The following is the second part of a series by Michael Gladius called “In Search Of Middle-Earth”.
The first part was published a few days ago, and was titled: “In Search Of Middle-Earth: What A Post Reconquest World Would Look Like”.
See my own thoughts at the bottom 🙂
In Search Of Middle-Earth
The Real Rivendell
After the Shire, Rivendell is another popular location that everybody loves.
Unlike the Shire, which has no urban areas, Rivendell is a small fortress city.
It was founded by Elrond, the elven warlord who fought in the Last Alliance under the Elven king Gil-Galad. Before the Last Alliance, Rivendell was the only location in the region of Eriador that Sauron never conquered. It was attacked by Sauron multiple times, as well as by the Witch-King of Angmar, but never fell.
After the Death of Isildur, all of his heirs were raised in Rivendell, and many royal heirlooms were delivered to Rivendell for safe-keeping after the fall of Arnor to the Witch-king. Gandalf described it as ‘the last homely house east of the sea.’
Rivendell resembles many rich and colorful aspects of Europe’s history.
The first of these is its connection to the supernatural. The elves themselves are semi-divine, and Rivendell is a very spiritual place. Tolkien never mentions religions in his books because the story, mythos, and religion are one and the same: http://www.thisblogisdangerous.com/sleeping-kings-and-the-war-christ/#more-819.
Rivendell is, not coincidentally, located in the ‘Hidden Valley,’ just as the divine mysteries are hidden from our eyes. The elves are keepers of secrets, guardians of wisdom, and preservers of lore and history.
Deeply entwined with this spiritual aspect, Rivendell illustrates Europe’s traditional approach to communal life, something the modern world has aggressively sought to eradicate.
In actual history, Rivendell resembles Europe’s monasteries the closest. Beginning with St. Benedict of Nursia (see video below), who drew his inspiration from the desert hermits of Egypt, European culture was defined by its monasteries for 1000 years.
Like Rivendell, Europe’s numerous monasteries were small, but rich, centers of culture, beauty, technology, healing, and literacy.
The scale will be shocking to our modern eyes: in 1517, the year of the Protestant Reformation, anywhere between one-fifth to one-half of Europe’s economic power came from the Church and her monasteries (obviously, it varied from region to region, rather than being evenly distributed).
St. Benedict video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UVRBfQJmss
The Rule of St. Benedict is the foundation of Western Civilization (http://www.osb.org/gen/rule.html). It is straightforward and simple: prayer, study, and labor (Link to full text of the rule: https://www.ewtn.com/library/priests/benrule.htm#Contents).
Everything else flows from this, and St. Benedict himself regarded his rule as a guide for beginners, not an exhaustive directory for life (as the Koran is to Muslims- another key difference between Eastern and Western thinking).
This balance of manual, intellectual, and spiritual labor is distinct in history, primarily because it glorifies lowly manual labor. Both in Ancient times and Modern times, hand labor is held in low regard.
To the Pagans, manual labor was fit only for the large slave class, and moderns consider hand labor to be for the stupid and unintelligent.
But Benedict’s rule prescribed that a monk ought to work with his hands, mind, and soul. All three are part of man’s nature, and all three need exercise and to experience hardship in order to grow.
Nor is this a mere philosophical sentiment. With the centralized Roman Empire receding, much of the infrastructure crumbled, finances dried up, and Barbarian invasions made entire regions inaccessible to the Roman Legions, who performed much of the empire’s engineering.
The monasteries alone were successful in spreading both the Gospel and the knowledge of the Ancients to these otherwise inaccessible regions.
In the Middle Ages, it was the monks who cleared many of the forests, drained the marshes, and built the schools and hospitals. The monks, from Italy to Ireland, preserved many Classical texts and books; yet, unlike the Renaissance, they did not merely copy the Ancients, but added their own contributions.
Theirs was not a borrowed culture, but truly their own.
Nor was their labor limited to manual labor and prayer.
Many monasteries became renowned for their libraries, breweries, cheeses, and artisans. Most monasteries produced beautiful, hand-written books; others produced beautiful works of precious stones and metals. Others still were builders and tradesmen, and provided a model for the guilds that would spring up in the Medieval city.
The monasteries also were fertile ground for mystics and scholastics.
Rivendell’s atmosphere is very scholastic, the spirit which gave us giants such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The Elves of Lothlorien resemble the mystics, such as St. Therese of Avila and St. Phillip Neri.
Rather than segregating and compartmentalizing the physical, intellectual, and spiritual, the elves embody all three simultaneously, and are the most advanced race in Middle-Earth for it.
The monastic model for communal life enabled the full flowering of European civilization, and was only broken by the Black Death, which killed one third of Europe’s population. Try to think, gentle reader, of any other system which could survive that.
The second aspect of Rivendell is its color and natural beauty. The elves, and indeed all of Middle-Earth, dress in brighter colors than we do today. Rather than gloomy, Puritan blacks and greys, the elves dress in bright, lively colors whether in their prime years or in their declining years.
They surround themselves with natural beauty, using their architecture to enhance, rather than replace, the natural world around them.
Rivendell’s trees, waterfalls, and vegetation are integrated into the overall design, and the built-up sections follow the motif of the natural world. Their windows are high and airy, with ornate carvings. Their walkways use local stones, and the gardens are both pleasing to the eye and practical for medicine and food.
Like Les Brigandes, their communal life is full of joy and singing.
Nature, mind, and spirit. Truth, beauty, goodness.
Let us nurture the former three individually, and strive for the latter three in all things. Let us revive communal life, both for the clergy and laity, and restore Europe’s organic cultures through it. The age of individualism is coming to a close; a new age is dawning before us.
I could not agree with Mr. Gladius more that Tolkien’s fictional world is a metaphysical reflection of our own hearts and souls, just as much as the actual lands we sprang forth from.
The attacks on Tolkien’s works by the Progressive, Suicidalist class mirrors their purposeful destruction of Europe and Western civilization.
Michael is right that just as the good peoples of Middle-Earth had to defeat the marauding Orcs defiling their lands, the greater enemies were in Orthank and Barad-Dur pressing on those Orc legions.
The comparison is instructive for our own struggle.
There is no greater hope we can strive toward than for our real ‘Middle-Earth’ to be saved, and for it to be remade in the image of Rivendell and the Shire for the benefit of our posterity and the honor of our ancestors.