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Old 12-01-2002, 03:16 PM   #30
Child of the 7th Age
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You have said many interesting and valuable things.

There are, however, some problems that I see. The main one is this: the first letter, the one where Tolkien mentions the explicitly Christian revisions, came in Letter 142 to Father Murray that was written on December 2, 1953. Therefore, it could not possibly refer to the later revisions of 1965. The Christian revisions he was thinking of had to come before the end of '53.

Secondly, I feel there are times when you push your analogies too far. Let me take one example...your equation of Elvenhome with the kingdom of heaven, and the implication that Frodo's departure is equivalent to RC concepts of death and the rest and reward that follows:

Traditional Christianity has thought that Christians are not of this world. Neither do elves think that ME would be their real home. The elves trek to Avalon is comparable to Bunyan's and Lewis' pilgrims' trek to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Going back to Frodo, his going to Eressea should be taken as his death. RC pattern of martyrdom: purifying suffering, glorious death, and then a well earned rest.
I don't think that Tolkien had primarily Christian or RC concepts in mind when he 'invented' Elvenhome, or allowed Frodo to go there as a reward. Rather, Elvenhome sprang from his knowledge of ancient Celtic and Nordic texts. It was a close relative of Avalon, the place where King Arthur sailed after he was wounded. Like Elvenhome, Avalon lay far West of Arthur's England and could only be reached by ship. It was not, at least in origin, a Christian paradigm. Tolkien clearly saw a tie between Avalon and Elvenhome, since at one point he even took the name "Avalon" as the main city in the West. See The Book of Lost Tales for this.

But JRRT was aware that Elvenhome had even more ancient roots than Avalon. The idea of a magical realm lying in the West to which the Elves sail springs not from the Bible. Rather, it is from Celtic mythology and is associated with a mysterious, magical people called the Tuatha De Dannon.

Many agree that the Irish Tuatha de Dannon are the closest model for Tolkien's Elves. They are tall and majestic and have knowledge of many arts. As mortal men migrated to Ireland, the Tuatha were said to have withdrawn and sailed west to timeless immortal lands across the Sea. The human race is shown staying behind and inheriting a mortal, diminished world trapped in time.

Like Tolkien's Elves, there were remnents of the Tuatha who chose not to sail. They remained behind and hid themselves in sacred mounds, becoming 'diminished'--again much as Tolkien suggests. These images are close to the hidden valley of Rivendell or the enchanted woods of Lothlorien. Similarly, both the Tuatha and Tolkien's Elves are more concerned with their own affairs and history than with those of mortals. It seems clear that Elvenhome owes far more to these mythic roots than to Christian concepts of the afterlife or Kingdom of heaven.

There is one more point to support this in terms of Frodo. In letter 246, Tolkien says the place where Frodo is going is "Arda Unmarred, the Earth unspoiled by evil." Note that it is beautiful and purified, but it is still earth. This is not the Kingdom of Heaven, the analogy you mention in your post.

Also note that Tolkien was uncertain whether Frodo could be healed in the West:

Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him--if that could be done, before he died.
According to this quote, Frodo's healing is not certain in this life. Surely, it would have been certain if Elvenhome was a kind of heaven. T.A. Shippey has even argued that Tolkien had conflicting feelings about the ultimate fate of his own characters because they were not explicitly Christian, but pre-Christian. While I do not wholly agree with Shippey, his argument further weakens the Kingdom of Heaven analogy.

If there was any meeting of mortals with Eru within Tolkien's imagination, it would have to be in the circles beyond this world, or at the end of time. Frodo's trip to Elvenhome was wonderful and magical and full of rest, but it was not his final destination. Death, by his own choosing, would have to come next.

It was only in the debate of Andreth and Finrod written near the very end of Tolkien's life (See Morgoth's Ring) that we find a more detailed discourse on Eru and the ultimate destiny of Man and Elves. None of this, however, is related to the context of Elvenhome.

Therefore, with all due respect, I feel JRRT's images of Elvenhome owe more to ancient myth and to general human themes of rest and reward than to any explicitly Christian portrayal of the Kingdom of Heaven. The latter does appear quite clearly in Bunyan and Lewis, but not Tolkien. JRRT is very different from Lewis or Bunyan!

I think the challenge in reading Tolkien is to be careful not to reduce him to a single dimension, whether that be Christian or any other. He is just too complex for that.

sharon, the 7th age hobbit

[ December 01, 2002: Message edited by: Child of the 7th Age ]
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