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– J.R.R. Tolkien, from an unpublished letter to Arthur Greeves, June 22, 1930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

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  1. 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.

  2. “The strength of the hills is not ours”

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

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. “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.”

  6. Mr. Deneen,

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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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