|Hermes Trismegistus bestows his blessing upon thee!|
It seems that the rather hysterical condemnation of Tolkien's fantasy world as implicitly, if not explicitly, Gnostic by a certain Fr. Ioannes Petrus is making the rounds again. (For His Traddiness's thoughts on the matter, see here and here.) The inimitable Mr. Joseph Pearce has stumbled across these talks and written some unnecessarily long essays in response at The Imaginative Conservative website (here and here). I do not know why he questions the consecration of Fr. Petrus, but I suppose Mr. Pearce is intent on discrediting the man before discrediting the man's argument.
Now, Mr. Grump is open to the argument that there is something in fantasy world-building that is at least formally Gnostic, but not that it is doctrinally so. There is nothing to suggest any hint of heresy in the works published by Tolkien. There might—might—be a hint of Manicheeism in his fantasized creation story (never published in his lifetime), where the dissonant music of the angelic Melkor is blended in with the holy harmony to make the physical world we know today. But no one can accuse Tolkien of any real dualism.
The photo above shows J.R.R. playing the part of Hermes in a school production of Aristophanes' The Peace. I wonder sometimes if he was simply so saddened by the state of the world and of the Church that he retreated into classical times, and then into a fictional history of his own making. The history invented in The Silmarillion is almost as dark and bleak as the history of the war-torn twentieth century, though, so I don't know how effective it could have been.
His thoughts on escapism:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? (from On Fairy-Stories)Modern esotericism, supposedly founded in ancient times by Hermes Trismegistus, is a form of escapism. It ruins the valid practice of finding symbolic meaning in words, colors, beasts, cosmic phenomena, and stations of life, by squeezing false doctrines out of them. On the surface the esotericist will affirm the commonly accepted doctrines, then suggest that there's more going on beneath the surface, and finally admit that he's pushing the tired old heresies of dualism and reincarnation. Ho hum, the perennial heresy strikes again.
John Tolkien was no heretic, but he was a deeply unhappy trad by the end of his days. I do not fault him much for his fantasy-world obsession, even though I would quickly get bored doing the same thing, myself. The real world is more interesting than any world I could subcreate, and probably less depressing than Middle-Earth.
I wonder if he would have served the Catholic world better by spending his last years writing against the disintegration of the Church, rather than polishing The Silmarillion and passive aggressively saying all the Mass responses in Latin when the vernacular was becoming the norm. It is rumored that Tolkien spoke at a few early English traditionalist meetings, but I have yet to see any tangible evidence. Imagine a series of essays against the Novus Ordo by the author of The Lord of the Rings. What a great boon that could have been to our generation, and how much harder it would have been for secular schlockmeisters like Peter Jackson to scrape the religious barnacles from his work!