Reality Bites Don Feder

Boston Herald columnist Don Feder spends a good chunk of his time penning anti-liberal screeds; recently he dubbed liberalism "America's homegrown suicide cult and the real threat to our nation's survival." For a man who views those on the left as mere escapists, then, it's simply stunning to read Feder's recent adoration -- political much more than literary -- of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In it, the columnist confounds fantasy and reality in a far more literal way than any liberal idealist could possibly manage.

In the piece, titled "A ringing affirmation of a moral universe," Feder finds evidence for such an "affirmation" in a recent upsurge in Bible sales and in the box office success of New Line Cinema's recent Tolkien blockbuster. He seems unaware of the possibility that such a trend might signal just the sort of escapism of which he so frequently accuses the left. Indeed, Feder wonders in all seriousness: "Can mythology, or fairytales, lead us to faith?"

Despite the fact that he's describing a fantasy story, Feder then proceeds to seek handy ethical prescriptions for our real-life "universe" in J.R.R. Tolkien's fate-bound and magic-infused one. Here's my favorite passage:

It's not that moviegoers intentionally are flocking to "Lord of the Rings" to satisfy a spiritual yearning. . .[But] everything from previews to posters suggests this film -- with its elves and other fanciful beings -- carries a serious moral message.

Feder clearly missed the introduction to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, in which the author describes how much he hates allegory. Feder blunders into the trap of postulating one-to-one correspondences between fiction and fact that Tolkien avoided and even mocked:

Like Hitler and Stalin, Osama bin Laden is another dark lord, seemingly possessed by demoniac powers, who would sacrifice millions of innocents on the altar of his insane ideology.

In a never-ending struggle whose latest installment is played out on the evening news, "Lord of the Rings" offers hope.

Against seemingly invincible evil are arrayed love, sacrifice and humble folk (Hobbits, short of stature and large of heart) who rise to heroic heights, just as ordinary Americans -- police, firefighters, soldiers, civilians -- have shown their mettle during the past four months.

Admittedly, I myself have recently drawn attention to some loose parallels between aspects of The Lord of the Rings and our current situation. But at least I managed to avoid a comparison of Osama bin Laden and Tolkien's "Dark Lord" -- to say nothing of hobbits and firefighters.

So the next time Don Feder attacks the political visions advanced by liberals, at least we'll know what kind of world he'd like to see instead. Of course, he may need to take a trip through a certain magical wardrobe in order to get there.

Hey, Over Here! Perhaps because he's glum about being overshadowed by the war on terrorism, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords has embarked on an elaborate campaign to explain why he ditched the Republican Party last summer and gave the Democrats control of the Senate. He's even pushing a new book titled My Declaration of Independence. The only thing is, no one is paying any attention. The blatantly self-serving nature of Jeffords' approach may be a large part of the problem. It's hard not to wince when reading the Vermont Senator's recent Los Angeles Times column -- titled, obnoxiously, "My Way, the High Way." Here's some typical Jeffords breast-beating:

Still, I knew what I had to do. On May 24, I traveled from Washington to Vermont to make my declaration of independence. That decision changed the nation's balance of power, changed our national agenda and changed my life forever.

Astrology, Redux. The last "Idea Log" column on the Boston Phoenix's promotion of astrology created some debate on Jim Romanesko's Media News website; those who chimed in include the Phoenix's Dan Kennedy and Chris Wright. (If you're interested in reading any of that, see MediaNews' Letters Page and search for the word "astrology.") But my favorite response to the whole controversy comes in an e-mail from reader John Derr, who points out (sardonically) that perhaps the most accurate "prediction" of 9/11, albeit an unintentional one, comes in Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air.

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself --

Yea, all which it inherit -- shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.