I was going to review the Tolkien biopic I saw the other day. And I will: it was solid story telling, took some minor appropriate liberties with the source material to heighten the drama, yet didn’t compromise much. I enjoyed it. Basically, it was another thoughtful narrative mostly around the effects of a difficult childhood and the Great War on one imaginative lad and his group of hopeful friends. And I’m not going any further into it, except to say I think Tolkien served his friends well.
There is a line in The Hobbit (in the book and repeated in the film). It’s one of my favourite bits of dialogue. Gandalf tells his band of travellers that one particular character is under no enchantment but his own. It’s a single throwaway line to dispel superstitions, but I love this notion. How powerful is it to be self-enchanted? There are a couple of characters like this: Beorn, to whom Gandalf’s description belongs, as well as Tom Bombadil, and Goldberry. and Niggle in Leaf by Niggle. They sit at the edge of Tolkien’s classifications and gently defy and resist explanatory efforts. As a storyteller (and as a philologist) Tolkien was concerned with understanding, identifying and naming things, peoples, and individuals through how languages use storytelling. Entire swathes of his books detail how places and peoples (especially) are defined and even how names are derived. In this way, Tolkien was writing under his enchantment with language, but his stories allow some beings to escape the drive to corral meaning and explanation. Both Tolkien’s detailed efforts at world building and this fuzziness about some characters (and places), contribute to the success, and the enchantment of his narratives.
This enchantment is a state I strive for as a writer and as a person. Who doesn’t want enchantment but yet not be in its thrall? To be a storyteller is have the potential to be a channel for enchantment. Imagine that? And with that question lies one possible answer: that the path to enchantment can only be imagined.
To be under your own enchantment is not to be immune from influence. No writer is beyond both deliberate and subconscious influences, so I’m not talking about style or theme, or plot nor anything as mundane as inter-textuality. Almost everyone is aware of how Tolkien was influenced by and incorporated various literary traditions and texts, as well as aspects of his experiences and philosophy and world events into his stories. They are what they are, flaws and all, because of his background, education, class, ad infinitum. But to be under no enchantment but your own is something else entirely. A part of me very much wants to pin this enchanted state down to define it, but I know enough to suspect that reaching this field of being is not through hard analysis but to yield somehow to experiences and imagination. Even writing this seems to be, not a betrayal exactly, but a distant approximation of something transcendent, or numinous that language can point towards, but can’t reach on its own. I suspect listing what this state is not might be easier. The Via Negativa is a legitimate way some describe around the world of the spiritual. But I don’t want to formalise something so…homely and folkloric and personal. And I want to emphasise that I feel that to be under one’s own enchantment maybe personal but it is not about self-aggrandising;, it transcends self or is a way to inhabit a higher Self. Or a different self. Perhaps. I don’t yet know. I don’t think a psycho-analytic Uses of Enchantment approach to this will work.
You see what I mean though? About how difficult enchantment is to convey to reader when, as a writer and as a doodler of pictures, I just want to be enchanted and have the power to enchant others, not just skirt the edges of its environs?
In the end, I continue to write in hope that to be under your own enchantment is to be there. I like to believe this there will know me when I arrive.