Posts Tagged With: Lord of the Rings

Freedom and the Future of Humanity

Here’s a pair of books on four men of the 20th Century that still speak to us today: Churchill and Orwell and A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War. Not one of them was a talking head or armchair expert. Each was a veteran of one or more of the century’s — and mankind’s — worst wars.

Winston Churchill warned there was no appeasing totalitarian governments. Evil regimes only ceased their scourge when facing a people who refused to surrender. Churchill’s prophetic voice was nearly ignored in this, and of what the world was to become in the Cold War. Flaws and all, he reached a level few “leaders” today can approach.

George Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War that all totalitarian governments were indistinguishable — whether fascist or communist — in their aims and results. His politics were polar opposite of Churchill’s, but they arrived at the same truths through life, not hypothetical debate. His books Animal Farm and 1984 emerged from those experiences, becoming timeless warnings that wherever power existed, abuse of that power would occur.

After surviving the trenches of World War I, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien became academic scholars. While their contemporaries were writing dismal books on the dark future of humanity, Lewis and Tolkien refused to give in to such defeatism. They eschewed the materialistic and naturalistic philosophies that had brought the world to its knees, and were also being used to paint a future of darkness for humanity. Their fantasy novels were more than fairy tales — they unveiled the hope and the Story that had been gifted to men and women — and that Evil could be crushed.

Out of a dark age came these bright lights. We would be dangerously amiss to snuff them out.

hwco

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Fairy Tales Illuminate What we Forget

If you read older versions of common fairy tales, they were often darker and more adult. They were made more kid friendly at some point, because children cannot always determine fact from fantasy, as Tolkien would argue. However, they do want something rooted in reality that didn’t have to be all cutesie. Tolkien’s first book, The Hobbit would attempt this. He was concerned about some of its more darker moments, but witness its success, and depth that exceeds what often passes for “children” books. And so Tolkien, and later C.S. Lewis with The Chronicles of Narnia, would bring fairy tales out of the nursery and gave something that would drive a child’s imagination and be sophisticated enough for an adult. Then, Lord of the Rings would take this further, bringing fantasy to maturity.

Bradley J. Birzer writes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, that fantasy — or fairy stories as Tolkien would often call them — is worth “the effort of entering” in spite of “its many perils and the great possibilities of misunderstanding” because:

…fairy stories illuminate the vast inheritance our ancestors have bequeathed to us…[they] give us a new sense of wonder about things we have taken for granted or which have become commonplace…[and] provide humans with a means to escape the darkness, conformity, and mechanization of modernity…this is not the same thing as escaping from reality. We still deal with life and death, comfort and discomfort. We merely escape progressivism and the progressive dream, which reduces all of complex reality to a mere shadow of creation’s true wonders

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Middle-Earth was much more than elves, orcs and trolls. Of course, what do you expect from an author who was an Oxford scholar who created an entire history, new languages and new races for his mythos? And those things were not even what made it great.

The very human stories were.

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To Middle-Earth One More Time

Part three of The Hobbit trilogy has come and, in all likelihood, is the last of Middle-Earth’s time on the big screen. Fans never thought they would have to wait nine years from the original trilogy to revisit this world that became a bit of a December tradition. And so that now ends, but Middle-Earth will never leave us.

It has been over seventy-five years since The Hobbit was first published. How many books endure that long? Few. Fewer still inspire films that don’t quickly fade from history. Fans argued which film trilogy was better. Such arguments usually ignored the fact that you couldn’t expect to compare the two. The books themselves were quite different, Tolkien never changing the style of his first to match the latter volumes. He didn’t feel the need to change it, other than a few details. So the filmmakers had to find a careful balance: Make The Hobbit more in line with the look and feel of the first films without losing its unique, and lighter, traits.

Keeping that in mind, the films largely succeeded. By the end of the latest, you are shown a Middle-Earth that is changing and the future holds darkness. Not the finality of The Return of the King, because it isn’t the end. It is a prologue to what is to come (or what has already passed, depending how you look at it).

Why has Middle-Earth captured readers (and now film lovers) for so long? Why has it inspired so much in the fantasy and other genres?

Because behind all the creatures, the fantastic battles, wizards and elves, it’s about people. People who stand against evil, who never abandon each other even in the darkest times, and risk it all in the process.

It’s the Story about who we all want to be. What we were meant to be.

hb

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Immerse Yourself into Middle-Earth

A few months ago in my post More Than Just a Fantasy we looked at how the fantasy genre — in particular J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision — is relevant to us in its stories and themes. In particular, Matthew Dickerson’s book A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, showed us how Tolkien’s worldview was populated with many deep ideas to ponder and learn from.

With the release of the second Hobbit film, it’s a good time for Tolkien fans to once again dig deep into his mythos and what formed what has become a classic part of 20th Century literature. There is no shortage of books to peruse, but a couple stand out.

