I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’ – as things apart from ourselves.
I’ve written about this quote before, and it continues, in my mind, to be one of Tolkien’s key philosophical statements, a magical little manifesto of sorts. Whereas the literary world has been generally obsessed with “realism” for around 150 years or so, Tolkien takes the modernist idea of the “real” – meaning the thing just as it is in a materialist sense – and transforms it into something new.
“As we are meant to see them” – of course, this begs the question: “Meant by whom or what?” It’s an obviously supernatural statement, for it implies an intelligibility that stands outside of nature, a will to communicate something to us.
Our problem is that we are all taught to be good “realists”. Tolkien’s response to this is almost Chestertonian: “The real is not what you think it is.” The modernist mind tends to assess the “real” as being that which is right in front of me. It’s a way of taking things at “face value”, and thus, as Tolkien says, “appropriating” or “hoarding” them into our other piles of junk, facts conquered and tucked away.
But seeing things as they are meant to be seen – this requires not hoarding, but wonder leading to contemplation, a belief that it’s not just an empty bundle of atoms with some energy thrown in, but a gift imbued with intelligibility, a sacrament of sorts drawing us toward a greater reality.
When we see this way, it becomes harder to simply tuck things away as if we know everything about them. We are liberated from the grave danger of possession and greed, and thus free to understand that things as they are right now, at this moment, are not as they will always be. Indeed, the thing is given to call us to a hopeful realization of the greater, invisible reality.
That beautiful piece of Tolkien-inspired artwork you see above is from elegaer, my Tolkien Artist-of-the-Month for September 2016. Of course you love it, because it’s awesome, so go check out the rest of their work!