legendarium

Middle-earth deluged by Sauron

Middle-earth. Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

Sitting in an Oakland coffee shop, on a gray morning, savoring a cup of coffee…one of life’s precious moments. I am reading, and I am loving this time, when my imagination can soar, inspired by a good book, before I must return to work.

A few weeks ago, I saw Tolkiena film seeking to capture key moments in J.R. R. Tolkien’s life that inspired his epic novels The Lord of the Rings. In his May 2019 New Yorker article, Anthony Lane described Director Dome Karukoski as “determined to map Middle-earth onto the life of its creator. Thus, the club of school comrades foretells the brotherhood of Frodo and his fellow-hobbits; flamethrowers, in the trenches, turn to dragons in Tolkien’s fevered eyes; mustard gas slithers and drifts like the Ringwraiths.” Being a fan of Tolkien’s books, Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, and now intrigued to learn more about Tolkien the author (after seeing the literary bio-picture),  I found Joseph Laconte’s A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War.  Sometimes you can judge a book by its’ cover because I quickly moved from browse to buy inspired by the book’s synopsis: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis enjoyed one of the most consequential friendships of the twentieth century – a friendship that emerged from the suffering and sorrow of the war. Both men fought on the front lines during the First World War…influencing the life of each writer and subsequently shaped the nature and character of their respective towering achievements, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.” Laconte’s book has given me a greater understanding of how a writer can draw upon their deepest experiences to produce works of art inspiring audiences to reflect upon humanity’s greatest strengths and most egregious tragedies.

 Although the Great War ended over a century ago, some of us continue to live on in its’ shadow. Most Americans paid scant attention to Europe’s 100thyear commemoration of the end of the Great War’s on November 11, 2019, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The names of battles (Ypres, Somme and Verdun) mean little to many. But millions of humans perished in the Great War and the Belgian and French countryside was so drastically decimated and scarred that the landscape quickly became a known as “no man’s land.” Western Leaders in the years leading up to WWI ascribed to the Myth of Progress believing in the benefits of technology and that ever greater days lay ahead. “Railway engines, steam engines, blast furnaces, textile plants, coal and iron mines were turning nature into the handmaiden of humanity…technology was improving life for ordinary people.” Tolkien’s “love of the English countryside, his attachment to nature, rebelled against the chaotic industrialization of his day…the over reliance on technology, ‘the Machine,’ as a step towards dominating others.” Tolkien believed “the act of bulldozing the real world involves coercing other wills.” World War I was chaotic industrialization for Tolkien, and he wrote novels cherishing nature and the human spirit’s ability to rise above the tragedy of misguided industrialization.

Pilgrim John of Guadalupe

PilgrimJohn

Robin L. Chandler, 2018

Texas was my home when I was very young; I was born not far from the Chisholm Trail. Images of cowhands, cattle, big skies and prairies where you can see storms approaching for miles shaped me. Coupled with Western films directed by John Ford and Howard Hawks, I have a rich mythology that feeds and inspires my imagination. And somewhere along the way, I gave my father the mantle of JohnWayne, taciturn hero, wise in the ways of the world, a man of justice who could always be trusted to save the day. Myths. The truth would be revealed later. Maybe, it was easier to survive living in a fairy tale. Grown now, I realize the unfairness of saddling my father with that unrealistic responsibility; humans are human: beloved and flawed. But you cannot blame a child seeking safety in heroes.

In today’s world, where leaders make rash decisions and speak loudly and endlessly about their strength and prowess, I imagine the mythological “Duke” as Pilgrim John of Guadalupe the perfect Yin and Yang balance of the masculine and feminine come to save us from destruction in our desolation. Did I say I have a good imagination? And I hear John Wayne in the character Tom Doniphon from the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance say “Whoa there, take ‘er easy there Pilgrim,” as if to say, let’s calm down, take life a step at a time, and think about what’s really important, the impact of our actions, and what would be best for all concerned. Amen. A myth, but a grand one. Life is never as simple as a Western film; the solutions Westerns offer will not resolve the complicated challenges we face. But what we truly value is often expressed well in the clear and simple myths we enjoy and share. Yes, please “take ‘er easy there Pilgrim.” Hold steady…the planet’s future rests in our hands.

Prosperity is right around the corner

Grain elevators, Thorndale, Texas. Copyright Robin L. Chandler

Grain elevators, Thorndale, Texas. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler

“What do you want to do,” he asked. “Thorndale…I want to visit the Texas town where you were born and grew up.” We drive through Milam County listening to my Father’s stories as he points out his life landmarks. Travelling the farm-to-market roads in cotton country, we pass through mostly ghost towns like Bartlett, a once thriving farming community and sometime Hollywood location shoot, and San Gabriel, originally a Spanish mission.  Under gray winter skies, the soil, where corn and cotton were recently harvested, still look rich and black. Farmers still grow these crops here, but you get the feeling, people don’t do much of their living here anymore. Living might be a few miles to the south where the economy has shifted to the technology industries surrounding Austin.

