Try me

Ok.

Here’s your chance.  Is there something about Lord of the Ring’s or any of Tolkien’s works that you’ve wondered about?  Are there ideas and concepts of particular meaning to you that you’d like me to write about?  Or are there differences between the books and the movies that particularly irk you?  Here’s your opportunity. 

My current list of projected posts ideas has a healthy number of ideas, but I thought it would be interesting to see if there is anything in particular any of you readers would like me to touch upon.  If you have an idea, just post it as a comment to this post.  If I like your idea I’ll get to work, and do some research and we’ll see what I come up with!

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A Pre-Christian Christian Myth

Many have wondered how a book with no apparent religion or reference to Christianity could be considered a wholely Christian work.  Many have claimed the work is in no way Christian; and much worse uses what appears to be magic.  What is this work?  Lord of the Rings, of course!

What is probably the most important thing to recall when reading The Lord of the Rings for Christian meaning, or any religious belief for that matter, is that it is a pre-Christian myth.  Furthermore, to make it a Christian pre-Christian myth, Tolkien deleted any overt reference to religion, gods or any other “pagan” reference in the work.  Therefore, to find meaning, the reader must look deeper.  The sad part is that most don’t, and never discover the hollowed vaults of glittering insights to be found at the foundation of Tolkien’s work. 

The issue is should not be where are Tolkien’s beliefs in the work.  Rather, we should ask “Where are they not?”  The spiritual aspect of Tolkien’s work is so deeply ingrained into the mythos of his world and core of his story that it cannot be separated easily, if at all, without ruining it alltogether. 

And as to magic, what of that?  We are like hobbits, anything odd or unexplained seems to us magic.  But if you recall Galadriel’s responce to Sam, she does not understand to what he is refering.  What the elves and other “magic users” are doing is merely something beyond the hobbits’ understanding, and therefore beyond our own. 

What is crucial to the understanding of “magic” in The Lord of the Rings, is Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog.  Ganalf is the “servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor” (FotR 322).  What or who might you ask in the ‘Secret Fire?’ Think a bit.  Does the imagery remind you of something?  What happens during Pentecost?  The Secret Fire is the Holy Spirit.  Gandalf’s power is not his own, it is the power of Iluvatar; the power of God.  Like Moses, Gandalf works the miracles of God. 

The Ring of the Drafts

I have been reading The Return of the Shadow, the first book of the History of the Lord of the Rings sequence, and I’ve found an interesting tidbit. 

When he began to write, Tolkien did not have a clear conception of where his tale would lead.  And remember, at that point Gollum had seriously offered the ring as a prize to Bilbo.  The ring was not yet the Ring.  But it was getting there.

In the early drafts, the Ring is just the last ring beyond Sauron’s control.  It is most precious to him for some reason, but far from being the ‘One Ring,’ the ‘Ruling Ring’ it was to become.  What is most interesting to me is the mechanisms by which the Ring functions at this point. 

The Ring gains power over the bearer based upon the use it is put to.  Using it for escape or jest is permissible, but stealing or killing would give it power over the bearer, even to the point of making him a wraith.  This is why the pity of Bilbo is so important.  Had he not had pity on Gollum, he would have become a wraith fully under the power of the Ring.  This also lends itself easily to explain why Bilbo was able to pass the Ring on to Frodo (or Bingo), as well as why he was never greatly affected by the Ring.

While in some ways the Ring seems to have less power, it is more devious.  It takes hold of Bilbo through his feeling of sentiment.  Here is the souvenir of his great adventure.  For Frodo it is his great inheritance from Bilbo, it becomes the object of his love for Bilbo after he leaves.  And through these sentiments of attachment the Ring begins to take hold.

Gollum is not Smeagol at this point in the drafts, but Digol.  Interesting, right?  He merely finds the Ring; no yet beginning his ownership with murder.  Instead, he uses the Ring to steal and spy on his family.  These perfidious acts allow the Ring to bear heavily on him. 

