Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Fire-Tender

I built a fire outdoors in the metal grate last night. The rest of the family likes fires as well, but not for so long a time. Each comes out for a few minutes for a captivated stare into the blaze and a bit of conversation, then returns inside, especially in winter. I like staying there the whole time, tending the fire with little proddings and reloadings.

Of course, a fire is more interesting when it is yours, when you are responsible for the tending.

The setting up and starting of the fire is only a means to an end for me. I know the sense of accomplishment that starting a fire efficiently can bring - a single wooden match, a smallish bit of paper or shavings igniting the tiny branches which in turn light the larger ones. Yet the annoyance of failing at that task, and having to start over, with new shavings and kindling, is great enough that I prefer to overbuild from the start and get a blaze going with less risk of failure - multiple crumpled newspaper pages, a mound of dry twigs.

We believe that our thoughts are deep and profound while watching a fire. Usually, they are merely melancholic. Each gathered tribe, even each settlement, had its ones who enjoyed the staying up alone to preserve the fire for the others until morning.

I am reading The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, received for Christmas. I had expected from the book the same sort of pleasure one gets from watching a small fire. A sense of depth, touching on wisdom, filling in pieces of his thought, his biography, and his writing of LOTR to what I already knew, but nothing challenging. We don't really like challenging thoughts coming unexpectedly by a comfortable fire or from a comfortable author we believe we have got a corner on. We want to be told what we already know in a different way. Tolkien didn't let me off the hook that way, however. His letters, especially to his son Christopher, touched on opinions I didn't know the old fellow had. Some are quite new ideas to me, and some contradict what I now believe.

This put me up against it tending the fire. Instead of basking in warm comfortable thoughts, I had to wrestle with colder troubling ones, as one might have to with the fire itself when the cold wind is up and fuel at greater distance than expected. There are posts forming in my mind about all this. Posts here are now my dominant, though not exclusive, means of expressing things important to me. This is a good thing, as it forces me to put my thoughts into words understandable to others.

But it is perhaps not the best thing, as one of the lines of thought is how the trite line "the medium is the message" is true in many ways. The form one chooses dictates what one can say. Letters, conversation, and blogging are quite distinct in their moods.

I will also be writing on Tolkien's views on marriage and making my peace with Tom Bombadil, whose seeming intrusion into the story of LOTR I think I finally get.


Retriever said...

Like this, AVI. And am really looking forward to reading your reflections on TOlkien's letters (which I may even go read now!) And also am curious about TOm Bombadil, which seemed such a bit of odd filler in the story.

Like you, I find posting one of the places where I can truly express myself these days.

A relative ill again weighing heavily on my heart (sibling). And surrounded by PC people and not wanting to fight...

akafred said...

"Posts here are now my dominant, though not exclusive, means of expressing things important to me. This is a good thing, as it forces me to put my thoughts into words understandable to others."

Just as long as you don't stop talking to your friends. :)

Sam L. said...

Thinking new thoughts, and re-thinking old ones in light of new information, are often difficult, yet life-enhancing.

Good for you, good for us.

I also await the results thereof.

ELC said...

I have that book... somewhere. (Humphrey Carpenter, editor, right?) Very enjoyable. JRRT's scathing and lengthy reaction to the first proposed film treatment of LOTR is quite memorable. :)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

ELC - I haven't gotten to that part yet.

CBI said...

I've not read Tolkien's letters; have read the first two volumes of C.S. Lewis' letters. Similar reaction to his writing at times.


1. We have different knowledge and experiences than either of those two gents, and will likely come to different conclusions.

2. They may be wise overall, but they may also be wrong at times. Neither is perfect or a saint.

3. We may be more knowledgeable or wiser about some things, but each of us may also be wrong at times. None of us is perfect or a saint.

4. Each of us, including them, has our own idiosyncrasies, which will play a part in what we find valuable.

Thanks again for this thoughtful blog: I try to check it daily.

God bless!