There are times I can almost believe in synchronicity.
Yesterday, I was chatting with a student of mine. This particular student is an outspoken atheist, and had been in an argument with a friend over the veracity of the bible. The friend had commented that the bible was a complex, interlocking belief system, with a consistent history, and was far too intricate to be fiction.
My student responded, "The Lord of the Rings is a complex, interlocking set of stories with a consistent history, and no one believes that The Lord of the Rings is true." Which I thought was a pretty good response.
But then, quite by accident, just this morning I found out that no, there are people who believe that The Lord of the Rings is true.
The leader of this intrepid band of wingnuts is a fellow named Dirk vander Ploeg, and his website (here) is called "The Quest for Middle-Earth." He has, in fact, written a book (available for $14.95, should you not have better uses for fifteen bucks, which in my opinion would include using it to start a fire), and he asks the following provocative question: what if J. R. R. Tolkien had secret knowledge of the Earth's early history, and used that knowledge in writing his books?
My initial response to this was, "What if C-A-T spelled 'dog'?" But maybe I'm being a little hasty, here, to quote prominent historical figure Treebeard the Ent. Let's look at vander Ploeg's line of reasoning:
1) Tolkien, a professor of Old English and Anglo-Saxon linguistics, learned Finnish and studied the myths in the Kalevala extensively.
2) Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and yet he peopled his universe in Lord of the Rings with various god-like figures.
3) On the Island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago, scientists have found the bones of a small hominid that apparently coexisted with modern humans until about 12,000 years ago, or possibly later. Named Homo floresiensis, these hominids have been nicknamed... Hobbits.
4) There are some big eagle species in Southeast Asia.
5) The Atlantis myth shares some of the same features as Tolkien's stories of the doomed island of Númenor. Therefore, the Atlantis myth proves that the stories of Númenor are true. And vice-versa.
This is about as far as I got with it, because my pre-frontal cortex was begging for mercy. (Actually, the point where I quit was when he started talking about how the Eye of Sauron still existed in the form of the US government's network of spy satellites.) But as a logical sequence, I think we have to admit that "Finnish + demigods + tiny hominids + big eagles + Atlantis = The Lord of the Rings is all true" is a pretty persuasive piece of reasoning. It's right up there with "HAARP causes earthquakes" and "the Nazca lines are a UFO landing strip" in terms of logical validity.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'd think it was pretty cool if Aragorn and Gandalf and the rest had all existed. (Well, maybe not Denethor. He was kind of an asshole. But most of the rest of 'em.) It certainly has a grandeur that our own, real history lacks. I mean, compare the Thirty Years' War with the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, for cryin' in the sink. I bet no one in the Thirty Years' War ever did anything nearly as cool as standing up and saying, "I am not a man!" and stabbing a Nazgul right between the eyeballs.
But unfortunately, truth matters. This means, I'm afraid, that you history students will have to continue learning about the Thirty Years' War -- and The Lord of the Rings will have to remain where it is, in the "Fiction" section of the library.