Saturday, 23 December 2017

The Story Goes Ever On … Merry Christmas To All Bowalley Road Readers!

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone
And I must follow if I can
- J. R. R. Tolkien

WHEN I WAS LITTLE, Christmas seemed such a big thing. It loomed in my child’s mind as the final, familiar headland, around which the Ship of the Year must pass before dropping anchor on New Year’s Eve.

And it wasn’t just the gathering pace of the festival; the choosing and decorating of the tree, the steadily mounting pile of presents, the arrival of grandparents, aunts, uncles and assorted cousins, that quickened my excitement. Underpinning it all there was an awareness of the Christmas Story itself.

We are so familiar with the biblical narrative now, that it is easy to forget its impact upon the imagination of the very young. For me, the wonder of the story of the Nativity has always been encapsulated in the lines of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie,
Within thy dark and dreamless sleep
The silent hours go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

That sense of immanence, of something miraculous and terribly important taking place amidst the mundane and the ordinary; of a supernatural presence smashing through the barriers of the workaday world – as it did for those shepherds on the hillside – was incredibly powerful. It was as if a voice was whispering: “Be alert, be awake - there is more to all this than meets the eye!”

To a little boy growing up in the Otago countryside – where at night the stars burn bright and clear - the whole Christmas story glimmered with mystery and magic.

Growing older, I encountered more mystery and magic in another book – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Superficially, Tolkien’s epic fantasy bears little resemblance to the Christian story, and yet, at their heart, the two narratives have much in common. Like the little town of Bethlehem, Tolkien’s ‘Shire’ also turns out to contain within its bucolic borders “the hopes and fears of all the years”. Like those shepherds on the hillside, Frodo Baggins and his friends are also suddenly confronted with supernatural forces that cannot be gainsaid.

The stories are also alike in their endings. In his magisterial essay On Fairy Stories, Tolkien uses the term eucatastrophe to describe that sudden, last minute lurch from ultimate disaster to ultimate victory, when, as Ruth S. Noel writes in her Mythology of Middle Earth: “imminent evil is unexpectedly averted and great good succeeds”. As Tolkien, himself, wrote of the purpose and effect of eucatastrophe: “It does not deny the existence … of sorrow and failure … it denies universal final defeat … giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Even in the resolutely materialistic Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels the eucatastrophe is not entirely absent. For what is the Revolution if not the sudden and unexpected triumph of good over evil? And is there not just a glimmer of immanence in Marx’s heroic proletarians, secretly growing in strength and power, even as Capitalism’s Dark Lords reach out to enslave the world?

“Don’t adventures ever have an end?” cries Bilbo, as he realises the true enormity of the burden he has bequeathed to his nephew Frodo. “I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

And, of course, the old Hobbit is right. For the Story, like the road, goes ever on. Be it the story of the Christ Child, or the Ring of Power, or the Revolution, it beckons all of us “beyond the walls of the world” - to Paradise.

A version of this essay was originally published in The Dominion Post of 21st December 2001.


David Stone said...

And a merry Christmas to you Chris
Thanks for all the research and words of wisdom.
Cheers David J S

kat said...

I really do think we are a very lucky country to have such a gift as Jacinda Arden. Its been a long time between drinks and big Norm.....but here we are.

Its too late to stop now.

Merry Christmas to all.

kat said...

But then.........

We're goin' out in the country to get down to the real soul,
I mean the real soul, people,
We're goin' out in the country, get down to the real soul
We're gettin' out to the west coast
Shining our light into the days of bloomin' wonder
Goin' as much with the river as not, as not, yeah, yeah
An' I'm goin' as much with the river as not
Yeah, yeah, right, yeah
You don't pull no punches, but you don't push the river
You don't pull no punches, and you don't push the river

sumsuch said...

Ardern, Kat, isn't salvation. No more than anyone else. Her isolation amid her colleagues, if it is indeed isolation, says much. She coulda raised the benefits and eradicated child poverty 'in one blow'.

How can you blow the official Labour Party show all this time? You know what it is post '84'.

Polly said...

Merry Xmas everyone.
Have a good one Chris and family.

Anonymous said...

Takes note...
Chris Trotter said Merry Christmas....

sumsuch said...

Kat surely must be a function of the Labour Party central computer. There is no other explaining of, 'her'.

I remember the retelling of the Xmas story in my church as a young child--I thought it was a news report: it was inspiring he had just been born.

But of course it was the dead matter of the 'Living God', as Evangelicals hilariously describe a chap their children have no trouble at all in departing from.

'On Fairy Stories', as described by you, a poetic way through.

I take it you rely on stories to bring us to reason. To unite the hunter-gatherers with reality. We have 20 years to see if poesy will work its magic. Or is merely emissions like death gasps.

