Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tolkien, Chesterton and the Adventure of Mission

From Word on Fire:
There is a common, and I’ll admit somewhat understandable, interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that sees the great work as a celebration of the virtues of the Shire, that little town where the hobbits dwell in quiet domesticity. Neat, tidy hobbit holes, filled with comfortable furniture, delicate tea settings, and cozy fireplaces are meant, this reading has it, to evoke the charms of a “merrie old England” that existed before the rise of modernity and capitalism. As I say, there is undoubtedly something to this, for Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis and the other members of the Inklings group, did indeed have a strong distaste for the excesses of the modern world.

However, I’m convinced that to see things this way is almost entirely to miss the point. For the ultimate purpose of Lord of the Rings is not to celebrate domesticity but rather to challenge it. Bilbo and Frodo are not meant to settle into their easy chairs but precisely to rouse themselves to adventure. Only when they leave the comforts of the Shire and face down orcs, dragons, goblins, and finally the power of evil itself do they truly find themselves. They do indeed bring to the struggle many of the virtues that they cultivated in the Shire, but those qualities, they discover, are not to be squirreled away and protected, but rather unleashed for the transformation of a hostile environment. (Read more.)

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