Thursday, July 1, 2021

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Work Transcends ‘Wokeness’

 From The National Review:

Over at the Federalist, John Daniel Davidson convincingly notes: “The only reason to torture Tolkien’s work like this is not to understand it more deeply but to tear it down. And why would modern scholars want to do that? Because everything that Tolkien was, and everything he wrote, is an affront to the modern secular scholar’s understanding of the world, reality, and the meaning and purpose of life.” One could say the same thing about most of academia, however. There is something rapacious in the paper titles that just screams seduction of the innocent. The timing of the conference is telling as well; the Tolkien Society waited a full year after Christopher Tolkien’s death to announce and arrange “Tolkien and Diversity.”

Still, aside from simply being woke and employing outrageous jargon, the Tolkien Society is anticipating a successful series. It’s trying to get in front of the series and influence it. Indeed, the statement goes so far as to claim the society’s own conference is “critical.” This, I would guess, is the real reason it wants so desperately to reinterpret Tolkien. Some of this, of course, is Tolkien’s own fault, as he had very consciously and willfully sold the movie rights to his world long ago. By so doing, he made a considerable profit, but he also sold out his (or the estate’s) control. Just as Peter Jackson rearranged and rewrote huge parts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so, too, will in its television series. If the rumors are true, the show will depict a rather sexualized Middle-earth, having been influenced by Game of Thrones.

What would Tolkien (1892–1973) make of all of this? He was, after all, so conservative and so Roman Catholic as to seem reactionary. Born in South Africa to English parents, Tolkien lost his father when he was a small boy, and his mother succumbed to disease when he was twelve. A family friend, Father Francis Morgan, then cared for Tolkien until 1916, when Tolkien married. After serving bravely during World War I, Tolkien took a job with the Oxford English Dictionary, started a family, and taught first at the University of Leeds, and, then, Pembroke College, Oxford, and Merton College, Oxford. Though he did not publish The Hobbit — his first novel — until 1937, he had been developing his rather massive mythology since around 1913. That mythology — the history of Middle-earth — took up all of Tolkien’s adult life as well as the adult life of his youngest son, Christopher. And, despite two generations of Tolkiens building the mythology, certain Tolkien writings still remain unseen and unpublished. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are really just manifestations of the whole mythology. It was a massive undertaking, resulting in a legendarium rivaling the great mythologies of Homer, Virgil, and Dante.

Contrary to what the woke crowd might contend (or pretend), all of Tolkien’s mythology was rooted in his deep and abiding Christian faith. He considered his mother a Catholic martyr, he always carried with him his rosary, and he had a strong and somewhat mystical devotion to both the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In December 1953, he wrote to a close priest friend: “I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded. The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” While much of the Catholicism exists in the very structure of Tolkien’s mythology, it sometimes is revealed blatantly. In Tolkien’s first Elvish dictionary, written while he was serving the trenches of World War I, vocabulary words such as “evangelist,” “missionary,” “monk,” the three persons of the Most Blessed Trinity, and “holy” appear frequently. In The Lord of the Rings specifically, as Tolkien himself noted in interviews and correspondence, the lembas — the waybread of the Elves — is the Eucharist; Aragorn is a representation of a Christian king; and when Gandalf fights the balrog in Moria, the wizard announces himself to the fiery demon as a servant of the “Secret Fire.” The “Secret Fire,” Tolkien told Clyde Kilby, is one of the names of the Holy Spirit.

It was not only in Tolkien’s mythology that he revealed so openly his Christianity. In one of his most famous academic addresses, given at the University of St. Andrews in 1939, Tolkien told his audience that the only true myth was the Christ story, and that all other myths — to be good and true — must reflect it. (Read more.)

From The Federalist:

Put bluntly, the worlds Tolkien created sprang from an imagination shaped and suffused by his deep Roman Catholic faith. “The Silmarillion” in particular is in some ways a poetic and literary reflection on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In considering Tolkien’s Middle Earth, there is no way to escape this reality.

His creation, as he himself said, was a kind of sub-creation under the inspiration and aegis of almighty God. His grand themes — good and evil, truth and falsehood, power and glory and honor and sacrifice — all flow forth from his Christian faith and his decidedly sacramental view of the world. For Tolkien, all the world is shot through with meaning by a Creator who loves mankind and is manifest in His works.

That men and women now come to slander and distort and ultimately destroy these sub-creations of Tolkien is also, in a strange way, a testament to his legacy. Like Melkor, they are possessed by dark thoughts of their own imaginings, unlike those of the great Tolkien, and seek not so much to increase their own power and glory, but to bring Tolkien’s down to their grubby station, where everything can be reduced to race and sex and politics.

These people are taken today to be Tolkien scholars. What can we, who love Tolkien and his profoundly Christian art, do but repeat in sorrow a line from “Lament for the Rohirrim”—

The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. (Read more.)


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