The Complex Sense of Place

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“The deconstuctionist postmodern analysis asserts that we never actually know anything about our local patch of the biosphere because we can know only the concepts our particular society has invented … All this seems exceedingly odd–and more than a little pathological–to traditional native peoples, for instance. From an early age, they pay a great deal of attention to the dynamics of the natural world, both individually and collectively. They observe with great sensitivity the dramas, rhythms, and presence of place.” Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real, p. 27.

Worthwhile writing, like any other product of a living culture, arises from a people’s strivings, tragedies, and victories as experienced in a particular place. This is an insight that animates the fiction of Tolkien, and I think he would agree that the sense of alienation that afflicts so many these days is the result of our loss of feeling for the dramas, rhythms, and presence of place. Tolkien certainly knew that a vivid setting could be as strong a character in a good story as the protagonist, and no one could create a living, dynamic backdrop like he could.

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4 thoughts on “The Complex Sense of Place”

  1. “… a vivid setting could be as strong a character in a good story as the protagonist …”
    -great line, and a great point

    ” … and no one could create a living, dynamic backdrop like [Tolkein] could.”
    -I vastly prefer description, a la Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, over creation, a la Tolkein. Either way, it’s meaningful to satisfy the reader with that sense of place.

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  2. douginnc,

    I get your drift. But one could argue that all writers create a world, whether they write literary fiction or fantasy. Every writer’s worldview is different.

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  3. It’s true that all writers create the world a reader wants to visit. But Tolkien’s accomplishment included the history and languages of the realm he created, as well as various races of men and fantastic monsters.

    Also, I agree with dougnc. Setting can affect the story as much as any character.

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  4. RIcky C,

    Yes, I agree. As difficult as it is to lure the reader into your reflection of the real world, it’s even more of a challenge to make an invented one seem believable. Tolkien managed to do that, and he did it well.

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