Friday, 25 November 2016

The Eighth Narnia Book - a guest essay by John Fitzgerald


But for them this was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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Theologians of the Orthodox Church talk often about the Eighth Day - the great day of Eternity that will dawn at the consummation of this age, once the seven Biblical days of creation are completed. The light of this Eighth Day to come shines on and around us even now, but our spiritual vision seldom seems sharp enough to sense it. Sometimes, however, it bursts through into human consciousness, the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor being the outstanding example, a prefiguration of the Heavenly City and the regenerated, phoenix-like world to be revealed at the end of time.

It's no overstatement to say that C.S. Lewis's Narnia books played an analogous 'Eighth Day' role for me as a boy. Between 1979 and 1982, from the ages of 9 to 12, I lived and breathed the rich, suggestive air of Narnia. It felt like home; my natural element. Before I'd even read a word of Lewis I had stood enchanted in our suburban South Manchester bookshop, captivated by the cover of The Last Battle - the bonfire, the stable, Jill's bow and arrows, Eustace's sword, and the mighty red lion emblazoned on Tirian's shield. One Friday night as well, in January or February 1981, I had a particularly numinous dream, which saw me personally involved in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, playing my part in the battle to liberate Cair Paravel. Afterwards, Aslan sat us all down in the courtyard and told the most fantastic story, which I was sure I'd be able to remember when I woke up, but which, by breakfast time, was already escaping my memory. It was a bright blue late winter Saturday, and in the afternoon my Dad took me to Old Trafford to watch United play Leeds. We got caught up in a spot of hooliganism, I recall, on the Mancunian Way after the game, but for all the excitement - both the football and the fisticuffs - it's the afterglow of Aslan's story in my young mind that makes that day so memorable.

It's clear to me now, thirty-five years on, that the Narnia stories plugged a huge spiritual hole in my life. Together with Roger Lancelyn Green's mythic retellings (especially his King Arthur book) they filled the sacred space that my ancestors had known since time immemorial but that had been left empty for me by the abolition of the Latin Mass in 1970. And what Lewis did for myself - a Romanised Gael from the North West corner of the Empire - he did for countless boys and girls around the world, with all kinds of backgrounds and all manner of circumstances, and goes on doing today. He is a storyteller and a witness, a prophet and a bard, a princely, and surely heaven-sent counter-presence to the demythologised, dechristianised temper of our times.

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The early-1980s, in Britain, felt like an especially intense time to be a pre-adolescent. It was an era of style and colour, but also of riots, recession, and the ever-present threat of nuclear catastrophe. A local newspaper ran a series of articles on Nostradamus, and I was convinced that the end of the world was at hand. I also believed, at that time, that there existed an eighth Narnia book, not a continuation (as in Neil Gaiman's The Problem of Susan) nor fan-fiction, but something on an altogether different level - a secret, hidden text that contained the essence and magic of Narnia, distilling it into a story, like to the one that Aslan had told us in the courtyard, setting off in its readers and hearers a reaction akin to Jewel's in The Last Battle: 'I have come home at last! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.'

I was certain that before the final conflagration took place this book would reveal itself and make its holy yet homely presence felt in the world. I hoped and prayed that I might be present when it did, and often I would imagine our school's classrooms and corridors dissolving and giving way to the stone passageways, cavernous halls and lantern-lit chambers of the Grail Castle itself. In a tiny chapel, I was sure, at the top of a spiral staircase, the Grail and the eighth Narnia book stood between the candles on the altar, waiting for the appointed hour - the Kairos, the supreme moment - to roll around at last.

It's interesting, looking back on it all now, to see how much has changed in our world but also how little. We live, after all, in equally uncertain times, and many's the moment when I see, or think I see, the mise en scene of my current working life - the computers, the drinks machines, the carpeted stairs - collapse and reconstitute themselves into the form and fabric of Carbonek Castle. And I'm there -sprinting through the echoing throne room, then up the spiral staircase, starlight glinting through the narrow slits of windows. At the top I find a wooden door, closed but with a soft and radiant light spilling out onto the floor at the bottom. I turn the handle - push, pull and shove - but there's no give and the door stays shut. I bang my head on the wood in frustration, then stiff my mind and pray: 'Oh God, if ever I've done anything good in my life, give me a glimpse please of that which I've always seeked.' The door swings open and next thing I know I'm kneeling down, gazing into the heart of the Grail's golden blaze as it fills the room and bathes my soul in its healing, transfiguring light. 

