Friday, May 24, 2019


In his essay "On Fairy Stories" (pdf) Tolkien writes "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” Escaping can be a good thing. Bradley J. Birzer attributes his return to faith to Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons:
...I discovered a role-playing game that allowed me to spend as many hours as I so desired in Tolkienian-inspired worlds, Dungeons and Dragons. Surviving a very violent domestic situation during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I can state with no hyperbole that my ability to enter in and out of Tolkienian realms at will quite definitely saved my life. I remember the bizarre motherly whisperings at the time that Dungeon and Dragons might open a child to Satanism and the dark occult. I can only laugh at such comments, especially in hindsight. For me, Dungeons and Dragons (as based on Tolkien’s mythology) not only sheltered my then pre-teenage collapsing faith from collapsing entirely, but it also allowed me sanity by giving me an escape from household terrors that so dominated those years. During my daily walks to and from Liberty Junior High, I often contemplated suicide, trying to decide not if, but when. Honestly, it sometimes seemed the only way to escape my stepfather. Tolkien’s characters and stories, as played in Dungeons and Dragons, strangely (or Providentially?) intruded, pushing aside the darkest thoughts and depressions. Fantastic worlds provided the healthier and healthiest escape in those sombre days. When my friends and I played Dungeons and Dragons, we challenged and conquered evil in all its manifestations, domestic and foreign. We had only one God, and that God was good, true, and beautiful. If some kids fell in the occult because of Dungeons and Dragons, I am truly sorry. In my case, though, it prevented the greatest darkness of all and helped me realize the precious value of life. While I might not be able to stave off the evil in my home, I could rescue others from abuse, even if only in my imagined kingdoms and fantastic republics. ....
He mentions two books I have but had not looked at recently.
Of those books about Tolkien, but not written or edited by members of the Tolkien Estate, I loved the works by David Day, especially his Tolkien Bestiary, featuring some of the best painted renderings of Middle-earth I have yet to overcome. My current students have the distorted images of Tolkien’s world by Peter Jackson stuck in their heads. For me, my images come from the paintings commissioned by Mr. Day. Just as important to me was cartographic treasure, Barbara Strachey’s The Journeys of Frodo.
A Tolkien Bestiary is beautifully illustrated but is also an encyclopedia of Middle Earth. A typical entry:
FIRE-DRAKES Of all the creatures bred by Morgoth the Dark Enemy in all the Ages of his power the evil reptiles that were called Dragons were feared most. There were many breeds of these beings; the most deadly were those that vomited leaping flames from their foul bellies. These were called Fire-drakes, and among them were numbered the mightiest of Dragons. Glaurung, Father of Dragons, was first of the Uruloki Fire-drakes, and he had many offspring. The evil work of these Dragons on the kingdoms of Elves, Men and Dwarves in the First Age of Sun was terrible.

In the last days of that Age, when most of the Earth-bound brood of Glaurung had been put to death in the War of Wrath, the winged Fire-drakes appeared out of Angband. They are said to have been among the greatest terrors of the World, and Ancalagon the Black, who was of this breed, was said to have been the mighest Dragon of all times.

In later Ages, the histories of Middle-earth all tell of one last winged Fire-drake that was almost as fearsome as Ancalagon. This was the Dragon of Erebor, which drove the Dwarves of Durins Line from the kingdom under the Mountain. He was called Smaug the Golden, and in the year 2941 of the Third Age he was killed by Bard the Bowman of Dale.

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