here for Leif Smith's bio
I believe that there are men and women who know themselves to
be light-friends, servants of truth; who know that they are engaged
in a battle for the survival of life in the world, and for the
flourishing of life potential wherever it is found; who seek victory
through kindling and rekindling of spirits; and who are awesome
to those for whom their lives and works pose challenge to choose,
at very deepest level, among ways of life. I call such people
wizards, after Gandalf, of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
It is the work of wizards to confront us with lives, art, and
philosophy wherein we may contemplate visions of worlds whose
heroes do important and dramatic deeds in struggle for good, bearing
testimony to the greatness possible in humanity.
Tolkien himself is a wizard who has written a great work that
makes us long for a world better than the one we have known. To
read him is to dare to look into a vision-stone that invites us
to take life seriously, to see the world as a place of wonder
where quests await us, and to understand that we may rise to the
level of our quest. For me, The Lord of the Rings is more than
magnificent story; it is a challenge to venture into this world
on great quest.
Let us consider four questions: What sort of people are wizards?
Why do they do their work? How do they do it? And what difference
does it make for us?
No one is born a wizard; becoming a light-friend is a result
of quest and discovery - it does not come without effort.
There are two characteristics that must be found in an apprentice
wizard: the first is a passion for this world, for all the single,
concrete things in it in their endless diversity, a constant wonder,
drawn onward by love; the second is a passion for understanding,
made effective by a demand for coherence.
If one is ready to accept a contradiction then anything follows:
understanding is reduced to chaos. If one wants truth, and is
committed to the fact that a thing cannot both be and not be something,
simultaneously, and in the same respect, then contradictions cannot
be accepted into one's ideas about the universe. It is the refusal
to accept contradictions that is the foundation of integrity.
E who seeks to understand must hold
together in firm integrity, and must expect no less of er world.
E must question it until it yields sense. Consider the character
of Gandalf, who said, "When
I know anything, I know best." Such confidence in judgment
need be earned; it is not a thing given to those content to remain
An integral life will contain many unexpected emergences of pattern.
The universe yields coherent answers to questions asked by those
who are loyal to their own minds and to their passion for understanding.
It offers the reward of emergent pattern to integrity. It is thus
that the apprentice wizard learns that the adventure in living
need never fade. E comes to understand that integrity is a tool
to make life worth living.
Peter Kropotkin, the geographer who discovered the structure
of the Siberian mountains, understood the spiritual qualities
There are not
many joys in human life equal to the joy of the sudden birth
of a generalization, illuminating the mind after a long period
of patient research. What has seemed for years so chaotic, so
contradictory, and so problematic takes at once its proper position
within an harmonious whole. Out of a wild confusion of facts
and from behind the fog of guesses, - contradicted almost as
soon as they are born -, a stately picture makes its appearance,
like an Alpine chain suddenly emerging in all its grandeur from
the mists which concealed it the moment before, glittering under
the rays of the sun in all its mightiness and beauty.
Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist
The search for coherence often yields surprising pattern, but
nothing is so surprising as the apparent convergence of all patterns
upon a single hidden point. Wherever we start, we find patterns
that unite patterns; we find hierarchical structures of patterns.
It seems that there is a source of hidden order in the universe,
and that it is abstract in nature.
Natural childish love for the world, by
the pathway of devotion to truth through integrity, evolves into
reverence for hidden order. A child becomes a conscious servant
of light, and a new apprentice wizard is in the world. In a few
words William Blake expressed the wonder of identity hidden in
To see the World in a grain of sand, and
a heaven in a wild flower; hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour.
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
The crude tool of logic, which permits us to limit our belief
to the non-contradictory, becomes transmuted into a glowing arrow
pointing towards the One which binds together the raging storm
In the third century Plotinus wrote a description applicable
men who, in their mightier power, in the keenness of their sight,
have clear vision of the splendor above and rise to it from
among the fog and cloud of earth, and hold firmly to that other
world, looking beyond all here, delighted in the place of reality,
their native land, like a man returning after long wanderings
to the pleasant ways of this own country.
