Friday, December 18, 2009

Value of The Lord of the Rings

Since reading the “Epic Pooh” article that I presented on in class I have been really interested in the merits of The Lord of the Rings as a piece of literature. I was (and probably still am) of the opinion that The Lord of the Rings really does condone escapism and does itself function as a piece of escapism for many people. In other words, the stories are more for enjoyment than for encouraging constructive thought (or something like that.) I did not want to just settle on this notion, however, and so I tried to think of ways in which somebody could legitimately assign a high level of value to the trilogy. I asked myself this question: is a novel really more valuable for factors outside of bringing pure enjoyment than it is for simply bringing pure enjoyment? It seems like the majority of people just assume that it is. This is part of the reason that so many people dismiss the fantasy genre in general. People seem to think that it shouldn’t be taken seriously or that authors such as Tolkien should not be considered major authors because fantasy is “just for fun.” I think that a reasonable argument can be made for the view that the amount of pleasure a book brings to a reader is more valuable than any distinct objective elements. I am taking another class this semester called Theories of the Good in which we discuss what makes something valuable. Two opposing theories that we have covered are hedonism and objective-list theory. Hedonism claims that pleasure and pleasure alone is valuable whereas objective-list theory claims that there are certain things that are more valuable to have regardless of whether or not they bring pleasure. Under objective-list theory, our tendency to attribute more value to the social impact or the importance of the message that a book has than we do to the amount of pleasure people receive from them would make sense. Objective-list theory is sort of hard to swallow though. What exactly is making these factors more valuable than pleasure regardless of quantity or intensity? It seems to me that if a person says that they value pleasure over, say, knowledge then it is not in anyone’s power to tell them otherwise. One might say that they value knowledge over pleasure and that such provides a problem for hedonism, but a hedonist would say that what is actually bettering their lives is the pleasure that they receive from knowledge and so the pleasure is what is actually valuable. It may not be the most persuasive response, but at least it is something. My point is not really to prove hedonism and disprove objective-list theory. I just wanted to show how a person might go about saying that, on the contrary, The Lord of The Rings has merit of the highest order. If objective-list theory is true and we have been in right in the way that we go about assigning value to literature, then I am tempted to say that The Lord of the Rings is in the same league as The Cat in the Hat (or, well, Winnie the Pooh.) But if hedonism is true and pleasure really is the only thing that is valuable, then, say, Moby Dick hasn’t got shit on The Lord of the Rings.

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