fallon describes in some detail that soybeans have a higher phytate content than most legumes and contain potent enzyme inhibitors making them difficult to digest unless fermented. Relying on unfermented tofu and soymilk as a protein replacement for meat and raw milk can lead to mineral and enzyme deficiency.
Yet other ways in which Lappé’s and Fallon’s argument directly contradict each other are in the discussion of saturated fats and cholesterol. Lappé cites studies which have shown that diets high in animal protein can lead to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries caused by deposits of fatty acids on the artery walls. She also writes that high blood cholesterol is correlated with an increase in the ingestion of cholesterol and saturated fats, both from animal products and in the latter case also from tropical plant oils. Her recommendation is instead to consume polyunsaturated fats from plant sources, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybeans. Singer and Mason point out that some studies have found that those who eat a diet low or entirely excluding meat tend to live longer. Fallon argues the completely opposite case, pointing to a study in which subjects who ate more saturated fat and cholesterol were healthier overall, and that “weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet.” By explaining the molecular structure of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats Fallon demonstrates how the unstable nature of polyunsaturated plant oils easily go rancid and should never be heated or cooked with because of their molecular instability.
Fallon points to the high quantity of animal fats in the traditional diets of the Japanese, Swiss, Austrian, Greek and, of course, the French, among others, to demonstrate the health and longevity of these groups of people when following their traditional cultural cuisines. Even in reference to the traditional diets of our human ancestors Fallon and Lappé report opposing views. Lappé writes, “I advocate a return to the traditional diet on which our bodies evolved—a plant-centered diet in which animal foods play a supplemental role.” In diametric opposition Fallon writes,
Our primitive ancestors subsisted on a diet composed largely of meat and fat, augmented with vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts. Studies of their remains reveal that they had excellent bone structure, heavy musculature and flawless teeth. Agricultural man added milk, grains and legumes to this diet.
Fallon also gives archaeological evidence against eating a primarily vegan diet: “Skulls of prehistoric peoples subsisting almost entirely on vegetable foods have teeth containing caries and abscesses and show evidence of bone problems and tuberculosis as well.” Yet there is also much research that has been done on healthy ways to eat primarily plant-based diets, and Singer and Mason argue that a well-planned vegan diet can support the human body at any stage of life. Since the time when our ancestors were living on either plant-based diets supplemented with animal products, or meat-based diets augmented with vegetation, human beings have come to learn much about the world we live in, including about the nature of our bodies and the food we put into them. Our lifestyles have also changed, for better and for worse, since our primitive ancestors lived on their simpler diets of whole, unprocessed foods.
With so many contradictions, are we any closer to solving the omnivore’s dilemma of what we are meant to eat and how? Lappé says people often find it surprising that she does not consider herself to be a vegetarian. “Over the last ten years,” she writes, “I’ve hardly ever served or eaten meat, but I try hard to distinguish what I advocate from what people think of as ‘vegetarianism’.” Professor Lindsay Allen also speaks to how ideology can get in the way of conveying a more important message. In conversation with Singer and Mason she said,
“I’m not against veganism, I’m against people who, often because of an animal-rights ideology, don’t take the trouble to learn about what they should be eating. People come out with self-righteous attitudes and lots of pure malarkey about how you can get vitamin B12 from plants or from the soil.”
Perhaps, while the specifics of what and who we eat is important, the way in which we approach eating it is just as essential. Lappé supports this by saying, “A ‘correct diet,’ one centered in the plant world, one based in less processed and nonchemically treated foods, is not a ‘should’ as much as a freeing step.” Lappé puts the human relationship with food into a larger context, in which our diets become a symbol and practice for the role we wish to play in the world.
A change in diet is not an answer. A change in diet is a way of experiencing more of the real world, instead of living in the illusory world created by our current economic system, where our food resources are actively reduced and where food is treated as just another commodity.
Further into Diet for a Small Planet Lappé elaborates on this point more deeply:
What we eat is only one of those everyday life choices. Making conscious choices about what we eat, based on what the earth can sustain and what our bodies need, can remind us daily that our whole society must do the same—begin to link sustainable production with human need.
On these last two points I believe Lappé and Fallon would at last come into agreement. How we choose to eat is a profound statement about our complicity or lack thereof with the larger economic and political system. It is the most intimate way to take actions that directly affect others, because every single morsel of food that passes our lips is comprised of another species. That is interconnection, that is dependence.
Conscious eating, as Lappé says, is based on two essential factors: ‘on what the earth can sustain’ and ‘what our bodies need.’ Neither of those factors can be determined universally, because every situated ecosystem is unique and every body is unique. Thus what is best to eat within one ecosystem will not be in another; likewise, the best balance of plant and animal foods for my body will be radically different from the needs of someone who was raised in another part of the world, or who has an entirely different ethnic background than I do. Part of the human project of relearning to eat in a way that the Earth can sustain is by recognizing and respecting the unique differences between all of our needs and situations. For example, the 14th Dalai Lama, who one might expect as a Buddhist to be a vegetarian, in fact is not. While Buddhism does not prohibit the eating of meat, it does indicate that animals should not be killed for food. The Dalai Lama had been living for some time as a vegetarian but became severely ill, with complications worsened by hepatitis. The Dalai Lama’s physician recommended he begin eating meat, and within a short period of time he regained his health.
The Dalai Lama’s situation is one in which he had to make a decision against the rules ascribed by the religious tradition in which he participates. Yet for many people worldwide, and for countless generations into the past, it was the religious and cultural traditions that guided how human beings ate, particularly in relation to animals. Paul Waldau writes in his essay, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk”: “Religious traditions, with their impact on worldviews and lifestyles, influences not only the way adherents think, see, and talk about the world, but also the ways they act toward ‘others,’ whether human or otherwise.” This holds true particularly in terms of the human relationship with animals. Waldau also writes, “The first of the central inquiries in the religion and animals field is, thus, about matters we generally call ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’.” Religion has provided the moral guideposts for millennia, but in a country such as the United States in which multiple world views and beliefs reign, no such guidelines are universal—unless it they are the guidelines of the market, which have given us factory farming and Pollan’s American paradox.
One of the rituals practiced in multiple religions worldwide was that of sacrifice, particularly non-human animal sacrifice. To focus on one religious lineage, in the biblical world sacrifice was an “unquestioned given,” according to Jonathan Klawans. But as Klawans, David Fraser, and others are careful to point out in their assessments of the Hebrew sacrificial tradition, the moment of the animal’s death is but one step in a long process, beginning with a lifetime of care for the flock from which the sacrificed animal is chosen. The emphasis on care for the animals gives birth to what Fraser calls the “pastoralist ethic.” The only way one can really understand what it means to sacrifice an animal, to take the life of another being on behalf of God, is to first understand what it means to be a shepherd, a loving caretaker, of those animals. This sense of care is what we have lost in the industrialized food system in which farm animals are referred to as “units of production,” commodities who have absolutely no laws governing their wellbeing whatsoever. According to animal welfare laws the farm animals raised for slaughter in industrial agriculture are not considered to be animals at all.
