Shadows of the Truth

“You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”~JRR Tolkien

The second chapter of The Lord of the Rings, Shadow of the Past, begins with the aftermath of Bilbo’s joke and small tidbits from the outside world. Rumors of Mordor and an Enemy appear in the Shire.  Elves pass through in greater numbers to reach the Grey Havens.  The great East-West road is filled with Dwarves passing through.  What little knowledge the hobbits have of the world outside comes through the dwarves; if they ever ask.   These rumors are little more than tales to scare young hobbits into bed. 

 Sam and Ted Sandyman talk in the Green Dragon about myth and rumor.  As Ted says, ” there’s only one Dragon in Bywater, and that’s Green.”  This statement, while simple and minor, is extremely important to beginning to understand the nature of hobbits and vicariously the way that we also see the outside world.  Only the here and now is truly accepted.  Only that which can be seen and proved without shadow of a doubt is believed.  Yet Sam is different.  He is drawn to dragons, elves and (unknowlingly) ents.  The two hobbits discuss walking trees, the passage of Elves and the Sea.  Ted is skeptical, while Sam yearns to find truth in these tales. 

The quote above has always been my favorite quote by Tolkien.  It is found in Humphrey’s biography of Tolkien’s life.  CS Lewis and Tolkien were great friends.  In fact, Tolkien is one of the most important figures in Lewis’ quest for faith.  Lewis questioned the Bible, asking how could anyone believe in myth, it can’t be true.  The above was Tolkien’s response.  As we are God’s children, created in His image and likeness, we are also drawn to create.  Everything we create is subcreation, a creation of God by proxy through us.  Therefore in all things there is a shred of truth.

Let’s return to the hobbits.  As I’ve stated before, hobbits are essentially the same as us.  In myth their views are similar to CS Lewis.  Their maps are blank a small distance from the Shire.  The sea is a nebulous idea a vague wave away.  Elves are a rarity of the past and rumor never to be proven.  Everything is taken on face value.  In the prologue, it is said that hobbits prefer books which tell only things they already know.  Their focus is on ordering that knowledge, neat and tidy, but rarely added to. 

Saddly, in many ways, this is the state that our society has sunk to.  It is the same problem I discussed before in the challenges of fantasy.  It is a lack of belief.  It is a need to have proof and physical evidence.  And this is untrue.  Humans and hobbits are limited in our foresight and awareness of the world.  Yet we, like them, have the opportunity to learn the truth.  The Lord of the Rings is a tale about the truth of tales, the revelation that behind every myth and rumor is kernal of truth.


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