User:Gandalf-Olorin/Essays/In Defense of Catholic Literature
In Defense of Catholic Literature:
A Response to a Protestant Diatribe
On the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien
by Mr. Wayne Nichols
Teacher of English, St. Mary's Academy
The article " Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Truth, Myth or Both?" by Berit Kjos (December 2001), as found at www.crossroad.to/index, has recently been brought to my attention. It seems that this article may cause a danger, given today’s atmosphere, to the correct Catholic study of literature, as well as to the authentic interpretation of the Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien. I am therefore bound as a Catholic educator and as someone quite familiar with Tolkien and his works to make a reply to this article. I have taken pains to use thorough documentation, so that what we are discussing is the work of Tolkien and not an interpretation given by someone else. In my response, I have quoted Mr. Kjos directly and commented as it seemed necessary. I have numbered the points for convenience.
1. Mr. Kjos begins his article with a few quotes.
"The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien has inspired more commentary, creativity and following than arguably any other modern-day work of art or literature. Surprisingly, it has also been interpreted by--and, thus, embraced by--the adherents of such wildly divergent philosophies as neopagans and evangelical Christians." Lord of the Rings: True Mythology
Comment: Tolkien, as anyone knows who is at all familiar with his life, despised publicity and popular acclaim. If it were not for the necessity of publishing in order to be accounted successful with his books, he would have been content to teach and remain in relative obscurity.
"As for Tolkien himself, writing to his colleague Norman Davis he referred to the widespread enthusiasm for his book as 'my deplorable cultus'; and to a reporter who asked him if he was pleased by the enthusiasm of the young Americans he replied: 'Art moves them and they don't know what they've been moved by and they get quite drunk on it. Many young Americans are involved in the stories in a way that I'm not'" [Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: The Authorized Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 231].
What Tolkien would have thought of the media hype over the release of the new movies based on his books we can only surmise from what he has stated. What difference should it make to us how others besides Tolkien or those who understand him interpret his writings? If we can be scared away from this Catholic author by the perverse notions of "neopagans and evangelical Christians," then we should also be averse to reading Scripture because of the notes appended by Luther. This is not a Catholic attitude toward literature.
"In making a myth, in practicing 'mythopoeia,' and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller . is actually fulfilling God's purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light." J.R.R. Tolkien [emphasis added]
Comment: There is nothing wrong with this quotation from Tolkien. The good professor is here explaining the work of a Catholic storyteller. In other words, it is the duty of the educated Catholic author to bring to bear his God-given talents in order to promote, in as far as his vocation allows, the universal truth. Only a Protestant could find something wrong with this.
"...the thing seems to write itself once I get going...." The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, page 91.
Comment: To the Fundamentalists, this no doubt means automatic writing, i.e., writing while being possessed by an evil spirit. But any writer of experience knows what Tolkien means. Some things are very difficult to write, others just "seem to write themselves." That is what is meant here.
"Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, Tolkien's protagonist, will soon battle not only evil but also each other for the hearts and minds of a generation," wrote Brian Carney in the Wall Street Journal article, Tolkien runs rings around Potter, back in December. "If there is any justice in the world, Frodo should win."
Comment: Again, this has nothing to do with Tolkien and his writings. This is the publicity wagon and modern media. But of course, linking together the quasi-satanic Harry Potter with Frodo in this fashion makes the reader draw an erroneous conclusion. This is not a Catholic method of criticism.
2. Now begins the article of Mr. Kjos:
The race isn't over. Both studios bet their success on top-selling books and on the soaring popularity of myth, magic and mystical forces in our post-Christian world. Harry Potter's theme and thrills are simpler, more readable for today's visually oriented youth. But Tolkien's sophisticated mythology has gathered a huge following through the decades.
Both stories involve wizards, spells, mythical creatures and magic charms. Both demonstrate the battle between a mythical "good" and evil. Both pit heroic "white" magic against dark menacing occultism.
Comment: There is only a surface similarity between the works of Tolkien and those of other authors in this genre. Tolkien was always profoundly Catholic is his outlook, and everything he wrote reflects, to a greater or lesser extent, his deep Catholicity.
But Potter wields his "good" magic in an obviously occult setting with no claim to Christian symbolism. In contrast, Frodo, the hobbit hero of "The Lord of the Rings" lives in a world that supposedly reflects Biblical truth and Christ's redemptive love. But does it?
Comment: It is not only the "obviously occult setting" of Harry Potter which makes it clear that the author, J.K. Rowlings, has a totally anti-Christian bent. There are published interviews with her that point up explicitly her underlying philosophy. But, contrariwise, the interviews which Tolkien gave after publishing Lord of the Rings reveal a Catholic philosophy [See Andrea M. Stoltz, “Harry Potter,” The Angelus, Vol. XXIV, No. 9 (September 2001), pp. 25-32].
3. Mr. Kjos:
Does Frodo's suffering really represent the suffering of Christ? Does wizard Gandalf's self-sacrifice typify the crucifixion? Many Christian fans argue "yes." If they are right, what do these comparisons actually teach us about truth and redemption?
Comment: Tolkien deliberately avoided direct allegory in his stories, so it is a great mistake to make too many sweeping statements interpreting the plotline in this manner. "Diametrically opposed to Lewis's appreciation and use of allegory was Tolkien, who said that, 'I dislike allegory whenever I smell it'" [Daniel Grotta-Kurska, J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth (New York: Warner Books, 1976), p. 144]. We may say more accurately that there were certainly Catholic types or symbols in Lord of the Rings which Tolkien used in his own way to illustrate the theme.
4. Continuing with the article:
Or might this popular "gospel" be distorting God's truth? Perhaps Tolkien himself can provide some answers.
The man and his message. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) was a man of many contradictions. For example: Back in 1969, he wrote a letter affirming that "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." Yet the primary focus of his life was his mythical Middle-earth, headed by a distant and impersonal "God" who might confuse rather than clarify the nature of the Biblical God.
In his personal letters (many are included in a book titled The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien), he expressed caution toward occult practices. But he equipped his team of mythical heroes -- the fellowship of the Ring -- with the pagan powers that God forbids. For example, "Gandalf [a helpful wizard] is able to wield potent magic... To do battle with the forces of darkness, Gandalf the Grey can call upon not only his spellcraft, but also his staff of power and the Elven sword Glamdring."