Scripture dictates that “the feelings of animals should be taken into consideration” when they are prepared for food and sacrifice. This is why Leviticus and other voices in the Old Testament lay forth dietary laws to guide how religious adherents prepare and eat their food. Shechitah is the Hebrew term for the kosher slaughtering of a non-human animal, and because of its strict guidelines is considered to be the “quickest and most painless way to kill animals.” Although not conducted by a shochet as rabbinic tradition would require, the killing of the two goats Sweetie and Peaches in which I participated followed the guidelines of shechitah fairly closely. This specifies exactly which parts of the animal are cut and how, as Ronald L. Androphy writes:
Most importantly, the act of shechitah not only severs the trachea and esophagus but it also severs the jugular veins and carotid arteries. The result is a sudden and voluminous outpouring of blood and immediate and acute anemia of the brain thus rendering the animal senseless instantaneously.
During the deaths of Peaches and Sweetie I witnessed this moment of the blood pouring forth, how quickly the life ended and how, apparently, gently. I will quote a small section of what I wrote in my journal later on the day of this process:
Swiftly she brought the knife forward and sliced into the jugular vein. Crimson blood welled from the opening, pouring and pouring forth. I came forward to catch it in a clean, glass bowl. The animal’s fading pulse seemed to pass from him to the very air itself, beating through everything. I was grateful to stand so close, to look into this little animal’s beautiful deep brown eyes, to thank him, and to recognize the moment when life left him. The eye transformed. No longer a window to the soul it became a glass bead. The blood still poured forth.
Practicing the act of killing with such intimacy makes it nearly, if not completely, impossible to not have a powerful emotional connection with the animal whose life is ending on behalf of the human beings who are sacrificing him and who will be eating his flesh.
Beyond the religious significance, there are many ideas of what the Hebrew practice of sacrifice is meant to dictate in regards to the actual eating of animal bodies. Because there was only one temple in which animals could be sacrificed, this has been seen by some scholars as an imposed limit on the amount of meat that should be eaten. The eating of animal flesh is also seen by some as a condition of being in a fallen state, since in Genesis humans do not eat other animals in the Garden of Eden. Some scholars see this as an indication that the ideal state would be a vegetarian one. However, Klawans points out that in the story of Genesis not only were no animals eaten in Eden, no cooked food was either. If one were attempting to eat a diet based solely on what was consumed in Paradise one would have to live entirely on raw foods—which our evolutionary ancestors did at one point in the distant past, although we had not yet evolved into our modern Homo sapien form.
The desire to live upon the Earth as purely as possible may have some roots in this cultural longing for a golden age, a time when humans were living in a mythic paradise. Yet our every move in this world causes some harm to other beings, no matter how much we try to prevent it. To be in denial of our own continual causation of suffering is to deny the pain of others. Donna Haraway writes in her book When Species Meet, “There is no way to eat and not to kill, no way to eat and not to become with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to pretend innocence and transcendence or a final peace.” The problem lies, in the end, less in what we did not do, what we abstained from, but rather in what suffering we caused that we then denied to acknowledge. Haraway also writes, “Caring means becoming subject to the unsettling obligation of curiosity, which requires knowing more at the end of the day than at the beginning.” Caring about our human place in the world and the impact we necessarily have on other species, “Earth Others,” as Val Plumwood calls all other non-human beings, is recognizing that we cannot extricate ourselves from the mess of being alive—“mess” being a particularly appropriate term because of its use as a term to refer to food. Haraway refers to other species—our companion animals, the species we eat, the bacteria in our gut—as messmates. As long as we eat we are always in the mess. Furthermore, the term “companion” comes from the Latin cum panis, meaning “with bread.” All species with whom we eat, who we eat, and who eat us, are in some way or other our companions.
Forgetting that we can never extricate ourselves from the suffering caused, in some form, by eating may be a product of the human denial that we too can be eaten. Plumwood speaks of this in her powerful essay “Being Prey,” in which she describes her experience of surviving a crocodile attack in the bush in Australia. She says, “It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain.” When arguing whether or not it is right to kill another species for food, it can be important to remember that all beings must, at some point, die. As a culture, Westerners are in active denial of this profound fact. Haraway writes, “I do not think we can nurture living until we get better at facing killing. But also get better at dying instead of killing.” If there is one thing I learned from actively participating in the deaths of Peaches and Sweetie it was the importance of going through the act of taking life, of witnessing death, if we are going to consume the flesh, or even the milk and eggs, of non-human animals. With the world structured as it is today, perhaps we need not personally take life for every body we consume—although this may be the most ethical preference for some. But I do feel it is important to remember and honor that moment of death with each meal that is composed of the life of Earth Others—and that is every meal because, as the poet Gary Snyder writes, “There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.”
Biodiversity is one of the gifts of the Earth, the “iridescent variation of aspect” through which our planet manifests its eternal creativity. Biodiversity does not just occur at a species level, but within species as well; one aspect of that diversity is the myriad ways human cultures have developed relationships with the species that become our food. If you find yourself facing the omnivore’s dilemma of what and how to eat, I would offer that the answer may lie in learning to listen: to the suffering of the species we eat, to the bioregions in which we live to understand what these ecosystems most love to produce in abundance, to the quiet voices of our own bodies—our intuition and our messmates—who will tell us what we need to eat and how. Food is the most daily reminder we may have that we humans are utterly dependent on the Earth because of the many species we consume. Instead of seeking spiritual or ethical purity, perhaps we might choose to sink further into the spiritual mess of embodied life on this Earth.
Androphy, Ronald L. “Shechitah.” In Judaism and Animal Rights. Edited by Roberta Kalechofsky. Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1992.
 Paul Waldau, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk: Features of the Contemporary Landscape of ‘Religion and Animals’,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 53.
 Waldau, “Seeing the Terrain We Walk,” 41.
 Jonathan Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: Pure Bodies, Domesticated Animals, and the Divine Shepherd,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 66.
 David Fraser, “Caring for Farm Animals: Pastoralist Ideals in an Industrialized World,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 548.
 Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel,” 67.
 Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet, xxviii.
 David J. Wolfson and Mariann Sullivan, “Foxes in the Hen House – Animals, Agribusiness, and the Law: A Modern American Fable,” in Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, eds. Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 206.
 Dan Cohn-Sherbok, “Hope for the Animal Kingdom: A Jewish Vision,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 83.
 Cohn-Sherbok, “Hope for the Animal Kingdom,” 85.
 Ronald L. Androphy, “Shechitah,” in Judaism and Animal Rights, ed. Roberta Kalechofsky (Marblehead, MA: Micah Publications, 1992), 76.
 Becca Tarnas, “Of Blood and Stars,” essay for Hill of the Hawk course, October 24, 2012, 4.
 Roberta Kalechofsky, “Hierarchy, Kinship, and Responsibility: The Jewish Relationship to the Animal World,” in A Communion of Subjects, eds. Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006), 97.
 Klawans, “Sacrifice in Ancient Israel,” 73.
 Ibid, 74.
 Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 295.
 Haraway, When Species Meet, 36.
 Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 146.
 Haraway, When Species Meet, 17.
 Val Plumwood, “Being Prey,” in The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Nova, eds. David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
 Haraway, When Species Meet, 81.
 Gary Snyder, “Grace,” Co-Evolution Quarterly, 43 (Fall 1984): I.
 John Findlay, “The Logical Peculiarities of Neoplatonism,” in The Structure of Being: A Neoplatonic Approach, ed. R. Baine Harris (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1982), 1.