There are six tall candles on the altar, three to the Grail's left and three to the right. I see flowers as well, and a flicker and swish in the air like the beat of angels wings. An ancient, bearded priest in green - Joseph of Arimathea himself, perhaps - sits on the right, while three men kneel with heads bowed low right in front of the altar. I can't see their faces, but I know who they are - Galahad, Percival and Bors - the three Grail knights. Standing on the left is a female figure robed in red with a face like the sun, holding an open book in her hands, silver in colour with a mighty red lion emblazoned on the front. She reads aloud - sings rather - in a language I don't know but for some reason am able to understand as well as if it's my own. Her chant - high, strange and wild - reverberates around the chapel and I recognise and remember what it is she's singing - the long lost story, no less - the story Aslan told us in the courtyard, the selfsame tale, I realise now, that Lucy read in the Magician's Book in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the one about the cup and the sword and the tree and the green hill, the one she rates as the loveliest she's ever read and that Aslan promises to  tell her again and again for ever and ever.

Over-excited and carried away, I scramble up and dash into the room, arms outstretched. But a puff of wind laced with flame blinds and singes my eyes, and I'm ushered out of the room by a host of invisible hands and bundled down the stairs. Darkness engulfs me and when I come to I'm somewhere else altogether. A fresh, briny, morning smell, probes and pushes my mind awake. I'm met by lapping waves in front, white cliffs behind, and a canopy of pale blue, seagull-flecked sky high above. There's sand beneath me, rough and bristly to the touch. I stumble to my feet. The sun, rising behind the cliffs looks huge, five or six times its normal size. That's when the other smell hits me - familiar and reassuring - the smell of breakfast - fresh coffee and roasting fish. Something catches my eye, small and bright, towards the sea and to my right. It's a lamb, tending a cooking fire  and a burnished bronze coffee bowl. 'Come and have breakfast,' he says in his milky voice.

'This is all a dream,' I say to myself. 'Like the one I had about the fight at Cair Paravel when I was a kid.' I look behind me again, fully expecting to see the big sun vanished and the fixtures and fittings of the office restored to their habitual reality. But no, it's still there, even bigger than before if anything. I can look straight at it too, without even needing to shield my eyes.

I crouch down, pick up a fistful of sand - spiky and spongy at the same time - and watch it trickle down and stick to my fingers. It's unmistakably real. And there's a brightness in the air and on the ground and a joy in my heart which assures me that this is no dream. Then I start to understand. The dream, in fact, is over. This is the morning. The dawn. The Eighth Day has begun.

I stand up, turn and face the sea, and walk towards the Lamb.




Tuesday, 8 November 2016

That Hideous Strength - A delightful and insightful review by Felix Kent

From http://the-toast.net/2014/07/14/that-hideous-strength/
(Note: Felix Kent is a woman -- the only woman I have heard-of named Felix)

“The same girl who had first let her in had apparently just opened the door and was still standing in the doorway. Jane now conceived for her that almost passionate admiration which women, more often than is supposed, feel for other women whose beauty is not of their own type. It would be nice, Jane thought, to be like that — so straight, so forthright, so valiant, so fit to be mounted on a horse, and so divinely tall.”

–From That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

I can’t have been more than ten when I went through my copy of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes with a bottle of Wite-Out and felt pen, determined to, at any point when Petrova’s appearance was mentioned, change the text. In the book, or at least in my mind, she was ugly, and not in the ugly-duckling way of so many children’s book characters (Sylvia’s views on her interesting looks notwithstanding), but straightforwardly un-pleasing to look at.

She was also the only character available for me to identify with. I lacked the talents of Posy and the charm of Pauline. And I was damned if I was going to think of myself as ugly.

I did not finish this task, being lazy and also left-handed and not able to write small enough in the book to make it look nice, which drove me nuts.

In my early teens I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. I loved Out of the Silent Planet. Perelandra I found too anxiety-provoking to really enjoy; I can’t handle books where the drama comes from one character hovering for much of the book on the verge of making a terrible mistake.

“Don’t read That Hideous Strength,” my mother said. My mother is a great C.S. Lewis fan, also a believer, in the religious sense. One of my best sources for what to read. And a woman who grew up in the Fifties and became an academic. Became, like Ransom, the trilogy’s main character, a philologist.

“Why not?” I said. I don’t think my mother used the word “yucky” in her reply, but that was more or less what she meant.

I went ahead and read the book anyway. It’s my favorite of the series; it’s probably the C.S. Lewis book closest to my heart, in that it’s the one that I think about the most when I’m not intentionally thinking about anything.

I am not one of those people who have read all of C.S. Lewis; I tell you that because you may be one of the people who has. I’ve read the Narnia books, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and the Space Trilogy. I read bits and pieces of Till We Have Faces, which my mother says is the best. I saw the movie Shadowlands, and I cried and I cried and I cried.

I am not pretending to expertise here.

It’s my favorite despite the fact that Jane, the main character, is not altogether a likeable female character. She condescends to Ivy, whose husband is in jail, and Mrs. Dimble, who is Christian and does not pretend to academic attainment. (Jane is a graduate student who has recently married an academic.) Also she is not as smart as she thinks she is.

