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Old 01-11-2018, 11:41 PM   #2
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Thirty silver pennies in a fundamentally religious and Catholic work

Originally Posted by Balfrog View Post
The third part of Ms. Seth's series: 'Angel and Demon, Gospel and Fairy-story' is now released.

It focuses on Christian symbolism she claims is present in the chapters including Bombadil as well as peripheral ones. What is emphasized is Tolkien's technique. One or two of the religious ideas she presents - I've seen over the years very briefly touched upon. In summarizing and high-lighting eight different examples – one might conclude there's something to it all. The Judas Iscariot and 30 silver pieces analogy certainly seems hard to summarily dismiss.
Seems to me either too far-fetched, or mistaking the things of common life for specifically Christian allusions. It seems to me that the thirty silver pennies are mentioned for their value to the plot, and for that alone. They could as easily have been prompted by St Matthew’s source, Zechariah 11.12, as by St Matthew. An allusion to the Gospel passage would make no sense, as the article all but admits, since the function of the money in TLOTR is very different from that of the money in St Matthew. Why recall the betrayal of Christ, when the supposedly analogous passage in TLOTR is not a betrayal scene, but simply an instance of driving a hard bargain ? If there is an analogy, it is a broken one.

I hope no-one is going to suggest that the darkness of Moria is a Tolkienisation of the “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23 ! Moria, of course, looks like the Moriah of Gen. 22 - in the Challoner Bible with which Tolkien would presumably have been familiar, it is spelt as Moria. But the seeming allusion can be accounted for by the Elvish origins of the word Moria - no Biblical allusion is required.

Her mode of interpretation has the horrible effect of making Tolkien into a heavy-handed Bible-thumper, constantly obtruding the Christianness of Christian symbolism on his readers. I can’t believe Tolkien would be guilty of such an elementary lack of artistic tact.

When someone takes a bite of bread and a swig of wine, they are not celebrating the Eucharist; they are having some food and drink to restore their strength. The Eucharist takes up bread and wine, because these are the common things of life which people eat. She seems to be of the school that sees the Eucharist in lembas, rather than realising that lembas is bread because it is food, not because it is intended to be a reference to the Eucharist.

Tolkien does use the Bible, but far more subtly. The account of the final fall of Sauron contains clear echoes of the description of the Downfall of Numenor. The description of the “falling hills” that imprison the host of the Numenoreans is significant for at least two reasons:
1. it is a judgement scene
2. it contains, designedly or not, echoes of the judgement scene in Revelation 6.12-17. This is short enough to quote in full:

“12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?””

Compare 6.13 “a great wind” with “a great wind took them” [the ships of the Faithful].

6.14b sounds like the Meneltarma, and the Island.

6.15-16a sounds like the likely reaction of Ar-Pharazon and his host,

The two references to wrath, given the description of the eagle-like clouds over Numenor, and bearing in mind the War of Wrath against an even greater tyrant than Ar- Pharazon, sound very appropriate to the Downfall.

The reference to the Throne in v. 16 recalls both Valandil’s words to Elendil about “our kinsman on the throne”, and, the reference in the Oath of Cirion to the thrones of the Valar. One of the set features of the Valar is that they are enthroned.

This kind of unobtrusive allusiveness to the Bible and its themes is, I suspect, closer to how Tolkien drew upon it. Such touches are understated, artistically tactful, easy to miss, and they are not limited to the Bible. Tolkien could hardly have been unaware of the legends of kings and heroes - Arthur, Finn mac Cool and the Fianna, Frederick Barbarossa - who (1) were sleeping until the time of their country’s greatest need, when they would awake, and rescue it; (2) were in the meantime removed from the normal sequence of historical events. Barbarossa (who in actuality was drowned) is said to sleep in the Kyffhaeuser mountains; Arthur, like Sceaf Scylding (of whom Tolkien certainly knew, from Beowulf and from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), departs over the water; and a Scottish story tells of how a fisherman, adrift in the mist, found an island where there was a cave, in which the Fianna slept. The motif of rulers who come or depart by some sort of vessel upon the water is very widespread, and has been told of Perseus, Horus, Sargon of Akkad, Moses, Semiramis, Arthur, and others. This motif is often used as a means of saying that there is something unearthly about their origin or passing.

IMHO, when Tolkien called TLOTR “a fundamentally Catholic work”, he was referring not to elements of the plot, but to the animating spirit of the tale. Its morality is recognisably Catholic, and its doctrine of good and being is Catholic. It is made clear that one must not do evil for a good end: this is the teaching of St Paul, and a Catholic moral principle. Aragorn is, for all practical purposes, a model Catholic monarch: a formidable warrior, just, wise, merciful, humble, ready to give credit to others, prudent, decisive, ready to undertake whatever labours are needed, a healer, very patient. And he is no prig. But he is interesting not just as a Catholic king in all but name, but also because he is essentially “the last of the Numenoreans”; he is like his ancestors before the coming of the Shadow. He embodies traits that are Christian, and they are also the stuff of myth and legend.

So to look only to the Bible as a source of things in TLOTR, is to risk overlooking other sources.
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