(20 years is generous)

greywarbler said...

That was a very poignant and meaningful heading Chris. That great image and the lines beneath it were so fitting.

It is great to go to the mall and see it thronging with people putting their dibs in to have a Christmas of some good cheer, but it is a materialist palace, the church of the neo libs. Someone, some people have to articulate what it is all about not just be caught in the unrealised feelings of the swirling throng, whirling and floating like a wine cork in a fast river.

2018 what do you hold for us? Best wishes to those that plan to put their dibs in for a future of increasing improvements and repairs to prized past achievements.

Mark Hubbard said...

I think I may have agreed with one thing you wrote in a post about April, Chris, but can't remember what it was :)

However, we need all viewpoints, even the incorrect ones that would lead to the total collapse of the Free West.

Have a great festive season.

countryboy said...

I just can't do it. Wishing a " Merry Christmas" sticks in my gills like a post-toke panadol. You know the kind? The pill that makes it to exactly the gag reflex point then gets stuck. “ Uuck, uck, uck.... ! “ is all I can manage.
Look ...? Jesus...? Can you please come down/back/across and kick some right wing narcissistic sadist arse? Bring your Old Man? Do some smiting? Because they’re fucking everything up everywhere man. And making billion$, trillion$ and heaving in mirth in their lard encasements as the poor, the down trodden and the plain unlucky are seen to be tortured by them for laughs. Yeah, merry christmas indeed.
Where are you, God and the Boy? You do see what they’re doing to your oceans, your forests, your wee beasties and least of all, us. Take a look? Ok, sure. You made us humans in your image ( God has hair like the Trumpenator!? ) and gave us free will but what about the sentient wee beasties? You left them here without a hope. WTF? You know what a .270 cal bullet does to a Lion’s chest cavity? The lion doesn’t have a fucking chance, and yet? Merry christmas? Fuck off!
I say “ Merry Chickens and a happy new Earth Worms. “
The day God and his kid come down/back/across and say “ Right you bastards! Here’s how it is. You fucker politicians, gun happy psychopaths, weed and insecticide manufacturing cocks and you dick heads that spray that shit around? All you mumbling hypocrites, you riche ponces in your panties sitting on the porches of your swanky mansions on lands you took from other humans because they had a different way of doing things? Come over here you fuckers. Now, see this ? This here is forgiveness... But first, you must confess to your dreadful, selfish, mean, nasty, calculating, greedy ways or by Christ! You’ll get an arse full of fish hooks. Serious!
Fuck merry christmas, I say. Merry The Good In Us instead. And lets hope the rest of those Right Wing losers die in spiritual agony as the last image they have is that of some homeless person they strutted past on christmas streets fading from their deflating eyeballs as their toxic souls leave for Hell on a one-way train. Or did scum bag douglas sell that off too? Ok. You might need to hitch a ride. Oh, Look! Here comes a Lambo driven by a Banker ...
The Lambo has Made in China stamped on it and the Banker just realised he couldn't bring your money with him. Hell, indeed. If you find yourself in the passenger seat, by and by, rub it in. It might not be too late to be 'saved'.

Victor said...


I'm not sure whether "kat" and "Kat" are the same person.

I don't mean this in an obscure metaphysical sense.

It's just that I know "Polly" is "Polly" and you are "sumsuch".

Is "kat" "Kat" in the same sense?

We had a problem on this site at one point because people were confusing "Brendan" and "Brendon". Hence my concern.

sumsuch said...

Countryboy, I have a fond spot for glyphosate and/or (apparently) earthworms.

I agree if justice was administered perfectly our present power structure would disappear completely, like Puna Ariki hill in New Plymouth, once the foremost Maori fortress in the area, now the foremost 'centre ' in that town, the hill having been completely removed for colonial fill (my summer holiday).

Re Power , on same summer holiday, I found my Scottish g. grandparents' grave in Wanganui. Farmer he was only inscribed as the 'beloved husband', she as 'beloved wife'. Both their sons died before them. It reminded me of, in contrast to these humble, and humbled, Scots, the hustler Scots like Donald Maclean, the government landbuyer who had an 8 metre high Celtic Cross in Napier Cemetary opposite my house. And let's not forget William Colenso, that speaker of truth to power (Maclean and John Ormond (first of the 6,7 or 8?)). I imagined he might have been happier in Taranaki among his fellow West Country folk, yet he was a man of conscience and tbey are never happy in this world.

Of course , speaking for truth as quite a few colonialist did, fighting for truth against your tribe is different and is both needed and sparse upon the ground--witness Nazi Germany. I don't think those Germans were wrong in their assessment of the British and French empires, but great PR job, Winston. Your words, at least, created a better world.