When I was eighteen years old my life was changed by a profound yet simple experience: I learned how to grow my own food. Working on a biodynamic farm in Northern California I learned how to build healthy compost piles, prepare beds for planting, nurture lettuce, garlic, cucumbers, melons, and an abundance of other crops until they ripened to maturity, to prune and train tomato plants to maximize their fullest succulent potential, to feed and care for cows who produce milk, sheep who produce wool, chickens who produce eggs, and draft horses who worked the land with us. Perhaps most importantly I learned how to work hard in the hot sun over long days, and to take responsibility for my own ecological footprint upon this planet.
The majority of food grown in the United States is not produced in the manner I have described above. The current food production system is dominated by industrialized commercial agriculture, which produces a small number of crops on large tracts of land cultivated as monocultures, fertilized with petroleum-based nitrogen fertilizers, and continuously sprayed with deadly chemical pesticides and herbicides. The bulk of these uniformly-produced crops are distributed by a minimal number of multi-national corporations. Both the number of farms and the number of corporations are rapidly decreasing as all aspects of the food system are consolidated into a few large organizations. When few corporations are allowed to amass such a monopoly on trade, smaller scale producers, such as the farmers with whom I worked, can no longer compete in the market, and consumers are given less choice in what kinds of food they can purchase.
Over the last half century the number of farmers has decreased while the size of farms has increased. In the 1960s, government policies pushed for fewer farmers working larger tracts of land because technological advances in farming equipment could make farms more efficient than human labor alone. As of 1997, 61% of agricultural products grown in the United States were produced on only 163,000 farms. Of these farms 63% were contracted to larger corporations which processed and distributed their products. Today the number of farms is continuing to decrease because the same policies have been pushing for greater economic efficiency on farms. The current U.S. farm system, which is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, could not survive if it were not for the support of government policies. Changing government policy in regards to food production is key to decentralizing and reforming the system to make it more sustainable and resilient for both the land and its farmers.
The governing laws, policies, and world view of the United States is oriented entirely toward the health and well-being of the economy, not the ecosystems or even the human population who give the nation its substance and meaning. If the United States, along with the rest of Earth’s nations, is to survive the current ecological crises—climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, desertification, pollution, biodiversity loss, mass extinction, and a host of other issues—policies will have to be changed to recognize not only human and corporate rights, but rights that acknowledge the entirety of the Earth community as well. Such a shift to Earth-based governance is recognized as Earth Law or Earth Jurisprudence, a movement inspired by the work of the geologian Thomas Berry, and promoted by Cormac Cullinan, Linda Sheehan, and others involved with the Earth Law Center. Earth Law is slowly entering the legal world through the discussion of Earth Rights, and the writing of such historical documents as the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, released on Earth Day in 2010. The Earth-centric perspective inherent to Earth Law gives ecosystems the right to be healthy, which translates to the right to exist, persist, and sustain itself. The importance of recognizing the rights of “Earth Others,” as the ecofeminist Val Plumwood calls nonhuman beings of the Earth community, is to begin to move away from the anthropocentric perspective that is currently degrading the health of our planet. Currently all of our laws serve, first and foremost, human interests.
Food is a particularly compelling issue on which to focus because it is a symbol and daily reminder of our dependence upon a healthy Earth. The food we put into our bodies is comprised entirely of other species, whether plant, fungus, or animal, and is nourished by the complex interactions of solar radiation, the hydrologic cycle, bacteria, minerals, insects, and many other factors. The quality of our food determines the quality of our health, and in the long run our ability to survive. In terms of Earth Law and questions of the rights of Earth Others, how might food be produced if the plants, animals, soils, and waters on which we depend each had their own right to health? What if agricultural land had rights? For example, the right of soil not to be eroded, of aquifers and ground water not to be depleted and contaminated, or of land to be free of contamination by pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? What if human beings were given the right to always have access to healthy, uncontaminated food with higher nutritional value?
There are many different ways these issues might be addressed, but it seems that implementing some kind of shift to universal production of organic agriculture would be necessary in order to grant the right of health to agricultural land, and the right for human beings to have access to clean food. Organic agriculture can be a sustainable endeavor when it is designed to mimic a natural ecosystem on a small scale. Examples of such biomimicry techniques include animal husbandry—using composted animal manure to fertilize fields—and intercropping—in which multiple plant species are grown together in harmonious symbiotic relationship—among many other practices employed on organic and biodynamic farms. Usually the costs of transitioning to organic production, and of acquiring organic or biodynamic certification status, are born by the producer, which can be a barrier for many small-scale farmers and open the door for large corporations to come in and take over the organic niche market. Scale is an important factor because the larger the farm the less likely it is that the farm will be able to maintain ethical and sustainable practices in the long term. Land cannot be cared for if efficiency is the bottom line, and large-scale farming production tend to prioritize short-term efficiency over long-term attention and care.
In a world governed by these ideals of capitalist efficiency, the initial costs of converting a conventional farm to organic production can be quite high and discourage farmers from changing. One major drawback to organic agriculture is the need for more human labor if the practice is to be sustainable. Organic farms that try to remain competitive in a corporate market usually rely on machines to till large tracts of land and suppress weed growth. To decrease fossil fuel use and implement sustainable practices, farmers would either have to pay their workers a higher salary for more labor or employ more farm hands, both of which would be a high increase in expenditure.
Unavailability of arable land is another obstacle to organic farming, but this can partially be overcome with the use of urban plots and green roofing on city buildings. Green roofing is a method of covering the roofs of urban buildings with gardens. It is a simple and effective idea that keeps cities cooler in summer by converting much of the cities’ carbon dioxide emissions back into oxygen, and helping clean the air of other pollutants. The gardens also contribute to the food consumed by urban dwellers, which otherwise would have to be transported across the country. Green roofing would cut transportation costs and energy usage.
Food is essential to all human beings in a way that no other commodity is. Therefore, reconnecting people to food production is vital to changing attitudes toward farmers and the cost of food. In order to overcome the shortage of farm workers necessary to convert conventional industrialized farms to organic agriculture, I am proposing a required civil service system that could be implemented in the United States for all young people when they graduate from high school. This plan is not dissimilar to European civil service policies, called Zivildienst, in such countries as Germany and Austria, where conscientious objectors to the required military service can opt to do community service instead. Such a solution is radical and would require a fundamental change in values, but it could also bring about the kind of change needed to fix the food system in the United States.
Under this policy, when a U.S. citizen turns eighteen she or he would be required to submit a form demonstrating eligibility for farm service. She or he would work either on a farm in a rural area, or on a green roof plot in a city. On the service form citizens would indicate their future plans, such as whether they would be attending college or university, or working at a job outside of their farm work. They would also be able to show preference for an urban or rural working environment. Distribution would be based on state, so that people would not have to be taken far from their families. If someone wished to work out of state that could also be arranged.
Each citizen would serve the equivalent of at least two years, with the time distributed according to one’s school and work schedules. A person could work full-time on a farm project and complete his or her required service in two years. Those who chose this method would receive a salary based on the income of an average job in their living area. This money would be provided by the government from the funds currently spent on crop and fossil fuel subsidies. If the farm workers already had employment to which they would be returning after their service was complete, they might also opt to be on a sabbatical salary at those jobs to secure their positions.
