Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reflected Light

"It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists," C. S. Lewis writes in "Meditation in a Toolshed." "The people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten" (Lewis 213). He decries the credibility that biologists, sociologists, studiers--those who look at the beam--have in society relative to the subjects studied--those who look along the beam--and argues for an approach that integrates these two approaches: "One must look both along and at everything" (215). Yet I think the real reason why we go to those who look at the beam is that looking along is fundamentally incommunicable. It's easy to wander into the toolshed, notice the beam of light, notice the lab coated researcher next to you scribbling on a pad, and poke them to ask what's up with the light. The researcher's in the same place you are. But the ones inside the beam see only the light, and it seems inconceivable that anything exists outside of it.

To take a trivial example: this course has so thoroughly bathed my mind in the Legendarium that I have to consciously remind myself that not everyone has visions of Arda flitting through their head at all times. At a party halfway through the quarter, I was very intently telling a girl who'd just introduced herself as "Eleanor" that she reminded me of elanor, light of the sun, the flower that grows upon the slopes of Lothlorien. It was meant as a compliment, but she just looked confused and mildly horrified. I stuttered out an apology, then withdrew to a corner to think about What I Had Done (or, alternatively, Why I Am No Fun At Parties). How could I explain Aragorn at the foot of Cerin Amroth, "standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes" (LotR II.6)? that elanor is, to me, one of the most evocative symbols of beauty and its inevitable passing from the earth? my love for Tolkien? I would have to step out of the beam, try to talk objectively about style or subcreation, to make Eleanor understand--or hand her a copy of The Lord of the Rings and hope that she, well, sees the light. (I really am no fun at parties.) Those looking along the beam find it nearly impossible to make themselves coherent to those looking at. The faithful will say that the substance of their faith is indescribable, ineffable; lovers may gibber all they want (and gibber they do), but the thousand poems they may create could never substitute for the touch of their lover's hand.

Yet we write and read love poems because through them we can, in a way, look at the love from which they sprang. Though even the best poetry cannot communicate the experience, reading it allows us to think about our own experiences in a different way. Indeed, I think the reason why we find art so touching and so important is because it functions as a mirror in which we can see the light reflected. The greatest art* is such because it is infused with the brighter beams: e. e. cummings's poetry and love, The Iliad and mortality, Tolkien's Arda and faith. By themselves, these works cannot bring us into the light, but once we step into the beam ourselves through experience, we read and reread these personal scriptures to gain a better understanding and appreciation of what we stand in.

[*] Incidentally, I do include great scientific works in this category. For me, the theory of evolution, the dual nature of light and matter, the ways tiny neural interactions can lead to emotions as complex and transcendent as love, and many other similar discoveries are windows to the wonder of our universe. Some of the most spiritual experiences I've had come from contemplation of these theories, and it frustrates me to see some artists dismiss science out of hand as being cold and unfeeling.

Furthermore, as this class as demonstrated, contemplation of this light is not a solitary experience. This is the purpose of Cult: to bring together people with the same points of departure in order to gain understanding (or simply fun) through social communion. Religion, in its regular (usually weekly, it seems) gathering of believers at a place of worship, is the most obvious example of this. Storytelling may be an interesting example of Cult. Many of us came to Tolkien because our parents read it aloud to us as children, a regular bedtime ritual; it's notable that Agatha reads aloud to the children every Sunday. Through this ritual of storytelling that the art to appreciate experience are passed down, generation to generation. And we then can make our own art, our own mirrors, to become subcreators in our right. In showing these creations to others, the promise of the mirror is fulfilled, and together we can look along the beam with greater understanding.

Thanks for a great course, everyone, and I'll see you all at the Happening!

M. Liu

Friday, June 3, 2011

A 'Happy' Ending

Almost everybody remembers some story that they thought was really good until it ended. Perhaps the hero didn't get everything he deserved, or one of the villains got off too easy. Maybe, after a really good story, the ending was just dull. Or it might have simply been the fact that the story was fun, and it ended too soon. Some readers feel slighted by this; after all, they put time into reading or listening to the story, and it might seem like poor compensation for their time if the end is unsatisfactory. They might think that the story had a ‘bad ending’. And this leads to a question that I really hadn’t thought much about until this last class: who really owns the story in the first place? While it might seem natural that the author would know his story best, his readers are also giving something up for the story. Given that some authors are better than others, it stands to reason that some people reading the story have a better sense of how it should have ended than the author actually did.

But when it comes to a story that is as heavily steeped in symbolism and meaning as any of Tolkien’s works, it can become confusing who owes whom. While it probably takes most readers a while to get through The Lord of the Rings, it arguably took Tolkien’s whole life to create Middle Earth. What he did was far more than make a story; he constructed an alternate universe of a depth that could not be expressed in a single story (and given Christopher’s extensive work, a single lifetime). So it comes off as arrogant for a reader to judge a story that he read in a couple weeks, when it took its creator years to get the characters and setting just right. Criticizing Tom Bombadil as uninteresting and unimportant to the plot ignores the stories that were written before that featured him, or the creation story he tells the hobbits that first-time readers probably miss. While a reader might have better writing skills than Tolkien did, he almost certainly does not have the same grasp of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants that Tolkien did. So who really gets to judge the moves Tolkien decided to make, or what meaning his stories have?

I think the answer is that judgement belongs to the reader, but there is a good chance that a reader simply doesn’t try hard enough to appreciate a story. Superficially, a story is meant to entertain whoever is reading it. And many stories are meant to do just that. Troubling enough, this mentality seems to be held especially strongly in relation to fairy tales, which we usually hear at a young age when we don’t look for anything more. In Whistling Woman, a group of children object to a story on precisely these grounds. The ending of the story they hear isn’t a ‘good’ ending, to them. This message is further amplified by the beginning when the storyteller tries to decided whether or not her listeners are old enough for the story in the first place.

But some stories (especially fairy tales, Tolkien might argue) do not exist solely for entertainment. When it comes the judging Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings, the standard should not be how interesting or entertaining he was, but how the role he played fit with the rest of the story. Tolkien had definite messages and themes that he wanted to convey, and some of those were at the expense of entertainment. There is nothing that exhibits this more clearly than The Silmarillion. I believe most readers would agree that, when comparing The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, the former is much more gripping and exciting. One might even consider parts of The Silmarillion to be *shudder* dull. So it is clear that Tolkien knew how to write an exciting story. That simply wasn’t what he set out to accomplish. Before judging his works, one must understand what the work is supposed to be in the first place. While this will make the story no more exciting, it will help to provide a metric by which to judge.

Which brings me back to the matter of endings. After re-reading the end of The Lord of the Rings, it struck me how early the fairy-tale ‘end’ occurs. The final battle with enemy forces doesn’t even start in the last book (and I mean book, not volume), and the Ring is destroyed three chapters into the final one. The remaining two-thirds of the last book are occupied with what, in most other stories, would be unimportant resolution where the good guys are rewarded and the bad guys get their just desserts. But Tolkien wasn’t writing just one story, and it shows in his endings. While the main events of the story are over, Tolkien’s characters never get a break from their lives. Aragorn grows into the king he was meant to be, and wrestles with the daunting task of rebuilding Gondor. The hobbits realize that The Shire is not always safe, and even they must deal with corruption, from the inside and out. And Frodo, who has been expressing a desire to go home since the beginning of his journey, realizes that he is not meant for it any longer, and says goodbye to his hobbit friends. These events keep the characters and the setting alive and moving. While the story has ended, Middle-Earth has not. When we think of The Lord of the Rings, or any story, we must think of these other things that the story seeks to accomplish. And I think that if a story has succeeded, these will be evident most clearly in the end. That is, after all, an author’s final words to his reader.


P2C2E, Narrative Causality, and "The End"

After our discussion in class on narrative causality I began to consider how this truly comes into play in the LOTR as well as many other favorite works of fiction. I've always been fascinated by the process of writing. There is an intriguing, though sometimes frustrating aspect to a work of fiction because how probable is it that so much would happen to these characters? How is it possible that everything always falls into place just so, that million to one chances happen more often than not, and that eventually the protagonist wins out in some way or other? Terry Pratchett has been quoted to say, "...the proliferation of luminous fungi or iridescent crystals in deep caves where the torchlessly improvident hero needs to see is one of the most obvious intrusions of narrative causality into the physical universe." This goes to show how strange the narrative creation process can be. Doesn't anyone ever question it? Is this all too easy?