I like it partly because it is so painstakingly accurate in so many things. This, for example, is the single best description of looking at things from a moving vehicle that I’ve ever read:

And in between the stations things flitted past, so isolated from their context that each seemed to promise some unearthly happiness if one could but have descended from the train at that very moment to seize it: a house backed with a group of haystacks and wide brown fields about it, two aged horses standing head to tail, a little orchard with washing hanging on a line, and a rabbit staring at the train, whose two eyes looked like the dots, and his ears like uprights, of a double exclamation mark.

I can’t even tell you how many times I have felt like I needed to get out of the car immediately and start a brand new life for myself because of exactly that phenomenon, and I have never seen it put into words so perfectly anywhere else. And then there’s the coziness that comes from having most of the main characters in a tiny island of safety while the world falls to pieces around them and there’s the toasted cheese and there’s academic politicking leading to the triumph of evil and there’s Merlin and there’s a bear.

But I really want to talk about the dresses. Towards the end of the book, as good is triumphing over evil, most of the non-evil female characters gather together in a room called the Wardrobe. They have been instructed to choose dresses. They are not given any mirrors with which to see how they look in these dresses. Each of them tries on only one dress, chosen for them by the others.

The dress chosen is always perfect, captures their essence. Camilla, who likes weather and horses, wears “a long slender thing which looked like steel in color though it was soft as foam to the touch. It wrapped itself close about her loins and flowed out in a glancing train at her heels. ‘Like a mermaid,’ thought Jane; and then, ‘like a Valkyrie.’”

Jane, who is the main female character, on the other hand, “could see nothing specially appropriate in the robe which the others agreed in putting on her. Blue was, indeed, her color but she had thought of something a little more austere and dignified. Left to her own judgment, she would have called this a little ‘fussy.’ But when she saw the others all clap their hands, she submitted.”

When I read this book I longed to be Camilla, just like when I read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford I longed to be Linda. Which of course rules me out from being a Camilla or a Linda; Camilla would never dream of wanting to be anyone but herself, a little like Diana Mitford thinking in prison how lovely it was to be herself, but without the Nazism.

The quality of wanting to be somebody else is a quality that Jane has in spades. “Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was?”

If you haven’t read the book, and were starting to wonder where the yucky parts come in, this is where they come in.

The sweet-and-fresh business didn’t bother me much at the time I first read the book. Probably because I grew up in a world and family where I felt interesting and important and also it was assumed I would have to get a job one day to support myself. But the part about the fussy dress, that ate at me a little bit.

I asked my mother, trying not to tip my hand, which of the dresses she thought I would have been assigned, if I had been there in the room. This was in the old days, when there were no Buzzfeed quizzes to answer these questions for you, and so you had to open your soul to people in that pathetic kind of way.

She said that she thought I would be given Jane’s.
I said, tentatively, if she thought I might be really more like Camilla. My mother is kind. She didn’t laugh at me. Maybe, she said, maybe.

Not too long ago. I went shopping for a dress to wear at my wedding. I had to try on a lot of dresses. There was no magic dress that revealed the essence of my soul. I tried on a lot of dresses. Some I looked better in than others.

In every C.S. Lewis book I’ve read there are things that stay with me and then there are things that I vehemently disagree with. That’s nothing special to C.S. Lewis — one of my favorite all time books, D.H. Lawrence’s Studies In Classic American Literature has this to say about women:

“The very women who are most busy saving the bodies of men, and saving the children: these women-doctors, these nurses, these educationalists, these public-spirited women, these female saviours: they are all, from the inside, sending out waves of destructive malevolence which eat out the inner life of a man, like a cancer.”

(I would much rather be send out waves of destructive malevolence than sit there being sweet and fresh, but that’s just personal preference.)

What I find so difficult about reading C.S. Lewis, though, is that he really fights any attempt to take the parts you like and leave the rest. He’s really down on that. You get one dress, and you don’t get to choose that dress for yourself.

You don’t even get to see yourself in the mirror once you’ve got the dress on. You don’t get to take out your white out bottle and rewrite things to suit yourself.

And probably that’s also part of what I love about That Hideous Strength. Because there’s always a fascination in having someone else tell you who you are, even when it’s horrifying.

Once I was fifteen and on the shuttle that takes you from the airport to the longterm parking lot with my mother. We were on our way back from Seattle and our flight had been delayed and I was busy freaking out over not getting my homework done. I was whining. A middle-aged guy with his wife across from us looked at my mother indulgently. He said that I reminded him of one of his two daughters. One of his daughters was very organized and didn’t procrastinate and didn’t panic, and the other one was just like me.

I hated that man. I still hate that man twenty some years later. I want to tell him that he didn’t know the first damn thing about me.

But of course, just like Jane, I worry that he was right about me all along, that all those unpleasant voices, some external and some coming from inside the house, are right about me.

There’s not a damn thing to be done about it. I put on my dress, look at myself in the mirror. I think I look pretty good.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

How do Tolkien scholars so thoroughly insulate themselves from Tolkien's wisdom?

