13 October 2003
New book sheds light on Tolkien's 'Middle Earth'
The revived fascination for Tolkien, particularly with screen versions of his epic tales of elves and dwarves receiving global attention, is of little surprise to University of Sussex psychologist Dr Brian Bates.
Dr Bates, whose latest book, The Real Middle Earth, explores the historical evidence for how 'fantasy' was an everyday reality for the people of Anglo-Saxon England, regards the interest as a backlash to our more scientifically driven, rational age.
"Our huge interest in fantasy books and films confirms our hunger to reconnect with the 'imagination' part of our mind," he says. "To ignore it, or relegate it merely to the realm of entertainment, is a kind of collective madness. Tolkien derived his stories from an age in which everything in life was coloured by people's creative imagination - the very thing business leaders say is desperately needed today. Science brings us great benefits, but our health and happiness depends on our being able to balance the high-stress, information-driven life with a more human-centred perspective."
Dr Bates refers to the latest historical and archaeological research in providing evidence that our ancestors of two thousand years ago saw the same issues that concern us today - hopes, fears, love, anxiety, luck and individual destiny - in vivid imagery. They viewed the world as a magical place populated by spirits and demons. Dragons slumbered under hills, dwarves forged magical weapons and real wizards cast spells and flew on eight-legged horses. When we say we feel 'dispirited' by our life, the people of the real Middle Earth would have interpreted it literally.
Although our knowledge of these beliefs has largely been forgotten, their legacy can still be seen today in the form of burial mounds, chalk hill figures (such as the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex), place names, and even the days of the week, which are named after spirits from Anglo-Saxon life.
Dr Bates, who is also author of the best-selling novel The Way of Wyrd (Wyrd being the name the people of Anglo-Saxon England gave to the deep meaning of life), is recognised as the world's foremost expert on the psychology of spiritual life in ancient Anglo-Saxon England. His academic work focuses on bringing together insights of ancient tribal traditions with leading edge research in psychology and the mind sciences. He has, as a consequence, been invited to work with the New York-based organisation The Ford Foundation as Senior Consultant on their project on worldwide tribal wisdom, supporting tribal elders in their communities, and learning from their ancient teachings.
Notes for editors
The Real Middle Earth is published by Pan Macmillan on November 15, 2003.
Dr Bates recently collaborated with John Cleese for the book and television series, The Human Face.
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