Annunciation, Good Friday, & Tolkien Reading Day

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!

Resurrection and the Barrow Downs

Firstly, I’d like to wish you all a blessed and joyous Easter!

As today is Easter, and we’ve passed through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, this put me in a particular frame of mind which I found perfectly suited for reading “Fog on the Barrow-Downs.” There is such wonderful symbolism that can be applied to this chapter. Whether it was ever the intent of Tolkien in writing it, I don’t know, but this chapter literally sings of Resurrection.

The hobbits are tricked and trapped by the wight in its barrow-mound. There, Sam, Merry, and Pippin fall into a death-like trance. Frodo is miraculously awake and sings for their salvation: Tom Bombadil. His coming reverberates through the land, making it seem the very ground is singing. And with “a loud rumbling sound, as of stones rolling and falling, and suddenly light streamed in, real light, the plain light of day” the tomb was opened. For me, at this time of year there can be no greater symbolism than this, the opening of the tomb and the entrance of light. This is but one small moment of eucatastrophe, in which both Tom and Frodo act as the instruments of Grace.

It is also a moment of rebirth. The hobbits are awakened from their sleep and marvel at the cleanness of the grass, the brightness of the sun. Finding themselves clothed in burial robes and girt in gold chains, they cast of the raiment of death and run naked on the grass. They are reborn to the joy of living and breathing in the world. The casting off of their clothes I found particularly significant. During the Stations of the Cross, the tenth station: Jesus is stripped of His garments is almost always paired with the words of the prophet Job: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back again.”

The hobbits were dressed in the clothes of death by the wight, in stripping themselves of these garments they reclaim their life. They are, in a sense, reborn.

There is one other Biblical application that jumped out at me reading today. As usual, I return to the question of the nature of Tom Bombadil. As yet I, nor anyone else excepting perhaps Tolkien himself, know who he is supposed to be or what. But reading today, I found a new link that I found quite appealing. It came as Tom named the hobbits’ ponies, which the narrative told they would answer to the rest of their lives. Naming is a powerful thing and this episode bears great resemblance to the naming of the creatures of the land, sea and air in Genesis. So perhaps Tom can be interpreted as a sort of Adam figure in Middle Earth. Maybe even the Adam who never fell from Grace.