Plotinus, Fifth Ennead, IX
The wizard has learned that deliberate application of intelligence
to the world finally reveals a profoundly ordered source of light,
irradiant through all matter, illuminating each existent. Wizards,
being of powerful spirit and mind, see deeply into the detail
of the world, and broadly conceive similarities, find identity
that generates diversity, and put what they have learned into
the world, through works of magical effects upon those who are
able to respond.
But there are times and places where the light seems blocked,
or dimmed. Gandalf says to Denethor:
But all worthy
things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are
my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task,
though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this
night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again
in days to come.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Bk. V, Ch. 1
How is it that a darkness capable of constraining the flowering
of living things is possible? When we can answer, we shall know
why wizards do their work, and why even in deep darkness there
is hope of light.
We learn that there is truth; but we could not know it unless
we also know that there is falsehood, and commit ourselves to
reject it, even at the cost of apparent advantage. We find that
the light-source does not contradict itself, and that those who
wish to grow in its image must remain integral.
Now we come to the essence of the wizard's battle. It is not
certain that the light will remain in our world, for one may know
something to be false, and yet persist in asserting it to be true.
We are the only creature complex enough to have learned to lie.
Falsehoods are barriers erected between life and its fullest
bloom. They must fail through lack of that vital coherence that
is the light in life; a lie is an attempt to impose the impossible
upon the universe. Those who do not care what sort of lives they
lead may accept falsehoods without concern; but those committed
to the quest to make their lives manifestations of the light through
works, come to understand that a lie is their ruin. They regard
their integrity as a space-clearer which, by rejection of falsehoods,
holds open the possibility to create works that successfully imitate
the hidden light-source. They refuse to honor lies; and so preserve
their highest life-potential.
But through the power of fear and force some may impose the burden
of lies on others. Those who employ lies as implements of domination,
persuade us to act as if things were true that in fact we believe
to be false, and false that we believe to be true. In this manner
is life set against itself, and death of spirit ordained.
In the human realm alone can there be deliberate assertion of
known falsehood; thus we are the field of battle between light
and darkness; and among those who knowingly assert and maintain
falsehoods are the Dark Lords of this world who enslave mankind.
Great is bankruptcy;
the great bottomless gulf into which all falsehoods, public
and private, do sink, disappearing; whither, from the first
origin of them, they were all doomed. For nature is true and
not a lie. No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after
longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on nature's
reality, and be presented there for payment, with the answer,
No effects. Pity only that it had so long a circulation: that
the original forgers were so seldom he who bore the final smart
of it! Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on;
shifted from back to back, and from rank to rank; and so land
ultimately on the dumb lowest rank, who with spade and mattock,
with sore heart and empty wallet, daily come in contact with reality,
and can pass the cheat no further.
Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution
The light in the world pulses, expanding and contracting: sometimes
it covers a broad area, but is diffuse; at other times it is crushed
into narrow cross-section, but is intense. When the light is compressed
loyalty to it grows stronger in those who can still see it (Wilhelm
Röpke, The Social Crisis of Our Times, Introduction). Through
sense of loss, and fear of greater loss, wizards become conservers
of the best that men have learned, and summarize the highest wisdom
of the past in new structures of vision, more elegant than any
before. And some, like Gandalf, may undertake to amplify the light,
and again illuminate the world.
Tolkien might well be speaking of our own world. The light, in
our time, is under great pressure; it may not survive the present
onslaught of barbarism that is everywhere seeking to bring personal
quests under the domination of political lies. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
But if it is right to correlate compression of light with its
intensification, there is still hope. For great wizards may have
been called into battle, and may have provided us with powerful
tools, which even now they seek to use in the world. If they succeed,
the light of lives well lived will drown out the darkness.
We should remember what Gandalf has told us, and look for wizards
when we expect them least, and in unlikely times. One of the great
artifacts of wizardry is Tolkien's work. It would be tragic loss
to treat it as nothing but pleasant escape from reality.