Comment: Only a Protestant who can understand nothing but privately interpreted Scripture, or someone deliberately seeking to find contradictions, can say that these quotes from Tolkien are in contradiction. So, according to Mr. Kjos' view, if we are not walking and talking the Bible all the time, then we cannot bring Christian truth into our lives. What drivel! It was not Tolkien's work to write commentary on Sacred Scripture or to teach catechism. It was his work to bring into his writings the truths of faith. The manner in which he did so was up to him, as there is no law, human or divine, on style or literary genre.
“Literature fits less easily into boundary lines. It deals with things that never have happened, or may have happened, or should have happened. It recalls all the searchings of the human soul, its aims, futilities, triumphs, and endurance. One could list endlessly the reflections and feelings which literature presents. The significant thing about all this mental activity is that it mirrors some aspect of the elusive dreams or definite gains in man’s search for happiness… It is the glory of an individual that, aided by divine power, he can chart a course of conduct which follows the outlines of God’s plan for his existence. It is the glory of literature that, amid the changeable values of human favor, these ideals can be set permanently apart in the marble of words… A novelist is a literary magician [!]. He gives you, not life itself, but something so convincing that you accept it as real. The world of fiction which he so skillfully builds is called an ‘illusion of reality.’ But he tricks, not to deceive, but to illuminate… (T)he author aims to portray characters who will dominate action within the book and whose influence extends beyond the covers of the novel itself [The Committee on Affiliation of the Catholic University of America for the Revision of English Curricula, Appreciation Through Reading (New York: Sadlier, 1942), pp. vii, 143, 144].
This is the Catholic philosophy of literature. It might also be good to remind ourselves, since Mr. Kjos has certainly no knowledge of it, that Catholic monks laboriously copied the pagan mythologies of Greece and Rome for posterity. None of these ancient works would have survived for us if the Catholic Church was opposed to the stories in these myths themselves. What the Church opposed in them was incitement to immoral behavior, and it was those passages which were deleted. But the stories themselves, together with their fantastic settings, characters, magic powers, creatures, etc., were left intact.
5. Our Fundamentalist critic resumes:
A staunch Roman Catholic, he affirmed his faith in the One God who created the universe. But his mythical God stopped creating before the work was finished, then turned the rest over to a group of lesser gods or "sub-creators." In other words, Tolkien invented a hierarchy of deities that defied the Biblical God's wise warnings concerning both real and imagined idolatry.
Comment: Also apparently unknown to Mr. Kjos is the hierarchy of God's creation which Tolkien has mirrored in his work. As we know, there is a hierarchy in heaven of the choirs and orders of angels, and there is also a hierarchy among the saints. We are taught by many sacred writers that various parts of creation, as the sun and moon, have been put in the charge of these different orders of angels. The nations of the earth are also given guardians from a specific order of angelic spirits. God has not abandoned His work of Providence simply because He works through the angels in these various ways. The Ainur which Tolkien introduces in the early part of The Silmarillion, are in no wise shown to be on the same level with Eru Iluvatar, the name he has chosen for God. These spirits, within the story that Tolkien has crafted, become the Valar who rule the earth (Arda) in the name of Eru (the One). One of these Valar is named Varda, otherwise called by the elves Elbereth. [See J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), pp. 13-22]. The elves constantly call on Elbereth throughout Lord of the Rings to help them in their land of exile. Thus Varda-Elbereth is a very thinly veiled image of Our Lady, but a Protestant would balk at that! In addition, the character of Gandalf the wizard is hardly the sorcerer that Mr. Kjos makes him out to be. He is seen throughout the trilogy to guide, to advise, to encourage, to have great power which cannot be used to force the will of lesser beings. "Tolkien privately admitted ...that 'Gandalf is an angel'" [Grotta-Kurska, p. 139].
You won't meet those gods and spirits in The Lord of the Rings, for their creative work finished long before the current story began. But this strange creation story laid the foundation for all the other parts in Tolkien's many-faceted tale. It also helps us understand the author's thoughts and evaluate the message he spreads through his popular myth.
Dr. Ralph C. Wood, Professor of English at Baylor University and an expert on Tolkien's work, described those "lesser gods" or ruling spirits. Notice that the reigning God sounds more like the aloof deity of deism than the caring God of the Bible. Other "gods" would fit right into Norse and Celtic mythology (two areas of research that fascinated Tolkien):
"At the top stands Ilúvatar, the All-Father, corresponding roughly to the One whom Christians call God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. From him all things proceed, and to him all things return. He is the beginning and the end, the One who shapes all events to his own purposes. He... only rarely intervenes in his Creation, preferring instead to work through... fifteen subordinate beings....
"Manwë, the Good and Pure.... is most concerned with air, wind, clouds, and the birds that fly. Manwë's spouse is Varda, the Exalted. She made the stars, established the courses of the Sun and Moon, and set the morning and evening star Eärendil in the sky. Thus is she known to the elves as Elbereth (Star-Queen) and Gilthoniel (Star-Kindler). She listens to the cries of both men and elves in order to come to their aid and succor.
Comment: Hence, the image of Our Lady which I have mentioned.
7. Our critic goes on with the quote:
Next comes Melkor ("He who arises in Might"). Ilúvatar gave to him greater power and knowledge than to any of the other Valar.... He desired to have his own power to create things out of nothing--to give them true Being--as the All-Father did. So he searched in the Void for the Flame Imperishable, disturbing the original Music which Ilúvatar had created to keep the Timeless Halls in harmony....
Comment: Who could fail to recognize in Melkor an image of Lucifer? This becomes increasingly clear when he is later cursed, and his name is changed to Morgoth [The Silmarillion, p. 79].
And continuing the quote:
Ulmo ("pourer, rainer") is... lord of waters... he dwells in the Outer Ocean or in the waters underneath Middle Earth, governing the movement of all oceans and rivers. Ulmo cares greatly for the Children of Ilúvatar, advising them by direct appearances, by dreams, or through the music of waters....
"Irmo ("master of desire") is the author of visions and dreams...." emphasis added
Together, Ilúvatar and the lesser gods suggest an unbiblical blend of impersonal monotheism and personal polytheism, for only the lesser gods become involved in the lives of the people. In contrast, Christian faith rests on a clear understanding of God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. He alone is Creator and Lord of all, and He continues to be intimately involved in the lives of His people. He does not delegate that Lordship to any other deity.
Comment: This Protestant tenet that God does not delegate His authority allows them to deny the hierarchy in heaven, the intercession of Our Lady and the saints, and the hierarchical Church on earth. There is nothing in Tolkien's writings that denies that God is personal. But it is not meant to be an exact replication of the Bible, either. We, as Catholics, know that it is perfectly lawful for an author to use his own expertise and elements from various mythologies to point out the truth.
