Ha Jolly Ha

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Well, For Heaven's Sake

It would appear that Tolkien felt as helpless about the whole thing as I do:

"Here ends the SILMARILLION. If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwe and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos."


Blogger Mark Scott Abeln said...

I understand that Tolkien was greatly inspired by Northern European mythology, which tends to be dark and bleak, like the Baltic landscape in winter; a major theme is loss and the passing of the age. The Incarnation and Redemption had yet to come to be.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Yes, I heard Joseph Pearce describe it as an Old Testament world.

1:04 PM  
Blogger brendon said...

There are glimmerings of hope, are there not? The very beginning of the "Ainulindalë" states the following:

Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music, though it has been said that a greater still shall be made before Ilúvatar by the choirs of the Ainur and the Children of Ilúvatar after the end of days. Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

(As an aside, I have always loved that Tolkien wrote "Being" instead of "being." But maybe it is just a Thomist thing.)

Moreover, for hope when all is hopeless, I would recommend getting your hands on a copy of the ninth volume of the History of Middle-Earth, Morgoth's Ring. In it is the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," which is a dialogue between the Elven king Finrod and the human wise-woman Andreth. The dialogue is a philosophical/theological discussion of the fall of man, the nature of the soul, and hope. Tolkien draws an important distinction between hope in the sense of the "looking up," signified by the Sindarin word amdir, and hope in the sense of "trust," signified by the Sindarin word estel.

This discussion of hope actually draws some important distinctions that I've seen mirrored in St. Thomas and Joseph Pieper. Its final point is that even when there is no room for amdir one must still hold on to an estel rooted in Ilúvatar (God) and the fact that we are Eruhin, i.e. Children of the One (God). Its well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Raindear said...


You gotta love that big 'ol "B" that makes Thomisty types giddy. It is true though. The word "Being" took on an entirely new significance for me after I read Thomas' "On Being and Essence".

Thanks for the recommendation! That sounds really interesting. I've read Pieper's book on the Theological virtues and really enjoyed it. In truth, my complaint again Tolkien was mostly in jest. I still enjoyed the Silmarillion immensely. I just thought the darkness overly lavish in a few stories - particularly the tale of the children of Hurin - but I don't the more tragic stories entirely obscured the underlying hopefulness of the work.

11:46 AM  
Blogger brendon said...

Well, as you said in a previous comment, it is "an Old Testament world." It brings together a number of different things that were influential to Tolkien.

1. I believe one could apply to the entire legendarium what Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings: it "is of course a fundamentally Catholic and Religious work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." As such, the legendarium is infused with the far-off hope that one finds all over the Old Testament, such as the Psalms, the Prophets, Job &c.

2. The legendarium is also infused with Tolkien's love of Anglo-Saxon and Northern mythology. As such, it is infused with the virtues that these people embodied, even as pagans. The most obvious of these is the determination to face down evil no matter the odds. Think of the story of Ragnarök. The gods stand for order and goodness against the forces of chaos and evil. The gods fight even thought they are fated to be killed.

3. But these virtues come mixed with vices. As the story of Ragnarök also demonstrates, one of the most prevalent of these is a pagan fatalism. This is a vice that is very evident in the story of the children of Húrin.

The mixture of these elements is always interesting. The far-off hope that awaits the Gospel and the pagan fatalism often give very different results to the refusal to give in to evil. It gives us the fundamental difference between Denethor--who would neither surrender to the Enemy nor hope for victory--and Aragorn--who lived up to his name and held to estel even when amdir was impossible.

This is, interestingly enough, a parallel between Tolkien and Chesterton. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse also touches on the same theme of Christian hope versus pagan fatalism. Indeed, the very epigraph of the book is a quote from the poem's hero, King Alfred: "I say, as do all Christian men, that it is a divine purpose that rules, and not fate." Perhaps a fruitful area for further reading and study?

1:18 PM  

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