The Story of the Storyteller
Since I was a small child I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic mythology embodied both in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, including the equally grand back story of the Silmarillion . To tell the truth, these are the only books in addition to the Bible which I have ever managed to really read more than once. Oh, other books which I own frequently find themselves upon my desk but they arrive for the purpose of quick references or meager refreshers and they depart long before a thorough reading ever becomes a true possibility. I bore too quickly to read most stories fact or fiction over again. I am the same with movies. If I have seen a movie one time that is more than sufficient for a lifetime. Again the singular exception has been Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Trilogy to film. (I note with excessive glee that all of the issues between Jackson and New Line Cinema has been rectified and that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh are returning to produce both “The Hobbit” as well as a second bridge film that tells the story from the end of the Hobbit to the start of the Fellowship of The Ring. )
Having read a few biographies of the man who penned the Hobbits into existence I sat down to create my first ever (if somewhat whimsical) timeline for Libronix – the Life of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
A Grand Scope of Influence
It is outright amazing to me how many individuals have been influenced by Tolkien’s writing. He has written a story enjoyed by children yet employed by scholars the like of Duane Garrett to help unwrap the Biblical mysteries of the Song of Solomon 1and Leslie C. Allen in Ezekiel 2. A
search through my own Libronix Library reveals at minimum 184 references to Tolkien, some of them obscure and relatively pointless to any study regarding the author but dozens yet drawing somewhat profound spiritual insight from the writings of an Oxford scholar who is best known for writing epic mythology. His name appears everywhere to prove points regarding epic, mythology, poetic intent, Biblical textual criticism, the human propensity towards sin, the hatred of war the beauty of grace and who knows how many other themes.
This enormous impact of his writings is not simply because John Ronald Reuel Tolkien managed to craft a more spectacular epic than other authors (though I humbly suggest that he did) but rather stems from his deep rooted faith. Tolkien was a catholic and a Christian through to his very core and the Christianity bred by that faith upbringing leaks from his pen into every theme and sub theme of his stories.
While intentionally devoid of outright theological instruction, his writings, including and especially the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are thoroughly religious (or to use Tolkien’s own words, “Catholic”) works. By which Tolkien does not mean that they espouse Catholic doctrine in the way that Rowling’s Harry Potter stories espouse a pervasive amoral wizardry mysteriously embedded into our own world but that they rather bleed the influence of Tolkien’s deep rooted faith in the doctrines of sin, evil, sacrifice and miraculous redemption embedded in the Bible and thus in his own physche. So constant was Tolkien’s faith that it bled not only through his writing but also through his life.
An Intentionally Faith Filled Life
One writer insisted that in conversation with Tolkien it was completely effortless and almost fully to be expected that at some early point the conversation would drift into matters theological.
I do not recall a single visit I made to Tolkien’s home in which the conversation did not at some point fall easily into a discussion of religion, or rather Christianity. 3
Later in the same article Kilby quotes Tolkien again:
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision. I … have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults and practices in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. I should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up since I was eight in a faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know … "
The constant bleed-through of Tolkien’s faith into his real life is no doubt one of the reasons he was instrumental (along with others like Leo Tolstoy and Hugo Dyson) in leading another well known and much loved author to a living faith in Jesus Christ, Clive Staples Lewis. C.S. Lewis’s conversion experience was simple yet profound and happened in of all places; a motorcycle sidecar.
Through his wide reading and university contacts, he became a theist, a believer in some form ofthe divine. Then, through the influence of such friends as Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis went to his knees as the “most reluctant convert in England.” As Sayer succinctly writes,
the conversion took place on September22, 1931, while Jack was sitting in the sidecar of Warren’s motorcycle en route to Whipsnade, the safari zoo. “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of Cod,” Jack wrote,“and when we reached the zoo, I did.” It was not an emotional conversion, nor was he aware of his reasoning. “It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.” [P. 135] 4
4Quoted in Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Journal Volume 51 (Westminster Theological Seminary, 1989; 2002), 51:178.