It’s Christmas Eve and Thorndale is quiet. Thorndale is about ten miles east of Taylor where my grandparents and my mother are buried and about forty miles from Temple where I was born. A few trucks are parked in front of the main street café where we get a last cup of black coffee before they close down for the holiday. A main state highway cuts through town paralleling the railroad tracks.  Pick-up trucks roar by and now and again the sound of a Santa Fe diesel train engine horn moans lonesomely in the distance. We walk around town visiting the Victorian era farmhouse where my Father was born and grew up during the Great Depression. Living mostly in busy urban centers, it’s hard to believe that many of these ramshackle wood frame houses – that a strong wind might scatter – are still lived in.

Looking north from Temple, Texas at an oncoming cold front.  Copyright Robin L. Chandler.

Looking north from Temple, Texas at an oncoming cold front. Copyright 2012 Robin L. Chandler.

When my Father was a boy, more than one thousand people lived in Thorndale. Ironically, the 2010 US Census counts the town’s population at over one thousand. As we walk, my father points out the now boarded-up movie theater where he watched Tom Mix movies, and the abandoned car dealership. Some businesses from his childhood remain, including Mr. Butts’s dry goods store where you can still buy a good pair of work boots. I feel like a human Historypin, my imagination does the work of the computer overlaying linked-data historic photographs of a busy farm town on the now sadly deserted streets. Down the street, stands a small brick building framed with Doric columns, still housing the Prosperity Bank; I laugh to myself, recalling a scene from the 1936 film My Man Godfrey.

Set in a “Hooverville” along New York’s East River, Godfrey Park (the actor William Powell) and Mike (the actor Pat Flaherty) exchange a few words. “Mike, I wouldn’t worry.  Prosperity’s right around the corner.” “Yeah. It’s been there a long time.  I just wish I knew which corner.” Prosperity’s right around the corner was a phrase employed by Republican Party members advising the country after the Wall Street Crash to be patient and trust the free market’s ability to right itself.  Will patience serve us today as our Congress and President tango close to the fiscal cliff? As we stand in front of the bank, my Dad recounts a sight that remains stamped on his brain.  As a young man in the early 1930s, he witnessed grown men leaving the bank with tears streaming down their faces when the bank foreclosed on their farms.  He recalls they didn’t know how they were going to feed their families and hoping the federal government would continue to provide the five-pound sack of flour for free.  Woody Guthrie’s song about the bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd comes to mind.  The Smithsonian Folkway released a wonderful collection of his songs this year celebrating the centennial of his birth.

“Well, you say that I’m an outlaw, You say that I’m a thief. Here’s a Christmas dinner, for the families on relief.”

“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.”

“And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam. You won’t never see an outlaw, drive a family from their home.”

puede ir más allá en el año nuevo

May you go Furthur in the New Year. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Thirty minutes after the doors opened, I walk off BART and onto the dance floor of the Bill Graham Auditorium, the party in full swing.  Cannabis clouds envelope me, crowds of swirling dervishes surround me, the lights paint me surreally and the band welcomes me, the words of an Estimated Prophet hang in the air “I’m in no hurry, no no no. I know where to go….California, preaching on the burning shore…..California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door…..like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.”  Synchronicity.  I am here.

Hours before I’d burned the two thousand miles from Austin to San Francisco; a western pilgrimage branded by rain, snow and wind. Somehow synched, the band breaks into Cold Rain and Snow “run me out in the cold rain and snow….and I’m going where those chilly winds don’t blow.“   Our road home through Abilene, San Angelo, Midlands, Van Horn, El Paso, Lordsburg, Tucson, Blythe and Los Angeles shared most of the 2,765-mile route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail.  The stagecoach operated from 1857- 1861 traversing the Great Plains, the Sonoran Desert and the San Joaquin Valley connecting St. Louis to San Francisco.  Evidence of ruts left by Butterfield stagecoach wheels, formed more than one hundred and fifty years ago, remains visible to hikers in the Anza Borrego Desert (East of San Diego).  Sobering is the power of mankind to create lasting change, or in the desert wilderness, permanent damage.  Leave no trace.  Good advice in the wilderness, but judging from the energy around me, the Grateful Dead left an important lasting impression.

The band breaks into Tennessee Jed singing “there ain’t no place I’d rather be, baby won’t you carry me.”  My mind flashes back to John Ford’s masterpiece Stagecoach the first film with a soundtrack scored entirely on American folksongs combining traditional Texas and  ballads, Stephen Foster compositions, hymns, tin-pan alley tunes and minstrel songs. Stagecoach’s theme contain the lyrics “O bury me not on the lone prairie…..
Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free…..By my father’s grave, there let me be….
O bury me not on the lone prairie.”  Roots of the Dead.  Synchronicity yet again.  
As if a messenger sent, my dear friend  emerges from the seven-thousand year-end revelers while the band sings Scarlett Begonias “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”  Synched once more.  My friend leans over and whispers “the jam builds with Phil and Bobby at the core, the keyboard and lead guitar forming the outer rings of sound….all echoed in the movements of the dancers.”   May we all be blessed in this New Year with such joyous synchronicity.