I've seen these kinds of "easy way outs" in many of my favorite works. In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy you often have to suspend your own concept of how everything should work in reality and accept that anything absurd and insanely coincidental or otherwise lucky will occur. Adams needs to explain how its possible that the characters will easily be able to understand all the various languages they encounter throughout the whole universe so he creates the "Babel Fish," which naturally you just pop in your ear and as it eats incoming brainwaves it excretes them in a coherent manner. Or how about the "Infinite Improbability Drive" on the starship The Heart of Gold. Naturally by just pressing a button an obscenely improbable act can occur and it is justified based on this fictional device. The same has been true of Salman Rushdie in Haroun and the Sea of Stories where anything that occurs relating to Earth's fictional 2nd moon, (Kahani) such as its ability to orbit so fast it is never seen, is simply attributed to "Processes Too Complicated Too Explain" or "P2C2E" for short.

Do we too often forget and never question the strange ways in which narrative causality permeates the LOTR? Such as Gandalf always showing up at just the right moment? Lembas bread existing to keep them strong when they otherwise would have no food or energy normally? That mithril keeps Frodo alive more than once when he should be dead? The list could go on and on describing the truly incredible circumstances of Tolkien's work. The quest itself, so improbable, so often challenged by anything that could possibly happen, is in and of itself following a line of narrative causality that is both incredible and sometimes wholly unrealistic. I know that sounds like a redundant thing to say, its fantasy so of course its unrealistic, but I mean on that deeper level in which the characters follow their path as dictated by Tolkien, circumstances play out exactly as they need to in order to make a good story.

Of course the abnormality of the circumstances which surround a character are what end up making a story worth reading though so how can we question them? I'll note that even stories meant to highlight the mundane are good stories because of they offer a window of perspective that makes them interesting in a creative way.(Something like James Joyce's Ulysses is what I'm thinking of here.) The LOTR would not be epic or memorable were it not for the grand and fantastic scale of its story. One thing I can attribute to Tolkien is although he must fall prey to narrative causality as all stories must, he does not seem to cut corners, and he never really takes an easy way out to explain how everything happened as it did thanks to wonderful layers of back story.

After reading C.S. Lewis' "Meditation in a Toolshed" I began to also think about the way characters are developed around their extreme circumstances in stories and how we are to approach them as a result. The difference between looking "at" and looking "along" a circumstance seemed to make a lot of sense. Of course the actual experience in the beam would be focused and different from that of those looking at it from the outside. What I couldn't get over however was whether or not an author is ever capable of looking along that beam really. They can describe the feelings and emotions of a character but especially when it comes to the fantasy genre, they don't really know what it feels like, they couldn't possibly. Perhaps good writing is simply getting as close as possible to presenting that concept of looking along the beam when all you can really do is look at it.

To look across the whole spectrum of a story as broad and wide as the LOTR is truly a fantastic feat though and the development of characters with the possibility of bending the laws of nature as we know them are what make fantasy novels so interesting--everything in LOTR would not be nearly as worth reading if there wasn't magic and fantastical settings and creatures. One has to allow ones self to accept them as they are and as they come. Fighting with the realities of a story seems rather futile. And perhaps in that act of acceptance we allow the story to take us where it will. This is why so often there are analogies of stories connected with water. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories Rushdie describes the Sea of Stories as consisting of infinite stories taking the form of different currents of colors which ebb and flow together to create new ones and defy the spectrum of color and the concept of a story as we know it. A.S.Byatt also spoke of a narrative as a stream which follows certain paths but the grooves left grow deeper with the infinite run of its streams. Stories will always mean different things to different people and this is why we can make a whole major out of interpreting the creative processes of authors.

Thus, when stories seem to always perpetuate a cult of interpretation without end, how important is "The End"? Its amazing how we can always count on traditional stories to be wrapped up neatly and tied up perfectly at the end of the story. Again, narrative causality at work. Frodo at the moment his journey is over cannot complete it so of course, luckily, Gollum attacks him and ends up hurling himself with the ring headlong into Mount Doom. Text book narrative causality. In A.S. Byatt's the Whistling Woman, the story is ended without conclusion and the characters have a hard time processing this because of its abnormality. I had a friend once who always used to make up stories about us meeting various celebrities or having interesting adventures but as soon as she got bored of writing them she would stop and write in huge letters, "ABRUPT ENDING." It could be very frustrating not knowing where to go from there. I've always been a fan of purposeful cliffhanger endings however, and perhaps this is the one way in which narrative causality can be challenged if not totally circumvented since it persists throughout the story still.

Perhaps at this point though I've really lost myself and come to no conclusion either. Perhaps all one can do is muse away on what it means to end and how you can get where you got. However I've truly taken away a lot of from the LOTR, as we all have, and though I continue to pick apart what I think helps to create it as it is, I think there can be no denying its cult and the importance of the journey through its interpretation...



“This isn't one, This isn't an end... ”

As our course reaches its end, I have discovered to my own fortune that there is no other post more appropriate to blog on than on the Cult created by Tolkien’s works which has so masterfully captivated and enchanted its readers. In order to begin addressing the power of his work, it seems fit first to address A.S Byatt’s novel A Whistling Woman. In particular, we turn to the scene where Agatha finishes reading her story to the children, Leo and her daughter Saskia. The tale of the Prince Artegall, which had so absorbed and immersed the children in their imaginations, thwarts the children’s expectations of an emotionally rewarding ending upon it’s most exhilarating moment - when Artegall finally finds his kinsman and the Kingdom of the North of which he has been looking for throughout his journey. Leo complains to Agatha that “there was no satisfaction in the end of the story.” (Byatt, 12), to which she responds “that is where I always meant it to end” (Byatt, 12). The children, who were looking for an all-encompassing, closed and neat ending were therefore left wanting more out of the story and still questioning themselves over the open-ends left by Agatha. Frederica, Leo’s mother, upon further pondering what constitutes a good ending seems to reach the conclusion that a ‘real ending’ would be one capable of making it’s audience “cry with happiness.” (Byatt, 13). This emotional pay-back expected by Frederica is nothing more, nothing less than what Tolkien himself coined by the “word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” (Letters, 100) It seems therefore that, had Tolkien been the author of this tale and not Agatha, Leo would have been much more pleased with its ending.

However, we are still left in a position whereby we have not yet understood what it is about this eucathartic ending which is so rewarding to its reader. According to Tolkien, this ending is capable of rendering the reader under this satisfying effect since it provides him with a “sudden glimpse of Truth” (Letters, 100) slipping through this secondary reality which corresponds directly to our experience in our primary reality. The eucatharsis thus involves the reader at an extremely personal level in his experience of the story and we find ourselves looking along the beam of light in C.S Lewis’ Toolshed analogy. We are fully invested in the tale; we experience the narrative, feel along with its characters and genuinely live their story. It is because the story is real and shares in this ‘Truth’ that we are able to discover meaning and value within it once we step back from the story as it finds its ending on the page before us. Tolkien’s initially puzzling affirmation that “Middle-earth is not an imaginary world” (Letters, 239) begins to make much more sense. In fact, provided we are looking along the Toolshed’s beam of light, we are able to fully comprehend what Tolkien meant when he asserted that “the theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live [i.e. our primary reality], but the historical period is imaginary.” (Letters, 239)

However, this is not to discredit the second and more objective perspective described by C.S Lewis as of looking at the beam of light. This latter perspective is what allows the reader to effectively see from a certain distance the bigger picture and evaluate the actions described in the context of the narrative. Furthermore, the reader is to be content with what the author has provided him - be it satisfactory or not - and is not in a position to insert his own sub-creations within the gaps left by the author. Therefore, the extent to which the author has revealed the narrative is all that the reader has access to, and thus, he remains dependent on the author to either change those parts which were unsatisfactory, or keep feeding this thirsty reader with more material. This seems to be the case between Agatha and Leo, who continuously demands her to progress further with her story, even when she has not yet written the next section. Agatha then tells him that she cannot continue the story since she doesn’t know the rest - “Anything could happen.” (Byatt, 327) The storyline is therefore out of her control, instead it seems to create itself, unfolding itself as she writes. The narrative contains a power of its own to which the author is merely a vessel translating it into the written word. A solely objective take on such a work is therefore rendered unfeasibly since the narrative is begging its reader for his input - that is, to fill the gaps left with his or her own sub-creations. However, as we have previously seen, this insertion is only possible if we combine the objective lens with that of the personal lens. That is to say, as pointed out by C.S Lewis, the reader must be able to look at as well as along the beam of light coming through the Toolshed.

