I think my fascination and appreciation for the works of JRR Tolkien is a little different than the typical Tolkien fan.
Admittedly my love of Tolkien side steps his scholarship and ignores his love of languages. But I am not a scholar of medieval literature, a professor of Anglo-Saxon, nor a philologist. And at this point I am not really a Christian much less a Catholic. These are the lenses, the contexts in which Tolkien’s work is typically studied and critiqued.
However I am a father and a storyteller, though a humble one at that. Moreover I am a human being. And my love of Tolkien in many ways parallels my appreciation for Star Trek. However I believe Tolkien’s works take things one significant step further than Gene Roddenberry’s work does. For while through Star Trek one is forced to consider humanity and confront the question of what it means to be “Human,” Tolkien also forces one to consider Humanity by inventing a means of comparison (Elves and Dwarves as opposed to Klingons and Vulcans) but then he also forces readers to contemplate not just humanity but mortality, and not just the reality of being mortal, but the meaning and purpose thereof.
I have long desired to begin a whole new church/ religious movement based on the Akallabeth on the downfall of Numenor which is contained within the Silmarillion. This explanation is a little awkward as it starts from assuming an atheist viewpoint and ends with essentially worshiping a made up deity.
The Numenor mythology encapsulates the existential drama surrounding the supreme human concern: death , so exquisitely and takes a different interpretation of death than most religious traditions, that of death as a gift, though a mysterious and unknown one.
I don’t know what traditions influenced his interpretation of death, but in my mind this was Tolkien’s great contribution to not just literature but to philosophy. All the rest of the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion was just the natural extension of what came before and what happened after humanity’s climactic challenging of its mortality . The Akalabeth is literally the central point of Middle Earth chronologically as it comprises the 2nd age, while the Silmarillion encapsulates the 1st and the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings describe the events of the 3rd.
In the 5 act Shakespearian production that is the history of Middle Earth, the Akalabeth is act 3. It is the crux of communion with the Devine as it is the story of how the world was changed from a world of direct physical engagement with the Devine to one in which our world is only indirectly affected by the subtle influence of Devine power. If that is not a neat and tidy package of all the world’s myth and religion tied up with the perfect Joseph Campbell bow I don’t know what is.
What I love most about Tolkien was his own love of storytelling, and re-contextualizing what he had written before to make it fit into his ever growing and evolving tapestry of story.
It’s the Father Christmas Letters and Rover Random, and all his other short works, not written as commercially viable epic high fantasy novels, that demonstrate that telling stories was just a way of life for him. He told stories. Stories that had meaning deeper than the plot and greater than the moral. And in his mind, he didn’t actually invent them or make them up. He discovered them. He realized them. They were revealed to him. He figured out “oh this is how it must have gone,” given the bits and pieces he had to work with, and then he puts them all together into an cohesive narrative. He was writing history, not just story. This is how I felt when writing all of these 40 for 40 posts, reflecting on 40 years of my life and trying to make sense of what I have done and why, what it all means both for myself and for others.
Before reading Tolkien (and frankly Since) I was loath to read any kind of fiction novel. I still prefer nonfiction, but I have come to appreciate the truth inherent in myth, legend and story.
This is how I relate to Tolkien.
This is what I admire and seek to emulate.
This is his greatest influence on me.
Because of him I want to discover stories and share them myself.
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