8. Mr. Kjos resumes:
Of course, myths and stories can't be held accountable to reality. Unlike God's absolute truth, myths are changeable -- a timeless product of man's subjective search for meaning. Birthed in the human imagination and subject to human dreams, they are free to twist and stretch any "truth" they supposedly illustrate. We see this process in classrooms across the country, where the world's myths are altered in order to provide the "right" kind of models for the envisioned global spirituality.
Comment: It should hardly be necessary to point out that the use of one's imagination for the promotion of truth is quite lawful. If this were not so, the good Catholic authors over the centuries would have found themselves in a peculiar situation. G.K. Chesterton, himself a convert, defended very well the use of fairytales in his essay on the subject. Tolkien wrote a similar essay, "On Fairy Stories," which explains how truth can be related in fantasy.
Tolkien, himself, assures us that he didn't intend to teach Biblical reality through his mythical fantasy. In a 1956 letter he wrote, "There is no 'allegory' -- moral, political, or contemporary -- in the work at all. It is a 'fairy-story' ... [written] for adults. (p. 232). Later he continued, "It is, I should say, a 'monotheistic but 'sub-creational' mythology.' There is no embodiment of the One, of God, who indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers. These take the place of the 'gods', but are created spirits...."
Comment: It should also be pointed out that Sauron, the "devil" in the Lord of the Rings, never appears physically either, despite what the movies are currently depicting. Rather, both Iluvatar and Sauron act through their agents in Middle-earth. This is, of course, compatible with our Catholic understanding of how God acts in this world and also of how the devil acts.
Yet, many Christians argue that Tolkien's spiritual hierarchy does indeed parallel the Biblical account. Even Tolkien, in spite of his denials, has compared parts of his myth with corresponding aspects of truth. But the obvious similarities tend to confuse rather than clarify Biblical truth. For Tolkien's myth twists Scriptures enough to change their meanings and muddle the true nature of God. Like the serpent's temptation in the garden, Tolkien's illusions of truth appeal to human feelings and may lead to deception.
Comment: Tolkien has nowhere "twisted" Scriptures or any truth that might be learned from the Bible. There is no comparison between the "serpent's temptation in the garden" and Tolkien's "illusions," as Mr. Kjos calls them. The temptation in Eden was to pride, to become like God, that Adam and Eve could be as God Himself and shape their own fate. No character in Tolkien's trilogy who gives evidence of this sort of pride comes to a good end, e.g., Saruman and Denethor. So how does this "lead to deception"?
10. The critic:
For example, his elves and wizards -- the creatures empowered with magical skills -- enjoy the certainty of unconditional eternal life. But humans do not. Their lives -- with rare exceptions  -- must end with their physical death.
Instead of the Christian's hope of eternal life, Tolkien's world offers re-incarnation -- but only for a select group. This popular notion defies the Scriptures that tell us that "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment..." [Heb 9:27] Concerned about this contradiction, the manager of a Catholic bookstore asked Tolkien if he might have "over-stepped the mark in metaphysical matters." Tolkien wrote this response,
"'Reincarnation' may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to Humanity... But I do not see how even in the Primary world any theologian or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of spirit and body than I believe anyone to be, could deny the possibility of re-incarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures."
Comment: It is rather simplistic to say that an author cannot do with his characters what he wants. Tolkien has envisioned the elves as humanity might have been had not the Fall occurred. As all Catholics know from their catechism, it was the fall of our First Parents which brought death into the world. Now, fortunately, I too possess a copy of Tolkien's Letters. It is by examining the letter in question that I can show Mr. Kjos to be quoting only those parts of this letter which are convenient to his viewpoint. So let me quote it myself:
"'Reincarnation' may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to Humanity; and my legendarium, especially the 'Downfall of Numenor' which lies immediately behind The Lord of the Rings, IS BASED ON MY VIEW: that men are essentially mortal and must not try to become 'immortal' IN THE FLESH"
At this point, Tolkien gives a footnote:
"Since 'mortality' is thus represented as a special gift of God to the Second Race of the Children...and not as a punishment for a Fall, you may call that 'bad theology.' So it may be, in the primary world, but IT IS AN IMAGINATION CAPABLE OF ELUCIDATING TRUTH, AND A LEGITIMATE BASIS OF LEGENDS" [Humphrey Carpenter, Ed., The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), p. 189, capitals mine].
Now, precisely what is Tolkien saying here? He is not, as our Protestant friend would have it, advocating reincarnation. Nor is he saying that it is good theology, because he begins by stating it is not "as applied to Humanity," i.e., it cannot happen in the real world. But, he goes on to explain, it might fit in with the mythology he has constructed for the little world of his stories. This is because "it is an imagination"--we would say an imaginary device--"capable of elucidating truth, and a legitimate basis of legends." In other words, to serve his purpose in his books, and to point out a truth he wants to show, he can legitimately use this device. Tolkien explains further:
"Elves and Men are represented as biologically akin in this 'history,' because Elves are certain aspects of Men and their talents and desires, incarnated in my little world. They have certain freedoms and powers we should like to have, and the beauty and peril and sorrow of the possession these things is exhibited in them..." [Letters, p. 189].
11. Mr. Kjos:
Since Tolkien denies any supposed allegorical link between his myth and Biblical truth, it's not fair to hold his stories accountable to that truth. Nor is it wise to continue claiming that they teach us God's truth. Those who do could easily be tempted to lower their guard, set aside discernment, internalize the fascinating suggestions and be drawn to occult images -- the opposite of God's warning in Romans 12:9: "Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good."
Comment: This is a Protestant interpretation of what St. Paul says in Romans. Simply because Tolkien did not want to make his books strict allegory does not eliminate from them their ability to embody truth. In fact, if we adhere to what St. Paul enjoins, we should shun the writings of Mr. Kjos, since they fly in the face of Catholic literature.
The movie version of The Lord of the Rings idealizes occultism and cheers the pagan practices used by "good" characters. Like Star Wars, Harry Potter and the world's pagan cultures, it seduces its fans into an imaginary world that pits "white" or benevolent magic against dark, evil magic. Both sides of this imagined "battle between good and evil" use occult practices that God forbids. [Deut 18:9-12]. Those who walk with Him, cannot delight in what He calls evil.
