Monday, June 19, 2017

"Rich with teaching for life..."

Also included in Isaacs and Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), is an essay by Edmund Fuller who was the chief book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal for over thirty years. From his "The Lord of the Hobbits: J.R.R. Tolkien" (1962):
.... In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, God is seen at work in history, taking an initiative, intervening in the affairs of His creatures. ....

In Tolkien's Third Age an Ultimate Power is implicit. There is the possibility of Sauron gaining total sway over Middle-earth, but it is clear that there are other realms where his machinations are inoperable. The "Blessed Realm" lies in the mystery of the West, beyond the Sea, and certain characters sail toward it in an image akin to the passing of Arthur to Avalon. ....

In Tolkien's Third Age, the powers that Gandaif and the High Elves can bring to bear against Sauron clearly are derived from the Prime Source, Who is in some way identified with the Blessed Realm. The great ancient names of men and Elves often invoked are on His side. Running through the story is a thread of prophecy being fulfilled, and Frodo is regarded as "chosen" for his heavy task.

Bilbo's acquiring of the Ring was not just a combination of chance and the power of the Ring itself to work its way back toward its master. Gandaif says to Frodo:
'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it.'
A mysterious, over-arching purpose is manifested, too, in the enigmas of the odd, repulsive, but fascinating creature called Gollum, who had treasured the Ring for a long time before Bilbo came upon him. He haunts the Ring through the whole chronicle. There are moments when he is spared only in remembrance of Gandaif's early words:
'...he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not least.'
The intricacy of Tolkien's web of cause and effect, of the interactions of motives and wills, natural and supernatural, is extraordinary and notwithstanding the frame of fantasy profoundly realistic.

As for the choosing of Frodo, it is said:
'This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.'
There is no evading the problem of the Ring:
'...they who dwell beyond the Sea would not receive it: for good or ill it belongs to Middle-earth; it is for us who still dwell here to deal with it.'
And so it is that the hobbit, Frodo, quietly, reluctantly, in a sustained action surely as brave as any recorded in imaginative literature, assents:
'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'
Thus, at its core, still leaving unreckoned all the wealth of its detailed unfolding, this wonder tale is rich with teaching for life as we lead it. This places it among the true elite of books that can claim to offer such rewards. ....
This may be the same book, retitled and from a different publisher: Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. It has the same editors.

Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968

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