Outrunning the Bear

Outrunning a bear

Outrunning a bear. Picture from GlobalNerdy.com.

Someone just posted on a forum I visit an old saying his father used to share with him. “Son, you don’t have to outrun the bear; you just have to outrun the guy next to you.”

Another poster followed up with his granddad’s version of the aphorism. Two friends are running away from a tiger. One friend says to the other, “Why are we running? We’ll never outrun a tiger!” The other friend replies, “I don’t have to outrun the tiger — just you!”

In life, the bears and tigers are always chasing us. Let’s throw in a lion for an occasional oh, my! And we’re always trying to get away from them in a mob. The bear could be failure (to win the girl, to win the competition, to pass the class) or the bear could be old age or the bear could be unwanted change. Or it could be your past, welling up to overtake you and draw you back when you’re trying to go forward.

Things never stay the same, but they hardly ever change. That is, every day brings us new challenges and opportunities, and every day we face them with pretty much the same set of tools and experiences we had the day before. And yet, ten years can pass and we do everything differently.

Ten years ago I was sitting in a cubicle in another office, typing on a computer, watching two girls wash a car. That was the longest car wash of my life.

Five years ago I was sitting in yet another cubicle, barely able to type because of a back injury. I had to sit with a laptop computer in my lap because I was literally too weak to hold up my arms. The pain was excruciating, and yet I managed to drive to and from work every day. It took six months to recover from that injury.

A couple of weeks ago, my doctor said it may take me up to six months to fully recover from my surgery.

I think I’d rather watch girls wash a car.

Some days, my bear seems to be all the essays I’ve written about J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ll admit there are times when I sort of wish I hadn’t written them. People sort of expect me to always have something to say about Tolkien. I’m kind of burned out on the topic, although yesterday I discovered a new facet of Tolkien studies of which I’ve been unaware.

It seems a few people familiar with James MacPherson’s Ossianic poetry books have been suggesting, at least since 2004, that Tolkien was influenced by the poems. Ossian is the purported Scottish Homer, a blind bard who lived around the 3rd or 4th century CE who compiled or composed a group of poems about his father Fingal and other Gaelic warriors.

English literature scholars and enthusiasts going all the way back to Dr. Samuel Johnson (who started the sad process of butchering the English language’s hopes of ever becoming a phonetically spelled language) have proclaimed MacPherson’s book a hoax. Of course, he has his supporters who point out that references to Ossianic poetry predate MacPherson by 2-300 years, as well that some of his older contemporaries claimed they had heard the poems performed before MacPherson was even born.

Whatever the truth of MacPherson’s translations may be, if he did influence Tolkien not too many people are aware of the connection. I’m not sure how strong the connection could be. Tolkien didn’t borrow a great deal of obvious Celtic traditions forThe Lord of the Rings but there are several notable borrowings inThe Hobbit and The Silmarillion.

So, after I have had a chance to read up on MacPherson, maybe I’ll be able to give the bear one last race before I move on. Really, all I have to do is outrun the next guy, and he may not yet realize there is a bear chasing us.