With the notable and noble exception of Tom Shippey, and the primarily Catholic strand of (valid but secondary source) Tolkien scholarship as exemplified by Joseph Pearce; pretty much all of the heavy-hitting, primary Tolkien scholarship of the best quality is the work of academics whose world view is the usual, bog-standard, off-the-peg, silly, shallow and brainless mainstream modern academic left-liberal political correctness.

In one sense this is just as would be expected, given that the educational establishment is a major source of the most extreme and foolish brand of Leftist lunacy - and in that respect Tolkien scholars are merely 'of their time and place'.

In another sense, it must mean that the deepest level of Tolkien's writing is going over their heads, or passing them by - since Tolkien is the single most articulate and influential exponent of a world view which stands in the most complete imaginable opposition to that of the modern academy: a world view which indeed regards the ethical, aesthetic and metaphysical views of Leftism as not just mistaken, but profoundly evil.

How is it that so many people can spend so much time immersed in Tolkien's work, and from a sympathetic perspective, and produce such excellent scholarship - and yet remain personally (apparently) utterly untouched by his most heartfelt convictions?

I suppose I know the answer to this question - because I know it from my own experience as an atheistic, politically radical and modernist Tolkien lover for some 35 years before the scales fell from my eyes and I became a Christian, and then abandoned the materialist nihilism of modern life.

And I also know from experience that I was indeed missing a great deal of the deepest quality of Tolkien's work and thought; by failing to acknowledge Tolkien's refutation of my secular-Left world view.

And that, eventually, it was my taking seriously my intuitions and hopes about Tolkien's long influence (an unbroken 'golden thread' woven through the superficialities of my living) that was a large factor in leading to my Christian conversion and final abandonment of the appalling, shallow, dumb and wicked ideology of the modern academic and literary world.


Monday, 10 October 2016

Living in Bree

Today as I went into a shop I saw a real hobbit - that is to say, a person of the exact size as a hobbit; attractive and perfectly proportioned. And just for a moment I felt how very nice it would be if there were little people around, as well as big people - like living in Bree.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Charles Ridoux essay on Tolkien's Visionary Legendarium translated by John Fitzgerald - A Guest post

Charles Ridoux (b.1946) is a French astrologer, theologian and philosopher, living and working in Normandy. He is also a keen student of Medieval and modern literature, with a particular passion for the works of F. M. Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Solovyev and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, alongside the Arthurian mythos and J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium.

M. Ridoux has published a book-length study on Tolkien (Le Chant du Monde, 2004), as well as numerous shorter pieces, such as the essay translated by myself below: J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium: A Visionary Opus for the Twenty-First Century. My hope, in translating this piece, is that it can serve to give a flavour of the depth and breadth of its author's thought and help bring his work to the wider audience it deserves.

Ridoux is a scholar of the old school - without ego, loyal to his metier, and happy to beaver away in the shadows, gazing up at the stars like Doctor Cornelius in Prince Caspian, searching the skies for the meaning and pattern so conspicuous by its absence in the contemporary West. Steeped in the Traditionalist thought of Rene Guenon and his school, his astrological labours lift the curtain on some of the deeper realities at work behind the daily procession of news and current affairs.

Charles Ridoux has a profound affinity and connection with the Sacred. We see this especially in his love for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and his instinctive response to the richness of Tolkien's religious symbolism. Linked to this is his awareness and affection for what this blog calls Albion and the great cycle of myth and story surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury. This essay, I believe, shows both these aspects of Ridoux's worldview. Any hints of literary clumsiness, I hasten to add, are entirely due to my own shortcomings as translator.

For those who read French - to view M. Ridoux's website and all available articles, interviews and astrological reports and forecasts (including a new one on the U.S Presidential election) please go to www.ridoux.fr

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J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium: A Visionary Opus for the Twenty-First Century

Once upon a time there lived a man, born under Antipodean skies, who contemplated the Southern Cross the moment he opened his eyes. He came into the North, gazing at Arcturus and the Great Bear's seven stars. Long ago, in ages past, this man had been granted the gift of waking buried memories. It is thanks to him that we know now how Varda fashioned a myriad of stars to celebrate the waking of the Elves at Lake Cuivienen. So, as Orion crosses the purified heavens of our ice-bound winters, we remember Orvandel and the glory of the Silmaril burning on Earendil's brow.

Charles Ridoux, Tolkien, Le Chant du Monde


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J.R.R. Tolkien's stated literary aim was to create a 'mythology for England'. The Legendarium that he has given us is much wider and more spacious than that. It is a visionary opus for the twenty-first century - breathtaking in its sweep of time and space; awe-inspiring in its cosmic range and aspiration. Tolkien reconfigured the mythologies of Northern Europe in the light of the Gospel, achieving a fresh and dynamic synthesis of European traditions. He brings to today's de-Christianised, de-mythologised world a high and noble frame of reference, offering those born into our century - challenged as they are by a culture of nihilism and death - reasons to live and to rebuild a society where the good, the beautiful and the true will once more be held in the highest esteem.

