Creative Joy / by gene talbott

J. R. R. Tolkien is the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, as many people know. He is also the author of The Silmarillion, a collection of stories really, that comprise the origin myth and early legends of his Middle Earth. In these stories the elves and dwarves (and later the humans) that inhabit Tolkien's novels, and that many love (and some dislike,) are shown in the early days of the world and of their own races. Drama ensues, of course, which I am not going to talk about. I want to talk about a particular thing that struck me when I first read The Silmarillion.

In addition to the love of beauty that generally characterizes good beings in Tolkien's work, there is a certain more active quality that most of them have. For example, in describing Feanor, perhaps the greatest elf who ever lived, Tolkien refers to his inventions and his creative genius, and states that "seldom were the hands and mind of Feanor at rest." Later he characterizes the dwarves as a whole: "They were unwearied in those days and eager for new works." And most impressively, a sentence that really struck me: "Feanor and the craftsmen of the Noldor worked with delight, foreseeing no end to their labors."

Astonishing! Wonderful! Crazy! Isn't that a contradiction? Foreseeing no end to their labors, they worked with delight! These descriptions are of beings, people, who are so devoted to craft and creativity, invention and discovery, so identified with it, so in love with it, that they don't stop and don't want it to end. They are eager, through and through.

I don't think this is common, as a dominant quality of life. However, I think most people have experienced it. It comes from engagement, doesn't it? A devoted engagement to a process, forgetful of oneself, unconcerned with outcomes or failures, at least when weighed against the enthusiasm of exploring, learning, overcoming challenges, making something new. As far as I can tell, some people do experience a lot of this in their lives, and some people only a little.

I also have experienced this, but find it very hard to sustain. (I'm a little scared to admit that.) The active, truly active part of my nature that delights in labor, is so easily forgotten, and replaced with passivity. A passivity that is fed by so many things, from tiredness and self-indulgence to frustration, anxiety and fear. All forms of egotism, a bigger concern with myself than with engagement.

The only response I can come up with is to feed the delight, to choose as constantly as I can to turn toward engagement, especially with that which seems closest to my heart. And (which strangely often seems to be the same thing) especially with that toward which I feel the most reluctance.