Comment: It is a gratuitous assertion that the movie version of LOTR "idealizes occultism and cheers the pagan practices used by 'good' characters." What is the proof of this? That Gandalf was good at fireworks? That he used a crystal in his staff? It should be noted that the movie was not made by Tolkien or his family, but that the rights to make it were sold to Newline Cinema. This company has taken some liberties with the text, some warranted by the change from the written word to the screen, others not warranted, as in the use of the crystal to light Gandalf's staff. Still, minor flaws do not taint the entire production. Peter Jackson, the director, has been quoted as saying that his motivation in making the movies has been to "get people to read the book." If this is his driving force, then viewers will learn what Tolkien wanted them to learn.
13. Mr. Kjos continues:
The fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien's talent as a storyteller, gives life to this mythical world. He makes sense of the deadly ambitions of the power-hungry Lord Sauron who serves the evil Melkor. Therefore, the wizardry we would shun in the real world becomes a welcome solution in the context of this story:
Comment: How is wizardry the "welcome solution" in Tolkien's tale? This is a blatantly false statement. The "solution" to the problem of the Ring is to not use it, to get rid of it through the perseverance in good, even to risk one's life to bring about its destruction. Gandalf would not take the Ring, nor did he counsel Frodo to use it. Every time Frodo succumbed to the temptation to use it, some evil effect followed. So how does LOTR show wizardry as the solution?
14. To resume:
A young Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, has inherited the Ring from his uncle, Bilbo Baggins. Unlike many previous owners, Frodo resists the impulse to keep the ring and use its magic for selfish purposes. Instead, he sets out on a difficult journey to destroy the cursed Ring in the fires of Mount Doom where it once was forged. But he can’t do it alone.
Three of his loyal Hobbit friends join the team: Sam, Merry and Pippin. So do Aragorn and Boromir (two humans), Legolas (an elf) and Gimli (a dwarf). With help from three other powerful elves, the wizard Gandalf guides them along the way. Tolkien describes his nature:
"Gandalf is not, of course, a human being (Man or Hobbit). There are naturally no precise modern terms to say what he was. I would venture to say that he was an incarnate 'angel'.... with the other Istari, wizards, 'those who know', an emissary from the Lords of the West, sent to Middle-earth as the great crisis of Sauron loomed on the horizon. By 'incarnate' I meant they were embodied in physical bodies capable of pain and weariness...."
"Why they should take such a form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, so that they would do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strength.... The wizards were not exempt, indeed being incarnate were more likely to stray, or err. Gandalf alone fully passes the test, on a moral plane anyway. For in his condition it was for him a sacrifice to perish on the Bridge in defense of his companions.... Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted and enhanced and returned."
Gandalf really 'died' and was changed.... 'I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death'."
This incarnate "angel" wouldn't fit into the host of Biblical angels. But he could well fit in the hierarchy of "devas" or "angels" and ascended masters in the elaborate spiritual system called Theosophy or "Ancient Wisdom." Popularized by Madame Helena Blavatsky, this esoteric blend of Hinduism and Western occultism received its doctrines from "ascended masters" or spirit guides such as Djhwal Khul who channeled his messages to the medium Alice Bailey.
Comment: So the fact that a character dies and returns to life is occult or derived from Theosophy or Hinduism? By this reasoning, the Gospels would have to be derived from pagan sources! But if we must make comparisons to Scripture, let us make accurate comparisons. I begin here with Abraham.
“And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near him: and as soon as he saw them he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant: But I will fetch a little water, and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree. And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart…Abraham made haste into the tent to Sara, and said to her: Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and makes cakes upon the hearth. And he himself ran to the herd, and took from thence a calf very tender and very good, and gave it to a young man: who made haste and boiled it. He took also butter and milk, and the calf which had had boiled, and set before them…And when they had eaten, they said to him: Where is Sara thy wife? ...And when the men rose up from thence, they turned their eyes towards Sodom: and Abraham walked with them, bringing them on the way…” [Gen. 18: 2-9, 16].
In this passage, we are told of angels in human forms--not only the semblance of bodies, but actual physical bodies--since they have feet to wash and eat the food which Abraham sets before them, and Abraham accompanies them on their way. Another example from the life of Jacob:
“…and behold a man wrestled with him till morning. And when he saw that he could not overcome him, he touched the sinew of his thigh, and forthwith it shrank. And he said to him: Let me go, for it is break of day. He answered: I will not let thee go except thou bless me. And he said: What is thy name? He answered: Jacob. But he said: Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou has been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?” [Gen. 32: 24-28].
The Catholic Church has always taught that Jacob actually wrestled with an angel who had taken physical form.
“This wrestling, in which Jacob, assisted by God, was a match for an angel, was so ordered (ver. 28) that he might learn by this experiment of the divine assistance…” [Holy Bible: Translated from the Latin Vulgate (New York: Douay Bible House, 1953), p. 43].
So incarnate angels are not found only in Hindu mythology! But let us look once more at the Bible:
“Then Tobias going forth, found a beautiful young man, standing girded, and as it were ready to walk. And not knowing that he was an angel of God, he saluted him, and said: From whence are thou, good young man? But he answered: Of the children of Israel. And Tobias said to him: Knowest thou the way that leadeth to the country of the Medes? And he answered: I know it: and I have often walked through all the ways thereof…And the angel said to him: I will conduct him thither, and bring him back to thee. And Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered: Dost thou seek the family of him thou hirest, or the hired servant himself to go with thy son? But lest I should make thee uneasy, I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias.” [Tob. 5: 5-8, 16-18].
Now the Reformers took the Book of Tobias out of the Bible, but we Catholics know it is part of the Canon of Scripture from the infallible Church. We also know that St. Raphael is not here deceiving the old Tobias, but giving the name of the person whose form he has taken. So again, here is evidence of an angel taking a physical body in order to interact with men. But there is more to this interaction:
“Then the angel said to him: Take out the entrails of this fish, and lay up his heart, and his gall, and his liver for thee: for these are necessary for useful medicines…Then Tobias asked the angel, and said to him: I beseech thee, brother Azarias, tell me what remedies are these things good for, which thou hast bid me keep of the fish? And the angel, answering, said to him: If thou put a little piece of its heart upon coals, the smoke thereof driveth away all kind of devils, either from man or from woman, so that they come no more to them. The gall is good for anointing the eyes, in which there is a white speck, and they shall be cured” [Tob. 6: 5-9].