Tolkien's Legendarium spans all historical and archaeological ages, reaching back to the Ainur's Great Song of creation and forward to the consummation of this age, the advent of a new creation and the sound of a new Great Song, sung by elves, dwarves and men, sharers of the burden and the glory of the War of the Ring and the end of the Third Age.

These are the characters, throughout The Lord of the Rings - singing the ancient songs and evoking the legends of times past - who give the text its multi-dimensional resonance and depth. The means by which this effect is achieved has a unique and distinctive character. Rather than deploy a deceptive narrative technique to create an illusion of historical depth, the novel's songs and legends guide the reader back to times gone by in Tolkien's own life, to texts conceived and written long before its publication in 1954 or even that of The Hobbit in 1937. We have to go back as far as the First World War and the appalling suffering of the Somme - Tolkien's closest friends falling all around him - to find the genesis of his mythology and the first written fragments of his Legendarium.

The distant ages alluded to in The Lord of the Rings, therefore, were given life many years before the book was completed, but remained concealed from the public until after Tolkien's death in 1973 and the publication - thanks to the good offices of his son, Christopher - of The Silmarillion four years later. It is important to remember, however, that The Silmarillion is, in many respects, a mere summary of an enormous number of pieces - historical, philosophical, linguistic, etc - which have only become available since the publication of The History of Middle Earth between 1983 and 1996, a monumental body of work, which highlights magnificently the linguistic fidelity and skill of Christopher Tolkien.

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J.R.R. Tolkien worked independently of great contemporaries, such as Mircea Eliade and Georges Dumezil, who sought, like him, to revive and rekindle the study and appreciation of mythology. His voice joins with theirs, however, in the way he opens up and unveils the cosmic, fashioning a world that astonishes the reader with its scale, immensity and chronological flair.

This emphasis on time - time's elasticity in particular - superbly analysed by Verlyn Flieger (the finest, along with Tom Shippey and Joseph Pearce, of Tolkien's English-speaking critics) reveals the extent to which Tolkien can be heard articulating the pre-occupations of his own epoch, fully deserving thereby the accolade of 'author of the century' given him by British readers in 1996. There are many levels and riches yet to be explored in his oeuvre, however. Taken in its totality, the confidence in life that Tolkien's writing displays and the simple joy it elicits - illuminating hearts and minds worldwide - will ensure that Tolkien remains, for decades to come, an 'author of the century', for the twenty-first as much, if not more, than for the twentieth.

Tolkien conceived and wrote his epic in the context of a Europe devastated by two world wars that stripped the continent of political agency and transferred power to the USA in the West and the Soviet Union in the East. The exceptional character of these two nations - America and Russia - was already clear to nineteenth century thinkers like Tocqueville and Chateaubriand, and it is in these countries that Tolkien's work has been most rapturously received - to the point of excess at times - in the USA during the 1960s and in Russia since the fall of Communism. Clearly, the Legendarium responds to a deep and genuine religious need - particularly acute, perhaps, among those who have been deprived of an authentic spiritual life by political materialism in its various guises. Rather than the 'mythology of England' Tolkien intitially set out to create, therefore, it is to the contemporary world as a whole - fragmented, dissipated and corroded by the acid waters of globalisation - where his clarion call of faith and hope carries its significance today.

This trumpet blast, as we have seen, has its origins in a blend of European traditions. Tolkien is unique among writers in fashioning such a remarkable synthesis: the indigenous mythologies of Northern Europe on the one hand and the transcendent message of the Gospel on the other, proclaimed to the four corners of the earth. 'Tolkien's world,' as the French critic Pierre Jourde remarks, 'is orientated towards a vast synthesis of all the key constituents of Western spirituality.’[1]

Writing at the end of a decade of revolutionary tumult and spiritual aridity, Chateaubriand brought the perennial religious and artistic witness of France - a witness made Christian by the Baptism of Clovis in 496 - to a young, spiritually-hungry audience with his Genius of Christianity (1802). The youth of our era have a similar need for an alternative vision to the technocratic mesh that hems them in. Tolkien offers them the mythical treasures of Northen Europe, lit from within by his Christian faith. But where Chateaubriand rekindled the sacred flame among a people still deeply wedded to the Christianity of their fathers, Tolkien addresses a public divested of faith, yet compelled nonetheless to find reasons to live and to reconnect with the wellspring of their individual and collective being.

We should keep in mind, however, that Tolkien was neither a theologian nor a philosopher, despite his work touching on areas relevant to both theology and philosophy - death and immortality, for example, as well as the nature of time and space, the transmission of thought, ultimate ends and the mystery of evil. Tolkien was a poet and an artist, and when it comes to connecting with the hearts and minds of men and women, it is often the word and touch of a poet that carries more weight than the academic discourse of philosophers or theologians.

