I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring to my daughter for bedtime and something occurred to me that I think might be profound because I felt dumb for not having seen it before. Some have complained about the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter near the end of The Lord of the Rings, calling it superfluous. But I think it's particularly important for the overall structure of the tale.
If you look at the first chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, those having to do with Hobbiton and the preparations for Bilbo's birthday party, the scope of what's going on is tiny. In fact, it's pretty much small town gossip; An old gardener talking about his boss and the weird people who live across the river, etc. Then, as the story goes on, the scope widens more and more until finally we're dealing with ancient races banding together in a last attempt to vanquish an enormously powerful, twisted, primeval spirit bent on the domination of the world for millennia.
By the end, however, we've got Sam marrying Rosie and having hobbit babies. The subject matter of The Lord of the Rings starts small, gets bigger by degrees, and then shrinks again. The "Scouring of the Shire" is an important step in narrowing the scope again.
I felt dumb when this occurred to me because it's been right in front of me the whole time. Bilbo called his book, the account of these events, "There and Back Again."
"A vacation snapshot is a fairly simple example, but the principle holds for all other kinds of non-practical art. Movies, novels, and music all evoke ideas and immaterial things by means of material things. Language itself is probably the most fundamental example of this at work. When we speak, we literally shape the air and use it to convey ideas.
Once we do this, once an idea (or more often a complex of ideas) is embodied in some work of art, that artifact takes on a sort of life of its own. It speaks to us in a metaphorical way by being and remaining what it is and recalling to our minds the ideas that were put into it in the first place.
This is not only handy, but essential. Human beings must do this in order to think about things. We embody the immaterial so we can consider it long enough to figure it out, or at least make progress. Since language is an example of this embodiment, no one can avoid being an artist in this sense. It’s inseparable from thought because it’s inseparable from conversation.
Speaking of conversation, we’re ready to say what pop-culture is."
© 2015 John Hiner III