A part-time arrangement could be made for those currently holding half-time civilian jobs, so that they would not need to leave their work positions. On the other hand, full-time students would be able to work every summer for four years, or every other summer for eight. Those who chose to work in a rural area would usually work full-time, whereas those working in urban areas could work either full or part-time depending on their preferences and skills. If a person wished, he or she could serve one year and then spend their second year training new farm hands. After two years, those who wished to continue farming could do so on a full-time salary.
Living arrangements would be made according to each person’s lifestyle, work, familial situation, and marital status. Those who farmed in a rural area would live on or near the farms. Those who farmed in the city would have the option of living anywhere in or near that city. If possible, it could be arranged for workers to live in the building under their allotted green roof. Persons or families who have houses with green roofs or personal vegetable gardens could have the possibility of exemption from the farm service if they fulfilled a certain quota of food production.
According to Lewis Mumford, the benefits of smaller-scale agriculture, in the hands of more people, brings diversity and stability:
The small scale method of production, resting mainly on human skill . . . [while] remaining under active direction of the craftsman or farmer, each group developing its own gifts, through appropriate arts and social ceremonies, as well as making discreet use of wide diffusion and its modest demands . . . [These methods have] great powers of adaptation and recuperation.
An increase in gardens and workers would make U.S. cities into partially self-contained ecosystems able to provide much of their own food. A larger proportion of the carbon dioxide and pollution in city air would be converted to oxygen or decreased, and more green spaces would be available for citizens to enjoy. Furthermore, the universal availability of organic produce would start to make the overall population healthier, and undermine the corporate control of the majority of our current food system. The generations of young farm workers would be given the same opportunity I was at age eighteen, of learning to use the skills of my body, mind, and heart in service of the Earth and a healthier humanity, connecting not only with plants and animals, but with soil, water, and weather as well.
A number of changes such as these over the next few decades could make the United States a country with partially self-sustaining cities and small-scale rural farms that produce organic food that is both less expensive and safer to eat. This plan would not be easy to implement within the current world system, and would have to be adjusted in many ways to fit the diversity of this country. However, major, radical changes do need to be made to change the practices of food production and the education of most citizens in regards to their food. I believe that the education provided to youth by working on farms will begin to foster a more Earth-centric world view that will help nurture in young individuals the love of our planet so greatly needed at this time.
Currently there are no policies in motion to introduce a plan such as this in the United States. However, it possible to begin to implement it on a smaller scale to test out how it works in certain areas. The San Francisco Bay Area might be an ideal location in which to attempt such an experiment, not only because the Northern California climate is ideal for growing many kinds of produce but also because San Francisco has been called “the place where new ideas meet the least amount of resistance.” Furthermore, several organizations in the Bay Area are already doing work in this field, and likely would be open to experimenting with such a program: for example, the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point, a project of Literacy for Environmental Justice, or the Food First organization in Oakland. At a different level, the farm service proposal could supplement the work already being done by such programs as Americore or Teach for America. The slogan for such a campaign could possibly be “Empower You(th), Feed A Nation!”
Ultimately, the goal of instituting a youth farm service program would be to change the way Americans are interacting with the Earth. Food is an issue that affects every single person, indeed every organism, and indicates the interconnection between all beings on planet Earth. Introducing every young person in a country to the means by which their nourishment is created would empower them to be self-sustaining and to know that their survival is in their own hands. The education provided by such a program could literally be life-saving. But it would also foster a care for other species, for the plants and animals with which these youth would interact daily for at least two years. Learning to farm would also fundamentally change the human relationship to waste, teaching that there is no such place as “away” to which waste can be thrown. Rather it would bring ideas such as composting and reuse into the everyday rhythm of life. After a few generations of such a program I can imagine that the policies passed by the adults who have learned to grow their own food would be far more Earth-centered than our current policies today.
Cullinan, Cormac. Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011.
Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: The Penguin Press, 2006.
Raynolds, Laura. “Organic and Fair Trade Movements in the Global Food Networks.” In Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System. Edited by Stephanie Barrientos & Catherine Dolan, 49-61. Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2006.
 Frederick Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” in The Essential Agrarian Reader, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004), 101.
 Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” 102.
 Ibid, 117.
 Cormac Cullinan, Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011).
 Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 146.
 Kirschenmann, “The Current State of Agriculture,” 113.
 Laura Raynolds, “Organic and Fair Trade Movements in the Global Food Networks,” in Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System, ed. Stephanie Barrientos & Catherine Dolan (Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2006), 52, 57.
 Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (New York: The Penguin Press, 2006), 159-60.
Reverence, fear, disgust, delight—these are just some of the responses that spontaneously, and uncontrollably, arise in me upon contact with different individuals of various animal species. How I feel morally and intellectually about a particular individual, a select species, or even that vague abstraction that somehow refers to all nonhuman animals in a simple, all encompassing term—animals—often differs from my somatic and emotional response in a concrete situation. I do not have a universal relationship to the multitude of species we humans call “animals,” because there is nothing universal about this homogenized Other, except that we name them so. Or is there?
My relationship with animals began at birth, the moment I became a separate animal being from the body of my mother. I cannot say that relationship began at conception, because until I actually passed through the birth canal my mother and I were one animal organism. But relationship begins with duality, and as I gazed back on the being who birthed me my first relationship formed. But my first relationship with an animal outside of my own species? I cannot name the first nonhuman animal I encountered, because it was earlier than my first memory. Perhaps it was a deer, or a bird, as we lived in a redwood canyon on the Big Sur coast. I do know the first species to have a major impact on me though, and their presence has remained a constant throughout my life: Felis catus, the house cat.
Since I was a young child I seemed to be a magnet for cats. If I entered someone’s home and a cat was present, she or he would usually find me. If the cat happened to be shy, I usually would find her instead. I would delight in their softness, their playfulness, the mature dignity and kittenish adolescence constantly co-present in one, small, furry body. Cats and I have always seemed to have an understanding, an easy, almost telepathic communication. There is no hierarchy, we both seem to feel like we are equals. To the surprise of several people I know, cats will almost always come when I call them by name. And of course, I too come when I, by them, am called.
Perhaps as a karmic twist to this lifelong species bond, I have never really had a cat of my own. Perhaps I am not able to “own” a cat, and therein the problem arises. Twice I tried to be the companion species to a cat, but both times ended in tragedy. My first kitten I was forced to return to the animal shelter because of the unfortunate allergic reaction of a family member. My mother and I called constantly for days until we heard he had been given another home. I never forgot him, and often still wonder where he made his new abode. This was now twenty years ago. My other cat, who I brought home in high school, lived two delightful years in my house before dying of an unexpected blood clotting condition. He died, ironically, of an oversized heart.
The cats that came into my life were not mine to own, but rather visitors that came through as a reminder of the human ability to communicate with other species, if only we humble ourselves to try. My most recent feline engagement has been with a large, champagne-colored tomcat with crystal blue eyes by the name of Shasta. My first evening, just two months ago, after moving into my new house in the Sunset district of San Francisco I saw Shasta’s pale and eager face peering in the study window from the garden. I sat on the doorstep and we exchanged pleasantries. Now Shasta returns every day, often three times a day or more, for a chat, some affection, and a little play. The relationship is purely social, and because we do not feed Shasta there is no hierarchy or relation of dependence between us.
