"Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy story—the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendor from the vast backcloths—which I could dedicate simply: to England; to my country."
—J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his publisher, Milton Waldman
The recent award winning film trilogy has brought J.R.R. Tolkien's epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings into the spotlight. Voted the Book of the Millenium by Amazon.com readers, it is one of our favorite books as well.
Tolkien's heroic romance is set in Middle-Earth, a term he derived from the Middle English middel-erde, which developed from Old English middangeard. Rather than referring to an alternate planet or universe, as has been suggested, Tolkien intended it to signify Europe's distant past. He then invented his own mythology, languages, geography, and people: Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits, who each have their own unique culture. The result of his labor was a highly detailed, believable "sub-creation".
Middle-Earth's history is divided into three distinct periods. Described in The Silmarillion, the events of the First Age include God's creation of the world, and the subsequent exile of the disobedient Elves from the Undying Lands, an Edenic paradise. It chronicles their long, hopeless war to retrieve the Silmarils (gems which captured the heavenly light) from Morgoth, a fallen angelic being akin to Satan, and his servant Sauron. Recently published, The Children of Hurin also takes place during this time.
The details of the Second Age are comprised in the Akallebeth (in Silmarillion), a history of the isle of Numenor. Numenor, originally a gift to Men from the angelic governors known as the Valar, is overwhelmed by the sea. Sauron, forced to pay homage to the Valar after Morgoth's destruction, tempts Men to seize eternal life by sailing to the Undying Lands. The resulting armada is destroyed by a wave which devestates their entire island. The faithful Numenoreans escape to found the kingdom of Gondor, which dominates the later books.
The story of the Third Age is told in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's best-known books. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire finds the Ring of Power, forged by Sauron in Mount Doom. Unaware of its importance, he bequeaths it to his nephew and heir. Frodo, who discovers its evil properties, must journey to the Enemy's stronghold in Mordor to destroy it. The resulting quest is full of adventure, excitement, and parallels to literary classics such as Beowulf. C.S. Lewis, of Narnia fame, described it in this way:
"Herein are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart."
Poet W. H. Auden declared of Lord of the Rings that "If someone dislikes it, I shall never trust their literary judgment about anything again."
Many Christians have questioned whether Lord of the Rings is appropriate reading because it uses myth. Can it be a "Christian" novel, when it mentions wizards, magic, and imaginary creatures of all descriptions ? Tolkien described his intentions quite clearly. While not in any way an allegory, his creation implicitly reflected his Catholic beliefs. He wrote:
"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision...For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism."
Cultural critics Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder concur in Frodo & Harry: "The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion clearly have a biblical view of the nature of being and of the physical universe and a Biblical theology."
In his essay, On Fairy Stories, Tolkien further describes the connection he saw between the Gospels and what he was trying to accomplish through his books:
"The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving...and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the 'inner consistency of reality.' There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation."
In conclusion, don't just see the films; experience the richness of the books for yourself! We offer over fifty Tolkien-related items.
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