Category Archives: Lord of the Rings
Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews By C. S. Lewis is a new compilation of short works on literature by Lewis, gathered up and published by Cambridge University Press in their Canto Classics series. The book includes several book reviews and prefaces Lewis wrote, and most of them will appeal only to readers with advanced training in literature and a particular interest in Milton, Chaucer, Boethius, or classic, medieval, and renaissance literature.
But some pieces in this book will appeal to a broader audience of readers. Of special interest to me was Lewis’s rather critical review of his friend Dorothy Sayers’ book, The Mind of the Maker (167–9). He closed the review by writing, “To novelists and poets, if they are already inclined in any degree to idolatry of their own vocation, I recommend it with much caution. They had better read it fasting.” Ha! Also very interesting is Lewis’s preface to a theology book, where he explains what makes for good pastoral theology in written form (181–4). I’ll probably have more to say on this particular preface in the future.
But by far (to me) the most valuable pieces in the collection are Lewis’s four published reviews of the works of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, which include two reviews of The Hobbit (1937) and two reviews of The Lord of the Rings (1954, 1955).
On The Hobbit, Lewis closed one review like this:
It must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice [in Wonderland] is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic. (96)
Decades later, in one of the LOTR reviews, Lewis makes this comment:
Probably no book yet written in the world is quite such a radical instance of what its author has elsewhere called ‘sub-creation.’ The direct debt (there are of course subtler kinds of debt) which every author must owe to the actual universe is here deliberately reduced to the minimum.
Not content to create his own story, he creates, with an almost insolent prodigality, the whole world in which it is to move, with its own theology, myths, geography, history, paleography, languages, and orders of beings — a world ‘full of strange creatures beyond count.’ The names alone are a feast, whether redolent of quiet countryside (Michel Delving, South Farthing), tall and kingly (Boromir, Faramir, Elendil), loathsome like Smeagol, who is also Gollum, or frowning in the evil strength of Barad Dur or Gorgoroth, yet best of all (Lothlorien, Gilthoniel, Galadriel) when they embody this piercing, high elvish beauty of which no other prose writer has captured so much.
Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. (99–100)
Such a book — such a world! — was destined for literary applause.
The book is too original and too opulent for any final judgment on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings, have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables. (108–9)
Though I have a hunch Lewis knew LOTR would become a classic on his first read.
For the patient reader there’s a lot to learn and ponder in this collection Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews By C. S. Lewis.
I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien. And it is so like the real history of the world: “Then, as now, there was a growing darkness and great deeds were done that were not wholly in vain.” Neither optimism (this is the last war and after it all will be lovely forever) nor pessimism (this is the last war and all civilization will end), you notice. No. The darkness comes again and again and is never wholly triumphant nor wholly defeated.
(Also see Tim Keller on LOTR here.)
This morning I received the following question from Laura:
I see that you have Lord of the Rings as one of your featured books. Our son (just turned 7) is dying to have me read it to him, but I haven’t read it myself in decades and don’t recall how easy it is to understand. I know your kids are about the same age as ours so I wondered if you’ve given it a shot with them. Any insight would be great. Thanks!
Hello Laura! Your question arrives at the perfect time. We are reading LOTR at the dinner table each evening. We just finished book 1 (of 6) in this beautiful edition. The younger kids need 15–20 extra minutes to finish eating so we’ve filled the time with Tolkien and a calorie-free helping of adventurous prose dessert. But LOTR has also proven to be a challenge and especially for the youngest two (and for me the reader!). The names and locations and language can get tangled and complicated and reading them verbally is an exercise in tongue-twisting acrobatics. Although we are going to press on, my regret now is that I did not begin with The Hobbit. If I had given it more thought that is where I would have started. The Hobbit is much less complicated, it is shorter in general, and I think it would have been a better entry door into Middle Earth for our younger two kids. I hope my regret can be your guide. Blessings in Christ! Tony
I know a number of you blog readers have read Tolkien to your little hobbits. Please share your experience with us in the comments.
Filming of the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has officially started (three cheers!).
Part one (of two) will open in theaters on December 19, 2012 (in 3D). Until then, director Peter Jackson plans to keep us in the loop as the filming progresses in New Zealand. On April 14 he posted on his Facebook page the first in a promised series of update videos. The 10-minute video provides fans with a nice look at the beginning stages of what will be a lengthy filming process.
You can watch it here:
Tolkien has helped my imagination. He was a devout Catholic — and I am not. However, because he brought his faith to bear into narrative, fiction, and literature, his Christianity — which was pretty ‘mere Christianity’ (understanding of human sin, need for grace, need for redemption) — fleshed out in fiction, has been an inspiration to me.
What I mean by inspiration is this: he gives me a way of grasping glory that would otherwise be hard for me to appreciate. Glory, weightiness, beauty, excellence, brilliance, virtue — he shows them to you in some of his characters.
When people ask: how often have you read Lord of the Rings?, the answer is: I actually never stop. I’m always in it.
As an aside, if you’d like to purchase a copy of LOTR, an edition that will withstand repeated use, Westminster Books now carries a gorgeously illustrated box set. I bought two sets last week and was really impressed with the quality. Find details here.
