Raise a Glass

3 Jan

Raise a Glass of the Old Wynyard to the Professor

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
January 3 1892 – September 2 1973

Unlike many, I was a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien before the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and am excited about the upcoming version of The Hobbit.

But I first read Tolkein back in high school. In elementary school I’d read through all of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and while I read as much as I could, I hadn’t found anything to quite grasp my imagination in the same way. Then I “discovered” Middle Earth. I read The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

Then I read them again. And again.

My first year in college, I wrote my freshman English term paper about “The Christ-like Symbolism in The Lord of the Rings.” Frodo the Deliverer. Gandalf the Resurrected. Aragorn the Returning King.

Still, Tolkien denied that his books were allegorical.

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

But what of the obvious symbolism? The epic battle of good vs. evil?

In 1953, Tolkien wrote to Father Robert Murray, a Jesuit Priest:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work: unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

It was also in that Freshman English Class that I became familiar with Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis. In Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce (Ignatius, 1999) we read this conversation between the two friends:

“No,” said Tolkien. “They are not lies.”

At that moment, Lewis later recalled, there was “a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath.”

. . . We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.

I love that viewpoint, because Tolkien understood that everything that is good comes from God. That’s literature, art, music. He created it all.

We are but his instruments. And through J.R.R. Tolkien we are blessed with the beauty of the truth of the Creator.

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