Sunday, February 6, 2011

Elvish Lessons

I was recently reflecting on self-control, which led to me reflections on Kashrut, which led to me to vegetarianism, and finally, elves.

Movie was bad. Books were great.
The elves of the Eragon series (first manuscripts written by a then-15-year-old Christopher Paolini, by the way)  had quite a few interesting practices. Their mastery of magic allowed each of them to summon anything he or she desired, and yet there still were those who practiced, for example, the art of sword-making. Ultimately, it was the sword made by the experienced craftsman, by hand, the old-fashioned way, that was supreme; magically-conjured swords were inevitably inferior. The craftsman made her swords because she loved the craft and devoted her life to it, despite such a craft being technically obsolete.

This is a beautiful metaphor for industrialization, whereby factories can mass-produce many products cheaply, but these products are likewise inferior to that hand-crafted by an expert. I would extend the notion as far as to insist that, despite the large selection of website templates readily available to consumers, custom websites, built from scratch to fit the needs of the business or organization, are vastly superior, both in aesthetic quality and functional value. Which is exactly why the web design division of ABC Innovations is growing, rather than shrinking, in demand. While all of this is interesting, it is aside from my main point today.

I recall that the elvish people from the Eragon novels were vegetarians, and, when Eragon first began to live with them, he grew to miss eating meat more and more. Although the elves were happy to feed him, they had no dead animals to offer, and only provided bread and vegetables. When Eragon finally has the chance to eat a rabbit, however, his connection with nature (and magic, if memory serves) forces him into awareness of the rabbit's life and death, and he finds himself unable to consume another creature.

In this regard, I think the elves teach a valuable lesson. Firstly, there is something to be said of respect for living creatures. But additionally, it is important to note that, in essence, once Eragon stopped eating meat for a while, he was able to stay off of it - in fact, he was unable to eat it, despite wanting to. In much the same way, someone who has grown up Kosher may eventually find himself (as I do) simply unable to consume pork or shellfish; the smell of the former cooking is mildly repulsive. Whats more, this shows that, given time, habits can become ingrained (internalized, insists my sociology text) in one's mind. With practice, one can become used to vegetarianism, daily exercise, or life without television. The more one engages in self-disciplined practices, I believe, the easier it is to take on others. Thus, the person who practices not scratching itches or not eating dessert becomes superior at delaying gratification, enabling him to focus on homework despite distracting temptations, reject alcohol, or go a day without eating.

No idea what language that is.
With this understanding, I feel that the Jewish faith has some wonderful self-disciplining traditions which, if attempted, can exercise the muscle of self-control within each person. These tend to center around food; a Jew is asked not to eat leavened foods during Passover, to keep Kosher throughout his life, and to go 24 hours without consuming a drop of sustenance on Yom Kippur. These traditions, although certainly not essential to one's growth or life experience, do help to foster a sense of self-empowerment and control over one's choices and environment. It feels good to know both that one can resist temptation, and also that one has the ability to choose how he will interact with his world, and not the other way around.

If you come away from this article thinking about keeping Kosher, my meaning was lost on you, just as it was if you come away thinking about your interactions with your world, the choices you have, and the control you can exert over your life. No.

The purpose of this post is simply and directly to demonstrate that I fancy myself as an elf.


  1. It's German, dummy.

  2. I would not have expected milk to be such an obvious cognate.


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