I avoid buying books from Amazon unless I absolutely must (which is too frequent). A high percentage of Amazon books that arrive on my doorstep have been smudged, bumped, scratched, and otherwise wounded. I once received a dirtied book that almost certainly fell face down on a warehouse floor. The pages in the middle of the book were all smudged with dirt and bent like it was paper that had been origami in a previous life.
As much as possible I buy my books from online stores that take great care to ensure that books are properly coddled, Westminster Books being one of the very best (along with Monergism and Banner of Truth). So I am a bit jazzed to see that Westminster Books now carries J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, including:
- The Lord of the Rings, hardcover box set, $47.00
- The Hobbit, anniversary edition hardcover, $16.25
- The Simarillion, hardcover, $26.00
Thanks Westminster Books!
And in related news, John Piper’s great book, Don’t Waste Your Life, is now available in Elvish.*
* Okay, that last sentence is a spoof. Follow the link to my choice for the funniest Tweet of the year. Touché.
Hobbit Day was a success.
We started with breakfast, then enjoyed a second breakfast, and then I received a surprise in my office when my four favorite hobbits brought elevensies, a snack that included a basket of grapes, cheeses, and sliced sausages. Later I arrived home with the delicious coney stew on the stove filling the air with the aroma of Hobbiton. The coney stew included rabbit, pearl onions, carrots, ‘taters,’ turnips, leeks, button mushrooms, bacon, and red wine.
It was delicious. After the stew I read from LOTR about Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday in the Shire and we enjoyed Tolkien’s rich images in the fireworks and the deep humor of Bilbo’s speech (“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”). By this point the three smallest hobbits were all in costume.
Then, as is the case whenever a Hobbit celebrates a birthday, we distributed trinket gifts. Then after we cleaned up the kitchen we gathered around the screen and enjoyed a delightful look at what Mordor must now look like (Iceland), filled with peace and song and kites and fellowship. So we watched the Sigur Rós Heima documentary. The film was a most perfect conclusion to a delightful (and filling) Hobbit Day.
“Bilbo and Frodo happened to have the same birthday, September 22nd,” wrote Tolkien. And since 1978, September 22 (Wednesday) has become the annual date that LOTR fans celebrate Hobbit Day by dressing in costume, eating themselves silly, drinking a bit, singing songs, watching the movies, shooting fireworks, and walking barefoot.
This year we will be joining the fellowship of the nerds. This will require a trip to the grocery store and, in our case, since I don’t hunt, I’ll be driving across town for coney. But it’s worth it. After we finish our sixth meal of the day we’ll read some passages from the LOTR trilogy or from The Hobbit.
Stephanie is one blogger who cooked up a Hobbit Day feast back in 2007. Here’s her menu:
- First Breakfast: omelet, mushrooms, bacon (cooked in the fireplace), and coffee
- Second Breakfast: whipped cream and berries, seedcakes
- Elevensies: bread, cheese, fruits. This is when the ale started.
- Luncheon: leek and mushroom-stuffed puff pastry boxes, cold chicken
- Afternoon Tea: seedcakes, banana bread and Keemun tea
- Dinner: coney (rabbit) stew with red wine, onions, garlic, carrots and herbs, cooked in the fireplace for about 6 hours
- Supper: we were going to have a selection green salads, but could only muster up enough hunger for a few sprigs of watercress
Be creative—and enjoy!
From Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005), page 224:
“The most fundamental Christian symbol is the Cross. This also is perfectly opposite to the Ring. The Cross gives life; the Ring takes it. The Cross gives you death, not power; the Ring gives you power even over death. The Ring squeezes everything into its inner emptiness; the Cross expands in all four directions, gives itself to the emptiness, filling it with its blood, its life. The Ring is Dracula’s tooth. The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood but to give us His. The Cross is Christ’s hypodermic; the Ring is Dracula’s bite. The Cross saves other wills; the Ring dominates other wills. The Cross liberates; the Ring enslaves.”
“This treatment of Tolkien’s great story is about God first of all. Then it is about (in no particular order) Providence, history, demonic forces, archangels, bondage and liberation, justice and mercy, failure and restoration, friendship and sacrifice, sanctification and glorification, divine election and human freedom.
The Lord of the Rings is like the Bible in its narrative structure, for the Bible is above all a narrative—a narrative of God’s mighty acts of deliverance being widely misinterpreted. An article in The New York Times at the time when the third movie, The Return of the King, was about to win eleven Academy Awards stated that ‘The triumph of good over evil is the main theme of the story.’ Well, yes and no.
If the ‘main themes’ of this present analysis were to be distilled into a few words, I suppose I would say two things:
1. It is primarily about the unseen Providence of God operating for good through human (and angelic) agents—especially the ‘little’ ones that no one else has noticed.
2. Secondarily it is about the universal propensity of human beings (and angels) to fall into evil unless they are aided by power from that ‘unseen but ever-present Person.’”
- Fleming Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “The Lord of the Rings” (Eerdmans, 2004).