So here is an angel counseling the use of strange “occult” rites in order to produce supernatural or preternatural effects. Either the Bible contains satanic instructions—a blasphemy—or it demonstrates without a doubt that we may talk about strange or “magic” practices without fear of falling into error. More to the point, it would seem that Gandalf is more akin to these angelic episodes from Scripture than he is to the devas from Hinduism.
Of course, there is the little matter of Gandalf’s returning from the dead. For that I can cite the ultimate Scriptural example, the God-Man who died for His friends, and who returned glorious. Now Tolkien did say that Gandalf was an angel, but in this respect the wizard is similar to Our Lord. There is nothing astounding in this multiple symbolism, since Tolkien has already eliminated allegorical exactness.
One thing more before I continue, where in LOTR does Tolkien show reincarnation in the Hindu sense, complete with transmigration of the soul? Nowhere. Introducing Helena Blavatsky and Alice Baily here continues the fallacious reasoning, "because two things look alike, they are therefore the same."
15. Returning to Mr. Kjos:
The allure of Atlantis. The legendary Atlantis played an important part in the Theosophical world view -- just as it did in Tolkien's grand mythology. In the Secret Doctrine, written for the Theosophical Society, Madame Helena Blavatsky told about "revelatory spirits from the Orient" who brought insights from Atlantis and described its people as one of humanity's seven "root" races.
Countless other leaders and mystics, authors and psychics have dreamt of Atlantis. They include the "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce (who linked it to "Mayan land"), Rudolph Steiner (founder of Waldorf Schools) and Dr. Shirley McCune, keynote speaker at the 1989 Governor's Conference on Education in Kansas. In her book The Light Shall Set You Free (based on channeled messages from various angelic beings or ascended masters), she writes,
"The Atlanteans operated on this superior level of existence, connected to their Higher Selves. With the fall of Atlantis, humanity experienced a struggle for survival and became aware of the lower self, dominated by the will of the ego. Now after thousands of years of evolution, most people have forgotten ... how to connect with higher dimensions...."
Comment: There is no link between Tolkien and these New Age gurus. Nothing can be found in any source anywhere that shows that Tolkien accepted or would have accepted what they taught.
Let us continue:
Tolkien paints a similar picture of Atlantis. He put the legend into the First Age of his mythical history. The destruction of Atlantis came in the Second Age. The Lord of the Rings takes place in the Third Age. But they all fit together:
"The particular 'myth' which lies behind this tale... is the Downfall of Numenor: a special variety of the Atlantis tradition. That seems to me so fundamental to 'mythical history' -- whether it has any kind of basis in real history.... that some version of it would have to come in.... "
"Numenor is my personal alteration of the Atlantis myth and /or tradition, and accommodation of it to my general mythology. Of all the mythical or 'archetypal' images this is the one most deeply seated in my imagination, and for many years I had a recurrent Atlantis dream: the stupendous and ineluctable wave advancing from the Sea or over the land, sometimes dark, sometimes green and sunlit."
"Numenor," explained Tolkien in an earlier letter, "topples and vanishes for ever with all its glory in the abyss. Thereafter there is no visible dwelling of the divine or immortal on earth.... So the end of the Second Age draws on a major catastrophe...."
Comment: The mere use of a drowned island where a civilization of men existed in advance of those cultures around them is not a sin. Historically, there must be some basis for the Atlantean myth, since the ancient Greek Solon writes of it. Tolkien does not seem to care whether it did in reality or not. He merely used this device to show that men had fallen from their first greatness. It should be noted that those who resisted Sauron in Numenor were called the "Faithful," because they listened to the Valar and Iluvatar and not to Sauron. The Faithful resisted the temptation to land on Valinor, i.e., "become as gods." Numenor was punished directly by the One (God), and the Faithful escaped to found kingdoms in Middle-earth. Catholics should recognize that this entire story from the Second Age (in the timeline previous to LOTR) is more accurately the story of Eden than the myth of Atlantis. [See The Silmarillion, pp. 259-282].
16. Mr. Kjos resumes:
Myth and inspiration. In "Lord of the Rings: True Mythology," an introduction to a series of articles on Tolkien, Leadership U (sponsored by Christian Leadership Ministries) notes that "Many critics have scorned the trilogy as mere escapism, but Tolkien saw it as discovered reality, that his mythmaking was an attempt to uncover what is real in the clearest way possible: 'true myth.'"
Tolkien's mythical reality sounds a bit like an oxymoron. Myth, by standard definition, implies something other than reality. Tolkien himself denies the link between his myth and God's truth. Still, that link lingers in many contemporary minds -- especially among those who love the story. But can it represent Biblical reality?
Comment: Webster's Dictionary defines "myth" as "a traditional story serving to explain some phenomenon, custom, etc." There is embodied in all myths some truth which the ancient storytellers were trying to explain. Tolkien did not deny the "link between his myth and God's truth." On the contrary, he frequently referred to truths that he had embedded in his books. He denied only that his world was an allegory.
Leadership U continues, "Biblical imagery, many claim, abounds within the tales--which actually contain no explicit mention of God, Christ or worship. This seeming ambiguity has left much room for neopagans and others to point out the abundance of gods, spirits, sprites and other mythical and pagan characters in the text."
Comment: Direct references to God, Our Lord, etc., would have taken the works of Tolkien out of the realm of fiction and made them commentaries on theology. This was not his purpose, nor is it the purpose of literature to do this. The study of literature has been used consistently by the Catholic Church in her educational institutions throughout the centuries. It was Catholic monks who copied by hand the myths of Greece and Rome, as I have said. These monks also copied the Norse myths, e.g., Beowulf and others. Much of the literature that has been written in Western Civilization since the start of the Christian era makes use of "gods, sprites, and other mythical and pagan characters." Must we rid ourselves of the works of Shakespeare because witches and ghosts appear in them? Fundamentalist Protestants would cry that we must, but Catholics should never echo that cry.
17. Resuming our critic:
Today's culture is well accustomed to ambiguity. We see it in ads, in political propaganda, in the new laws being passed.... Lofty promises are in; defining terms are out. The latter clarifies and allows rational choices rather than feel-good conformity.
Comment: Here is a Protestant calling for definitions! How shall we begin? "Protestant: 1. One who revolted from the One True Church in the sixteenth century, or one who has descended from those who so revolted. 2. One who holds the doctrine that if a truth cannot be found in the Bible, then the truth does not exist." Such a person cannot understand why literature can contain mythology because Sacred Scripture does not contain it!
