The Connection Between Food and Fairies

by Patrick J. Deneen on May 22, 2010 · 15 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short,Writers & Poets

It turns out locally-produced food is not only good for the body, but the spirit – especially the human capacity to intuit the sanctity of the world.

“[Family life must have been different] in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense real (not metaphorical) connections between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air and later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardized international diet…are artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien, from an unpublished letter to Arthur Greeves, June 22, 1930

Hat tip: Gloria Deo

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jason Peters May 22, 2010 at 7:05 am

Further reading. And, if you’re really into the Inklings, further reading still.

avatar Russell Arben Fox May 22, 2010 at 7:31 am

What a great find, Patrick. Tolkien was wiser than most.

Jason, dammit, now I have two more books to buy! Please quit making me spend money.

avatar Jon Cook May 22, 2010 at 8:21 am

Good one! Tolkien is great, I just finished re-reading The Hobbit, but the one issue I take with his anglo-agrarian idyll is his distrust of The Wild. He typically represents “wilderness” as a foreboding and dangerous place, one which would improve if man could just settle and “tame” it. Berry needs balanced with Leopold, I guess.

avatar Ricky Irvine May 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

I was intrigued by the quote and did some searching for its source. It was actually C. S. Lewis who wrote it speaking of Tolkien. See The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 1, p. 909.

avatar Cecelia May 22, 2010 at 10:38 pm

“The strength of the hills is not ours”

wow – thanks Dr. Deneen – and yes – more books to read!

avatar Rob G May 23, 2010 at 6:24 am

In a similar vein, I’d recommend this very highly:

The subtitle is unfortunate, as is doesn’t in any way capture the gist of the book. It makes it sound like a devotional, which it is not. Don’t let it steer you away.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I’ve just given a fairly utilitarian response to the related post, “Can Local and Organic Feed the World?” and now you remind me there are non-utilitarian considerations. What you have posed, and what Lewis posed, does appeal to me. For we humans to live our lives within the natural cycles of the year, for that to be part of our sense of place, is something we have lost, and it has much to recommend it. On the other hand, local peasant life was indeed often short, disease-ridden, plagued by drought, over-rain, windstorms and hail, various blights… which we have to some extent overcome.

If we can use the crude technology bequeathed to us by our acquisitive ancestors, to develop smaller, more efficient, more sustainable, means to the same natural human ends, which allow us to decentralize, that would be all to the good. On the other hand, we can hardly do this if we do not limit, or ever reverse the sheer numbers of our population. We will run out of space, shoving every dryad and naiad out of our world, trampling on the last sacred rock and spring.

Can we do that?

avatar Peter B. Nelson May 24, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Mr. Cook, I think much of The Hobbit’s landscape, and especially Mirkwood forest, is Tolkien’s deliberate elaboration of the archetypal European fairy tale mileue (c.f. Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood), and so it is constrained within that framework.

A more nuanced appreciation of wildness emerges in The Lord of the Rings. In Fangorn Forest Treebeard explicitly contrasts the natural beauty of his Ents’ wild woods to the domestic beauty of the Entwives’ Brown Lands (the source of agriculture for men). Both landscapes are described lovingly and sympathetically, but also as regrettably incompatible. A quick internet search on “Entwives” yields much commentary to this effect, so there’s no need to repeat it here.

Elves do seem perfectly capable of retaining the natural wildness of their domiciles. The Wood Elves of Mirkwood are wilder than the High Elves of Lothlorien, who moved up in the world, literally, to tree houses.

In Tolkien’s earliest writings, the forest of Neldoreth, where Beren met Luthien, is wild and perilous and breathtakingly beautiful. “The leaves were long, the grass was green, the hemlock umbels tall and fair. And in the glade a light was seen Of stars in shadow shimmering. Tinúviel was dancing there To music of a pipe unseen, And light of stars was in her hair, And in her raiment glimmering.” Tolkien was inspired to write this scene as a young man watching his bride-to-be dancing in the woods.

“Distrust of The Wild” is evident in The Hobbit, but it is not a good characterization of Tolkien’s entire corpus.

avatar Kevin J Jones May 24, 2010 at 10:36 pm

“in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood”

Did you all check out David B. Hart’s essay The Secret Commonwealth?

According to legend, seers must be seventh sons. “Once removed from his native heath, says Kirk, a prophet loses the virtue that allows him to see the other world, and he becomes as blind to preternatural presences as any other mortal.”

avatar Zachary Wells May 25, 2010 at 9:37 am

Mr. Deneen,

Thank you for posting this beautiful paragraph. Ah, humanity. What might have been.

avatar Roy F. Moore May 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

It’s sad that Mr. Jenkins believes in the myth of overpopulation. I’d recommend he visit the website of the Population Research Institute. The information and arguments there may shake his worldview up a bit.

Mr. Wells, true, it might have been. But thanks to the Fall in the Garden of Eden, it can never be.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Its sad that Roy F. Moore rejects any possibility of overpopulation without doing a little math — even presenting his own math, whatever it may be. There are finite limits. Whether we have reached them depends upon what we define as necessary. The more we value open space, the more we value living our lives within the natural cycles of that open space, as distinct from visiting it for occasional field trips, the sooner we will reach a definable limit.

avatar Roy F. Moore May 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm

That smacks of Thomas Malthus. I reject Malthus lock, stock and barrel.

The Population Research Institute puts forth the facts countering the myth of overpopulation here:

Thank you for your time.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins June 3, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I’m not a fan of Thomas Malthus either, but just because he said something doesn’t prove it is false. Hitler is reputed to have loved children, but I have not chosen therefore to despise them. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but I do not therefore set aside the Declaration of Independence.

After your first post, I checked out the site you recommended. I found NO argument for the proposition that overpopulation is a myth, merely the foundational assumption that it must be, and a series of articles on the excesses of various efforts to limit population growth — China’s one-child policy, enforced by mandatory abortions, being a prominent example. I tried the link you provided, and again found no evidence, just an assumption.

China is paying a terrible price for the fact that Mao Zedong declined to take modest population control measures when China had a population of merely half a billion. Belatedly, the government has recognized it has a serious problem on its hands, and is taking ruthless measures. I strongly prefer taking measures early, of a more modest and voluntary nature. Blind denial, be people who are predisposed to deny, only postpones a day of reckoning which will be more terrible when we can no longer escape it.

Exactly what constitutes overpopulation depends on criteria of course. If you opine that each family should have a square mile of arable open space around its homestead, we are already overpopulated. If you prefer to say that we have sufficient room as long as each person has one square foot of dry land to stand on, then we are far from it. When we reach that point, one more baby born will mean the planet is overpopulated. Or, when the arable land area is all devoted to agriculture, and is barely sufficient to support the entire population of the earth, with the application of all available technology, while we all live in skyscraper apartment buildings on non-arable rocks and hillsides, if we find population growth requires us to build a new apartment complex, then the earth is overpopulated. Pick your limits, then present a coherent argument. Denial is nothing but denial.

avatar Zachary Wells June 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Mr. Irvine,

Thanks for the correction. I hope that Mr. Deneen did not intentionally misquote the source to deprive a good ol’ Protestant like C.S. Lewis of due respect…..just kidding….kind of. :)

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