"Well, I'm back," he said.
As I sit here at the keyboard I find myself reconsidering Sam's contented sigh to his wife at his return from seeing Frodo and Bilbo off at the Grey Havens. Jackson's Lord of the Rings films sparked a lot of interest in how the novel ended, with intense commentary on the positives and negatives of both film and written version. I enjoyed all of it then, but I always thought folks missed the deeper, more relevant interpretation. To me, Sam's concluding words served as the tie that bound LOTR to the lightness that permeated The Hobbit. More than just an allusion to the title, Sam's expression reminds us that he, as Bilbo, and all the others who played a role in the dark, joyful days of the great conflict, had returned from the trauma changed but aware of what was lost and what was saved. Frodo tells Sam as much at the havens. Bilbo handing Balin the tobacco jar is synonimous to Rosie handing over little Elanor: we have lived through a bad time, and memories of the storm serve to accentuate our appreciation of the sun. Order has been restored, but with a difference. Both Bilbo and Sam return to the emotional tone Tolkien loved most: a mature understanding of civility and peace. There is a reason why the professor spent so much time showing us how Sam used Galadriel's gift to recover some of the Shire magic. New trees can only partially replace the old, but their shade is just as cooling nonetheless.
I think Sam got it, but when I consider the mess that we made of 2014 I wonder if we haven't missed something important, intangible and yet integral. I'm referring specifically to what seemed like an endless litany of incivility, litiginous bufoonery, outright greed, character assassinations, calculated smear campaigns designed to do nothing save create reality-tv-type behavior and pompous publicity. From the Hatchett-Amazon fight, the chaos within the SFWA, the proliferation of review wars, plagiarism, the near constant flood of sexist claims, ultra-sensitive feminist calls, race-baiting, racism, orientation... I fear we have devolved into a coterie of pundits destroying culture rather than developing it. I have reached a point where I struggle to find relevant discussion about genre fiction and the art of storytelling in general on Facebook or other net outlets. Everyone seems bent on talking about anything BUT words, story, art--all the things I surf the net and publish my stories to explore. Of course, I exaggerate, but still...
I think the real world should inform fiction not intrude upon it so much that it squashes all wonder, creativity, freedom, and experimentation. I recall sitting on a panel about race in fantasy at Norescon in 2012, my first solo run at a con, and within the first five minutes I felt like the topic as I understood it had been hijacked by someone else's agenda. I pushed through an hour of contextless deconstructed feaux-examinations about a handful of books and writers that eventually devolved to a rant about race association in the retail sector. I did not know it then, but that was just a precursor to the chaos of 2014. Cynicism renders discussion fruitless when we let it turn us into ideological advocates. We post stuff without consideration (or with intent), create crap behind fake profiles to rile up emotions and sales, attack story and author in the same breath, dismiss one writer for being too white, another for not being ethnic enough and a yet another for being a presumptive gender.
All of that is the work of Saruman, and I wonder if we have our own box of Galadriel's wondrous dust to resurrect the wasteland we have made of our landscape. Our art is supposed to elevate by reflecting on the real not become it. And I say this especially about genre fiction. The word "escapist" has never been pejorative to me. Quite the opposite, actually. To me genre fiction is my passport to Sam's mallorn seed. I think that is what we should be planting in 2015. We need to counter the dearth that was 2014 with quality stories, less assassination and more consideration, less childish, boorish conduct and more relevant discussion and support.
Because we are Sam, we have been through some dark days, and yet we are back, informed and armed by knowledge and experience, and we have work to do and stories to tell.
Here's to 2015. Get to it...