Finally, one may point out that while the reader’s task (as stated above) is well understood, a certain level of skill is necessary for one to be able to produce and insert such sub-creations. This skill, of which the 8-year-old Leo still lacks comes with education. It is not surprising therefore that upon Byatt’s description of his going to school, Leo’s mother observes that the walls are lined with school projects on the works of none other than J.R.R Tolkien himself. In school, the children will learn the skill of sub-creation, they would have “to consider how trees grow and spider-webs are women, to think about perspective and be inventive with materials.” (Byatt, 371) Thus the children will learn the art of the Ainur when, together with the One, Illúvatar, they composed the themes of the world. The reader no longer finds himself frustrated upon finding at the end of a story a “Frameless Picture: a searchlight, as it were, on a brief episode in History, surrounded by the glimmer of limitless extensions in time and space.” (Letters, 412)

- J.Machado

Tolkien's Gift

By far, the most powerful moment for me in the entire Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf delivers the following line: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” I find this line so spectacular because it speaks simultaneously to the glory and the limitations of humanity. I feel that this is a central thread that runs throughout Tolkien’s work and philosophy.

The readings for class picked up on this thread, as well, particularly the belief that human beings, as part of the larger creation of God’s work, have a specific place in that creation and specific duties to perform. The way God organizes the universe does, in a way, “put us in our place” and knocks us of our perch because it enforces our dependence on God. In the Ancrene Wisse, which, for my money, spent an inordinately large amount of time discussing prayer schedules—pretty glad I am not an anchorite—we see the level of devotion that is required as a servant of God. Of course, we don’t all have to do what those anchoresses did-at least, I hope not—but what we do need to do, according to Tolkien, is to work for God. As he puts himself, the purpose of life is “to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks” (138, Sanctifying Myth).

This thought answers the first question of the two that Christian humanists, as Birzer points out, are concerned with: what is the role of man in God’s creation? The second question, however, is “how does man order himself within God’s creation”? (133). In this second question, there’s a hint that there’s more to serving God than just honoring him through prayer. We need to also, on our own, personally create something. Tolkien puts is much better when he writes that “we, as human persons, are to sanctify our own gifts by putting them to the service of the betterment of ourselves, our community, our society, the Church, and, ultimately, the world” (136). We are to be active servants, then. We have to do more than pay homage; we have to go out into the world and produce something that honors God.

In the passage we read from Shippey, these beliefs are echoed. Shippey mentions Gandalf’s advice to Theoden about what they should do. Gandalf replies “Do the deed at hand…If we fail, we fall. If we succeed—then we will face the next task” (183). Furthermore, Shippey later on reiterates how much of Tolkien’s philosophy urges “that you must do your duty regardless of what you think is going to happen” (183). Shippey, however, adds an addendum to the two questions of the Christian humanist by showing that our task is an everyday affair. Talking about the style of the poetry in Beowulf—although it can be and should be applied to Tolkien—Shippey feels that “the plain, even rustic language appeals to everyday experience” (192). Even though the Lord of the Rings and a lot of other writings by Tolkien deal with an epic story of saving the world from destruction, Tolkien’s main prerogative was to show readers that we do our duty in the arena of everyday life. This explains why Tolkien can appeal to so many people. He does not focus on things that are foreign to us but that come as a result from “a slow probing of the familiar” (193).

Viewing this cynically perhaps would lead us to the conclusion that this worldview condemns humanity to the role of a pawn. Tolkien, however, wouldn’t see it like that at all. True, we are here for God but the relationship between us and the Creator, as Tolkien sees it, is based on love which means that God does not treats us as if we were pawns. More than that, each individual has the divine spark in him or her. According to Tolkien, “Incarnation proves the intrinsic worth of each human person” (136, Sanctifying Myth). This shows that each person is an important piece in the puzzle that is the universe. We are for God and we are here to do a job. But we have the tools to do it and do it well.

Looking back on Tolkien’s works and this class as a whole, I come face-to-face with the impact that Tolkien has had. Becoming acquainted with his work and the secondary literature made me realize that The Lord of the Rings is more than a great story; it’s a gift. Ultimately, I think this was Tolkien’s intention all along, to give a gift to a readership that would cherish it. It’s remarkable when we consider how much time and effort he put into his legendarium and how much he theorized about what he was doing and why he was doing it. He dedicated his life to Faery. It’s even more remarkable when we consider the reaction to his effort. Not to get corny at a moment like this but in the movie Shadowlands, which features Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis, a student tells Lewis that “we read to know we’re not alone.” I think Tolkien would have agreed with this assessment and would be pleased with the connections that readers have made to him and his work. Being a human in God’s creation is not always easy and, as this post, we have a lot of work to do. But books like The Lord of the Rings and people like Tolkien who are willing to reach out to you and to others make it a little more fun for us all.

Musings: Meaning, endings, and eternity

I started writing some musings to a friend, and towards the end it started to tie into The Lord of the Rings and the subjects we discussed on the last day of class. I decided I'd share it here as well.

The eloquence of Swami Vivekananda and his introduction of eternal values of India taught to the United States are particularly remembered. The speech has been identified by many to mark the beginning of western interest on Indian values not as merely an exotic eastern oddity, but as a vital religious and philosophical tradition that might actually have something important to teach the West.[4][5] The opening line, "Sisters and Brothers of America...", was greeted by a three minute standing ovation from the audience of 7,000.[6]

Welcome Address-
Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.

My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Beautiful and yet quite sad; even the most cursory inspection of the past 118 years shows that sectarianism, bigotry, and fanaticism have been alive and well. They've even added to the family; nationalism, fascism, ideological totalitarianism. (-isms are really the worst.) And yet maybe the cursory inspection is part of the problem. It's history's horrors and tragedies that really stand out; progress and acceptance are a lot quieter. I seem to be on course to live a better and happier life than my parents, who have better lives than their parents'. (Although my grandparents really got shat on, WW2 was a shitty time to be Jewish or Korean.)

When measuring huge portions of human history against a presently unattainable ideal of perfect coexistence, I suppose it's inevitable that things will look bleak.

Still, it's not clear to me whether we've made real progress in the time since Swami's speech.

One aspect of Tolkien's work that I find personally reassuring is the underlying axiom that everything will end. Nothing is forever. Admittedly Tolkien wouldn't see it this way, since he thinks God is eternal and everlasting, but everything else in his mythology passes in time. Even the immortal elves fade away.

'That is a fair lord and a great captain of men,' said Legolas. 'If Gondor
has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising.'
'And doubtless the good stone-work is the older and was wrought in the first building,' said Gimli. 'It is ever so with the things that Men begin: there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.'
'Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,' said Legolas. 'And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for. The deeds of Men will outlast us, Gimli.'
'And yet come to naught in the end but might-have-beens, I guess,' said the Dwarf.
'To that the Elves know not the answer,' said Legolas.

Later in the same chapter, Gandalf is counseling Aragorn, Eomer, and the other leaders of men as they plan the final battle against Sauron (the title of the chapter is The Last Debate):

'Concerning this thing [the One Ring], my lords, you now all know enough for the understanding of our plight, and of Sauron's. If he regains it, your valor is vain, and his victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts. If it is destroyed, then he will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.
'Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.'

Maybe my problem is looking at things in terms of progress; focusing on the future instead of the present. I am sure there were reformers in ancient Greece or China who improved the lives of many, but whose names and deeds have been washed out by the tide of time. There's a time when I would conclude that they failed; they left no indelible mark on humanity; all of their ideals and wisdom and work and struggle came to nothing in the end. I think a fear of this inevitability is what drives kings to found dynasties, plutocrats to found universities, men to create and recreate religions. A fear of death and a fear of insignificance, a fear that the totality of one's life comes out to less than nothing in the cosmic scale of things.

I used to be a pretty strict (some might say unimaginative) materialist, and it seemed evident that Tolkien's everything-will-end philosophy is true. Modern physics predicts that entropy will wind down the universe and all matter will decay into light and nothing. Even without thermodynamics, it seems all but certain that the days of humanity's existence are numbered. Some last child is born, and he dies; some last repository of human knowledge decays; some last memory of a place called Earth is forgotten, and even if a planet still physically exists, would the concept of physical existence still have any substance? If meaning, an ephemeral construct of human imagination, is gone?

I guess you could say was (and am) fighting a ghost of Plato: struggling to find an eternal form: something transcendent and secure to cleave to. Failing that, I turned rather predictably to nihilism. Persuaded that morality was a sham and meaning an illusion, I might as well enjoy as much (meaningless) pleasure as I could, and consequently decided to be a rich investment banker. {I now think that being an investment banker would be a patently awful way to pursue pleasure, but everyone else wanted to be one so it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time.}

But maybe I should stop looking for meaning in the future and the eternal. Maybe those Greek and Chinese reformers did make meaningful achievements, even though all the benefits and beneficiaries of their work are now forgotten. Maybe meaning is something that exists only in conscious experience and, consequently, in the present.

And the strangely reassuring aspect of the fact that everything fades in time: the same is true of humanities' demons. Totalitarianism, your days are numbered. And this is something of a balm on every setback, every tragedy, every horror, every pain: in time, it too will bow out of existence. No lost opportunity merits eternal lamentation because no action has eternal consequence.

