Today posed a challenge, as I’m sure it does for every Tolkienite searching for the right way to celebrate. It is always interesting what I end up drawn to re-read on this particular day. The last couple years, I’ve taken to reading a chapter from my 50th anniversary leather bound edition of LotR, about the only time I actually read from that copy. Last year was the ‘Bridge of Khazad-Dum’ and my initial thought was to read ‘Minas Tirith’ this year. But as often occurs, life got in the way.
I’ve been fairly well swamped the last couple months, today being no exception, and so got home desiring a bite-sized sampling of Tolkien to commemorate this day. I thought of my favorites: Leaf by Niggle, Of Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin, the Ainulindale and many others, but ultimately I settled on Tolkien’s poem ‘Mythopoeia.’
Unbeknownst to me starting to read, I had picked the perfect piece to sum up all that is Tolkien. I’ve read the poem before, and it’s always been a favorite of mine, but as I read it, I came to realize how well it describes Tolkien’s mission in writing, revealing the motivations which led to his beloved works.
‘Mythopoeia’ is essentially a poem about Man’s innate and God-given desire to describe (and even define) the world. However, that desire is thwarted by our own inability to express all that we perceive. In describing the world, in codifying life into words, we mythologize it. We sub-create, creating a shadow or mirror of the perceived through which only glimmers of the original Truth shine forth. We cannot possibly capture it, and to say that science gives the answer and the definitive story banishes the majesty and wonder around every corner. Myth expresses the desire in our hearts to know Truth, to see Truth and to tell Truth. It answers the yearning of our heart for the unknown, the mystical, the other. It uses the fantastical to define and illuminate the mundane, giving us eyes to see.
This is the great gift Tolkien has bequeathed us; Not only his great works of literature, but his call to recognize and follow the paths to Faerie in our own lives, and share them, however imperfectly, with others.
May you find joy wandering the paths of the Perilous Realm, and may you live to return and tell the tale. And so I say to you again, Happy Tolkien Reading Day, and I would like to know how you celebrated today!