What the world needs now is hobbits." That’s what Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line Cinema, said at a public forum in New York City following mass murder at the World Trade Center. His remarks were greeted with hisses and derision (New Yorker, October 22). Perhaps cynics in the audience thought it a tasteless plug for New Line’s forthcoming The Lord of the Rings films. But Shaye is right. That art affords an opportunity to withdraw from the "real" world to some other state is its greatest gift to humanity. It’s one we should fiercely covet for our children.
For what happens when we, young and old, read imaginative literature? We withdraw. Novelist Philip Roth puts it well: "The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise, to have set loose in them the consciousness that’s otherwise conditioned and hemmed in by all that isn’t fiction. This is something that every child, smitten by books, understands immediately, though it’s not at all a childish idea about the importance of reading." The noise to which he refers is that emanating from "a world where everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt, and control" us.
Trouble, fear, disturbance of the usual: these might especially spur us to seek a different consciousness in books. But duress erodes the concentration required for reading. And worse, it is precisely in such times that puritans, positivists, and the impatient of every political...
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About the Author
Daria Donnelly (1959-2004) was an associate editor of Commonweal from 2000 to 2004. In 2002, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, she became associate editor (at large) and co-editor of the poetry section.