Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tolkien on Mortality, Myth and More

Here are some clips of an excellent special recently aired by EWTN, in which I portray J. R. R. Tolkien, and in which author Joseph Pearce describes the Catholic elements of The Lord of the Rings.  Everything I say as Tolkien are word-for-word quotations from his writings.  The special also features artwork by Jef Murray.  As you can see, this was a very well produced program, and is well worth the $10 EWTN is selling the DVDs for.

In the first clip, Tolkien explains the relation between Myth and Truth.

In the second clip, Tolkien explains how he himself is a hobbit.

In the third clip, Joseph explains how Tolkien  understood The Lord of the Rings to be, primarily, about "death and immortality".

These clips are all copyright EWTN 2014.  The entire show is an hour long and is available from the EWTN Religious Catalogue.


Tom Leith said...

Best effort yet I think from Joseph & friends. But in a little note to Joseph, I don't think Tolkien wrote anything "merely". We should arrange a showing & discussion somewhere. We could get the auditorium at the Rigali Center. Or the Family Arena in St. Charles.

Anonymous said...

I have only watched the clips - not the entire piece - so my response may be off point; however, I do think there are some things that should be considered with regards to Pearce's assertions. First, it is, I believe, essential to remember that Tolkien was very specific that LOTR was not allegory. The discussion of life and death, and equating Man with death is problematic. Only the Elves (as a race) are immortal; however, elves can (and do) die. While Tolkien (in the Silmarillion) does refer to death as a gift to Man, releasing him from the bonds of earth; Elves are woven into the fabric of the earth, and are intrinsically connected to it. But Man = death doesn't really hold up to intense scrutiny in the LOTR as a work. Interestingly, the Nine, while faded to a slavish immortality to the Ring, and so miss the gift, but also cannot be said to die; yet they are more closely associated with death than any other Men. When Arwen (an immortal) attaches herself to Aragorn (a mortal) is Tolkien saying she is marrying "death"? I don't think so. Death is associated with Orcs (who are perversions of elves), with Sauron, and with war. The book ends with the dawn of the age of Men - is Tolkien saying this is the age of "death"? Death is NOT uniquely Man's defining characteristic - it is merely a trait that separates Men from Elves. In the strangest twist in all of this discussion is the character of Tom Bombadil. He is presented as potentially immortal, not Elf or Man, but still OF the earth - almost a "green man." He is unaffected by the power of the Ring (which interestingly, extends life, while consuming the bearer.) Bilbo, Frodo, and later Samwise, join the Elves in the Undying Lands to the West, to heal the effects of the Ring, but also, ostensibly, to reward them, and avoid death. So what is my point? The LOTR is a complex work; it's themes are basic, but its treatment is not. I think it is a mistake to oversimplify, and that is my biggest concern with Pearce's approach. Tolkien is not Lewis - thus, the bigger mistake is trying to tie LOTR to a religious statement. Tolkien seems to have intentionally avoided the inclusion of any particular system of theological belief in LOTR (although there are certainly spiritual references in The Silmarillion.) I would not deny that Tolkien's religious views certainly inform his work; it is dangerous territory to assign meaning in a particular religious context. I don't think the themes of life and death can be so neatly categorized, and I don't think Tolkien intended them to be. The more important themes are bondage, nature vs mechanization, power, mercy, friendship,the horrors of war, loyalty, the importance of personal effort, and the relative unimportance of size and status in solving the serious issues facing us. It is important to guard against efforts to transform that which is complex into something uncharacteristically simple. Embrace complexity! It is part of what makes this a great literary work.


Nancy Reyes said...

Well, I saw about two minutes of it and it looked good. Here in the Philippines we have EWTN, but often I am too busy to watch. Hope they post it soon on youtube to download.

Kevin O'Brien said...

No, Boinky, you'll have to shell out $10 US and buy it. I don't think there are any plans to make it available for free. But it's almost free at this point.

Scott W. said...

While Tolkien disliked allegory, he didn't mind applicability. And two quotes speak well to two controversies circling the Catholic blogosphere: lying and torture.

Faramir smiled grimly. ‘Then you would grieve to learn that Boromir is dead?’

‘I would grieve indeed,’ said Frodo. Then catching the look in Faramir’s eyes, he faltered. ‘Dead?’ he said. ‘Do you mean that he is dead, and that you knew it? You have been trying to trap me in words, playing with me? Or are you now trying to snare me with a falsehood?’

‘I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood,’ said Faramir.

And elsewhere:

But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Eldar Days taught always that the Orcs were not ‘made’ by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They might have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost. This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of War it was not always heeded.