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Posts Tagged ‘tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter

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I was trying to articulate recently to a friend why I so deeply love the over-arching savor of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I started to say that it was a world in which God was sovereign, but that doesn’t quite capture it.

Mark Horne has recently been posting on Proverbs and wisdom, and quoted Bilbo’s riddle of Strider:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

This made me think: Middle-earth is a world in which Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are all true. It is a creation subjected to futility, unwillingly, but in hope, with an end of maturity and glory. Patience, waiting, longing, work and groaning are all required; and there is a bittersweetness to most joy and victory, because life comes through sacrifice and death. Tolkien does an outstanding job of helping you to feel the passage of time. The length of the book, Bombadil, the scouring of the Shire — it is all necessary in this light.

Tolkien writes of a story’s having a “glimpse of Truth.” Death and life themselves in Middle-earth have the savor of God’s world.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 20, 2011 at 8:55 pm


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Tolkien, on p. 855 of The Lord of the Rings:

‘That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,’ said Legolas. ‘If Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising.’

‘And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,’ said Gimli. ‘It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.’

‘Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,’ said Legolas. ‘And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli.’

‘And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,’ said the Dwarf.

‘To that the Elves know not the answer,’ said Legolas.

I don’t know whether there is one true Roman Catholic eschatology or what it might be. Tolkien at least had a pessimistic eschatology which he thought was a necessary part of his Roman Catholicism. And as much as the fall of Sauron was an epic victory, this pessimism shades his work as well. But the above is a wise and I think true observation regardless of one’s eschatology. Death and resurrection is a pervasive and inescapable motif in life and creation.

Whether for civilization, church or family, better the deaths should be ones of repentance and self-sacrifice than of reaping and judgment.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 2, 2010 at 9:40 am


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J.R.R. Tolkien writes to his son Christopher:

For [that fairy-story essay] I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives — if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (for which see the essay) — that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story — and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story. But since the author of it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made to Be, to be true on the Primary Plane. So that in the Primary Miracle (the Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden glimpse of the truth behind the apparent Anankê of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us. I was riding along on a bicycle one day, not so long ago, past the Radcliffe Infirmary, when I had one of those sudden clarities which sometimes come in dreams (even anaesthetic-produced ones). I remember saying aloud with absolute conviction: ‘But of course! Of course that’s how things really do work’. But I could not reproduce any argument that had led to this, though the sensation was the same as having been convinced by reason (if without reasoning). And I have since thought that one of the reasons why one can’t recapture the wonderful argument or secret when one wakes up is simply because there was not one: but there was (often maybe) a direct appreciation by the mind (sc. reason) but without the chain of argument we know in our time-serial life. However that’s as may be.

— 7–8 November 1944, pp. 100–101 of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Tolkien, Reading and the Ring

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My wife and I have a tradition of watching through The Lord of the Rings at Christmastide. We don’t get to it every year, but we’ve just finished the cycle this time.

It’s been awhile since I read the books, so long that I find myself forgetting things. Most of all I don’t sense the loss of nobility from books to movies as much as I used to. So I’ve decided to re-read Tolkien this year. I’ve started with The Silmarillion, which I haven’t read before. I’ve already read Unfinished Tales and I don’t think I’ll read it through again now, but I will reread both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Just today, I was pleased to rediscover The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien on my shelf, one of my wife’s yard sale finds. I think I’ll try to get through that as well. And I’m excited that Mark Horne is working on a Tolkien biography.

Here’s a quote I found while paging through Tolkien’s letters, from a fascinating letter on p. 279 in response to questions about The Lord of the Rings from Miss Rhona Beare:

You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one’s life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one’s direct control. A man who wishes to exert ‘power’ must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.

There’s a lot of food for thought there, with applicability ranging from the inevitable failure of despotism to everything that is bittersweet about parenthood.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm