Literature

When Imaginary Worlds Collide

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Juliusz Jablecki contrasts the libertarian fiction of Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien. I can't completely endorse any essay that looks to Hans-Hermann Hoppe for its model of a free society; and I've never read Atlas Shrugged, so I don't know if there are passages in the book that undermine Jablecki's thesis. But this rings true for me:

Tolkien's novel also ends with a theme of rebuilding the world, a promise of setting things straight, bringing back the right order of things. It begins, however, in an entirely different way: not on the platform of a huge railway station, nor in a big factory, nor in a beautiful palace. The Lord of the Rings begins in the Shire—more precisely in Hobbiton, a small village peopled by hobbits, unobtrusive, somewhat clumsy, little creatures, whose straightforward and rather friendly nature makes them very similar to humans….

In Atlas Shrugged [the protagonists] are exceptional and it is precisely because of that quality that they became characters of the novel. Each of the Atlases is unblemished, pure, proud. Every detail of their physiognomy speaks of genius and magnificence. The Übermenschen do not simply move: they make motions full of charm and elegance. They do not simply work: they craft, always with passion and enthusiasm. They never get tired, weary or bored with what they do; they have no families, no children, no obligations; they are frightfully rational; they live only for themselves and for their occupational passions. If they happen to be businessmen, they never own little family businesses; they run huge corporations, ironworks, mines, or railway companies. In Rand's novel there is no place for moderation and inconspicuousness. Only that which is huge and effective deserves praise and attention.

Completely different, more human-like, are Tolkien's characters….There are men in The Lord of the Rings, to be sure, but it is the hobbits who resemble real humans the most—they are rather clumsy, neither exceptionally smart, stout, nor courageous, but good, sociable, faithful and generally cheerful. The most important characters in Tolkien's novel are actually anti-heroes—they try to stay away from the world of big politics; however, when fate throws them in its very middle, they act bravely and ultimately bring salvation.

A few years ago, writing about "Leaf by Niggle"—my favorite Tolkien story, both shorter and deeper than Lord of the Rings—I made a similar point: "Niggle is, in his ground-down way, an individualist hero—smaller, realer, and altogether more interesting than the boring supermen favored by another sort of libertarian."

Bonus question: Whose sex scenes are creepier, Rand's or Tolkien's? Before you object that Tolkien didn't write any sex scenes, pick up The Two Towers and turn to book four, chapter 10.