To see through some of Tolkien's ambiguity, one might look at his sources of inspiration. Once again, Tolkien expert, Professor Wood, can help us out. In his review of Verlyn Flieger's A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie, he acknowledges that Tolkien was influenced by 19th century Romantics such as George Macdonald," since his friend and literary companion C. S. Lewis was also decisively shaped by them."
Comment: Once again, where is the proof? To say that Tolkien was influenced by Romantics like George Macdonald "since his friend and literary companion C.S. Lewis was also decidedly shaped by them" is no proof at all. Tolkien never took Lewis's lead on anything. But for the influence of other writers on Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter gives says:
"Though Tolkien lived in the twentieth century he could scarcely be called a modern writer. Certainly some comparatively recent authors made their mark on him: men such as William Morris, Andrew Lang, George MacDonald, Rider Haggard, Kenneth Grahame, and John Buchan. There are also, perhaps, certain 'Georgian' characteristics about him. But his roots were buried deep in early literature, and the major names in twentieth-century writing meant little or nothing to him. He read very little modern fiction, and took no serious notice of it" [Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), pp. 157-158].
God did not stop giving writers talent when the Romantic Movement began. Nor does the mere statement that Tolkien was "influenced" by Romantic literature tell us to what extent. The evidence tells us that Tolkien took some good ideas from these Romantics, and left out what was bad.
19. He [Wood] continues,
"What comes as a genuine shock is the news that Tolkien's mind and work were marked by the fictional dream-journeys of George Du Maurier, by the psychic experiences of Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, by the time-travel fantasies of H. G. Wells....
Comment: This is another gratuitous assertion.
20. The quote goes on:
"Flieger has shown us a darker, less cheering Tolkien than many of his Christian apologists have acknowledged. Here again she is right: Tolkien was a man whose faith was shadowed and doubt-filled...."
Comment: Kjos is quoting Wood, but he must agree with Wood because he does not qualify this quotation. There is not a scintilla of evidence in any source to prove that "Tolkien was a man whose faith was shadowed and doubt-filled." In fact, every source points to the fact that Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, who believed, e.g., in the Real Presence even when those around him doubted It. Traditional Catholics should recognize their own struggles in this excerpt from one of Tolkien's letters:
"'Trends' in the Church are...serious, especially to those accustomed to find in it a solace and a 'pax' in times of temporal trouble, and not just another area of strife and change. But imagine the experience of those born (as I) between the Golden and the Diamond Jubilee of Victoria. Both senses and imaginations of security have been progressively stripped away from us. Now we find ourselves nakedly confronting the will of God, as concerns ourselves and our position in Time [he makes a reference to something he had Gandalf say in LOTR]...I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go!...I think there is nothing to do but pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it...The 'protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness--which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because 'primitive Christianity' is now and in spite of all 'research' will ever remain largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian 'liturgical' behaviour from the beginning as now...But they [experts, etc.] will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils. The other motive....aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this 'ecumenicalness' has also become confused. [He goes on to say he accepts ecumenism on the authority of the Vicar of Christ] [Letters, pp. 393-394].
Here we find proof that Tolkien did, indeed, maintain his Catholic Faith, though the confusion after Vatican II put pressure on him to exercise "loyalty." But there are no doubts, no questioning of Catholic doctrine, in evidence.
21. Now, Kjos continues with Wood:
"Yet if the worth of a critical study lies in its illumination of an author's main work, then Flieger's book must be faulted even as it is to be praised. She fails to illuminate The Lord of the Rings nearly as much she explains two minor works that interest few folk other than Tolkienian archivists....And because she finds Tolkien entertaining notions of reincarnation and psychic time-travel and occult experience at these particular points in his fiction, she assumes that they are at work everywhere in his work.
"Flieger is right to contend that Tolkien shared their neo-gnostic critique of our century's decadent and violent materialism. Yet she fails to see that Tolkien also resists what is spurious in the attempt to have God without incarnation or cross or resurrection--in short, to have God without God...."
Yes and no. On this point, ambiguity reigns. Tolkien's mythical world does include a "God without God." A God is there, but not the cross or resurrection. Christians, like pagans, may interpret him in whichever way best fits their worldview or satisfies their lust for imaginary flights into the occult realms of magic and mysticism.
Comment: So literature must always baldly sermonize, because allusions to truth will never do the job? What kind of logic is this? It is not enough for these critics to see this passage from The Fellowship of the Ring:
"Behind that there was something else at work...I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it...You have been chosen..." [J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982), pp. 81, 87].
Now, Mr. Kjos et al. may not be satisfied until Gandalf turns to the reader directly and says, "Frodo has this cross because it is God's will," but most everyone else realizes literature does not work this way.
“Tolkien is not a philosopher or a theologian but a literary artist who thinks. Consequently he is not content merely to narrate a bare series of events but surrounds each high point of the action in The Lord of the Rings with convictions and opinions expressed by the participants as to its possible place in some larger plan under execution by greater hands than theirs. Their speculations on such a topic could easily lead to the familiar vexing, futile debates on predestination, foreknowledge, contingent futures, free will, and the rest of the thorny thicket. Tolkien, however, refuses to weigh down his story by letting his people think or talk like professionals in these areas…(T)hey eschew technical terms and discuss each crisis not as an intellectual problem but as a stern occasion demanding concrete choices and chances. Being thoughtful people, though, they say quite enough in the process to give a good idea of the kind of order in which they believe and the nature of the planner operating through it...”
“Tolkien uses several techniques to attain the desired balances. For one thing he never speaks about these matters as author, and thereby avoids authorial certitudes. His characters may be certain, or virtually so, that a providential order is at work but they are never sure of its final outcome, or exactly how it operates. Witness Gandalf, who is positive that the Ring was ‘meant’ to fall into the hands of the West but not what its future is to be after that, and who guesses that Gollum has a part yet to play but knows not whether it is for good or ill. Witness also Gildor, who intuits a supervening purpose in his meeting with the hobbits but confesses his ignorance of its aims. And Bombadil, who, while intimating that his rescue of Frodo was not coincidence, regards himself as ultimately outside the contending forces in the War of the Ring” [Paul H. Kocher, Master of Middle-earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), pp. 34, 39].
As I have said, the obvious reference to God is enough.