Obviously this conception of how the Ring works did not last overtly through to the final book.  But it is interesting to consider how it remains.  The pity of Bilbo and subsequently the pity of Frodo are the key points in the book.  It may be Frodo’s pity for Gollum rather than hatred that saved Frodo from complete domination by the Ring.  More importantly, this pity is the reason why the Ring was destroyed, otherwise it would not have happened. 

And Gollum, here I may stretch things a bit too far, but I’ve come up with an intriguing application.  In the final version, Smeagol kills Deagol to gain the Ring.  He begins his ownership with murder and crime.  But what of his original name, “Digol,” awfully close to Deagol, right?  In a sense, in gaining the Ring and in killing Deagol, Gollum kills a part of himself.  He loses Smeagol and any love or hobbitness he once had.  He becomes the animated embodiment of the Ring.  He is “My Precious.” 

The Gifts of Iluvatar

The gifts of Iluvatar are considered both a blessing and curse, for the elves and for the men of Middle Earth.  To the elves, Iluvatar gave long life and great love for Arda.  To the men, He gave death and the ability to leave their world.  Are these blessings?  Or are they curses, as many would call them?

 The gift of the Elves seems to us quite attractive.  We yearn for immortality, power, prowess.  But is this a good thing?  There is much to learn from Tolkien’s elves.  They must endure the passing of time, the loss of loved ones, the loss of the freshness and wonder at the world.  The elves grow weary of Middle Earth.  This can be seen in their gradual removal from the cares of Middle Earth.  From the first to the fourth age, they seclude themselves within bastions of their past glories.  They become nothing more than a myth. 

Look at Legolas.  Upon entering Fangorn forest he is struck by its age and magesty.  Later, hearing the gulls, he is moved by the beauty and passion of their call to the sea.  He recovers his awe of the world. 

And what of men?  Here I see Tolkien’s Catholic faith come to the fore.  Not necessarily in any overt plot or character, but in his choice of words: gift.  Death is a gift.  Through the knowledge of our own mortality our experience of this world is made all the more valuable.  Life is limited.  It is this fact that makes us cling to life and see its value.  Yet we, as the Numenoreans, search desparately for ways to lengthen life, to hold off death inevitably.  We spend so much effort, we forget to actually live our life.  Yet isn’t the sweet more sweet when rare?  Would we grow as the elves of Middle Earth and fade out of existance and care?  The enjoyment we have in life is enjoyable for the simple reason that it is short. 

This still does not explain why death is a gift.  Well, that answer is easy.  Men leave the plane of this world, they go to another place, unknown to elves.  They leave Arda to go to another place, presummably Heaven.  Here is the gift of men: to die and be reborn in Heaven, with God.

The concept of Loss

Often, since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, critics have claimed that none of the characters experience loss or further are lost, as in dead.  They claim the tale is the epic happily ever after.  And it makes me wonder…Are they blind?!

Well that’s a bit harsh.  The concept of loss is so ingrained in Middle Earth and in so many forms of such sublety it is often hard to truely understand while reading.  What many readers fail to realize is that loss does not begin and end with death or injury.  Loss has so many guises in Tolkien’s world.  It can be an overwealming experience to deeply contemplate the depth of the endless of losses of Middle Earth.  But let’s focus on Lord of the Rings, and the fellowship in particular. 

Boromir is lost, of course, and his case seems cut and dry.  Not so, look closer.  Boromir loses his sense of self, his honor and his strength to the corruption of the Ring.  He bears the burden of betrayal, and when the Ring passes beyond his reach he recovers himself.  Aware of his duplicity he is horrified and desparate.  His death is not a loss, rather it is his redemption.  His sacrifice renews his honor.  That is not the loss.  So even with this apparently simple example, we begin to see the concept of loss runs much deeper and more subletly than once appeared.

