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Wednesday, April 25th, 2007


I do not often link to the Asia Times anonymous essayist “Spengler” ( though I do read him on occasion) but who knew that the man ( assuming he is a man) was a fellow Tolkien fanatic ? He gets things mostly right in my view and I’m not inclined to nitpick tonight.

Tolkien’s Christianity and the pagan tragedy

“Tolkien’s popular Ring trilogy, I have attempted to show, sought to undermine and supplant Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, which had offered so much inspiration for Nazism. [1] With the reconstruction of the young Tolkien’s prehistory of Middle-earth, we discern a far broader purpose: to recast as tragedy the heroic myths of pre-Christian peoples, in which the tragic flaw is the pagan’s tribal identity. Tolkien saw his generation decimated, and his circle of friends exterminated, by the nationalist compulsions of World War I; he saw the cult of Siegfried replace the cult of Christ during World War II. His life’s work was to attack the pagan flaw at the foundation of the West.

It is too simple to consider Tolkien’s protagonist Turin as a conflation of Siegfried and Beowulf, but the defining moments in Turin’s bitter life refer clearly to the older myths, with a crucial difference: the same qualities that make Siegfried and Beowulf exemplars to the pagans instead make Turin a victim of dark forces, and a menace to all who love him. Tolkien was the anti-Wagner, and Turin is the anti-Siegfried, the anti-Beowulf. Tolkien reconstructed a mythology for the English not (as Wainwright and other suggest) because he thought it might make them proud of themselves, but rather because he believed that the actual pagan mythology was not good enough to be a predecessor to Christianity.

“Alone among 20th-century novelists, J R R Tolkien concerned himself with the mortality not of individuals but of peoples. The young soldier-scholar of World War I viewed the uncertain fate of European nations through the mirror of the Dark Ages, when the life of small peoples hung by a thread,” I wrote in an earlier essay. [2] Christianity demands of the Gentile that he reject his sinful flesh and be reborn into Israel; only through a new birth can the Gentile escape the death of his own body as well as the death of his hopes in the inevitable extinction of his people.”

Read the rest here.

(Hat tip to my friend Lexington Green)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007


The last and by far the darkest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epics, The Children of Hurin, is now available for sale almost ninety years after Tolkien first set pen to paper. For those unfamiliar with the ancient history of Middle-Earth narrated in The Silmarillion, the story is the tragedy of Hurin Thalion ( “Hurin the Steadfast”). Hurin Lord of Dor-Lomin, was an ally of the Elf- Lords and the greatest warrior among men, whose unbroken defiance of the great Dark lord Morgoth brings horror and doom upon his family in the form of a terrible curse as Morgoth’s cruel will twisted the lives of Hurin’s children.

The axe-wielding Hurin is captured by Morgoth’s armies after singlehandedly slaying seventy trolls and assaulting Morgoth’s captain, Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, Hurin’s men having sacrificed themselves to permit the retreat of Turgon, the King of Gondolin. Brought face to face with the godlike Morgoth, Hurin is undaunted and spurns Morgoth; the enraged Dark lord binds Hurin to a seat in the high mountains of his fortress of Angband and through his power, permits Hurin to watch the doom that unfolds over the long years on Hurin’s children Turin and Nienor. It is Hurin’s son Turin, wielding an accursed black sword, who inadvertantly sets in motion the ruin of Doriath* the last great Elf-Kingdom of Beleriand ( the Westernmost part of Middle-Earth that sank beneath the sea at the end of the First Age) as well as suffering griefs akin to those of Oedipus.

Tolkien, who had been a soldier on the Western Front, began writing the story of Hurin in the shadows of a war that consumed most of his classmates and childhood friends. He never finished the story to his satisfaction, nor did he quite manage the Silmarillion either, both of which have been edited along with Tolkien’s voluminous papers, by his youngest son, Christopher Tolkien. It is interesting to contemplate how WWI impacted Tolkien’s thought as the First Age and the Wars of the Jewels in Beleriend represented a scale of grandeur and power lost and only dimly remembered by the Third Age and time of the War of the Ring. Frodo’s Middle-Earth represented a much diminished and fading world in Tolkien’s mythology, which had it’s fate sealed by the destruction of the One Ring.

As terrible as Sauron appears in The Lord of the Rings, he was a shadow of the power and evil of his former master Morgoth. While Sauron had his One Ring, the whole world – which Morgoth defiled during the moment of creation – was as Christopher Tolkien has written, ” Morgoth’s ring”. This brings into the mix Tolkien’s religious convictions and Christian mythology regarding Satan’s rebellion in paradise and subsequent status as “the lord of the world”. And like Satan, Morgoth and Sauron are eventually “cast out” through ” the doors of night”.

My perception, being familiar with various versions of the story, is that The Children of Hurin will be purchased but not much enjoyed by, the casual Tolkien fan, particularly Americans who are fond of happy endings. There are no happy endings here; Hurin and Turin, much less Nienor, do not even have, properly speaking, the hubris of Greek heroes who bring destruction upon themselves.

Instead it is visited upon them by a foe far beyond their power to reach, only to defy to the end.

* Blame for which is shared by Thingol, King of Doriath who coveted a Silmaril, the disasterous results of which are told in a separate epic The Lay of Beren and Luthien. And prior to that, the malign oath of Feanor and the doom on the Elves for the Revolt of the Noldor.

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