Sunday, September 3, 2023

A fantasy that endures because of its realism

J.R.R. Tolkien died on September 2nd fifty years ago. From "Tolkien’s Biblical Epic," yesterday in The Wall Street Journal:
.... To understand the enduring enchantment of Tolkien’s works, one must comprehend a central feature of his life that the 2019 biopic Tolkien largely chose to ignore: his Catholic faith.

If sales of The Lord of the Rings rival those of the Bible itself, it is because the series offers a profoundly biblical view of the world. The reality and consistency of human sin described in Genesis is a central theme throughout Tolkien’s books. Sauron’s ring, rightly understood, is much more than a “MacGuffin”—an object whose only importance is that it helps move the plot forward. Rather, the ring is one of the true characters of the novel, representing sin and its many temptations.

The moral fragility of humanity is made manifest in the ways that some characters give in to those temptations. Yet others are able to resist them. Redemption ultimately comes to Middle-Earth through Aragorn, the descendant of a long-lost line of kings—a clear reference to the biblical story of David and to Isaiah’s guarantee that David’s heir will one day redeem the world. Christians like Tolkien identify this prophesied descendant as Jesus, though Aragorn more closely resembles the Jewish conception of the messiah as a great warrior-king. ....

Faithful Jews and Christians believe, in different ways, in the ultimate “return of the king.” But we also believe that we are called to live courageously in a world where that has not yet occurred. In one of the best-known scenes from the book and the film, Frodo ruefully wishes that he lived in a time before the ring was rediscovered; before evil made itself so profoundly manifest. “So do I,” Gandalf replies, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This advice given by a wizard to a hobbit offers a succinct summation of what the Bible communicates to humanity and what has sustained men and women of faith in some of the darkest of times. Fifty years after Tolkien’s passing, the series that helped create the fantasy genre endures because of its realism. (more)

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