But what of other nonhuman animal species besides Felis catus? The cat is a species I am rather biased in favor of, and if I am honest I must admit that I feel far less of a desire for intimate communion with most other domesticated species. At ages eighteen and nineteen I lived on a biodynamic farm where I was given the task of caring for—feeding, watering, herding, milking, and shearing—the cows, sheep, chickens, and horses resident there. Although excited for this chance at connection and even education, I found I did not have the same high rapport with the particular members of these species as I did with Felis. Some individuals I connected with more than others, as would be expected, but I never felt I could communicate as well as I would like. I often felt clumsy and awkward with these animals, unable to fully grasp what was needed of me, or maybe even what it was I was asking of them. Perhaps it was the inherent hierarchy already established, before I ever set foot on the farm, between the human species and these nonhuman individuals, that got our relationship off to this uncomfortable start. As much as I wish not to admit it, I have at times even found myself to be disgusted by these particular domestic species, finding their pungent smell and unclean fur and feathers to be repulsive. This is not something I admire in myself, and I must ask myself why this unwelcome reaction arises within me.
A domesticated farm animal is brought into the human realm, but not usually welcomed in as a member of the family—of course, blessedly, there are exceptions. The odd juxtaposition of a nonhuman animal, with its instincts and biological necessities, with the human realm within which it is contained but can neither influence nor alter, indeed makes for an uncomfortable situation. Long removed from even a memory of native habitat, these domesticated nonhumans live in much closer proximity to the full cycle of their biology than any wild animal or domesticated human is almost ever expected to do. Eating, shitting, sleeping, mating, birthing, all take place within a much smaller habitat than these animals’ wild ancestors once enjoyed. Is my own felt disgust not of, but rather on behalf of these domesticated beings? What, rather, is it in the human condition that I find disgusting when such an encounter is taking place? Does my disgust really have anything to do with the cow who stands before me, or is it a disgust with my own species, a disgust even with myself, with my own animal body whose biological necessities I would rather not own or acknowledge?
Over the course of my life, my relationship with wild animals has been radically different than with domesticated animals. The inherent otherness, the mystery created by distance and a sense of freedom, all give to my encounters with wild animals—from deer to snakes, mountain lions to hawks, butterflies to owls—a mixture of reverence and fear. This response, like that to the domesticated farm animals, seems to arise out of a pre-given intuition of hierarchy. The wonder I feel at the glimpse of an animal whose presence is fleeting seems to inform me that I am not an equal to this being. Indeed, in my human ordinariness I am not at the pinnacle of any hierarchy. Perhaps this is the reason that animals are able to become religious and spiritual symbols for the human species: they are beings that live outside the realm of common day. They can run from us, hide, attack, or ignore. They do not come when called because we have never been told their names.
But what of the miracle, the delight, when one of these beings does respond to our attempts at communication? It is as though a god has peered back at you, as though you could speak a language you did not know already resided in your heart, in your blood, in the beating rhythm of your consciousness. When a deer takes a step toward you rather than away, when a hawk looks you straight in the eye, a butterfly comes to a quiet rest in your palm, or an owl clings to the ledge of your kitchen window while beating his wings against the glass as though he has an urgent message only you can hear, somehow the distance between human and animal has been bridged. Remember me, their voices seem to say. Remember yourself. We both come from each other.
Great stories become symbols as they are encountered again and again by successive generations, as they are read in the context of currently unfolding lives. Stories become a part of the ecology in which they are told, participating in shaping the cultural landscape and being reshaped by it as well. Homer, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare—these are but a few of the authors whose stories have withstood the slow wearing and reshaping of the passing river of time; they are narratives that have become changing symbols for those who have taken them up in their own time. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth legendarium, principally his Lord of the Rings epic, has been called by several scholars a myth for our time, a symbol of the age in which we live. As one Tolkien scholar writes, The Lord of the Rings is a tale that “will bear the mind’s handling, and it is a book that acquires an individual patina in each mind that takes it up, like a much-caressed pocket stone or piece of wood.” Such is the gift of a story written not as prescriptive allegory, but rather as what Tolkien preferred to see as “history, true or feigned, with its various applicability to the thought and experience of readers.” It is the flexible applicability of Tolkien’s narrative that allows it to be adapted and molded according to the needs and desires of the generations encountering it, providing a symbolic foil to the world in which it is being retold.
Tolkien began writing his mythology during a time of rapid transformation in Europe, as he witnessed increasing industrialization overwhelm the rural landscape of his native England. His stories carry much of the melancholy rendered by this loss of ecological beauty, and seem to plant seeds of warning for upcoming generations as more and more of the Earth’s landscapes are being turned to solely human uses. The ecological awareness at the heart of Tolkien’s world may contribute to its particular applicability to the current time period in which we face massive anthropogenic ecological destruction. Methods of engagement with the ecological crisis are innumerably diverse, a reflection of the broad scale of the problems with which the Earth community is challenged. Philosophical approaches to ecology and environmentalism have sought different means of engaging with the very concept of nature, as well as the dualisms created between human and nature, self and other, subject and object, that have contributed to making the Earth crisis what it is. Can Tolkien’s tales of Middle-Earth provide a symbolic mirror for some of these approaches, from ecofeminism, to dark ecology, to process ethics? By bringing such frameworks into dialogue with narrative, can new concepts be born through their interminglings and diversions?
This study of Middle-Earth as an ecological foil will go in several different directions, although they will all address overlapping issues related to how concepts of unity and difference play significant roles in the human relationship to the Earth. I will be using Tolkien’s narrative in two ways: on the one hand, by looking at it from the outside to see how it might change the engagement of the reader—as a participant in an imaginal world—with the primary world in which she lives; and on the other hand, by diving into the world itself and studying the characters directly as examples of individuals engaging in different ways with their own world. I will first explore the role art plays in shaping the human relationship with the Earth, seeing how art can both cultivate a sense of identity with the natural world, but also how it can give a clearer view of the diversity and inherent difference in that world. Crossing the threshold and entering into Middle-Earth itself we can continue exploring themes of identity and difference, remoteness and entanglement, duality and unity, by bringing such thinkers as Timothy Morton, Val Plumwood, Pierre Hadot, Slavov Zizek, and Alfred North Whitehead into dialogue with Tolkien’s work.
Imaginal worlds and the stories which take place within them can provide what Tolkien calls a “recovery,” a “regaining of a clear view.” He goes on to elaborate what such a clear view can offer, saying:
I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness.
Although he mentions not wanting to involve himself with the philosophers, for the purpose of this essay I will be drawing Tolkien’s narratives into philosophical dialogue. The ecophenomenologist Neil Evernden offers a complementary, although somewhat reoriented, view to Tolkien’s on the role that art and the humanities can play in ecology: quoting Northrop Frye to make his point, Evernden says, “the goal of art is to ‘recapture, in full consciousness, that original lost sense of identity with our surroundings, where there is nothing outside the mind of man, or something identical with the mind of man.’” Evernden’s perspective dissolves the boundary between the human and the natural world, whereas Tolkien’s sharpens awareness that there is a surrounding world that cannot be possessed by the human. Both perspectives, however, lead to a reorientation of values in which the natural world cannot become forgotten or taken for granted. They both call forth a sense of wonder.