I've decided how I will conclude my alternate ending of The Lord of the Rings. Evil will prevail. Sauron will reclaim the Ring. The situation will be hopeless, and Sauron's inevitable victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while the world lasts. And yet as the forlorn protagonists plan to hide away in the remotest hole they can find, the story will end on a quiet but resolute note of hope. The darkness, however complete, is only temporary. Eventually and inevitably it will be blown away like another cloud over the sea.

-D Mane

The Nature of the End

I was inspired by the discussion in class to do a more in depth analysis of the endings of stories. Several times in the readings, a concept was raised of the “good” ending, and I was curious to understand exactly what this could mean. When Frodo and Bilbo are in Rivendell, they start talking about Bilbo's story, and how Frodo ought to write the next one. Bilbo then inquires, “Have you thought of an ending?” (Tolkien 307). When Frodo says that he can only think of unhappy endings, Bilbo responds, “Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?” (Tolkien 307). This same issue gets raised in the Byatt readings, when Agatha ends the story without tying together all of the loose ends in the plot, and the children are all outraged. Leo says, “There are good ends and this isn't one, this isn't an end” (Byatt 13). The reason given for this response seems to be that “there was no satisfaction in the end of the story” (Byatt 12). This would seem to be suggesting, then, that a “good” ending is dependent not on the intentions of the author but on the reaction of the reader. Agatha tries to defend herself by explaining, “That is where I always meant it to end” (Byatt 12), but this fact makes not difference to the opinions of her listeners. Thus, by this definition, the reader would have to be allowed to determine the end of the story for it to ever be a truly “good” ending.

This could actually be the case, that a reader should determine the ending, as a reader seems to me to have the undeniable power to control the ending of a story. When Frodo and Sam are discussing how their story might be told by future generations, Frodo points out that “it is all too likely that some will say at this point: 'Shut the book now, dad; we don't want to read any more'” (Tolkien 364). Along this same line, in the Byatt reading, when Frederica is reading to Leo and she wants to stop because she thinks he is falling asleep, he is able to convince her to keep going. In both cases, the reader is able to stop reading wherever he or she wishes, thus creating a sort of alternate ending, though possibly only a temporary one. And when Frodo and Sam are on the slopes of Mount Doom, just after they have given up hope of survival, “in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire” (Tolkien 246). When I read this passage, it occurred to me that if a reader did not particularly like the ending to a given story, that reader might, “in a dream,” write their own ending that is more satisfactory to them.

But just because the reader is able to control the ending to a story, it does not necessarily mean that the reader should try to do so. In Byatt, Frederica is ruminating on the nature of Love, and she mentions offhand that “it is a made-up story, Love” (Byatt 14). This statement struck me, and I decided to take Frederica in relationship to Love as an analogy for the reader in relation to the story, for this seemed to me to be what that line was suggesting. When she is contemplating herself in relation to Nigel, she considers that she is no longer “fused to someone else,” that she is “a separate being” (Byatt 314). I imagined from this that the reader becomes one with the story, “fused” to it, as it were, while they are reading it, but afterward, when the story is over, the reader becomes a separate being again. The reader needs to enter into the story, but Frederica also realizes that “there was only an unreal moment's grace between the beginning of a love affair and this steady self-questioning about how and why and when it would end” (Byatt 14). This seems to suggest that while the reader is submerged in a story, if the reader then questions that story, tries to work it out for himself instead of accepting the story as the story, tries to manipulate it, then the reader loses that “Love” for the story just as Frederica starts to lose her love for her lover. This becomes even more clearly exemplified when she considers that she wants a strong man who can take care of her, but how her lover needs the same thing from her, and how this “saps from what [she] think[s] of as Love” (Byatt 14). The story is supposed to carry her away into another reality, and if she brings her own reality into the story, it corrupts the story and it can no longer have any efficacy as a story.

Bringing this back around to the concept of the “good” ending, Frederica has to consider why people try to connect to one another and why she does not feel this “desire and pursuit of the Whole” (Byatt 315). When these characters talk about the “good” ending, they seem to see it in this light of trying to create a Whole, of trying to connect all these different pieces in a satisfactory manner, and if they aren't connected, then it is not a proper ending. Frederica, though, seems to be of the opposite opinion when she comes to the conclusion that “there is an art form in [fragments], too. Things juxtaposed but divided, not yearning for fusion” (Byatt 315). She thinks that such an ending as the one to Agatha's story can be equally as effective as those that fall under the category of “good” endings. With this in mind, what does it do to the story if a reader decides to take a controversial ending and tries to transform it into a “good” ending? Does it lend the story new and further meaning, making it more resonant than before? Or does it corrupt the story, and so corrupt the reader as well? I couldn't really say one way or the other for certain.

C. Carmody

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Religion, "Cultus," and First Love

After giving the example of being inside the beam of light in the toolshed, versus viewing it objectively, standing in the darkness, Lewis provides a second, analogous situation – that of being in love. “A young man meets a girl,” he postulates, and “the whole world looks difference when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life” (God in the Dock, 212). Of course, the scientist – that viewer from the objective darkness – comes along and ruins it all, going on about hormones and biological stimuli and what-have-you. The joyful and irrational illusion is revealed, though perhaps the young lover isn’t ready to listen yet; there may, of course, come a time when he, ironically, perhaps devastatingly, realizes it of his own accord.

This passage was particularly resonant for me because it describes an experience that I feel is very analogous to falling in love: reading Tolkien. There was a time when The Silmarillion alone occupied me on every car trip and every rainy afternoon, when I took several pounds of the HoME with me to summer camp several years running, when I spent hours devoted to drawing sub-par, manga-esque renditions of obscure characters. In seventh grade, in lieu of a simple “do not disturb,” I was very proud of the homemade sign on my door the proclaimed, to any unwitting passerby, Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos! I could go on and on (though I won’t, for my dignity), but I know that a lot of you out there in the crowd probably have similar histories with Tolkien, if not also with other authors and their respective thought-worlds (OK, I won’t kid myself, that’s kind of just a fancy word for fandom. I believe someone in class today already ‘fessed up to the fanfiction thing. I say, virtual high-fives all around! Seventh through ninth grade was a great time…as is the present!). To put it is Lewis’s language, in immersing ourselves in such naturally immersive texts, when we look from inside the beam of light and stare outwards in awe at the “green leaves moving on the branches outside and beyond,” we give ourselves entirely to a world alien to our own, ever devoting and stretching ourselves towards the perfection, depth, and mystery that we perceive to be.

Before this class, I had honestly preferred to not consider the religious dimension in my recreational (though wholly devotional) enjoyment of Tolkien’s writings. Though fully cognizant of Tolkien’s Catholicism, I preferred to know Middle-earth in a vacuum, putting any possible religious symbolism in the category of allegory, which I had discerned was something Tolkien did not want construed on his pure story. In fact, I had always been under the impression that the LotR books stood opposed to the self-conscious Christian allegory of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia – the departure through the door of light, Susan’s not being allowed to return, now that she wears hose and lipstick and has fallen from innocence. Here, in an academic context, it’s obviously difficult to disregard Tolkien’s religiosity, and I certainly confess that it has been pretty critical to understanding the context of his moral universe. Based on the language I just found myself using – devotion, striving, mystery – it seems that reading The Lord of the Rings et al was, in fact, a kind of religious experience, and one that left me with an imprint of the devotion of its creator. In this strange way, a kind of transmission of faith was engendered.

In part, this must have been the kind of thing Tolkien intended for his readers, or at least hoped might happen, though he knew that, for better and worse, he relinquished control of the story to these new minds that were exposed to it. In other ways, I am certain that it was what he would not have wanted to happen, for I know that I, in my time of greatest mania, was a card-carrying member of “the deplorable cultus” that semi-deified him in the ‘60s, and continues to do so this day. I didn’t end up finding God through Lord of the Rings, because that wasn’t who I was looking for, at age thirteen. I was hungry for a world, and I swallowed it; that world became a compass, and internal mythology, that was of indescribable importance to me for a not insignificant portion of my life. It’s still there, and it still compels me.

But it’s not the same as it once was. Returning to the stories over the past weeks has been familiar and comfortable, like stepping into well-worn shoes, and don’t get me wrong, it’s been wonderful. Yet the joy of total immersion, of one’s brain chemistry, at age thirteen, reacting to the Doom of Mandos, is irretrievable. Is this because I put the wrong kind of faith into Tolkien, because I was looking for things that weren’t there, making meanings that weren’t there? A few years past the zenith of my obsession, I was fortunate enough to visit Wolvercote Cemertary in Oxford, and by the time I finally read Beren and Lúthien on the grave, I was completely, unexpectedly inconsolable. Like the children in A.S. Byatt’s novel, I was distraught, for here the story ended, when I hadn’t wanted it to, when I wanted, and needed, for there to be much, much more. In Tolkien’s mind, as we discussed today, the story never does end; it is living, and we are part of it, even when we don’t intend to be. My problem might just be that I’m still half in Middle-earth, without realizing that the world around me is still Arda, evolving from age to age.

