21 October 2013

Cars and Tolkien

When the automobile was first introduced to the populace, we were told that it would free us up to spend more time with family and friends.  As might have been expected, this promise turned out to be quite false (much as when we were told that computers would do away with paperwork).  The automobile simply made it both easier and faster to get from one point to another and, in effect, made it easier to do more things in the same span of time.

The older I get - and the more Hobbit-like I become - I increasingly question the good of the automobile.  It first started when I visited Mackinac Island where cars are not allowed.  For short distances on the island, your feet suffice; for longer distances, horse-drawn carriages suffice.

When I first I rode on one of these carts, I was deeply moved by the rocking motion - which I found soothing - as the horse gently pulled us along and by the pace at which we moved.  Everything was slowed and allowed greater attention to be paid to the beauty of the trees and the pleasantness of the company of friends.

I couldn't help but wonder then how much more peaceful the world might be without cars.  Certainly it would be more difficult, but it would - seemingly - be more peaceful.  Simply consider the additional time spent not going anywhere, or at least not very far.  Consider also the length of time which would be required for longer journeys, time that could be used taking in beauty and visiting with family and friends who would accompany you.

Perhaps it's nothing more than a romantic nostalgia (for lack of a better phrase) for a manner of life that never was.  And perhaps it might also be true.

At any rate, today I stumbled upon a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, whose distaste for industrialization is legendary, that matches well with my thoughts on the car:
The motor-car attracts, because it enables people to live far away from their noisome and inhuman 'works', or to fly from their depressing dormitories to the 'country'. But it cheats: for the motor-factories, and their subsidiaries (garages, repair-shops, and pumps), and the cars themselves, and their black and blasted roads, devour the 'country' like dragons. This is the splendid gift of a magician: he offers to a caged bird that has defiled its cage and perch - what? - a little length of chain so that it can flap to a near-by twig and foul that. Magnificent! This is freedom! And to make the chain hundreds of the magician's prisoners sweat like motorlocks. This is the Real Life that is so beneficial to the University of Oxford. It might seem simpler to clean the bird-cards.
Having been without a vehicle now since the middle of July, I am finding that I have not really missed it. It's been nice to travel by foot and by train (and twice in someone else's car).

1 comment:

  1. I wish America were built more like Europe.
    Europe lends to walking and biking way more than America.
    I sometimes entertain the idea of opening a gym. but it wouldn't be a gym like the kind in America. it wouldn't be like any gym in the world probably.
    but it would very much look like the piazzas in Italy. where people eat whole local food and walk everywhere.
    simple fitness and health- brought to you by everyday habits.