Thursday, December 16, 2010

White shores and a far green country

Tim Keller in "The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art" argues that the book is profoundly Christian even though "religion" is almost entirely absent.
...LOTR is a great demonstration of the difference between Christian art and propaganda. Many believe “art that does not evangelize, praise, or exhort has no place in the kingdom of God or, at best, has an inferior status to confessional works....Also, for many Christians, [overtly] confessional intent overrides artistic concerns.…evangelical popular art had a difficult time finding an interested and appreciative audience outside the evangelical market.” Tolkien, however, wrote to a friend in 1953 that “I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion’ in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” ....

...LOTR gives us a very Christian, non-sentimental kind of hope. It is typical for people to think of LOTR as escapist fantasy, but that is simply not the case. Popular escapist fantasy normally ends with everyone living happily ever after. It is deeply sentimental. After the villains are dispatched, now all is right with the world. By contrast, LOTR is non-sentimental about the inexorable sadness of life. The good people have “fought the long defeat.” No victory over evil ever lasts, since evil always takes a new shape and rises again. Even a victory over evil will result in the loss and fading away of good and beautiful things. Frodo’s wounds will never really heal. Certainly, the elves can go to a beautiful home in the West, but “if there are mallorn-trees beyond the Great Sea, none have reported it.”

Why is the book so sad?

As a Christian, Tolkien knew that sin had marred the world more deeply than we wish to admit. We must not be naive or pin utopian hopes to our own ability to create a safe, successful life for ourselves. As one character observes, “The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

Even so, LOTR holds out a distant but profound hope of complete renewal and joy. .... [more]
The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art