- J. Wetherell

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I wasn't actually crazy...whew

I don't doubt that Byatt got "Artegall" from the Notion Club Papers, but he is also in The Faerie Queene.

--Luke Bretscher

Monday, May 30, 2011

Subcreation as Worship of Creation

I began my reflections for this post by simply looking up the definition of worship, and there were two aspects to it that most struck me: firstly, that it can be to honor a deity through religious rites; secondly, that it can be an expression of reverence toward a deity. This active, participatory aspect to worship is what first called to my mind the concept of subcreation as a form of worship itself, for it is the active participation of a component of creation in shaping that same creation of which it is a part.

Flieger suggests that there are two primary concepts inherent in Tolkien's philosophy: “One is the inevitability and absolute necessity of change. The other is the centrality of language and its importance as both cause and result” (Flieger 167). For Flieger, these two concepts work together in order to “subcreate a new reality” (Flieger 167). Change is a necessity of creation for creation is a process of development towards ultimate fulfillment, and without change this could not be achieved. Subcreation, within this context, is the act of change itself, which works in collaboration with creation and with the designs of the creator in order to achieve this fulfillment of creation. Subcreation is an act of expression on the part of a single component of creation, and for subcreation to bring creation to its eventual fulfillment, it must be in cohesion with creation. For one to commit an act of subcreation in its purest form, one must do so with reverence to creation and to its creator, making it a form of worship.

Language, for Tolkien, has just as important of a role as change in the fulfillment of creation, for language, according to Flieger, is itself an act of subcreation. Where other forms of subcreation make a physical alteration of creation, language is more a subcreation of the psyche, for it affects and shapes human perception of creation, which is as much a part of creation and its fulfillment as the physical aspects. Flieger points out that the purpose of language is communication, and she then points out the etymological ties of communication with community and communion, stating that: “without communication there can be no community. Without community there can be no sense of communion. Without communion...humanity is truly separated not just from others but also from the source” (Flieger 168). Flieger seems to be suggesting that the fulfillment of creation requires the communion of every component of creation with every other component, and simultaneously the communion of creation with its creator. Language, then, acts as a subcreative force that can construct these bonds of communion, and so further creation toward fulfillment. As such, language too could be seen as an act of reverence toward creation, and therefore also a form of worship. This becomes especially evident in the inherently vocal aspect of praise in religious rites.

As an example of this aspect of worship within subcreation, I would posit the tale of Aule and the creation of the dwarves as played out in the Silmarillion. Aule wished to take subcreation to its absolute extreme: as an act of pure creation independent unto itself. It would seem from this that Aule had distorted the purpose of subcreation as an act of reverence and worship towards creation, since he wished not to partake of creation but create his own. Yet even so, his intentions in this aim are pure as regards the purpose of subcreation. Aule's reason for attempting to commit an act of independent creation was that“so greatly did [he] desire the coming of the children...that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Iluvatar” (Tolkien 37). Aule is not attempting to subvert creation, but is merely trying to hasten the fulfillment of creation. When Iluvatar reprimands him for creating the dwarves, Aule responds: “it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb” (Tolkien 38). From this, it would seem that the purpose of subcreation is to fill the empty spaces of creation so that it is a cohesive whole. I would also point out that Aule calls Arda “dumb,” highlighting the inherently vocal aspect of praise that can be found in the subcreation of language. Aule goes on to say that: “the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child...that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without mockery, but because he is the son of his father” (Tolkien 38). According to this passage, an act of subcreation is an expression of the traits that we have inherited from the creator and are done so that we might be in greater communion with the creator. As such, subcreation is not just worship of creation in an external sense, but worship of the self because we too are a part of creation and have been crafted in the image of the creator. Therefore, subcreation, in its purest sense, is the worship of the aspects of the creator reflected in creation by forming creation to reflect those aspects more purely.

Tolkien too was aware of this collaborative aspect of subcreation with creation. In one of his letters to his son Christopher (Letter 89), he described this vision he had of a beam of light shining on a speck of dust floating in the air, and how this beam of light made the speck shine white. He says he envisioned it as God emitting a beam of light, which he equated to an angel, bringing the light of God to that speck, which would be some component of creation in his metaphor. The fulfillment of creation is for all of creation to be bathed in the light of God, and the role of subcreation in this is to let this light into yourself and then to project it outward onto the rest of creation until all creation is filled with light. As Flieger points out: “[Tolkien] also knew beyond any doubt that he was the prism, not the light” (173). For Tolkien, subcreation was not only about realizing the light for yourself, but communicating that light unto the rest of creation, and as such it takes on the language of praise and could be seen as a form of worship of creation.

C. Carmody

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ring Verse in Old English

I recently came across this video on YouTube:

An excellent "translation" of the the Ring Verse into a poem in the Mercian dialect of Old English, which Tolkien used as the language of the Rohirrim.  The Anglo-Saxon is in the video's description, as is a link to the Modern English translation.  A nice bonus is that one can get the alliterative force of the kind of poetry Tolkien loved.

Best to watch this one at night in a dark room to get the full, spooky effect.

-G. Lederer

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Prayers of Middle Earth

Prayer varies widely in its purpose and its execution, regardless of the Someone-Else with whom we are communicating. During the process of (Presbyterian) Confirmation, I was taught to remember ACTS—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—during my regular prayers. ‘Lament’ is another type of prayer-purpose that should not be overlooked, but remains blessedly separate from our recommended daily prayer checklist. By then, the Confirmands had all (mostly) memorized the Gloria Patri, the Lord’s Prayer, and a few others that our church happened to use on a regular basis. Prayer in its various forms is a fundamental way through which one communicates with God, and indeed Tolkien urged Christopher to seek comfort in the ‘praises’ which he should know by heart so “you never need words for joy” (Letters, 66).

It has by now been firmly established that The Lord of the Rings came from a deeply faithful Christian, a devoted sub-creator / “renewer,” acting as “the prism, not the light” of the work that was ultimately produced (Splintered Light, 173-4). Tolkien’s own Catholic faith came through accidentally at first, as he explained in a letter to Robert Murray, an influence which was acknowledged and maintained upon its discovery. It was a deliberate choice “not [to] put in, or [to] cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’” (Letters, 172). That said, the people of Middle Earth are clearly not without faith. One of Tolkien’s many anonymous critics described Middle Earth as “‘a world in which some sort of faith seems to be everywhere without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp’” (Letters, 413). Given the history of light in Middle Earth, perhaps this comment was not far off the mark.

If prayers and song are a gift from God in our world, and if such a “source” is invisible in Middle Earth, what then do we make of the words in LOTR that are clearly worshipful? Calls to Elbereth are repeated as song, poetry, and cries of desperation, directed at the light-giving Star-Queen. Such communication includes nearly every form of prayer I learned during Confirmation. Without the “religion” of a guiding Creator, a Christian-like God, it is worth noting that the Elves (and others, as necessary) turn to the one who brought the light to Middle Earth. As a symbol of hope and sheer goodness, it seems natural that Elbereth would be so important—not only to the Elves—in the fight against Sauron.

Prayer is indeed the last resort more than once during the quest to destroy the Ring. Frodo cries to Elbereth while facing the sheer terror of the Black Riders, and Sam is later bolstered against Shelob by the words of the Elves’ hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel. It is almost a passive thing, a prayer of supplication which the two Hobbits experience in these darkest moments. Frodo “heard himself crying aloud,” (Bk I, ch. 11) and Sam’s “tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know,” (Bk IV, ch. 10) as if the intervention is provided both against the darkness and in the formation of the prayer itself. Tolkien did not speak much in his letters on prayers of supplication, save to suggest that “there is nothing to do but to pray” (Letters, 393) about perhaps the most difficult struggles of the moment. When all else fails, prayer is offered as a final source of comfort, wisdom, and strength—and the potential for actual intervention. The light provides guidance to Sam in the deepest darkness, and it is through the light again that he realizes his own strength.

Though Tolkien naturally turns to prayer as part of his Catholic faith, he lifts the sacrament of communion to the highest importance in terms of communication with God. In fact, he says, “The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion” (Letters, 338). It is with this assertion that he is able to further separate the faith and hope of Middle Earth with true Catholicism or any other religion. Through this distinction, and his other discussions of religion with Christopher and other correspondents, he reiterates his assertion that Middle Earth does not have “religion.” This is an important distinction when considering prayer in The Lord of the Rings, and the distinction becomes confused when examining the relationship between the light-bringer and those who would call her name. Tolkien’s argument is both implied and explicitly stated: “you cannot maintain a religion without a church and ministers” (Letters, 237), but moreover “the religious element [of The Lord of the Rings] is absorbed into the story and the symbolism” (Letters, 172). While many reeled at the idea that LOTR is fundamentally Catholic, further confusion arose based on the lack of explicit religion in Middle Earth.

