by waxbanks

The core appeal of esoterica and apocrypha isn’t the experience of secret knowledge, but its promise — which had better go unfulfilled, lest banality set in. The ‘secret of the universe’ is just that the universe is more complex than the human mind can readily deal with, ‘fractally’ so, the motivations of the beloved family dog (or family member) hard enough to puzzle out without worrying about the downstream press of the second law of thermodynamics or the bizarro intimations of quantum entanglement. ‘Ultimate knowledge,’ i.e. godliness, is a strange strong attractor for the mind of the seeker, but it’s only advertised, never actually sold. Which is fine until you sign the check.

The core appeal of (in Ken Hite’s charming term) ‘eliptony,’ in other words, is the feeling of adventurous expectancy that comes from suggestion and evocation, free association — the pleasure of private pattern-matching and worldmaking. It gives pleasure in passing. The instant you get what you think you’re looking for, the whole thing falls down.

Which is maybe just a roundabout way of saying that the fraction of Tolkien readers who make it through the appendices to The Lord of the Rings is statistically indistinguishable from zero. If Middle-Earth were really real, the really geeky, poorly socialized hobbit- and elf-nerds would get together online to argue about realist novels in which white human women academics experiencing quiet revelations of their own mortality while having affairs with students. They would reread these books endlessly, to spend as much time as possible in (diminishing, ever more familiar) tension.

The real esoteric promise is: The road goes ever on and on…