Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tolkien Thoughts

My older boys are beginning to read The Lord of the Rings for school so I am going to read along with them. Yes, it is true. I confess. I have never before read The Lord of the Rings. This could be held up to doubt the reality of my conversion, of course, but I am out to rectify this. :)

Reading the introductory matter has reminded me of the value for pastors of reading good literature (and value for others of course).

In this first quote Tolkien is making clear that World War II is not the backdrop for his trilogy in spite of the many who thought so. This misunderstanding is a good warning to us not to rest too firmly on supposed reconstructions of the background of biblical texts. A reconstruction might seem entirely plausible (such as Tolkien having WWII in mind in these books) but still be wholly wrong. C. S. Lewis makes the same point powerfully in his essay “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”. Tolkien writes:
“An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the way in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and ambiguous. It is also false, though naturally attractive, when the lives of an author and critic have overlapped, to suppose that the movements of thought or the events of time common to both were necessarily the most powerful influences.” (xxvi)

We must think through possible reconstructions and possibilities, but, when it comes to preaching and applying the Bible to people’s lives, we are engaged in too serious a business to rest on such guesses. We must stand on what is clear in the text.

Then, in this quote Tolkien is describing the setting of the Hobbits.
“… and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of all sensible folk. They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.” (6-7)
Reading this I can’t help but think of my own social setting where it is so easy to think that “peace and plenty” are “the right of all sensible folk” and where it is easy to forget all that has gone before to create the peaceful and prosperous society I know. Though Tolkien was not aiming at us, we do well to remember we are not “owed” peace and prosperity.

(Quotes taken from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

5 comments:

AspiringTheologian said...

You are going to love it, Dr. Van Neste! It is rich with all sorts of themes. Some parts are tough to plough through but it is rewarding. Though the movies are good, they are nowhere near as good as the book itself.

Doug Rutter said...

what ages are your boys? I have a 9 yr old boy who really wants to read it but my wife is concerned with the violence. Any thoughts?

Ray Van Neste said...

Doug,
Sorry for my delay in responding.
My boys who are reading it are 12, 11 & 9. I am not concerned about the violence. We have read many books that deal wtih people beign killed in battle etc. What I would not want is over the top description of gore. But I don't expect that from Tolkien. It is more common of recent authors to overplay this. Good writers achieve the effect in better ways. And of course movies tend to hype this and a picture is by nature more graphic than the book.

So, I am not worried on this point.

Adam Winters said...

Alright, Dr. V., confession time! You were a late commer to Pilgrim's Progress and Tolkien. What other "essential" Christian reading have you yet to get around to? :-D

Ray Van Neste said...

Far too many Adam!
I read Narnia as a kid but very little other Lewis until well after college. Folks who coem through our progrma here come out better read than I was at that time.