In the repeated cries to Elbereth, one witnesses again the real importance of light against the darkness of Sauron. Simply her name and the words of a hymn are used for a variety of purposes, ranging from lament to praise and of course supplication depending on the issue at hand. The repetition is reminiscent of Tolkien’s urging to Christopher on the ‘praises,’ and indeed it seems the words are a gift of comfort to those who need them. Though they are without “religion,” it seems appropriate that the people of Middle Earth look to the light as their source of hope and guidance against the darkness in the world.


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Form of Myth: Re-reading Tolkien as both Scripture and a Product of the Modern Age

In Wednesday’s discussion, Dr. Fulton asked us why we re-read the legendarium. If we all already know what will happen in the stories, what changes for us when we return to them? Several reasons abound. Some people claimed that different words and phrases become important when refocused by class discussions and course readings. Others, myself included, find that stories have different meanings when read in different contexts. Because I am a much different person now than the first and most recent times in which I read the legendarium in earnest (eleven and nineteen years-old, respectively), I respond to elements and themes of the story most relevant to my primary reality as a graduating fourth-year preparing for medical school: uncertainty about what lies beyond Arda/campus and hoping [for admittances] without any guarantees. Yet, to other students, they re-read the legendarium with a greater focus on Tolkien himself as a main character. They abstract the stories’ events and characters to question or analyze what Tolkien thought in the creative process.

Although I practice each of these reasons for re-reading the legendarium, I am most invested in re-reading the Silmarillion and the Histories of Middle Earth, specifically, because their biblical forms provide me with more than merely stories or histories. Much like how I find different meanings to long-familiar passages from Jewish sacred texts, like the  Torah, Talmud, Tanakh, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim, the Silmarillion and other Histories of Middle Earth react on me in ways unique from other books. Because Jewish texts and ‘Tolkien scripture’ feature stories heavy with implicit meaning, they resonate with me differently and different times of my life. The stories are archetypes that different people can access at diff parts of their lives. The stories’ simplicity allow readers a level of interaction in which they able to read the stories into their lives and their lives into the stories. Each reader interprets the stories into her own lens. Because the stories provide a form rather than content, the reader projects himself into them when he wants to accept that form.

The form of the myth often deals in absolutes, even when it seems like the actor is taking the middle-ground. These force us to pick a side and then force us to align our fortunes with it because they are so absolute. I find that with modern novels, there is a type of moral ambiguity or general ambiguity that allows us a distance from the actor. However, myths force readers to put themselves into characters in ways unlike different genres. At some point it does seem like there is ambiguity or conflict, but ambiguity and potentiality for conflict forces the religious/ Tolkien scripture reader to justify, apologize, or defend them in ways that draw the reader closer to the text.  For instance, those same commentators are well within the framework of traditional Judaism. Although we are given a framework and parameters of understanding the torah, it is still left to the interpretation of the scholar; everyone understands the stories differently. By definition, the Torah is meant to be understood in multiple ways and multiple levels. In the Midrash, one finds that there are 70 "faces" or facets to the Torah (in Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). This statement reveals the myriad ways of interpreting the text…and the wealth of rabbinical commentary on it. In composing those volumes of commentary on the same stories, the rabbis bring both themselves and their readers closer to the scripture.

In Tolkien scripture, I am most fascinated by the Ainulindalë. This genesis story gives me more than merely a conceptual outline for my final project in this class. Reading it now as a graduating student, I understand it as a cautionary tale about over-ambition and impatience with creation that one has yet to achieve.  In the story, Melkor grew upset and impatient with the persisting Void (and then sought in vain for the Sacred Fire with which to convert more of the Void into creation). Believing that Eru took little interest in creating more non-Void, Melkor ultimately thought he could better manage or perfect that process because of his powers and the independent thoughts he gained from his time in searching for the Sacred Fire in the Void. To me, this archetype is a shadowy reflection of my personal issues with the creative process. Be it a piece of music, an academic paper, or (and most especially) a blog post for this class, I struggle with perfectionism. As those tendencies drive me to find some new, creative point hitherto unmentioned on the blog—which is absurd since everyone’s posts are both amazing and humbling—I get mired in a vicious circle of self-sabotage.

Because Melkor is an archetype of my own creative struggles, I agree with Fleiger’s claim that while Tolkien’s work “may draw on ancient myths for its truths…it speaks directly to the modern age, an age acutely concerned with the workings of its own unconscious, a society familiar with psychology." (152) Much like how the “journey, the battle, and the monster are both within and without” for the Lord of the Rings, the same is true for the Silmarillion and its meaning to me. In my earlier readings of the Ainulindalë, I did not see Melkor as my shadow incarnate nor as some monster within the mythical frame. However, as I now struggle to manage those irrational tendencies listed above, I find solace in venturing into Faerie to encounter the shadow and see how other primary authors like Eru integrate or harmonize the shadow. Despite Melkor’s best efforts to mar and overthrow Eru’s third theme, Melkor’s discordant theme’s "most triumphant notes were taken by [Eru’s] and woven into its own solemn pattern." To me, the outcome of this struggle is a meaningful reframing of a Jungian concept: “The integration of the shadow, or the realisation of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage of the analytic process...without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible.”

Lastly, because of this modern framing of the legendarium, I have also found meaning in other long-familiar stories, like the two Númenórean chapters on Elendil and his son Herendil in the Lost Road. Like Frodo at the Sammath Naur, the young Herendil is “pinioned between light and dark both outside and inside…and tormented by the equal stress exerted by positive and negative forces.” (Flieger 153) He is caught between the corrupting, albeit attractive, revisionist history from by the King’s Men and the warnings from his father. Although Herendil fears Sauron’s dungeons, he also fears the internal shadows of not simply death but sameness: “Death comes here slow and seldom; yet it cometh. The land is only cage gilded to look like paradise.” Because “every road is trodden hard…and every tree and grass blade counted,” Herendil fears that he will not “escape the shadow of sameness, and of ending” without following the will of mighty Sauron. However, even after this sentiment upsets Elendil, Herendil, much like Frodo, “becomes aware of himself again as an independent being with a will of his own. He is free to choose.” (Ibid.) When Elendil presents his son with a choice “between thy father and Sauron” or to “even to report as may seem good to thee all that I have said,” Herendil chooses love: “‘Atarinya tye-melane (my father, I love thee)…I stay, father.’”

Until I learned to appreciate the modern framing of this story, I simply read the account of the father and son as an interesting narrative on the corrupting of Númenor before the fateful invasion of Valinor. I learned about the nature of the propaganda created by Sauron and his servants as well as how they manipulated Númenórean discontent with the ‘over-known’ nature of the Isle to “futher the policy of ‘imperial’ expansion and ambition…” However, I find new meaning in Herendil’s choice for love. Because Tolkien “was concerned above all with the relation between the father and the son [in these chapters],” he releases Herendil from the forces striving in the character, thus allowing Herendil to demonstrate the power of love and free will over ambition, if not evil.


