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Old 05-28-2002, 08:27 PM   #9
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: Earthsea, or London
Posts: 175
Kalessin has just left Hobbiton.

All my instincts are telling me to keep out of this thread, but ... [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

... As to principles of Christianity, again, I hope we can find principles that are unique to Christianity. A tough challenge, I grant ...
The difficulty here is objectively identifying reflections of Christianity without recourse to allegory, iconography and so on. In addition, I very much appreciate Littlemans caveats, and by inference the recognition of the danger (or potential) for appropriation. On the other hand (pace Gilthalion), I have no problem with Christians finding spiritual resonance in their personal experience of the books - that's (at least part of) what art is about.

So much has been written about this in the Trilogy and Bible thread that I hesitate to broaden the original remit here, to do with Tolkien's specific revisions. However, it occurs to me that two specific areas, whether or not changed in revision, can be cited as exemplars of a specifically Christian conception in Tolkien's works.

One is the Christian contradiction that Tolkien identified as a recurring theme - that Evil can arise from Good. This is embodied in the sub-creative Fall of Melkor (the Beginner of Evil, in Tolkien's words), which mirrors the contradiction of the Fall of Lucifer (and subsequently Man) in the context of an omnipotent and infinitely perfect God. In another thread I talked about how Christian philosophers such as Spinoza had wrestled with this problem from medieval times, and in order to accommodate more sophisticated reasoning the philosophical tradition had moved on from accepting the Biblical translation as literal causality to more abstract conceptions in which Good and Evil became human interpretations (and therefore relative). The contradiction itself has never really been resolved, except by flawed logical axioms (such as the ontological argument). Whilst perhaps other religions have an element or reflection of this, it has been a central 'question of faith' in Western culture for hundreds of years, and a key part of Western art, philosophy and theology.

Tolkien's creation myth, in The Silmarillion, explicitly contains (or mirrors) this contradiction, and without resolving it the narrative invokes a more traditional or literal causality. And in his introduction to the text Tolkien expresses the view that the concept of divinity and sub-creation in The Silmarillion should be 'acceptable' to those with Christian beliefs. "Acceptability" is a somewhat ambiguous term, but taken into account along with the (according to JRRT) thematic contradiction of subcreated Evil, I think a Christian context can be reasonably inferred.

The second (arguably) specifically Christian concept is the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil. This is a somehow symbiotic combination of military and moral struggle, in which powerful destructive forces are materially and spiritually defeated - first Melkor/Morgoth, and subsequently Sauron. My feeling is that this is a particularly Christian conclusion - there is no "re-establishing of equilibrium" (a la Yin/Yang), nor is there a "Nirvana", the devolution or evolution of self into literal selflessness. Each victory is absolute and final.

Having posited these possible Christian elements, I have to also say that the surface narrative is peppered with small-scale but implicitly non-Christian symbols and allusions. We also have Tolkien's own explicit critique of Malory's Arthurian saga for its Christian connotations, and his well-documented dislike of mechanistic allegory (and the interesting subtext of his relationship with Lewis). In addition, I think one can make a compelling case for a number of cultural influences in Tolkien's narrative, elements that reflect both his primary interest in myth and language, and the age in which he lived, the nature of post-imperial England, and so on.

All of which leads me to argue that the attempt to identify (and perhaps emphasize) specifically Christian areas should be put (or kept) in perspective. Naturally the importance of Tolkien's own devout and traditional Catholicism should not be underestimated. Nor the evident morality of his works, which is at least consistent with traditional Christianity, if not uniquely so. But Tolkien himself said, and felt, that the myths he studied and loved in fact contained at heart some kind of timeless or essential 'truth', and did so in their own terms, without reference or dependence. And I believe it was this, more than anything, that Tolkien wished to re-create.

I could be wrong ... it could be argued that the works as a whole were explicitly Christian apologia and that the various characters and narrative elements were in the service of an evangelical mission. Yet many declared Christians distance themselves violently from Tolkien's work for a range of reasons. There is clearly a significant level of ambiguity and room for interpretation here.

For now, I am happy that there remains both mystery and universality in his works, and in the experience of them by generations of readers - and this perhaps goes some way to explaining his enduring popularity. But as there are many on these boards who know more about Tolkien's life and works than I do, we shall have to wait and see [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Peace [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ May 28, 2002: Message edited by: Kalessin ]
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