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Tolkien is widely (and rightly) considered as one of the great twentieth-century Christian authors, despite his creating a secondary world free from any explicit reference to Christianity. The Incarnation of the Creator into His creation is hinted at - nothing more than that - throughout the Legendarium as the 'great hope' of men. But the leading values in Tolkien's world are clearly and unambiguously freighted with a Christian spirit - the focus on humility, for instance, and the decisive role given to the humble. The more politically active characters learn to consciously refuse the temptation of power over the souls of others. This rejection of the 'will to power', whether in the service of good or evil, is one of the principal themes in The Lord of the Rings, ruling out definitively any Nietzschean reading of the text.

Tolkien, we can safely say, is a Christian writer addressing a society which is no longer Christian. He is also a Medievalist and a philologist - an enthusiast for texts often regarded today as unreadable unless translated into a modern language and accompanied by a wealth of annotations. As both storyteller and academic, Tolkien's role appears to be that of a 'linkman' - a bridge-builder between tradition and modernity - facilitating the transmission of Europe's primordial heritage to contemporary conditions. This heritage belongs to those Europeans who have recognised, guarded and preserved the immeasurable worth of their native mythologies. These have in no way have been rendered obsolete by the Christian revelation. On the contrary, the light  shone on them by the mystery of the Incarnation has exalted and raised them to a higher level.

It is a highly dynamic synthesis. In The Lord of the Rings, for instance, Tolkien presents the reader with a pivotal moment in the history of the Legendarium - the end of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth. Middle Earth's rich and textured history inspires profound nostalgic sentiments throughout, yet opens out finally, like a flower, onto a future charged with limitless hope, the promise of the Incarnation and the coming of the Creator into His creation, prophecied long before in the dialogue of Finrod and Andreth.

The mythological and Christian motifs in Tolkien's work do not appear at the same stage or time, though they do form a continuity. The mythic elements, symbolised by the stars and their Queen, Varda, take precedence in the early phases of the Legendarium, where the narrative focus is on preparing the world ready for the Children of Iluvatar. They slip into the background when the 'Sun of Justice' comes, born at the winter solstice and triumphant by his death on the cross (March 25th according the the Medieval tradition - also Tolkien's date for the fall of Barad-Dur). The light of the sun, though infinitely brighter than that of the stars, does not cancel them out, however, but surrounds and includes them in an all-embracing light without shadow. Christ came to accomplish, not abolish, the Law of Moses and the Hebrew prophets, but He came also to perfect and integrate the partial truths contained in the many and varied mythologies of antiquity. The multi-layered symbolism of Romanesque and Medieval Christianity bears eloquent witness to this.

A key paradox, as alluded to above, is that Tolkien created this synthesis of traditions for the benefit of a world that is now largely both de-mythologised and de-Christianised - a world that has turned its back on Golgotha and Olympus. In the midst of this deeply anti-traditional milieu, a world undergoing a perpetual crisis of values, we observe - to the fury of certain literary critics - the unfolding of a remarkable phenomenon: a Christian author's novel, imbued with Christian values, universally acclaimed by readers who, though they may no longer practice the faith, remain marked by the cultural legacy and imprint of Christianity. While the twentieth century was without doubt the century par excellence of atheism and unbelief, it was also that of the most severe anti-Christian persecutions since Diocletian. The return to the source that Tolkien offers contemporary readers, therefore, is by no means a passive retreat towards an idealised paganism. Here again, Tolkien shows himself as a profoundly anti-Nietzschean figure. In Tolkien's Legendarium, as we have seen, power lies at the behest of those who refuse the will to power - a reversal of Nietzsche's moral deconstruction. Not that Tolkien argued against the use of force per se, but that he rejected force when it prioritises power over love.

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Tolkien's Medieval points of reference have little in common (even when King Arthur is referred to) with the French-inspired body of legends known collectively as the 'Matter of Britain'. He believed that Arthur was a Briton rather than an Englishman, and his dream of chiselling out a mythology for England led him to follow his inspiration, in harmony with his childhood reading, in the mythologies of Northern Europe - Germanic, Scandinavian and Finnish. Among these Nordic classics, it is worth highlighting in passing the influence of the Finnish Kalevala, a text which Tolkien refers to on more than one occasion in his letters as the 'germ' of his earliest mythological writings.

Tolkien occasionally evokes, in his Legendarium, a certain high, otherworldly beauty that many associate with the Celtic mindset and its influence on North-Western Europe. We need to bear in mind, however, that this was a beauty rarely found in authentic ancient Celtic culture. This beauty, for Tolkien, is an ideal - see, for example, his depiction of Lothlorien in The Fellowship of the Ring.

