Because it doesn’t exist.
When I was in my 20s, I had what was known as a cyclothymic personality disorder, a/k/a manic-depression lite. That is, my highs and lows never reached levels at which I could not function. I functioned, but was not always gung-ho about it.
I was seeing Dr. Vass, a lovely and unusual psychiatrist, whose therapeutic techniques were not necessarily conventional, although she did prescribe an anti-depressant, which at the time was the go-to drug (current meds are spectacularly better). It modified my lows and highs without removing them entirely.
My disorder had an ironic cycle. Just as most people were gladly unfolding with springtime, dumping the winter coats, I would become depressed. No reason that could be analyzed. It was simply the time of year for my depression.
And each spring, Dr. Vass would supplement her clinical Rx with this: “Darling, go back and read The Book again.”
The Book? Lord Of The Rings.
And each spring for a number of years I would pull The Fellowship Of The Ring down from my shelves and would begin it again. While I read, I was not depressed and by the end of The Return Of The King, my depression had disappeared entirely.
By my early 30s, my biochemistry had evolved so that I was no longer a victim of highs and lows. There were some years I did not read The Book. Nowadays, I tend to take it down from my shelf because I have a longing to escape what’s going on by living through The Book again.
Why did it have such beneficent power over me?
Years ago, Anatole Broyard, a luminous writer and literary critic at the New York Times, answered my question. One of his comments in a review stuck in my head because, to me, it was the pluperfect definition of a great book.
Broyard was praising the book he was reviewing, a novel, but his comments fell somewhat short of a rave. Then he wondered, on the page, why he wasn’t nuts about the book. (Now I have to transliterate because I don’t remember what he wrote word for word.) He said it came down to what he saw as the purpose of a novel: To hold readers in an inescapable trance in which they had no choice but to thrill to the adventures and vicissitudes of someone else’s life.
Perfect. And it perfectly describes Lord Of The Rings for me, no matter how many times I read it.
I re-read it a few months ago, during a time — that never seems to end — of outrage, horror and the inevitable conclusion that we are in an epic battle for our way of life.
I read books at night, following a day of two newspapers, magazines, tweets from the smart people I follow and newspaper readers’ comments. Too many times, people end their exhortations with pleas to unproven and unseen unitary supernature to save us. “God help us,” they write.
Never will I get over being irritated by the unreasoned helplessness in those pleas, because they beg for salvation which we can still provide for ourselves. It’s falling on your knees to supplicate when you should be on your feet, marching to battle.
We human beings have powers, have the capacity to act while we live. No one should be relinquishing our power to any god.
So here I was, reading my news during the day and muttering at every “God help us,” while at night I was marching into the epic battle between good and evil in Lord Of The Rings.
Maybe this is why I noticed for the first time that no “god” of any kind, no invocation of a supreme being, no prayer to omniscience and omnipotence appears anywhere in Lord Of The Rings.
The nine characters who set out in the hope of defeating the great evil represent what, in the 21st century, could be called a diverse group of people. Each has strengths and weaknesses. There’s some magic in there — elves have super powers, yes, while magicians have a few tricks up their sleeves — but no one is an immortal god. No one of the nine becomes the Dear Leader of the group.
And no one prays. To anything, to anyone. No one.
I have no idea whether Tolkien was deliberate in eliminating eternal omnipotence from Lord Of The Rings. But there is no “god” in Lord Of The Rings.
I’m still fairly knocked out by this revelation. In the most epic battle between good and evil, no “god” exists. No “god” is invoked, no “god” is prayed to. There is no salvation in immortal supernature. It’s people who win the battle.
“God” doesn’t even get a mention.