Tolkien for the Agnostic

            I turned away from Catholicism after being raised in a family that attended Mass weekly and said Grace at the dinner table every night. I received four of the seven sacraments before making the very conscious decision to leave the Church. Not surprisingly, this was also around the time that I adopted the Lord of the Rings as my favorite book, and the movies as a kind of scripture that I could recite passages from. Because of my own rejection of Catholicism, I struggled with the idea on Monday of Tolkien’s work being “fundamentally religious and Catholic.” I felt betrayed, even, because my favorite fantasy work was imbued (intentionally or not) with this religious message from a religion that I had fled from.  Did this mean that I would forever read the Lord of the Rings with my eyes open for religious symbolism? Would I forever see the Passion in my head as Frodo and Sam, the heroes of my adolescence, struggled up the side of Mount Doom? Would I never read it as fantasy again, and see only the religion that I turned away from? Would the fantasy be forever ruined for me? In this post, I will argue that one can read LOTR for itself, without the religious undertones, and still glean the same message from it. While Tolkien’s purpose was Catholic, his message is universal.
The Lord of the Rings is religious in theme, rather than content, because aside from characters’ supplications to Elbereth – which are, admittedly, frequent – the characters do not display overtly religious behavior. They do not speak of God, heaven, or hell, except to wonder what happens after death. Their ponderings are not necessarily religious, just human. As someone who does her best to ignore religious undertones in writing, I never picked up on the symbolism of, for instance, the Mount Doom chapter: Sam carries Frodo as Simeon carries Christ’s cross; Frodo’s finger, which betrayed him by putting on the Ring, is cast off like “the hand that offends him”; the Hobbits eat lembas, “waybread of the Elves,” like the viaticum, the Communion; the Hobbits are barefoot, and Frodo is dressed in a simple robe tied with a rope; and so on. I felt like a fool for not seeing Tolkien’s rather obtuse symbolism. Had I been tricked into reading a religious text and thinking it was just fantasy?
I don’t think that Tolkien intentionally included all of this symbolism in the final chapters, because that would border on allegory – and we all know what Tolkien thinks of allegory. It’s more likely that though some of it was intentional, he unconsciously included the rest, because Tolkien always saw the world through a religious lens. In Letter 142, he even notes that its initial religiosity was unconscious, though later deliberate. The religiousness is “absorbed into the story,” rather than being overt. His purpose in and motivation for writing was religious, so it will naturally flow through into the writing itself. After all, as Flieger notes, Tolkien recognized himself as the prism through which the light of God shone, rather than the light itself. A prism can’t help but reflect the light. If this is not the way one, as a reader, sees the world, it does not have to be the way one reads the LOTR. If it offends, the overtly religious symbolism can be ignored without losing meaning of the work. Interpreting the symbols as religious is only to read the book as Tolkien thought of it, and we should not be confined by that.
But this symbolism is not the primary reason for why Tolkien considers LOTR a religious book. Frodo and Sam’s journey up Mount Doom can be compared to the Passion and the subsequent Resurrection, which Tolkien describes as the ultimate eucatastrophe. Tolkien coined this term for “that sudden joyous turn,” just as all hope is lost, that leads to a “fleeting glimpse of joy” to “deny universal final defeat” (“On Fairy Stories,” 86). But it brings both joy and sorrow – the kind of ending that brings tears. And, of course, the eucatastrophe of LOTR is the moment when the Ring is finally destroyed, Frodo and Sam are saved, and the world rejoices. It is simultaneously the happiest and most tragic ending to the book, because one celebrates the downfall of Sauron while weeping for Frodo’s incredible sacrifice. One does not have to be religious to appreciate the eucatasrophe – anyone with an appreciation of goodness and happy endings can benefit from this.
Finally, we discussed on Monday Tolkien’s third religious purpose in the book. “What is the meaning of life?” Tolkien is asked by a curious young reader in Letter 310. He responds, after deliberation, that it is ultimately to praise God and his “sole right to divine honor.”  The Lord of the Rings is, in effect, praise for God’s creation. Tolkien’s undertaking as a subcreator is undeniably driven by his religious roots. He understands that his book is threatening because it is a Creative endeavor, and in writing it, he risks mimicking God (mimicking, not copying, because humans cannot perfectly subcreate as God has because of the Fall). According to Tolkien, because we are made in the image of God, we are also made to subcreate.
This brings us back to one of the initial themes of the class. According to Tolkien in “On Fairy Stories,” one purpose of fairy stories is not just escapism, but a recovery: seeing the world anew in all its beauty after viewing it through the lens of fantasy. At the end of a fairy story, we feel refreshed and see the world in a new light with a new appreciation. In his effort to praise God and his Creation, Tolkien has created Middle Earth, and through it, we can more fully see, love, and praise the world. For the secular reader, this is not necessarily a religious experience – one must only have an appreciation of the beauty of the world and all of God’s creations (regardless of to whom you want to attribute the creation of these things) to benefit from the ultimate purpose of the Lord of the Rings. Appreciation and celebration of beauty are not purely religious activities, so the purpose of the book is not lost on we secularists.
            The Lord of the Rings speaks to people, both religious and secular alike, for the reason that the “well-known man” identified in Letter 328, when he insists that Tolkien must have seen the pictures that he shows him. Tolkien gave voice to universal themes that the man saw in the pictures – indeed, themes that all would identify in the pictures, because they, like LOTR, have touched upon some universal truth of humanity. I wish we knew what those pictures were, and what themes they had evinced, and I wonder if we would see the same things, having read LOTR so closely. Regardless, we’ve all come to this class because the book speaks to us with a profound message, whatever that message might be. Tolkien’s message was religious, but as readers, we do not necessarily have to be religious to grasp it. While we are literary analysts and critics, we must acknowledge the religiosity of the book, but as readers, if this is not important to us, we can get the same message out of it.


Praise With Every Breath

Tolkien once stated in a letter to Camilla Unwin: “the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks,” (400). This is clearly in accordance with his Catholic beliefs, and leads one to wonder how this doctrine is represented in his works, particularly in The Lord of the Rings.
            It might first be helpful to define the notion of praising God. While the common conceptions of praise as prayers and worship are both true and critical to the Christian faith, true praise of God, as Tolkien understands it, is in fact much deeper. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “so whenever you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We are meant to praise God through our daily actions, within every facet of our lives, by offering Him all glory. Furthermore, we are called to praise God through our sacrifice of self in pursuit of His will; by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Christ (Matt 16:24). The renunciation of our personal wills and desires in pursuit of God is the most fundamental form of praise. Nowhere in Tolkien’s work is this form of praise portrayed more clearly than in Sam’s actions in Book Six, Chapter 2: “Mount Doom”. Though God is not explicitly mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, we can easily regard Sam and Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring as their highest act of praise, because it brings about the destruction of Sauron, who desires to usurp God’s power and praise for Himself.
            Sam’s sacrifices during his journey to Mount Doom exemplify his deep devotion to the quest, and by extension his devotion to the praise of God (or Iluvatar). In fact, many of his actions in this chapter are in essence monastic. He abstains from water throughout most of the journey so that it can all be used to strengthen Frodo. He eats nothing but the Elvish Waybread, which as we discussed in class can easily be taken as a metaphor for Communion, or the inward acceptance of Christ. This choice both physically parallels the Christian practice of fasting as a method of praising God and symbolically shows Sam’s complete reliance on God for the ability to complete the journey.
            Near the middle of the journey to Mound Doom Sam and Frodo cast off many of their possessions. In particular, Sam releases his most prized possession, his pots and pans, dropping them in a deep crack. This parallels the monastic practice of poverty, and call also be seen as a response to Jesus’ order to the wealthy man in Matthew 19:21 to “go, sell your possessions…then come follow me.” Biblically, worldly possessions are often portrayed as hindrances to our pursuit of and praise of God. In fact, the quest itself can be seen as another example of this same practice. Sam and Frodo are traveling to Mount Doom in order to destroy the one ring, which itself is seemingly the ultimate worldly possession.
            Every choice Sam makes during this journey is made in an effort to complete the task of destroying the ring, in an effort to praise God. He is exemplifying the call to praise God through all our actions, and to deny ourselves to follow Him. However, it is clear that his sacrifices alone are not enough to bring the task to completion. In fact, Sam at one point seems to give up hope that their quest will be successful. His hope is then somehow externally renewed, and his will is strengthened for him. The passage reads:

But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern…as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue (934).

Tolkien’s use of the passive voice to describe Sam’s experience helps readers understand that this renewing of will is not coming from Sam himself, but from some outside source or power. As is stated in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God will not lead His followers into situations that they are incapable of handling through their faith in Him.
            Furthermore, when, in large part due to Sam’s sacrifices and devotion he and Frodo do eventually reach Mount Doom, Frodo is incapable of casting the ring into the fire. The destruction of the ring, in the end, only occurs because Gollum has followed them up the mountain and in his lust for the ring bites Frodo’s finger and falls into the Crack of Doom. God allows for the task to be completed despite Frodo’s faltering of will, further bringing glory to Himself.
            This then, is the deeper reason for Christian praise through sacrifice. Through our suffering, we not only praise God by expressing our devotion to and reliance on Him, but we are also reminded of our own mortality. We are forced to recall our weaknesses and limitations, which leads to greater amazement at and appreciation for God’s infinity. Though we may falter and fail, He never does. This of course, is the reason we praise Him in the first place, for His perfection and limitless power. So then, praise in fact is almost cyclical. As we devote ourselves to God, we come to further understand His character, as well as our own, and are moved to praise Him all the more.


Hobbits and Worship

I really struggled with the question of how the Lord of Rings teaches us about worship because Iluvatar is not explicitly present in it. So, how is it possible for it to be a work that exemplifies worship if the recipient of that worship is not there?

As I mulled over this question more and more, I kept being drawn back to two specific quotes. One was from letter 183, which were Tolkien’s notes to W.H. Auden’s review of The Return of the King. Tolkien writes, “In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour.” The other was what Sam said to Frodo in The Two Towers:

Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes no past the happiness and into grief and beyond it – and the Silmaril went on and came to Earendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got – you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on (IV, Chpt. 8).