This is an element which comes across clearly in Father Louis Bouyer's account of his friendship with Tolkien. Father Bouyer, who was directly inspired by Chretien de Troyes in his novel Prelude á l'Apoclaypse (written under the pseudonym, Louis Lambert), is undoubtedly more attracted, as a writer, than was Tolkien to this Celtic influence - this 'genius of place' - to the forest of Paimpot first of all, (which Father Gillard, rector of Trehorenteuc, helped him discover), but principally to the town of Glastonbuy, its distinctive conical hill - known as the Tor - and the nearby Wearyall Hill, where, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff in the ground on arrival in England. The following morning, the story says, the staff had taken root and grown into a miraculous thorn tree. In his Les lieux magiques de la légende du Graal, during a fascinating discussion on Arthurian iconography, Bouyer highlights the new role given to this mythopoeic faculty by the Christian revelation - to prepare for and anticipate the ultimate hope - the transfiguration of all things – while perpetuating the imperishable character of the ancient myths, repositories of mankind's earliest intuitions concerning human and cosmic life:

These myths, however provisionary and imperfect their understanding may be, give voice nonetheless to a certain dawning consciousness - a watching and a waiting and an uncertain, semi-aware kind of love - which the Bible brings into the light of day and the Gospel responds to - uniquely - by the definitive act of the Creator God entering into and transforming the stream of history.[2]

Tolkien, along with Bouyer, is at pains to emphasise that this revelation was not sent from God to uproot man from hearth and home, terrain rich in myth and mystery for many millennia prior to the Incarnation. On the contrary, it came to open up new perspectives and depths, revealing, through a mythopoeic understanding, unknown and unsuspected angles of vision in the great, pre-Christian mythologies.

The lack of any explicit reference to Christianity in Tolkien's oeuvre only serves to make plain the deep and abiding Christian themes underpinning his mythology. The discreet workings of Providence lie at the heart of his work, together with the turning away from a deceptive worldly immortality in favour of the eternal life suggested by the theme of a new Great Music to come at the consummation of the age. Many readers have responded sensitively to this message quietly and unobtrusively diffused throughout his work. This extract from a letter to the author quoted by Iréne Fernandez in her study highlights this very well: 'You have created a world where a kind of faith seems everywhere present, without one being able to recognise the source ... like a light emanating from an invisible lamp.'[3]

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It is thanks to his notion of sub-creation, elaborated in his essay On Fairy Stories that Tolkien achieves such a stunning synthesis between the mythological backdrop which forms the substance of his Legendarium and the salt of the Christian faith which animates it, gives it form and orientates it towards the great hope of the Second Coming. In making clear the secondary nature of his artistic creation vis-a-vis the Divine creation, the author escapes the Promethean temptation of substituting man for God. At the same time, in presenting his oeuvre as a 'creation', Tolkien pays homage to the pre-eminent dignity of the sons of Adam, as shown in Genesis in Adam's naming of the creatures. Sub-creation bears witness to man's dependence on God, but also to the fact that Adam was created in 'the image and likeness' of God. As Verlyn Flieger explains, the Divine Word, the instrument of creation, corresponds (on an earthly level) to our human words, which, in this fallen world, turn so often into mere verbiage. They can also instigate, however, a path of return towards unity and co-operation with God, whether through art - especially its highest 'Elven' form, which Tolkien calls 'enchantment' - or through prayer.

Humphrey Carpenter, in his biography, refers to Tolkien as a 'conservative of the old school' - not a defender of plutocratic or technocratic interests, but a champion of traditional social structures, where everyone, great or small, occupies their place in the social order in harmony and rapport with the cosmic order. One can understand perfectly, therefore, the virulence of Tolkien's 1941 judgement on the Nazis who, far from exalting traditional values, profoundly perverted them and contributed thereby to rendering traditional thought highly suspect to succeeding generations:

I have in this war a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler for ruining, perverting, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.[4]

Tolkien's unabashed hostility toward mass phenomena and twentieth-century totalitarianism, be it Communist or National Socialist, is especially clear in his description of the servitude imposed on the inhabitants of the Shire in the chapter towards the end of The Lord of the Rings called The Scouring of the Shire. Sharky's band of brigands remind us of the Soviet political of the 1920s and 30s - by the terror they inspire, certainly - but above all by the heavy pretension, at once solemn and ridiculous, of an administrative jargon captured perfectly here by Tolkien's ironic pen: 'You're arrested for Gate-breaking and Tearing up of Rules and Assaulting Gate-keepers, and Trespassing, and Sleeping in Shire-buildings without Leave and Bribing Guards with Food.'[5]

Tolkien's aversion to industrial society does not, however, lead him to become a partisan of a political ecology severed from its traditional roots. He is no 'hippy'; no counter-cultural leftist. Tolkien's critique of the modern world is not founded on a call to subversion, but rather on an invitation to rediscover the path of tradition, stemming from the dual European heritage of Christianity and mythology. Because of this, Tolkien is able, for example, to lionise chivalry and warrior virtues, while expressing compassion towards all beings through the theme of victory born out of weakness, the weakness which gives witness to the all-powerful Divinity continually at work in the world. What is also remarkable in Tolkien is his profound respect for the liberty of each and every person and his categorical refusal to allow the manipulations of propaganda to browbeat his heroes. Finally, and most importantly of all, what particularly animates his oeuvre is a simple and joyous love of creation. As Elrond remarks in reference to the three rings of the Elves: 'Those who made them desired neither power, nor domination, nor riches. They sought understanding instead, and the ability to heal and create, so that all things might be held and preserved without stain.'[6]

