27 March 2017

'Fear not' and μὴ φοβεῖσθε -- The King Revealed (FR 2.ix.393)

'The Pillars of the Kings' © Ted Nasmith

Reflecting on Stephen Winter's latest post on the hands of the King made me think again of this passage, which led me to see suddenly an allusion to scripture I had not seen before, but which now seems so obvious, as such things always do. Consider: 

Sheer rose the dreadful cliffs to unguessed heights on either side. Far off was the dim sky. The black waters roared and echoed, and a wind screamed over them. Frodo crouching over his knees heard Sam in front muttering and groaning: 'What a place! What a horrible place! Just let me get out of this boat, and I'll never wet my toes in a puddle again, let alone a river!' 
'Fear not!' said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.
(FR 2.ix.393)

And Matthew 14:22-33 (KJV):

22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 
23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 
24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. 
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 
26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 
32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 
33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

We know from Mark 6:48 and John 6:19 that the apostles were rowing, just as the members of the Fellowship were rowing, which strengthens the possible link. We might even allow that Tolkien is a being a bit sly and mischievous, with Sam's swearing that he'll never stick even his toes in a puddle again if he gets out of the boat alive paralleling Peter's trying to walk on water, too. Moreover, the phrase present in Matthew, Mark, and John, μὴ φοβεῖσθε, which the KJV renders 'be not afraid' may equally well be translated 'fear not.' 

Of course Tolkien is not suggesting that Aragorn is Christ or even Christlike. Nor am I. The sword Aragorn brings is no metaphor. And a moment after he is revealed to Frodo as a king returning to his own land, his doubts about the course he should now take resurface and he wishes for the counsel of Gandalf.  Rather it is the demonstration of the King within him to those in the boat, just as it is Jesus' demonstration to his disciples that he is the Son of God, that lies at the heart of this parallel. In this moment those who follow them see them as far more than they had seen them before. 

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26 March 2017

Leonard Nimoy reads Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains."

"That's what Bilbo Baggins Hates!" Tolkien Reading Day (+1) 2017




frange vitra et catilla!
cultros tunde, furcas flecte!
Bilbo Baggins odit illa --
nunc et cortices incende! 
textum seca, sebum calca!
lactem funde cellae terra!
linque in tapeto ossa!
vinum sperge super porta!
has patellas aestu lava;
has contunde magna clava;
si nonnulla sint intacta, volve ea e culina! 
Bilbo Baggins odit illa!
cave! cave! haec catilla!

(translation by Mark Walker, "Hobbitus Ille" ©  HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 2012)

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates –
Smash the bottles and burn the corks! 
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom
mat! Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished, if any
are whole, Send them down the hall to roll!

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! carefully with the plates! 

19 March 2017

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

Ophelia, by James Waterhouse, 1889


Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Edna St. Vincent Millay 

18 March 2017

Review: The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth

The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth by Ralph C. Wood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No one could seriously deny that Tolkien’s Middle-earth resonates with the message and values of Christianity. Not only was Tolkien himself a devout Roman Catholic, but he was steeped in Old and Middle English literature, one of the oldest works of which, Crist, contains the lines that became the first inspiration for the world he, to use his own term, sub-created:
éala Éarendel, engla beorhtast,
ofer middangeard monnum sended

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
Sent over middle-earth to men.
These words embedded within a poem about Christ were, for Tolkien, a powerful evocation of an earlier pagan story, now lost, ‘something very remote and strange and beautiful…if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English’ (Carpenter, Tolkien, 64). Far more than the legendary ‘In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit’, with which so many are familiar, the words ‘éala Éarendel’ sparked the invention of a vast body of tales that have become in a very real sense a mythology many would wish to call their own, a mythology in which pagan and Christian resonate with each other. (Perhaps there’s a larger lesson to be learned there.) For, as Tolkien saw it and wrote it, all myths contain truth because they echo the Evangelium, the myth that was true.
The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.’ (On Fairy-stories, ¶ 103)
On this showing we should expect to find that the ‘pagan’ or ‘non-Christian’ world of Middle-earth exists in harmonious counterpoint with the world of Christianity, with its perspectives and its values. This is especially so since Middle-earth is our world. The events of the legendarium took place in a ‘historical period [that] is imaginary’ (Letters, no. 183), a time so long ago that only snatches of the memory of those days, like the Éarendel of Crist, remain.

Professor Wood does a good job of detailing for us the ways in which we may find those perspectives and values woven into fabric of Tolkien’s tales. His is a worthy endeavor that provides the reader with much to think on, and it is important to bear in mind that he has ‘undertake[n] not a scholarly study so much as a theological meditation on The Lord of the Rings.’ For there are moments where Professor Wood seems to push the limits of applicability much too far, as when he says that in describing the relationship of Saruman and Wormtongue Tolkien is stating ‘one of the deepest of Christian truths: all love that is not ordered to the love of God turns to hatred.’ Now their relationship certainly ended in hatred, but I see no evidence that love of any kind ever existed between the two. Wood also at times mars the credibility of his own arguments by getting his facts wrong. He claims, for example, that Frodo sees ‘Sauron himself’ when he sees the Eye in Galadriel’s mirror. Not so, except perhaps in a metaphysical sense. The giant flaming eyeballs of filmdom aside, ‘Sauron himself’ has a physical form. Gollum says he has only ‘four fingers on the Black Hand, but they are enough’, and Pippin’s description of what he saw in the palantír points towards a human appearance. Wood also confuses the Witch-king with the Mouth of Sauron, and gets the ages of the four hobbits wrong while making a point precisely about their ages.

Where Professor Wood’s understanding of the facts of Middle-earth most fails the needs of his meditation is in his mistaken belief that Middle-earth and our world are not the same. In his final chapter he discusses The Athrabeth Finrod a Andreth, or, The Debate of Finrod and Andreth, which, among other things, raises the possibility that one day Ilúvatar himself will become incarnate within Arda in order to heal the harm that evil has done. Because of his misunderstanding, Wood does not see that Tolkien is talking about The Incarnation, not just an incarnation. But Middle-earth is not a parallel world like Narnia, with a unique incarnation of its own. The incarnation Finrod and Andreth anticipate is the evangelium itself.