22. Our Protestant critic:
Terry Donaldson, the Founder and Director of the London Tarot Training Centre makes this imaginary flight seem easy... Already steeped in occult practices, he packaged his interpretation of Tolkien's myth in an attractive gift box. Its title reveals its nature: "The Lord of the Rings Oracle: A Mystical Pack with Middle-earth Cards, Map, and Ring for Divination and Revelation." The back explains:
"The realm of the Middle Earth lies within each of us, so cast the gold ring over the map, and foretell the future through the cards. The Lord of the Rings Oracle is a new and extraordinary divinatory system based on the bestselling Lord of the Rings... a story laden with mysterious magic."
Surrounding the gift box were Harry Potter books and a multitude of more recent publications on witchcraft, palmistry, tarot cards and spell casting. Together they show the growing acceptance of a forbidden world once regarded with a sobering caution.
Comment: So now we must judge the merit of LOTR by the blurb found on the back of a pack of tarot cards and by the books surrounding it in a bookstore! What has Terry Donaldson to do with J.R.R. Tolkien or the Tolkien estate? Absolutely nothing. Did Tolkien ever give his approval to any superstition like palmistry, tarot cards, spell casting, etc.? Not once. It should be noted that when Christopher Tolkien sold the rights to his father’s works in order that they might be eventually made into movies, he opened the door to all sorts of inappropriate interpretations and “spin offs” based loosely on LOTR. This was the risk he took by signing the contracts. Insofar as the movies, items, music, etc., reflect the mind of Tolkien as shown in his many writings, they are laudable. But insofar as these things depart from the original spirit which Tolkien intended, these things are to be deplored. And obviously, superstition is always to be deplored.
23. He goes on:
This spiritual shift has taken many Christians by surprise. For others, it took little more than an initial glimpse into occult mysteries to stir curiosity and cravings that drove them ever deeper into the unseen world their minds have unlocked.
The Lord of the Rings is no exception. Decades ago, when witchcraft and wizardry were hidden from public view, young "Middle-earth" visionaries had no real-life place to test the new suggestions. That has changed. Through books, local covens, the Internet and other available sources, seekers can easily find tutors and practices that turn wizardly fantasy into practical occult reality. This sobering fact makes our world today radically different from the times when Tolkien and his friends shared their stories with each other.
Comment: Witches covens cannot gain much from a work steeped in Catholic symbolism. I defy anyone to show that LOTR by itself has influenced an increase in Satanism, witchcraft, or superstition.
Friendship with C. S. Lewis. Did Tolkien really lead the unbelieving Lewis to a saving faith? Many Christians would answer "yes" -- and this confusion has led them to assume that Tolkien's myths would teach a Christian message. Walther Hooper, Lewis' last personal secretary, gives us a partial glimpse of that event.
"Lewis became an atheist when he was fourteen," wrote Hooper in Tolkien: A Celebration, a collection of essays. Apparently, the teenager was frustrated by teachers who viewed pagan beliefs as "nonsense." When they wouldn't show "how Christianity fulfilled paganism or how paganism prefigured Christianity," young Lewis concluded that Christianity was equally "nonsensical."
Comment: C.S. Lewis was quite logical in feeling frustrated by teachers who could explain ancient paganism only by calling it nonsense. Paganism is far from nonsense. As all Catholics know, God used several means to prepare the world for the coming of His Son. He used the Israelites for His Revelation. He used the Greeks, particularly Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to demonstrate what can be known by natural reason. He used the Romans for the unification of the known world in a universal peace. Now Greek thought was pagan, and Roman government was pagan, but both prepared the way for Our Lord.
25. Continuing with Kjos quoting Hooper:
His mind was changed on the night of September 19, 1931, the”most momentous of his life. Lewis had invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, a teacher at Reading University, to dine. By the time Tolkien left Magdalen at 3 a.m. Lewis understood the relationship between Christianity and paganism." A month later, Lewis wrote the following letter:
"Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it Really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myths; i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of the poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call 'real things' ... namely, the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection."
Maybe Lewis did, at that moment, receive Christ as Savior and Lord. But this statement falls far short of such assurance. Two other accounts fill in some of the pieces.
According to Colin Gunton, Professor of Christian Doctrine in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College, London, the three friends were discussing the truthfulness of myths. Lewis questioned the compatibility of Christianity and paganism, and Tolkien explained why myths "are not lies:"
"Man is not ultimately a liar. He may pervert his thoughts into lies, but he comes from God, and it is from God that he draws his ultimate ideals ... Not merely the abstract thoughts of man but also his imaginative inventions must originate with God, and in consequence reflect something of eternal truth.
"In making a myth, in practicing 'mythopoeia,' and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller .. is actually fulfilling God's purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light."
The God of the Bible has a far lower view of the human imagination than does Tolkien, and He certainly does not take credit for its mythical speculations. Instead, He warns us repeatedly that "the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth." [Genesis 8:21, NKJ] While Tolkien seems to view Christianity and oneness with Christ from a universal perspective, God tells us that only those who are "born of the Spirit" can understand His truths and receive His thoughts. And even this select group is easily tempted to imagine or "invent" unholy myths and images.
Comment: If we understand by myth “legend whose purpose is to show a truth,” then what Tokien has said is correct. Our dear Mr. Kjos should stop expecting a professor of literature to sound as though he taught Biblical exegesis or dogmatic theology. Tolkien explained the relation of the pagan mythologies to Divine Revelation in a manner in which Lewis was likely to understand and accept it. He did not betray any Catholic doctrine by so doing. Now, a Bible Christian might indeed be scared away from Tolkien’s fantasy because of the quotation from Genesis. But a Catholic educated in his faith would not be so gullible. The Catholic knows that if truth can be demonstrated through reason, it can be demonstrated by the use of that reason in a fictional story.
Another report, C.S.Lewis and Emil Brunner: Two Mere Christians, by Mark McKim, tells us that Lewis "was in part led back to Christianity as a result of his love for and knowledge of the great pagan myths. In Christianity, he concluded, the hints and suggestions in pagan thought were fulfilled.... For the rest of his life, and throughout his writings, Lewis would assert that non-Christian faiths could be the entré to Christianity."
Like Dr. Hooper, Mark McKim included a portion of Lewis' letter to Arthur Greeves:
"...if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: again if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself... I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god . . . similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in the Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho' I could not say in cold prose 'what it meant'. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened...."
Lewis was wrong in calling the gospel "a true myth" that works "on us in the same way as the others." The gospel is made alive in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by human imagination. God's mercy has always reached out to pagans around the world through the sacrificial lives of faithful missionaries. But His gift of salvation comes through His Word and Spirit. Believers who were formerly oppressed by occult forces were transformed in spite of, not because of their pagan beliefs.