There are the values - evident not only in Tolkien's writings but also in his life, as seen in his letters and in his love for his four children - which we believe can have a positive influence on young people in the current context of a world at the end of its cycle, sinking in nihilism. In the mid-1960s, at the time of the Uranus/Pluto conjunction, the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Tse Tung in China engendered the ferocious Red Guards, infamous for their extreme brutality and by the irrepairable damage caused to some of China's most ancient monuments. Their goal was to destroy all traces of traditional society, and this is how thousands of sculptures and temples (Buddhist mainly) came to be destroyed. The Great Wall of China no less was flattened in part and the Imperial Palace itself in Beijing was only saved due to the direct intervention of Chou En Lai.

The Cultural Revolution, moreover, revealed a horrific will to suppress - through a refusal of identification - all possibility of pity towards its victims. They were stripped of human dignity and treated like animals. Several millions were exterminated. The Red Guards had a network in every school, factory and administrative centre. They seized, they interrogated, they tortured without remorse, installing a climate of terror and picking houses at random to find compromising proofs of deviance. At the same time, professors and intellectuals were sent into the countryside to be 're-educated' by manual labour. A sizeable minority of the urban youth suffered the same fate during the decade that followed.

Today, as this Uranus/Pluto phase reappears, the jihadists of Daesh, Al-Quaida and others present the same explosive cocktail, blending ideological fanaticism with existential frustration. These 'knights of the void', masked and clad in black, these unconscious disciples of a terrible Divinity, fascinate and bewitch all over the world, especially in the decaying heart of old Europe, a continent divested of her grandeur and undermined from within by numerous debilitating subcultures, her youth tormented by an emptiness of soul, easy prey for this culture of death, and going so far as to invoke, with a deadly insouciance, demonic powers who do not fail to respond to their appeal. This was the case, tragically, in Paris on November 13th 2015 at the Bataclan, when the killers began their massacre at the moment the American group The Eagles of Death Metal started their song Kiss the Devil:

Who'll kiss the Devil? Who'll love his song?
I will love the Devil and his song. I meet the Devil, and this is his song.

A few weeks earlier, in a Bucharest nightclub on Friday October 30th 2015, around fifty young people - boys and girls - perished. There, it was the metal group Goodbye to Gravity with their song The Day we Die:

We're not numbers, we're free, we're so free,
And the day we give in is the day we die.

This all calls to mind Tolkien's unfinished story The New Shadow, set a century after the fall of Sauron, where we see the youth of Gondor practicing dark arts in secret societies, perversely fascinated by the brutality and barbarism of the Orcs. Though it is true that in the general downward drift of 'cyclical descent' moments of traditional renewal are possible - the reign of Elessar, for example - these temporary restorations are inherently fragile and always in danger of disintegration from within. Battle must constantly be joined, therefore, against our tendency to slide into ever more subtle, ever more sinister forms of barbarity and nihilism.

Tolkien is by no means alone in suggesting to us a path of ascent towards the true Light. We think, for instance, of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had the courage (his weakness being his strength) not only to confront the all-powerful Soviet bureaucracy, but also to dig down to the very roots of Communist evil in The Red Wheel, his masterful study of the origins and development of the Russian Revolution.

We could also consider the noble figure of Eugenio Corti, author of The Red Horse, as well as the more discreet stance taken by Ernst Wiechart who, in his two novels, one set on the eve of the First World War (Les Enfants Jéronime) and the other at the end of the Second World War (Missa Sine Nomine), shows himself a worthy witness to the savagery of his epoch and also as a true poet of the forest, sharing with Tolkien a deep love for trees, plants, woodland and all kinds of greenery.

The great difference, of course, is that these writers (except for Solzhenitsyn in his non-fiction) exported the turmoil of their times through the essentially nineteenth-century medium of the European realistic novel. Tolkien's Legendarium, by way of contrast, is rooted in a secondary universe of immense vitality and imaginative power - its atmosphere saturated with the marvellous in every page, every paragraph, every line and every word.


Charles Ridoux

Amfroipret

December 10th 2015



[1] Pierre Jourde, Géographies imaginaires de quelques inventeurs de mondes au vingtieme siecle (Paris: Jose Corti, 1991), 259.
[2] Louis Bouyer, Les lieux magiques de la légende du Graal: de Broceliande á Avalon (Paris: O.E.I.L, 1981)
[3] Irene Fernandez, Et si on parlait … du Seigneur des Anneaux (Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 20020, 128.
[4] Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1981), 141.
[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955), 310.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955), 334.