“Moon-letters are rune-letters, but you cannot see them,” said Elrond, “not when you look straight at them. They can only be seen when the moon shines behind them…”
“What do they say?” asked Gandalf and Thorin together.
“‘Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks,'” read Elrond, “‘and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the key-hole.'”
– The Hobbit, Chapter 3: A Short Rest
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit, believed that one of the easiest and most potent ways to discover truth was through stories. He, like many great writers before and after him, wrote themes and ideas into his books that reflected real life. He took truths from reality and gave them new coats, changing their appearance but not their meaning. Truths hidden this way are often easier to see.
Unfortunately, truth in today’s culture is often impossible to see at all, if truth in culture even exists. Every day, we are battered with a multitude of “truths” from culture, each one conflicting with the others to the point where truth itself no longer seems to exist. Opinions, reviews, columns, critiques, interviews, scoops, hot topics…the list goes on and on. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who even knows what they’re talking about? The vast amount of information streaming from culture conflicts with itself, obscuring any form of truth or understanding we could pull from it. Like Tolkien’s elusive moon-letters, culture needs to be viewed in a different light.
There is such a thing as truth; if there wasn’t, we wouldn’t have a name for it. Careers like forensic science and legal prosecution would not exist, and detectives would be out of a job. If, then, there is such a thing as truth, there must also be a way to discover it. Even in an atmosphere as confusing as our culture, where truth has become so distorted, there must be a way to get to the heart of a matter and find out what’s really going on. There are signs that can point us to truth, like the knocking thrush that revealed a secret door to Bilbo and his friends. These signs are the clues to follow: they offer unique perspectives and new ideas that, when applied to culture, may make it a little more clear. And even if the secret doors we uncover lead to a fearsome dragon’s layer, at least we will have found out the truth.