There is the before-mentioned by Dickerson, which focuses on how Tolkien’s Christian beliefs were the foundation to his writings. Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology is the go to biography of Tolkien and exploration of his many inspirations. John Garth expands on one aspect of Tolkien’s past, his serving in World War I, in Tolkien and the Great War. The War of the Ring had some very real life parallels.

For those just looking for guides through the incredibly realized Middle-Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth and Tolkien’s World from A to Z are indispensable guides.

If you wish Tolkien himself had written more of his creation, he did in The Children of Hurin and The Silmarillion (both completed by his son after Tolkien’s death).

To top all this off, Christopher Snyder’s new The Making of Middle-Earth covers a little bit of everything of Tolkien’s world and legacy. It’s a great place to start for all Tolkien students and fans.

Do you need these books to enjoy Tolkien’s fiction? No. Do they make you want to go back and re-read and become immersed — deeply so — into Middle-Earth like it was the first time? Yes, they certainly do.

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The Hobbit and Evil

Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy didn’t think they would have to wait nine years for The Hobbit. It was worth the wait. Peter Jackson’s team has once again put the time (and money) into bringing this classic mythos to life.

It’s also one of those films that reminds you the power of the medium. Most films don’t gain anything from the big screen format. You might as well watch them on television. Films like The Hobbit remind you of why people still go to the theater in the age of high-def television.

I had been wondering how they would make The Hobbit into three parts (this seemed a bit excessive). Seeing how part one only makes it through the first six of nineteen chapters, it’s easy to figure out now. This should make Tolkien purists happy because this means the movie makers are following the book closer, they have the time. There were a number of things in the film I forgot were in the book making it nearly as epic as the others. They also draw on Tolkien’s background history to fill in the details, as the book isn’t as detail-heavy as the sequels. I haven’t had any issue with what deviations were made in the films. They all were done in a way that kept with Tolkien’s vision. In my analysis, I still think they are perhaps the best book-to-film translations ever attempted.

Some may see the films or books as just entertainment, but Tolkien spent a lifetime creating a mythos with far more detail than most writers ever imagine. An Oxford professor, he approached his writing as if it were a scholarly pursuit. Yet it was still entertaining and captivating, full of themes and message (though he never intentionally preached, so to speak, his beliefs informed his work). That’s why it has endured for so long (The Hobbit was originally published in 1937, mainly directed at children. Don’t see many children books like this anymore, do we?).

Tolkien drew on many influences in creating Middle-Earth. Most notably his Christian worldview, from which one of his most important themes came:

Evil exists.

Not only that, he witnessed the worst men could do while serving in World War I, which undoubtedly colored his writing. In fact, he began creating his world while in the trenches. Throughout his books, he made it clear that evil was always there, even when not obvious, waiting for a time to explode or conquer. When it did, it must be stopped.

It’s funny how Lord of the Rings, in many ways a war novel, saw a resurgence during the 1960s. Though I doubt, because of his own experiences, Tolkien would ever promote rushing into war. He also knew we can’t pretend evil doesn’t exist or that it may just go away.

It always comes back.

In time of tragedy, people always ask why? That is the normal reaction and indeed there are many causes for terrible events, like the recent shootings. It was disturbing that political groups and politicians immediately starting talking about guns, as if they whispered into these people’s ears and turned them insane. That’s the easy way out. Addressing actual causes is difficult. Admitting evil exists makes us scared and helpless.

Given that one of the cornerstones of most religions is that evil exists, one wonders why so many pretend it doesn’t. We want to be safe, secure and happy, but we don’t want to be vigilant. We’ve been told evil isn’t real and we, through law and government, can stamp it all out. We downplay talk of evil in our religions, so not to scare people away. We have made religion into another helpful fad to get us through life. Then something horrible happens. We are forced back into reality.

Sadly, most who are not directly effected by the tragedy, soon forget and go back to their lives. Evil grows and prospers and is ignored.

Tolkien believed in it. He saw it in war and never forgot it.

I hope all will pray and do whatever they can to help the people effected by the recent unimaginable violence in Connecticut and elsewhere. I also hope these things: People will realize what they have here in this country. The opportunities for them and their family and that there are some places in this world were this violence is a regular event. Remember what it took to create and defend this country and don’t use crisis as an excuse to act too quick and not address the real issues. Times of disaster and tragedy are the times we need to protect our rights the most, because in the end, if we don’t, far greater calamities will occur. Just look to history.

Some think “doing something about guns” will solve these problems. Timothy McVeigh didn’t use guns to massacre people. Nor did the terrorists on 9/11. Evil wants us to think it is just that simple, ban this or that. They want us to look the wrong way.

Ask the right questions. If we don’t, evil will continue to win.

Update: Others are also talking about evil and not pretending it doesn’t exist. See posts by John Eldridge and Mike Duran.

Categories: Books, Critical Thinking, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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