What about Aragorn?  Certainly he didn’t lose anything!  But that’s another mistake; he does.  It is just a matter of reevaluating what loss is.  Notice the reticence of Aragorn towards reclaiming the kingship of Gondor from the beginning of the book onwards.  As Strider, he is a lonely Ranger, free to go where he will and follow his own council.  He is humble and even self demeaning.  Yet to become King, Aragorn, he must cast aside his doubts and step out of the shadows.  Aragorn loses a part of himself: Strider.  He loses his freedom and gains the great weight of responsiblity of raising up a declining nation. 

Gimli and Legolas, in some ways they appear the most unscathed of the whole fellowship, yet they too have their “scars.”  Both lose their races’ habitual dislike of the other to become great friends.  They step beyond the bonds of race to find value and respect in the other.  (Who said all loss was a bad thing?)  Gimli’s loss carries him further from his race, to find wisdom and a true appreciation of beauty.  Gimli’s adoration of Galadriel is crucial to his development.  He is made great, wealthy and wise among his people, and yet, for him this has no meaning or hold.  He is freed from the more disreputable hungers of the dwarves. 

Legolas’ loss is tragic by comparison.  He follows Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead and on to Pelargir, where the cries of the gulls entrance him.  The call of the Sea strips away Legolas’ attachment to Middle Earth.  He can no longer find joy in tree and branch, all is marred by the uneasy knowledge of a greater beauty.  Legolas can no longer live at peace in Middle Earth, so he must leave all he once loved.  The weight of waiting for that final journey is great.

Gandalf is tricky to say the least.  He dies, in a bodily sense, after fighting the Balrog.  The knowledge, sublety and methods of Gandalf the Grey are lost.  Olorin returns in new flesh as Gandalf the White, an Istari of greater power and stature.  His days of sitting in the Shire, blowing smoke rings are over.  Now he is both more serious and more joyful, more decisive.  There is one subtle change, which really isn’t a change: he appears and acts with the dignity and power of the Maiar.  His being, is much closer to the surface.  This may foretell his final separation from the flesh of Men in his return to Valinor. 

And that leaves the hobbits.  Most importantly they lose their innocence.  They find the world is much larger and meaner than they ever imagined.  They find themselves thrust into a conflict they are neither prepared for or fully understand, and yet they prevail.  Not only do the hobbits lose the innocence the world but the innocence of hobbits.  They find themselves capable of valor, courage and great deeds, hereforto unthinkable for a hobbit. 

And last, but not least, we have Frodo.  He has lost the Ring and a finger, but these are obvious.  What about the loss of happy times, of enjoyment in the world, the loss of satisfaction and happy memory?  On Mount Doom, Frodo cannot even remember those things most dear to him.  The Ring, and the loss of the Ring, have created a tremendous wound.  He has lost peace.  Though he would wish to find it and give it to the Shire, he cannot partake of it himself.  He is constantly haunted by his loss, by the void in his heart, only worsened by the unhealable wound from Weathertop.  He finds he has saved the Shire, saved even the world, and yet this brings no satisfaction.  The Shire is saved, but not for him.  His will to live, his vitality as a hobbit is drained.  There is no other choice for him, but to depart. 

I have not even scratched the surface.  Tolkien’s Concept of Loss is so great and intricate, it would be pointless to attempt to unravel it.  But in the unravelling, would its poingancy survive?

The amazing Truth of Charlotte’s Web

I saw the live action film version of Charlotte’s Web today.  EB White’s book was one of my favorites growing up, I loved the animated movie too.  However, this more recent version delves deeper into the soul of the matter.  It is an incredibly moving portrayal, full of inspirational truth. 

One line particularly struck me.  It’s when the doctor says, “The miracle is the web.”  Yesterday I wrote about the misconceived definition of escapism.  About a month ago I wrote about the lure of fantasy.  Both posts are about the existance of miracles everywhere, if we but look for them.  How often have you heard the expression “stop and smell the roses?”  It is the same. 

Fantasy, fiction, Tolkien, CS Lewis, EB White…each reinvigorate the world, each opens our eyes to the boundless wonder of life.