Marlon James Talks the Power of Myth and Trauma in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

Frodo and the Ring.
Frodo and the Ring.
Image: New Line Cinema

Marlon James is a powerful figure in modern fantasy, creating a compelling fantasy series that he called the “African Game of Thrones”, a brilliant, award-winning author who thinks deeply about why and how he creates what he creates.

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It’s great, then, to hear a mind like James talk about one of the most influential fantasy creators of all time: Tolkien. In a fantastic lecture given at Pembroke College, published online recently, James discusses the intertwined relationship between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and its relationship to both mythology and trauma.

James argues, fundamentally, that a turn to mythology and fantasy is a response to trauma, an attempt to find a language with which to describe experiences and pains that are, fundamentally, indescribable, that are beyond normal language and that exist beyond normal experience.

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It’s a great, erudite talk, perfect Sunday listening if you’re into thinking deep about fantasy. How does Tolkien deal with trauma, and how does he use it? And, if myth is so important, how do you cope when you don’t have it? They’re incredibly important questions, and James provides some fascinating answers. Check it out.

(Hat tip to former io9 staffer Evan Narcisse for the recommendation.)

io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

And, if myth is so important, how do you cope when you don’t have it?

I haven’t listened to this yet, but many sources believe a personality is developed from trauma, there are moments in our early life where something happened to us and we’ve been reliving that trauma in order to deal with life. For example, a child might have been told she was stupid during a key moment and embarrassed in class, now that person is trapped in a habitual loop of using her intelligence and smarts in order to belong. We are constantly subconsciously looking for ways outside these loops and habits as a way of dealing with the trauma.

I think simply we identify with trauma that’s why great stories resonate with us.