The French philosopher Pierre Hadot points towards how art can create continuity between humanity and nature, offering another perspective for regaining the clear view of which Tolkien speaks:
If . . . people consider themselves a part of nature because art is already present in it, there will no longer be opposition between nature and art; instead, human art, especially in its aesthetic aspect, will be in a sense the prolongation of nature, and then there will no longer be any relation of dominance between nature and mankind.
Art offers to the spectator the possibility of becoming a participant, to engage at a personal level with the subject as portrayed by the work of art. The human subject can no longer encounter the other in the art as solely objective for, as Evernden writes, “The artist makes the world personal—known, loved, feared, or whatever, but not neutral.” For Tolkien, art is what gives to the creations of the imagination “the inner consistency of reality” that allows both the designer and spectator to enter into the created world. We have the possibility of entering fully into a world such as Tolkien’s and seeing its applicability to our own world, which is what makes it such a potent symbol for our own actions.
Entering into Middle-Earth we find ourselves in the Shire, the quiet, sheltered landscape inhabited by Hobbits. The Shire is insolated from the outside world, its inhabitants peacefully oblivious to the wider world, its borders guarded unbeknownst to the Hobbits by human Rangers of the North. The Lord of the Rings can be seen as a literary example and metaphor of overcoming the dualism between self and other, human and nature, and subject and object. It tells the story of how four Hobbits leave their isolated world—and also world view—of the Shire to journey into the diverse landscapes of Middle-Earth and encounter the many peoples shaped by those lands. They realize they are but one small part of a larger, diverse ecology of beings. As Morton writes in his book Ecology Without Nature,
The strangeness of Middle-Earth, its permeation with others and their worlds, is summed up in the metaphor of the road, which becomes an emblem for narrative. The road comes right up to your front door. To step into it is to cross a threshold between inside and outside.
Morton is quite critical of Tolkien, seeing Middle-Earth as an “elaborate attempt to craft a piece of kitsch,” a closed world where “however strange or threatening our journey, it will always be familiar” because “it has all been planned out in advance.” This criticism is, in many ways, the exact opposite of what Tolkien describes the very aim of fantasy to be, to free things ‘from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness.’ Is this an indication that Tolkien has failed in his project, or rather that Morton is misreading what it is that Tolkien is attempting to do? Morton begins his analysis of Middle-Earth by saying,
The Shire . . . depicts the world-bubble as an organic village. Tolkien narrates the victory of the suburbanite, the “little person,” embedded in a tamed yet natural-seeming environment. Nestled into the horizon as they are in their burrows, the wider world of global politics is blissfully unavailable to them.
In many ways this is a true characterization of the Shire at the start of the tale. There is an idyllic pastoralism to the Shire that is cherished by many of Tolkien’s readers, but it is also a realm of sheltered innocence as Morton points out, a Paradise before the Fall. However, by substituting this image of the Shire for the whole of Middle-Earth, Morton misses an essential aspect of the narrative: the Hobbits must depart from the Shire and encounter the strangeness and diversity of the larger world. The Hobbits, who may start out as ‘little suburbanites,’ cannot accomplish the tasks asked of them without first being transformed through the suffering and awakening that comes from walking every step of their journey. To return to Morton’s quote about the Road, once the ‘threshold between inside and outside’ has been crossed, the traveler cannot return to his former innocence. It is a shift in world view. The Hobbits can never return to the solipsistic world that existed prior to that crossing. This is an essential move that is also being asked of the human species in our own time; to cross out of our anthropocentric world view to encounter the great and imperiled diversity of the wider world.
While the Hobbits’ journey can serve as a metaphor for the journey the human species is being called to take—to awaken to the crisis at hand and leave our anthropocentric world view—The Lord of the Rings can be read symbolically from another perspective in which different characters represent alternative approaches to the natural world that have been taken by humanity over the course of history. These differing approaches have been laid out by Pierre Hadot in his “essay on the history of the idea of nature,” The Veil of Isis. Using mythic terms, these are what Hadot calls the Orphic and Promethean attitudes:
Orpheus thus penetrates the secrets of nature not through violence but through melody, rhythm, and harmony. Whereas the Promethean attitude is inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility, the Orphic attitude, by contrast, is inspired by respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness.
The three primary methods of the Promethean attitude, according to Hadot, are experimentation, mechanics, and magic, each of which seek to manipulate nature for some specific end. In Middle-Earth the Promethean approach is used by the Dark Lord Sauron, and later by the wizard Saruman, as they each seek to employ technology to gain power and dominion over others. Hadot writes of the Promethean attitude: “Man will seek, through technology, to affirm his power, domination, and rights over nature.” As Treebeard says of Saruman, “He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” Saruman’s drive for power is a mere shadow and an echo of Sauron’s: the emblematic symbol of the power of technology in The Lord of the Rings is of course the One Ring itself, a device or machine that takes away the free will of those who use it.
Hadot’s consideration of magic as an aspect of the Promethean attitude is quite similar to Tolkien’s own views on magic, although this might not be expected with a first glance at his works. Tolkien differentiates between magic and enchantment, seeing magic as the technological manipulations of the Enemy, while enchantment is the exquisite creations of peoples such as the Elves. Tolkien writes in one of his letters that “the Elves are there (in my tales) to demonstrate the difference” between magic and enchantment. He goes on to say, “Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete . . . . its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.” Elvish enchantment might be seen as an example of Hadot’s Orphic approach to nature, with its focus on poetry, music, art, holistic science, myth and contemplation.
The Orphic attitude holds the belief that “if nature has hidden certain things, then it had good reasons to hide them.” It is an approach that seeks to come to understanding through contemplating the whole, without reducing it into simplistic parts. This is illustrated by the difference between the two Istari, or wizards, Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. In his bid for power, Saruman has renounced his rank as White Wizard rather to become Saruman of Many Colors. He mocks the symbol represented by his former color, proclaiming:
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said [Gandalf]. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
Saruman has moved from being one of the Wise, those who bring an Orphic approach to all they undertake, to a dark Promethean figure seeking domination, power, and control over others.
The attitudes Sauron and Saruman take towards the lands and peoples of Middle-Earth can be better understood through the ecofeminist Val Plumwood’s model of anthropocentrism, which she recognizes as the dominant human culture’s relationship with nature. Her language is particularly appropriate for mapping onto The Lord of the Rings because she refers to the dualism between One and Other as played out in this form of hegemonic centrism. In this symbolic mapping, the One represents the centralized power of the Lord of the One Ring, while the Other represents the diversity of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth and their multiplicity of cultures and landscapes. Plumwood’s anthropocentric model demonstrates the ways in which the One approaches the Other, particularly through means of homogenization, backgrounding, incorporation or assimilation, and instrumentalism. A breakdown of these terms follows, each of which can be seen in the way Tolkien’s dark powers seek to dominate and control the peoples of Middle-Earth:
• Homogenization – “The model promotes insensitivity to the marvelous diversity of nature, since differences in nature are attended to only if they are likely to contribute in some obvious way to human welfare.”
• Backgrounding – “Nature is represented as inessential and massively denied as the unconsidered background to technological society.”
