Friday, February 23, 2024

Tolkien has endured

From a review of Tolkien's Faith:
The year 2023 marked 50 years since the death of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, and 2024 will mark 70 years since the publication of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, which holds the title of the best-selling novel ever written. Fantasy and science-fiction authors mostly come and go, but Tolkien has endured. Why is this so? What is different about him?

For answers, we would do well to look at the recent work of Holly Ordway, whose 2023 biography Tolkien’s Faith constitutes a significant breakthrough in Tolkien scholarship. ....

Fantasy novels will typically feature a muscle-bound alpha with a bikini-clad babe on the cover. At the very least they will exalt the smart, or the fast, or the lucky. Tolkien’s hobbits aren’t like that at all: He celebrates small, decent folk. Frodo, the Ringbearer himself, doesn’t even really get to be extraordinary: At the end, he succumbs to temptation and fails in his quest, which is saved only by the mercy he has shown to Gollum, a creature even more miserable and lowly than himself. In other words, his premise is based on the Christian values of humility and mercy. As Tolkien himself wrote, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” ....

Tolkien was not ignoring the modern world by writing of a world of handicraft, virtue, nature, friendship, and, ultimately, religion. He was saying that these represented the answers to our problems, the enduring and true answers. The Lord of the Rings is just as much about modern war, totalitarianism, global surveillance, and the dangers of technology — our “smartphones” grow daily more similar to the Ring in their power over us — as it is about the medieval world.

Modern thinkers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have recently made the case that without Christianity there will be no resistance to the forces of disintegration operating in our culture today. ....

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