In times of compression of light, wizards are found who are marked
among us by the weight and scope of their vision, who are big-pattern
seers, who build powerful generalizations which integrate much
that is significant in life-choices. It is the task of such wizards
to so concentrate the remnant of light that it will become a brilliant
flame which they may project again into the world, generating
a resurgence of truth and a displacement of lies.
Sauron seeks to unify all of mankind, to make each of us his
servant, bound to him through acceptance of lies. Gandalf knows
that of all the lies we accept, the greatest is that we never
cared for life, that there was no spark in each of us to illuminate
things that we eagerly explored, and loved. Such things differ
from person to person; but each of us has once loved something,
and found it beautiful. To abandon loved things because of lies
accepted is the most deadly treachery to joyful life. Refusal
to root our spirits into the soil of native loves is the end of
the possibility of happiness, and the beginning of the pursuit
Each of us is born a bearer of life-theme; but it may be denied
- its light cut off, as if tree severed its roots, aspiring to
be cloud, bound to nothing. But the integral spirit will not become
withered tree,. E holds er life source in strong grasp, that the
world's liars not shatter er original loves, which are life theme
to unfold into symphonic structure of vision, thought, and action.
Where will is unified through fear and force, error proliferates;
where will is diversified through commitment to individual life-theme,
truth emerges. On this principle wizards found strategy.
Wizards seek to break the unification of human wills, which the
Dark Lords have achieved through skillful lies. There is only
one way this may be done: encourage the spark in each one of us
that makes us long for adventure. Through commitment to individual
quest there may arise a fellowship of light-friends, whose works
tend toward a single order, though founded in the greatest diversity.
Darkness begins in unity and ends in chaos; light begins in diversity
and flows toward unity.
In times when darkness presses upon humanity, many are the sparks
of quest that lie buried in ash and hopelessness. Wizards become
seekers of embers, and learn to stir them into raging flame; they
become kindlers and rekindlers of spirit.
Cirdan said as much to Gandalf:
For this is the
Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world
that grows chill.
The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B
But how is this to be done? Through history: speaker to humanity
of a glorious past; through art: herald of a glorious future;
and through philosophy: tool for holding visions firm against
Beethoven, wizard, said:
Music is a higher
revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, the wine which inspires
one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses
out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually
drunken. When they have again become sober they have drawn from
the sea all that they can bring to dry land ... music is the
incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which
comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.
Wizards, however loved, are fearsome. They bring us to a place
within our spirits where we must make difficult and risk-filled
choices about how we shall live. Are we to stand upon a motionless
center, about which to spin our lives? Or are we to find ourselves
on a road that goes ever on? To meet a wizard, and to take er
seriously, is to face such questions. Indeed, that is the essence
of a wizard: e is living question for all who would hold a spark
within that they would not see die in ash, but brightly flame.
And this is why it takes a certain courage to look long and deep
into Tolkien's Middle-Earth; we find that it is our own world;
that the battle is here; and that Tolkien is a wizard who confronts
us with questions we had never clearly seen, and might have wished
But there is much to gain if we join the fellowship of light-friends:
there is order in the universe, and whether it be designed by
supreme consciousness, or spontaneously emergent, those who commit
themselves to it, and to the life-potential therein residing,
will find themselves blessed by it, as their lives take on harmonious
qualities that beyond all power of foresight are slowly revealed.
I once heard psychologist Nathaniel Branden say that what we
fear is not dying, but dying without having lived. If this is
true, and I think it is, we should attend carefully to wizards,
who encourage us to live with all our power. We who find our quests
will achieve the fullest bloom latent in our beginnings. Then
will we say that we have truly lived, and that it was good.
Hear Ayn Rand, a great wizard from a dark land, who devoted her
life to creating visions of the Promethean in humanity:
In the name of
the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who
are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive,
do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the
cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his
title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is
an upright posture, and intransigent mind and a step that travels
unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable
spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite,
the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul
perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but
have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature
of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists,
it is real, it is possible, it is yours.
Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Written by Leif Smith in 1973 for
Steve Porter's "Amon Din",
a magazine devoted to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Reprinted in
Jerry Emanuelson's magazine "First Person Singular" in
December 1975. Edited and slightly modified for the web, February