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!

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Wishing you a Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

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!