TT: The Hippness Factor of Wizards

JANE: So, Alan,  I’ve been enjoying talking with you about the impact Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels had – not only their decided impact on Fantasy fiction, but their larger cultural impact.  Can you give me another example?

Wizards Rock!

Wizards Rock!

ALAN: I most certainly can. We had a hippie community in England that called itself Gandalf’s Garden. It ran a head shop and published a magazine that emphasised mysticism over materialism and which claimed that meditation was to be preferred over drugs!

JANE: Wait…  Both a head shop and preferring meditation over drugs?  There’s a disconnect here…

ALAN: Perhaps head shop is the wrong word, I was using it in the generic sense of filling your head with new ideas based on spiritualism and occultism (and probably a lot of other -isms as well). Gandalf’s Garden was a craft shop and drop-in centre with some accommodation for the homeless and lots of honey-flavoured tea. The magazine only lasted for six issues but, nevertheless, it still managed to attract articles by Joan Baez, Spike Milligan and the poets Christopher Logue and Adrian Mitchell.

JANE: Wow!  That’s a great list of contributors.  I like craft shops…  Too much!  Sounds as if I would have found much to enjoy.

ALAN: Another example of the impact the books had came from the music of the time. Marc Bolan and a young man who insisted on calling himself Peregrine Took (after the hobbit of the same name, of course) formed an avant-garde, psychedelic underground rock band called Tyrannosaurus Rex. I’m sure you can guess what kind of songs they sang.

JANE: Uh…  Hobbitty folk songs?  I’m guessing, because I’m more familiar with Marc Bolan’s later work.

ALAN: Their songs all had a magical/mystical feel to them, heavily influenced by generic fantasy tropes. For example, their 1968 album Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of the Ages has a track called “Aznageel The Mage.”  I can easily imagine bumping into Aznageel at the Prancing Pony in Bree…

JANE: I’m not familiar with the album.  We did discuss the impact of Fantasy on rock music in general a while back, and this fits in beautifully into that pattern.  But Marc Bolan didn’t stay with the hobbits, did he?

ALAN: No, not quite.  Later in his career, after Peregrine Took left, Marc Bolan re-invented himself as a glam rocker and changed the name of the band to T. Rex. He made a fortune, lived the rock star life to the full, and died in a car crash, a victim of his own success. There were those who claimed he had sold out…

JANE: Ah, but as the band name shows, he envisioned himself as a carnivorous dinosaur, not a hobbit.  He just followed his muse.

Going back to your mention of Gandalf’s Garden.  I’m not sure I would have found the use of his name an incentive to attend a place, even a garden.

Gandalf was one of my biggest problems with the “Lord of the Rings” story.  He was so very full of himself.  He put other people in danger.  Vanished inconveniently.  Refused to die and leave people alone but, instead, did the whole Jesus resurrection thing…  And then at the end of the series, he has the gall to admit he’s had one of the major magical rings all along.

It took me a long time – and actually a very sound comment from the audience by a fellow named Joe Jackson, during a panel at Bubonicon – to show me Gandalf as many others see him: the unhappy political leader who must send others into danger.  Next time I read the books, I read them with that in mind and I felt more sympathy for Gandalf.

ALAN: That’s a good point. When I read The Hobbit, like you, I was always unhappy about the way Gandalf deserted Bilbo and the Dwarves just when they needed him most. I was very pleased to see that Peter Jackson obviously felt the same way because in the movie of The Hobbit we learn just why Gandalf had to go, where he went and how important his journey was. Also, Gandalf does not leave with an easy conscience. He clearly feels guilty about the necessity.

JANE: Good for Peter Jackson.  I suppose it was a lot to expect Gandalf to be everywhere at once, but he certainly had a gift for vanishing and leaving others to carry the burden.  I really felt he was stupid to go see Saruman as he did, even though there had to have been evidence that his old friend wasn’t quite right in the head.

However, having Saruman imprison Gandalf did solve the problem Tolkien had created for himself by creating a very powerful wizard who knew a huge amount of both history and magic, and had influence with just about everyone.  As when earlier in the series, Gandalf falls when fighting the Balrog, it gets him out of the way, so more vulnerable characters will be center stage.

ALAN: I like the idea that Gandalf could make mistakes. There’s something terribly tedious about infallibility – all the literary tensions disappear. I hesitate to say that his errors of judgement and moments of weakness made him more human, because human was the very last thing that he was. But it certainly made him easier to identify with.

JANE: I’ll go with the fact that these mistakes do make Gandalf easier to identify with.  However, it’s often overlooked that neither Gandalf nor his fellow wizards are human.  They belong to a race called the Maiar, and were sent to Middle Earth as part of the struggle against the forces of Sauron.

It may be because Gandalf is aware that he and Saruman’s (I really hate how similar the names “Saruman” and “Sauron” are!  They perpetually confused me when I was a child.) entire reason for being on Middle Earth is to fight Sauron, that he cannot believe Saruman would fall and go over to their enemy.

ALAN: The Maiar can be seen as angels and we know that angels can fall. I’ve always seen Saruman as a Lucifer-like figure. It helps, of course, that Lucifer means the bringer of light and Saruman was the white wizard. White is the colour of a bright light (remember the tremendous glare when Merry and Pippin encountered the re-born Gandalf the White in Fangorn Forest?). I don’t want to read too much into the parallel because Tolkien always denied that he was writing allegory, but nevertheless he was a deeply religious man and this must have had an effect on his view of the world. Saruman’s treachery would be a natural story development for him

So I didn’t find it nearly as surprising as Gandalf did.

JANE: Hmm… I can certainly see your parallel, although Lucifer’s besetting sin was Pride.  Saruman’s going over to Sauron seems to have been from fear and a desire to be on the winning side.

Gandalf, by contrast, never shows Luciferian pride, even when the power of becoming Gandalf the White is so intense that he is distant and even confused when he first re-encounters his friends.

I’d love to go on and talk more about the influence of the Lord of the Rings novels but, although Middle Earth is fascinating, my duties on this Earth beckon.  I’ll save my musings and questions for next time!

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2 Responses to “TT: The Hippness Factor of Wizards”

  1. Chad Merkley Says:

    Love the picture, Jane! I obviously need a white top-hat so I can be like the guy on the left. I’d need to bleach my beard, though….

    Also, a true Tolkein fan would point out the Balrogs are also Maiar. 🙂

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I read the books many years ago and really didn’t comprehend how thorough they were in these matters. This gives me a whole new appreciation of Tolkien.

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