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Remembering J. R. R. Tolkien:
January 3, 1892 to September 2, 1973

446 words

“I am in fact a Hobbit.”—J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is a favorite author of New Left “hippies” and New Right nationalists, and for pretty much the same reasons. Tolkien deeply distrusted modernization and industrialization, which replace organic reciprocity between man and nature with technological dominion of man over nature, a relationship that deforms and devalues both poles.

But philosophically and politically, Tolkien was much closer to the New Right than the New Left. Tolkien was a conservative and a race realist. His preferences ran toward non-constitutional monarchy in the capital and de facto anarchy in the provinces, but he recognized that state control can be minimized only in a society with a deep reverence for tradition and a high regard for individual honor and self-restraint.

Many of Tolkien’s most fervent New Right admirers are neo-pagans. But Tolkien himself was a devout Roman Catholic traditionalist, albeit one with a deep love of pre-Christian myth, epic, and tradition. And although The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with their many themes from Norse and Celtic mythology, resonate especially with pagans, the ultimate mythological framework of Middle Earth, particularly as expressed in the posthumous work The Silmarillion, is biblical in inspiration, with a creator God (Eru Ilúvatar), a devil (Melkor), a fall, and even a hint of the necessity of a divine incarnation to save creation.

In honor of Tolkien’s birthday, I wish first to draw your attention to several works on this website:

For more background on Tolkien’s life and work, I recommend two introductory books, which are accessible even to teenagers: Leslie Ellen Jones’ Myth and Middle-Earth: Exploring the Medieval Legends Behind J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Bradley Birzer’s J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth. The most thorough and serious biography and overall interpretation of Tolkien is Joseph Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth.

For those who need no introduction, there is no better commemoration than to spend a winter evening snug in one’s own Hobbit hole reading the works of the man himself (or watching Peter Jackson’s masterful and inspiring movies of The Lord of the Rings).

 

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2 Comments

  1. 425
    Posted January 6, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    His essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’ is an interesting read, even for those who aren’t really readers of fiction:
    http://www.brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/fairystories-tolkien.pdf

  2. Posted January 3, 2015 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I first encountered Tolkien via ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ in my aunt and uncle’s borrowed house on Fire Island, August 1966. (“Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” were the background music.)

    It was too inaccessible—Mister Bilbo Baggins of Bag End?—so I instead read the next paperback on the end-table, ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ by Alex Haley. (Still one of my favorites, yes!)

    But my relentless aunt gave me ‘The Hobbit’ for the following Christmas, and by next June both my little brother and I were furiously charging through heavy hardbound editions of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and ‘The Two Towers’ from the Chester County Library. Over the next thirty years I read the whole trilogy (I know; it’s not really a trilogy) at least three more times.

    A few curious observations over the years: while some people are enraptured by ‘Lord of the Rings,’ we cannot escape the blatant fact that it leaves many visitors cold. In part, no doubt, this is because it demands too much of the reader, up front. Certainly Mister Bilbo Baggins of Bag End was a little hard to take on when I was a child. My youngest sibling never got into Tolkien at all. Meanwhile my sister and next-of-kin always found Tolkien repellent.

    This leaves my other brother and me, who have been devoted Tolkien fans for going on half a century (yikes! 1967 was the Summer of Love!).

    Which brings me to my other observation. Much as I loathe this brother (he’s an emotionally unstable bully) the fact remains that he and I are the only practicing Catholics left in the family. Is this because of our devotion to Tolkien, or is our religious devotion what made us bond with Tolkien in the first place?

    Because Tolkien is, first and foremost, a intensely Catholic writer and philologist. His mother, he, and his brother were converts from nominally Protestant nothingness when he was quite young. So while JRRT was not, strictly speaking, a “convert” in the Evelyn Waugh sense, he was aware at a young age of passing into an older, more intense tradition to which his ancestors had adhered over many centuries.

    Becoming a Catholic, then, was very much like passing into the Celtic and Teutonic paganism of many centuries before. But with this important difference: the old Celt and Teuton gods didn’t actually have kings and queens and soldiers and martyrs who were real, flesh-and-blood individuals. Whereas with Catholicism, that’s basically all there is: Joan of Arc, and Louis IX, and Godfroi of Bouillon and Richard the Lionhearted, and St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Ursula, and Hildebrand; and the uncanonized Christopher Columbus and Leif Ericson.

    The so-called Protestant Reformation was basically a reformation of Christianity into a denatured, weakened, Judaized cult. That’s why they eliminated most of this hagiography. They removed the people you could feel for and identify with, and replaced them with this picture of long-ago never-never-land Palestine of people walking around in flowing robes and muttering meaningless platitudes. “Oh Jesus was a Jew, you know.” (He was? Then why wasn’t he named Max Gefiltefish?)

    J.R.R. Tolkien was a stake in the heart of that ‘Judaeo-Christian’ cult. He took us back five, six, seven centuries—back where we belonged. Back to the days of knights in shining armor, and heroic martyrs, and the willingness to call out evil when we saw it.

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