Comment: What was already said above about Tolkien’s words to Lewis still applies. The problem with our Protestant friend is that when he says “The gospel is made alive in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by human imagination,” he means that we can do nothing to work out our salvation, and that reason will avail us nothing in understanding our faith. This is patently false. Neither Tolkien nor anyone else is claiming that anyone is saved on account of the pagan myths. To maintain that this is what Tolkien believed and said is diametrically opposed to everything that can be learned from reading his life and works.
27. Kjos continues:
Commenting on the same "momentous" event, historian Glenn J. Giokaris wrote,
"Lewis had insisted myths were lies but Tolkien responded, 'they are not . . . We have come from God, . . . and reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal-truth that is with God. Indeed, only by myth-making . . . can man aspire to the perfection he knew before the fall.'
"This conversation led Lewis to see that the relationship between the images of literature and the myth of truth was such that myths inevitably led to a point where myth comes together with God to form reality. Eleven days later, C.S. Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves , 'I have passed from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ-in Christianity. My long night walk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.'"
Finding God through "myth-making" can easily lead to compromise. And when "myth comes together with God" it produces an illusion of Biblical faith -- a faith based on a misleading blend of truth, myth and human philosophies. We see this deceptive process today in the post-modern church movement. But long ago, God told us to --
"Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables [myths]. But you be watchful in all things..." 2 Timothy 4:2-5
Comment: If myth-making were such a sin as Kjos and Giokaris here indicate, and the use of pagan symbols forbidden to us, then the Catholic Church would clearly have taught this. In point of fact, the Catholic Church teaches us the exact opposite. I can do no better than to quote from the liturgy of the dead:
“Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla;
Teste David cum Sibylla.”
[Missale Romanum, Requiem Mass, “Dies Irae”]
Which, translated, means:
“Day of wrath, that day
When the earth shall dissolve in ashes;
As attested by David with the Sibyl.”
This is found in the venerable Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, guided and preserved from error by the Holy Ghost. And what do we find in this infallible source? We find a direct allusion to a pagan oracle. If it were a sin or even an imperfection to use such a reference, then it would never have been allowed by the Church during all these centuries. Here is another from the same Mass:
“…libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus…”
[Missale Romanum, Requiem Mass, Offertory]
“…free them from the mouth of the lion, lest hell absorb them…”
But the sacred writer has not used the normal word for hell, which is “infernum.” He has deliberately chosen “tartarus,” which is the pagan name for the place of torment. If this were an error, it would not be here in the Roman Mass. But it is here, so it is not an error. It must therefore have seemed to the sacred writer of these prayers that the truth was most fittingly expressed by means of these pagan myths. If the liturgy can contain pagan elements without pagan errors, so can Tolkien’s trilogy.
To be ready and watchful, we need to fill our minds with God's truth, not enticing myths. We need to put on the whole Armor of God -- a set of vital truths about God and of our source of righteousness, peace, faith and salvation -- then take our stand on His Word and refuse to compromise, no matter how unpopular our position.
Those who trust their imagination more than God will neither see God's greatness nor tolerate those who follow Him. That's why Jesus continues to warn His disciples,
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.... If they persecuted Me they will persecute you... for they do not know the One who sent Me." John 15:19-21
Comment: Neither Tolkien nor any Catholic writer of consequence would trust his imagination more than God. But this is not what Mr. Kjos means here. He means that we cannot use our imagination, or indeed any reason, to come to a more complete knowledge of God. This should not be astounding when we consider that he is a Protestant Fundamentalist. But this is not the proper attitude for Catholics to take. Catholics, especially those Catholics who strive to be faithful to the Tradition of Holy Church, should beware of too readily following the Protestant lead in the interpretation of literature. The patrimony of Western Culture has been entrusted to Catholics, and can only be fully appreciated by those who possess the Faith from whence this patrimony originated. So, in order to fully enjoy the richness and depth of Lord of the Rings, we must be Catholic.
Mr. Kjos’ Endnotes
1. "Lord of the Rings: True Mythology" at http://www.leaderu.com/focus/tolkien.html
2. Quoted by Colin Gunton, Professor of Christian Doctrine in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College, London. His article first appeared in the King's Theological Review (Vol. 12, No 1), in 1989. Included as a chapter in Tolkien: A Celebration, edited by Joseph Pearce (London: Fount, 1999), page 130.
3. Brian M. Carney, "No contest. Tolkien runs rings around Potter" (November 30, 2001) at http://interactive.wsj.com/articles/SB1007090082966403280.htm
4. The Letters of J. R. R Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, editor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), page 400.
5. Jude Fisher, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Visual Companion (Boston: Nw York, 2001), page 57.
6. The Letters, page 284.
7. Dr. Ralph C. Wood, "Tolkien's Cosomogony" at http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/wood-cosmogony.html
8. The Letters, page 235.
9.But, says, Tolkien, "there always seems to be exceptions; and so certain 'mortals' who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome." The Letters, page 198.
10.The Letters, page 189.
11.The Letters, page 202.
12. The Letters, page 201.
13. Norma Milanovich and Shirley McCune, The Light Shall Set You Free (Albuquerque, NM: Athena Publishing, 1996), pages 104, 38.
14. The Letters, pages 197-198.
15. The Letters, page 361.
16. The Letters, page 156.
17. "Lord of the Rings: True Mythology" at http://www.leaderu.com/focus/tolkien.html
18. Dr. Ralph Wood, "A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie" at http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/wood-review.html
19. Terry Donaldson, The Lord of the Rings Oracle (New York: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 1998). "The Lord of the Rings Deck & Book Set includes the tarot and card game deck plus a spread sheet for card readings and The Lord of the Rings Tarot Book, by Terry Donaldson. Donaldson's discussion of the cards wends through Tolkien's works, traditional tarot inspirations, astrological associations and original spreads and meditations. The Lord of the Rings Tarot is the ultimate guide for all visitors exploring Middle-earth via the tarot."
20. Walter Hooper, "The Other Oxford Movement: Tolkien and the Inklings." Included as a chapter in Tolkien: A Celebration, edited by Joseph Pearce (London: Fount, 1999), pages 184-185
21. C.S.Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 18 October 1931, in They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), ed. Walter Hooper (New York: MacMillan, 1979), 427.
22. The Philosophical Journey of C.S. Lewis at http://www.stanford.edu/group/ww1/spring2000/Glenn/Lewis.htm by Glenn J. Giokaris. This paper was used in a history class at Stanford University.