Today is a very unique day. It is Friday, March 25th, which normally, in the Catholic tradition, is the celebration of the Annunciation. (The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the moment the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she will conceive and bear a son: Jesus Christ.) This year, however, it is also Good Friday. Incidentally, this alignment is not so strange, as in early Church history the two days were held to be one and the same. In this alignment, Christ’s conception and the salvific nature of his death are closely bound. The joy of the one is inseparable from the sorrow of the other and vise versa.
Today also happens to be Tolkien Reading day; a day centered around the date of the destruction of the Ring and the fall of Sauron. Given Tolkien’s devout faith, his selection of this date is not hard to understand. In ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ he describes the birth and death of Christ as the fulcrum of history; and the moment at which Truth and myth align. In these critical moments of salvation history, particularly in the alignment of birth and death, may be seen a concrete example of Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe: the joy as poignant as a flood of tears. This is arguably the goal of his fairy-stories, to reach the pinnacle of evangelium, the sublime sorrow and delight of the entrance of Grace into the story, which echoes the same of the Annunciation and Crucifixion. In this, the ‘pre-Christian Christian myth’ Tom Shippey describes is clearly seen. The great sorrow of Frodo’s fall, the loss of self which follows his acceptance of possession, is immediately followed by the release from said bondage in its destruction. In a closer parallel, in this moment the reader is shown the fall into sin and the refining fire of redemption, which leads to the ultimate salvation of the West.
Contemplating the implications of all this, on this day of all days, is a weighty endeavor. The exercise highlights the wonderful applicability of Tolkien’s work, which leads to ever greater insights into the writing, our life, and the world through the incipient recovery which follows.
May you all have a great Tolkien Reading Day, a blessed Good Friday, and a Joyful Easter!
Tomorrow, March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day. It is a day set aside for reading and appreciating Tolkien’s works. It is also the day of the downfall of Sauron and the destruction of the Ring. Hence, it is one of the most important dates in Tolkien’s legendarium.
However, the date was also of central importance to Tolkien’s Catholic faith. March 25th is the feastday of the annunciation, or conception of Jesus. Traditionally, this date is also the day of the Cruxifiction. Like the kingdom of Godor, March 25th was also the beginning of the year. This is the one and only explicit link in The Lord of the Rings to Tolkien’s faith. As an important date in his life and faith is makes sense to choose this day. Yet we should also consider the nature of eucatastrophe. This wasn’t a choice made lightly, just for this association. There are deeper layers to the link.
Eucatastrophe is the sudden intervention of Grace which causes a miraculous change in the course of events. Both the Annunciation and the Cruxifiction expemplify this chain of events. The meeting between Gabriel and Mary leads to the conception of Jesus through the divine grace of the Holy Spirit. The Cruxifiction is another moment of eucatastrophe within the larger context of the Easter Tridium.
By chance, Gollum finds Frodo once more at the Cracks of Doom. He regains the Ring. He celebrates, and inadvertently falls to his death and the destruction of the Ring. Is it any consequence, that at this exact moment, the army of the West is nearing defeat? Or that Frodo has finally succumbed and the Sauron is finally aware of his doom? No. Here is crux of the story. Here is the entrance of Grace.
It is interesting to look at the association in another way. The Lord of the Rings as well as the Silmarillion were created as a pre-history, long forgotten. Many of the dates of Christian and even pagan feasts and rituals are derived from the seasons or past traditions long forgotten. Using this same mechanism, Tolkien is easily able to place Middle Earth within our own history.
About a month ago, I was surfing through some blogs, when a post caught my eye. The author described a tradition, to read Lord of the Rings during Christmas time. For some reason, this act put this person into the Christmas spirit, and they found this perplexing. Well, given some thought, I can’t think of a better holiday to link with LotR than Christmas except, perhaps, Easter.
The Lord of the Rings is a story of Hope. Middle Earth is a land covered in a growing darkness. It is a land quickly sinking into a state of apathy and despair. Yet there is hope. A small glimmer in the unlikely success of a small hobbit in destroying the Ring. As I’ve said before, hobbits are essentially our own counterpart within Middle Earth. They are simple, ordinary people. They aren’t heroes, kings, wizards or rangers, but common folk….little people. Who would ever believe ones such as this could ever save the world? That someone so mundane and unheroic as Frodo or Sam could rid the world of its greatest evil? It is a difficult thing to fathom. Yet we must also remember that eucatastrophe is a key element of Tolkien’s work. It is not only the sudden awakening of hope or a change in the tide, it is the entrance of grace the events of Middle Earth. Think of it. Gandalf says Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, so Frodo was also meant to have it. Think of the timing. The coming of the Eagles. The moment the Ring is destroyed, when all hope is lost. The saving of Frodo and Sam, after they’ve given themselves up to die. None of these things are coincidence. They are the moments when grace shines through, when the reader is briefly able to see the hand of Eru in Middle Earth.
What greater Eucatastrophe is there on our earth than that of Christmas and Easter? Christmas, when seen without the gloss that tradition and faith gives it, was a very ordinary event. A child was born in a stable. When one stops to think about it, it is an extreemly human and ordinary event. God works in mysterious ways, working through us, and in us. God is in the simple things. Even they may become great.