Thursday, February 4, 2010

Zmirak - Generosity of Tolkien

John Zmirak on discovering Tolkien as a boy, dis-enchantment by a Catholic sophisticate teacher, and rescue to re-enchantment. A must-read:
Tolkien spent his scant free hours constructing the parallel world found in his books, "Middle-Earth." He acted as its loving father, peopling it with a vast array of species. Instead of doing what most writers (trust me) settle for, the minimum needed to move the story forward, Tolkien showed all the Liberality of those medieval craftsmen who would carve even the backs of pillars that no man would ever see -- since they worked for the glory of God, Who would. Tolkien crafted for his creatures' use entire languages with alphabets and whole continents with maps. He limned out their history for thousands of years, from the mists of our own faded legends (such as Beowulf and the Brothers Grimm) all the way back to Creation. The opening of The Silmarillion describes the fall of a mighty angel and his expulsion from heaven. It begins:

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Il├║vatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.

Tolkien didn't see his work as a piece of Catholic apologetics, but as something more ambitious. Tolkien hoped to create for the English-speaking peoples a literary myth -- as the Germans had in the grail legends, and the French in chivalric romances. The stories of King Arthur, Tolkien sniffed over his pipe, were actually Celtic, and too mixed up with French infusions for his Anglo-Saxon tastes. So he spent his life creating a replacement -- which, to his cackling delight, took root. Let's test that assertion: If you're reading this in English, write down the names of as many knights of the Round Table as you can think of. Now name all the hobbits you can. Case closed.
Read all of The Generosity of Tolkien

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