• Incorporation (Assimilation) – “The intricate order of nature is perceived as disorder, as unreason, to be replaced where possible by human order in development, an assimilating project of colonisation.”
• Instrumentalism – “In anthropocentric culture, nature’s agency and independence of ends are denied, subsumed in or remade to coincide with human interests, which are thought to be the source of all value in the world. Mechanistic worldviews especially deny nature any form of agency of its own.”
Sauron seeks to turn all of Middle-Earth to his own devices, by reducing the great diversity of the land’s peoples to mere tributes and instruments. The power of the One Ring is that it can bring all beings, even the land itself, under its dominion: “One Ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.” Sauron’s darkness is homogenous, erasing all difference, backgrounding all who do not fit his plans, and incorporating and using as instruments those who do.
The key actions to the three great victories accomplished by the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth are carried out by characters or races that have been forgotten or backgrounded in just the way Plumwood describes: Sauron is overthrown by the actions of Frodo and Sam, two small Hobbits of a race he considered too unimportant to account for in his schemes; Saruman is defeated by the Ents whom he dismissed as mere myth; and the Witch-King of Angmar is overthrown by the shieldmaiden Eowyn, whose coming was concealed by the patriarchal language that referred to her entire race as Men—leaving the arrogant Lord of the Nazgûl to be defeated at the hands of a woman. As Elrond says at the Council held in Rivendell that decides the fate of the Ring, “This quest must be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
There are, of course, flaws with Tolkien’s work that a perspective such as Plumwood’s would be quick to point out. For example, it is a largely androcentric work, with the majority of the characters being male. It also has a Eurocentric focus, as Middle-Earth was intended by Tolkien to be set in Europe, although in an imaginary time: “The theatre of my tale is this earth,” Tolkien wrote in one letter, “the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.” Critics such as Morton point out that “For Tolkien, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and talking eagles are welcome others, but swarthy ‘southern’ or ‘eastern’ men are not.” Although I do not want to discount these valid criticisms, I will point out some subtleties that emerge in the text that complexify Morton’s simple rendering of good and evil in Tolkien’s world.
For example, when Sam witnesses the violent death of a Southron man he finds himself contemplating what the character of this man might have been in life.
He was glad he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.
In this moment I believe Tolkien is asking the reader to contemplate the same: to not take the presentation of the other at face value, but rather to look deeper. He is bringing moral complexity into a story that has often been initially perceived to present a Manichean vision of evil and good. Often the struggle between good and evil takes place within a single person, as can be seen emblematically in Frodo and Sméagol’s internal struggles with their own potential for evil, and even Gandalf and Aragorn’s wrestling with the corrupting influence of power. “Nothing is evil in the beginning,” Elrond says. “Even Sauron was not so.”
One’s actions, and not one’s inherent being, are what turn a person evil in Tolkien’s world. The process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, writes on the nature of evil and its root in inhibiting, either through violence or neglect, the potential for beauty in the world. For Whitehead, the evil of violence “lies in the loss to the social environment.” He also writes,
Evil in itself leads to the world losing forms of attainment in which that evil manifests itself . . . . Thus evil promotes its own elimination by destruction, or degradation, or by elevation. But in its own nature it is unstable.
An example of this can be seen at times throughout The Lord of the Rings when the Orcs, acting as evil minions doing the bidding of Sauron or Saruman, turn on each other during a dispute and often end up killing one another in their anger—often eliminating a danger otherwise needing to be faced by the protagonists. As Brian Henning writes, “Whitehead’s insight is that violence and force tend to be self-defeating in that they undermine the very social structures that make them possible.” Another case is Saruman, who cuts the trees of Fangorn to feed his fires, allowing him to raise an industrial army. Without doing this harm, which is what makes him evil to begin with, he would not have triggered the anger of the Ents, leading to his defeat. Finally, a more abstract illustration of how evil undermines itself can be seen in Sauron. Gandalf says of Sauron that “the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.” Sauron’s desire for power, which is what initially corrupts him and turns him evil, is also that which is his undoing, for it blinds him to the moral will of others, resulting in his utter demise.
One must be careful of the way in which one relates to the actions of evil in the world. Creating a dualism between oneself and what one sees as evil can lead to what Hegel, from the perspective of Morton, called the Beautiful Soul. Morton writes, “The Beautiful Soul suffers from seeing reality as an evil thing ‘over yonder.’ Is this not precisely the attitude of many forms of environmentalism?” He goes on to say,
It’s that the gaze that constitutes the world as a thing ‘over yonder,’ is evil as such. The environmental fundamentalism that sees the world as an essential, living Earth that must be saved from evil, viral humans is the very type of the Beautiful Soul’s evil gaze.
The evil of the Beautiful Soul’s gaze is only evil when one remains at a remove from what one perceives as evil out in the world. So long as it remains a distant gaze, evil can flourish in the world. “How do we truly exit from the Beautiful Soul?” Morton asks. “By taking responsibility for our attitude, for our gaze. On the ground this looks like forgiveness. We are fully responsible for the present environmental catastrophe, simply because we are aware of it.” The burden of the One Ring is that Frodo must take responsibility for it once he is aware that the world is imperiled by it. It is his task to take responsibility for the Ring, and the longer he is in possession of it the more he is corrupted by its power. “The only way is in and down. . .” as Morton says. Frodo and Sam not only go down into the heart of Mordor, they also face the capacity for evil in themselves. Indeed, Frodo must take responsibility for his inability to destroy the Ring, but in doing so he also must forgive himself, for only in his failure was the task actually able to be accomplished.
The approach of going ‘in and down’ is what Morton has called dark ecology. “Dark ecology is melancholic: melancholy is the Earth’s humour, and the residuum of our unbreakable psychic connection to our mother’s body, which stands metonymically for our connection with all life forms.” There is a melancholy too that is inherent to the heart of The Lord of the Rings. With the destruction of the One Ring, the Three Rings of the Elves are also stripped of their power, and all that was wrought with them in symbiotic harmony with beauty of the Earth begins to fade and pass away. Interconnection is at the heart of this story, the power of good intrinsically interwoven and even dependent on the power of evil, and vice versa. Destroying the One Ring is choosing to lose the great beauty created by the Elves to allow the greater beauty of a free Middle-Earth to flourish. It is a moral decision according to Henning’s kalogenic ethics of creativity, but it is a tragic, a melancholic decision as well. The Lord of the Rings concludes with a sense of bittersweet mourning, the mourning of all that has passed, the mourning of the end of an age.
In reference to the ecological crisis, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes on what hope we have for the future:
We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, the catastrophe will take place, it is our destiny—and, then, on the background of this acceptance, we should mobilize ourselves to perform the act that will change destiny itself by inserting a new possibility into the past.
In many ways the future of Middle-Earth is also doomed, poised on the edge of ruin. Late in the story Pippin asks Gandalf:
“Tell me,” he said, “is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo.”
Gandalf put his hand on Pippin’s head. “There never was much hope,” he answered. “Just a fool’s hope.”
‘On the background of this acceptance,’ as Zizek has said, we must then make our decision, the melancholic choice that leads us ‘in and down’ into the darkness of the world, a darkness mirrored potentially in each of us as well, whose very success leads to mourning. When Frodo first learns that he is in possession of the One Ring, that it is his responsibility to face the darkness head on, he confides to Gandalf:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who come to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Evernden, Neil. “Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy.” The North American Review 263 (Winter 1978).