I think it’s fairly fitting too, to discuss worship after we spent some time talking about the hobbits (was that intentional, Professor Fulton?) because as I pondered over these quotes and the topic of worship, I came to the thought that even though Iluvatar is not directly present in The Lord of the Rings, perhaps one way worship is exhibited is how the hobbits come to understand themselves in terms of the “bigger picture.”

If I could bring in something from outside of class, John Piper, a Christian pastor, once wrote that worship is “magnifying God” – part of which includes us understanding ourselves in the proper light and knowing our place within creation and with respect to the Creator. For the hobbits in particular – as exemplified by Sam’s quote when he and Frodo are on the Stairs at Cirith Ungol – the Lord of the Rings is their journey to understanding themselves in the context of a larger world.

In the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, as a people, the hobbits are focused on themselves. We see this from the very first chapter: they are focused on Bilbo’s party and the prospect of splendid food and presents. Indeed, when the Gaffer and other hobbits gather in The Ivy Bush, the Gaffer tells the other hobbits of what he reminds Sam: “Elves and Dragons! Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you” (I, Chapter 1). This viewpoint that the Gaffer holds seems indicative of the hobbits’ approach to the “outside” world – and confirms the brief background history we get of them in the Prologue. They have withdrawn from the whole of Middle-Earth and primarily concern themselves with only their own history (hence, their great love of genealogies and “dark” family stories) and their own going-ons.

But Frodo and Sam (and Merry and Pippin) leave insular Hobbiton and go out into that very wide world – Middle-Earth itself and find themselves part of a history that they did not even know about. When they meet Tom Bombadil, who tells them stories of the Old Forest and Barow-wights, and arrive at Rivendell and hear about the whole history behind the Ring and the wars of the past, they begin to get a greater glimpse of the world of which they are a part. And yet though they feel small, this does not prevent Frodo from stepping forth and accepting the responsibility as Ring-bearer. By the end of the Return of the King, each one of them – Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin – understand better the world at large and how they fit into it. They know their right place with in it and are not concerned only about themselves and the events in Hobbiton.

The hobbits’ understanding of how they fit into the world contrasts with how Melkor does not understand himself correctly. In the beginning of the Silmarillion when Melkor first brings discord to the music, he does not understand – or rather, chooses to deviate from – his role as under Iluvatar, the Creator and Sovereign over his creation. Rather than being content with his role, Melkor “sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself” (Silmarillion, 16). Before he reveals to the Ainur the vision of their music, Iluvatar tells Melkor, “…no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined” (Silmarillion, 17). In contrast to the four hobbits, who discover their role and begin to understand how they fit into the whole history of Middle-Earth and beyond, Melkor does not understand his “proper” role. He desires to magnify himself and in doing so, not worship Iluvatar as Iluvatar deserves. While Frodo and Sam (and Merry and Pippin) never encounter Iluvatar directly or make explicit mention of him, they do come to a right realization of their place and role in history and Middle-Earth. And perhaps that in itself can be considered as worship of Iluvatar – even though he is not present, the hobbits recognize their smallness, and at the same time their significance, within the created world.

V. Lau

Tolkien, Freud, and Christ

Let me start of by saying that none of the forthcoming analysis is something that I think Tolkien intended or would particularly want. We have in Tolkien's letters a remarkable luxury as scholars of his texts. Tolkien was, perhaps above all else, a very intentional and self-aware writer. The very writing of the letters and his self-commentary serve (1) to demonstrate an incredible amount of awareness and intentionality in his work, and (2) to point the reader in the right direction. We, as literary analysts, often ask the question “what does this mean?” and in Tolkien, we have the luxury in many cases of having a relatively ready answer at least to the question “what did Tolkien mean by this?” Therefore we know what sort of analysis and interpretation Tolkien would tend to invite. But intentionality is never the whole story.

Someone in class pointed out that the reader of Tolkien probably does not become aware of the heavy religious quality of the work by panning out nuggets of religious symbolism or allusion. Indeed, Tolkien himself stated that it was not his original intent to write a religious work. Just as the tendrils of religious devotion enter unintentionally into the work, so too do they rise out of the work and settle in the mind of the reader, almost before the reader notices. This is an example of communication that can occur between the author, the text, and the reader, while going completely unacknowledged. Owing to Tolkien's remarkably self-reflective process, it is not unacknowledge in this case. However, as Tolkien noted in his letters, it was only upon revision that he became aware of the trend. If either he had not revised so extensively, or had been less self-reflective generally, the systematic presence of undeniably religious themes would have gone unacknowledged by the author. Tolkien's religious consciousness is strong, partially as a result of his religious education. Therefore, it is not surprising that he noted and strengthened the religious aspect of his text. However, there are certainly other themes and aspects of his own consciousness in which Tolkien is decidedly less interested, which begs the question- are there other unconscious dialogs between the trinity of Tolkien, the text, and the reader that in fact has gone unacknowledged, while all the while not only being present, but perhaps unconsciously influencing our reading of the text? Certainly, the conscious author and the text are not the same thing- even a writer as meticulous as Tolkien is nonetheless beholden to certain unconscious tendencies in his own mind. To that end, what follows is essentially a Freudian analysis of Biblical allusion in The Lord of the Rings, with emphasis on the Ring and the Mt. Doom sequence.

I spoke a little bit in class about a particular passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

“But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to
lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in
his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out
and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of
thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body
be cast into hell. And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it
off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one
of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole
body go into hell.” (Matthew 28-30)i

Here, the term “scandalize thee” is of paramount importance. In the original Greek it reads skandalidzei se (σκανδαλίζεισε)ii which essentially means “causes you to stumble” or, here, “causes you to sin.” In the Mount Doom sequence, we have a relatively literal reenactment of Jesus' advice: Frodo casts away (although unwillingly) what causes him to sin. Notably, however, it is not just the Ring that is cast away, but Frodo's right ring-finger as well. This is of course a relatively close parallel to the right hand that Jesus suggests be cut off. Through this parallel, we get something else- Jesus suggests that we cast of that which causes us to sin. In this case, that is not only the Ring, but Frodo as well. While the Ring is evil and 'scandalous' insofar as it subverts wills and induces sin, it requires participation. The Ring is not exerting power if it's simply placed next to a rock, nor can it fly away to Mordor on its own. So it is both the Ring and Frodo's desire for it- participation in its evil- that creates the sin.

However, both Tolkien's text and the associated biblical passage invite a certain Freudian interpretation. First, there is the quality of the very act that can be called sinful here- putting on the Ring or, phrased otherwise, poking a part of the body into a round hole. The imagistic similarities to the sex act cannot be escaped. If we read the episode in this light, the story becomes about castration. A little more exegesis on the biblical passage reveals notes of the same. Specifically, proximity of the suggestions that one casts off parts of the body that causes them to sin with the renewal and strengthening of the commandment against adultery. It does not take a great leap of interpretation to merge the two. What part of the body, after all, causes a man to commit adultery? What body part's removal would stop the sinful adulterous act and, in perishing, preserve the man from that sin?

One may object of course that Tolkien is actually quite a fan of sexuality and certainly subscribes to the “be fruitful and multiply” imperative, what with Sam's 13 children and the conception of marriage as a vehicle for child-bearing. However, this is not quite applicable to disprove the point. Notably, Tolkien's view of marriage and sex as a tool by which children are produced confines the sex act to the only Biblical approved use of it. This role assignment maintains the Biblical view of sex as inherently sinful but also totally negates the power of the sex act as a thing unto itself. In fact, the strength with which Tolkien ties sex, marriage, and childbearing can well be read as evidence of his (almost certainly subliminal and unrealized) conception of sex as inherently sinful and something to be feared. His appeal to multiplying as the validation for the occasional engagement in the act is therefore an appeal to the Bible as a talisman against that very evil. After all, if we accept that the quest to Mount Doom and the climax of the book represents the ultimate good AND if you're willing to go along with me for a moment and indulge the interpretation of that scene as a castration narrative, then castration becomes the ultimate good. This association could only emerge from a fear of sexuality which (incidentally) is heavily encouraged by the Catholic Church.

E. Moore


i. Holy Bible, Translate from the Latin Vulgate, Published with the approbation of His Eminence James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. Trans: English Colleges at Douay and Rheims. Philadelphia, Pa. Douay Bible Publishing Co. 1899.

ii. Robinson, Maurice, and William Pierpont. The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform. Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Pub. 2005.

1. I really don't mean this as an indictment of Tolkien's work in any way.

2. I chose this edition of the Bible(instead of the RSV) because it was(1) contemporary to Tolkien's life and upbringing and (2) the primary translation relied upon by contemporary traditional English speaking Catholics.