Hadot, Pierre. The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.
Henning, Brian G. The Ethics of Creativity: Beauty, Morality, and Nature in a Processive Cosmos. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 2005.
Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
–––––. “Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and the Beautiful Soul.” Collapse 6 (2010): 265-293.
Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.
J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
–––––. The Tolkien Reader. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Religion in the Making. Edited by Judith A. Jones. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1996.
Zizek, Slavoj. “Nature and Its Discontents.” SubStance 37:3 (2008): 37-72.
 Peter Beagle, “Tolkien’s Magic Ring,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), xii.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to The Lord of the Rings (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 5.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), 77.
When confronted with crisis, one must ask what it is that is in crisis. When it comes to what has been termed the environmental—or ecological—crisis, this question of what is in crisis immediately complexifies. The crisis itself may be that we cannot simply apply a homogenous label to what is unfolding everywhere around, before, and even inside of us. If there is a crisis of nature, and humans are causing it, then knowing what nature and humanity are, what their relationship is, and if they can even be distinguished or differentiated from each other, is crucial to the survival of countless species, including our own, and the ecosystems which these species constitute.
Certain contemporary ecological thinkers have challenged the barrier—constructed by dominant aspects of Western civilization—between the concepts of nature and humanity with a variety of different approaches. These challenges come in the form of Val Plumwood’s ecofeminism, Timothy Morton’s dark ecology, Slavoj Zizek’s ideas of interdependence and the barrier of Included and Excluded, Neil Evernden’s concepts of ecological interrelatedness, and Holmes Rolston’s response to the deconstruction of ecological terminology, among many others. Each of these approaches seeks to address and break down the dualism held between subject and object, primarily as maintained in the separation of humanity from nature.
Val Plumwood’s ecofeminist approach, as encapsulated in her book Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason, uses methods of analogy to read one system of thought into another to think through enculturated dualisms between male/female, rational/emotional, Self/Other, subject/object, and of course, human/nature. She addresses the problems of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism, systemic remoteness, and hegemonic centrism at multiple levels as embodied not only by dominant rationalistic approaches but also by a variety of ecological perspectives, from animal rights advocacy to deep ecology. Plumwood sees humanity as being faced with “two historic tasks that arise from the rationalist hyper-separation of human identity from nature: they can be summed up as the tasks of (re)situating humans in ecological terms and non-humans in ethical terms.” Her primary prescriptive approach is to shift from an attitude of identity with that which is termed Other, to an attitude of solidarity. She also emphasizes the need to recognize the agency of the Other, instead of only the intrinsic value of the Other.
Holmes Rolston addresses the idea of agency in relationship to value as well when he writes, “The world is full of eyes, legs, wings, antennae, mouths, webs and eggs, all being used in the defence of life. Is it consistent to say that animals defend lives they do not value?” He goes on to say,
The organism is an axiological, though not a moral, system. So the tree grows, reproduces, repairs its wounds and resists death. A life is defended for what it is in itself, without necessary further contributory reference. Every organism has a good-of-its-kind, it defends its own kind as a good kind.
Both Rolston and Plumwood are focusing on the issue of ‘resituating. . . non-humans in ethical terms,’ with an understanding that agency indicates the rights of the Other while also affirming their inherent differences from humanity. Rights need not arise from similarity to the human, as this is a form of anthropocentrism that merely pushes the boundary of duality further from the sphere of the human species.
A tension exists between affirming difference while challenging duality in the various approaches of these five ecological thinkers. As Neil Evernden points out, “Ecology begins as a normal, reductionist science, but to its own surprise it winds up denying the subject-object relationship upon which science rests.” Timothy Morton affirms this when he writes, “‘Nature’ dissolves when we look directly at it, into assemblages of behaviours, congeries of organs without bodies.” Both Morton and Slavoj Zizek argue that the ecological crisis ought to be addressed by abolishing the concept of “Nature” as an external environment radically other to the human. One must, in Zizek’s words, “ the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded,” rather than simply “fight for the environment.” Rolston, on the other hand, accepts the use of the term “nature” but only after addressing the difference of nature as concept or framework and nature as real beings: “‘Nature,’ if a category we have constructed, has real members, that is, things that got there on their own in this world-container, and remain there independently of our vocabulary.”
For Evernden the solution lies in art, aesthetics, and the humanities. He quotes Northrop Frye in saying “the goal of art is to ‘recapture, in full consciousness, that original lost sense of identity with our surroundings, where there is nothing outside the mind of man, or something identical with the mind of man.’” For Plumwood, aspects of this approach might be problematic, primarily the idea of ‘identity with our surroundings’ rather than solidarity and communication with those beings outside the human species. Yet Plumwood also accepts the ambiguity and imperfection inherent to developing effective models of communication with non-humans. She writes,
The problems of representing another culture’s or another species communication however pale before the enormity of failing to represent them at all, or of representing them as non-communicative and non-intentional beings. This is an incomparably greater failing.
This acceptance of the ambiguity and even the mess of ecological engagement are also present in Morton and Zizek’s thought. Morton writes, “Ecological thinking—what I call the ecological thought—is precisely this ‘humiliating’ descent, towards what is rather abstractly called ‘the Earth.’” Zizek, who draws significantly from Morton, looks to the necessarily externalized slums produced by the capitalist system to highlight the dualism of Included and Excluded, and at the overlap of nature and industrial civilization in a state of “common decay” to break down the conception of an insolated humanity and an “impenetrable inhuman nature.” These ideas are at the core of Morton’s “dark ecology,” which “realizes that we are hopelessly entangled in the mesh.”
To say that Plumwood, Morton, Zizek, Evernden, and Rolston agree with one another would be a severe misinterpretation of each of their projects. However, they do stand on some common ground with one another as they pose challenges to current systems of dualistic, anthropocentric, hegemonic thinking. While there may not be a common identity between these ecological thinkers, there does appear to be, in Plumwood’s terms, a solidarity between their challenges to ecological philosophy and the concept of nature.
Evernden, Neil. “Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy.” The North American Review 263 (Winter 1978).
Morton, Timothy. “Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and the Beautiful Soul.” Collapse 6 (2010): 265-293.
Rolston, Holmes. “Nature for Real: Is Nature a Social Construct?” in The Philosophy of the Environment, edited by T.D.J. Chappell, 38-63. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh Press, 1997.
Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.
Zizek, Slavoj. “Nature and Its Discontents.” SubStance 37:3 (2008): 37-72.
 Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 8-9.
 Holmes Rolston, “Nature for Real: Is Nature a Social Construct?” in The Philosophy of the Environment, ed. T.D.J. Chappell (Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh Press, 1997), 60.
 Rolston, “Nature for Real: Is Nature a Social Construct?” 61.
 Neil Evernden, “Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy,” The North American Review 263 (Winter 1978): 93.
 Timothy Morton, “Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and the Beautiful Soul,” Collapse 6 (2010): 285.
 Slavoj Zizek, “Nature and Its Discontents,” SubStance 37:3 (2008): 45.
 Rolston, “Nature for Real: Is Nature a Social Construct?” 43.
 Northrop Frye, qtd. in Evernden, “Beyond Ecology: Self, Place, and the Pathetic Fallacy,” 99.