Monday, February 10, 2014

Another Thought on Tolkien

The Rad Trad earlier posted his utter disbelief at the sight of a FSSP priest attacking the literary output of one of the most prolific Catholics of our time. After listening to part of the second sermon (around the 32:00 mark) against the Oxonian professor the Rad Trad began to wonder if the priest has really considered the extent of what he says.

The priest condemns the climax of the story, when Frodo enters the chasm of Mount Doom, where the antagonist forged the Ring, to destroy it. The Ring eventually seduces Frodo, who puts it on, but by chance or fate the creature Gollum attacks Frodo to reacquire the Ring for himself. A fight ensues in which Gollum bites off Frodo's finger—Ring and all—and falls into the volcano, destroying the Ring. What is so troublesome about this? According to the sermonist, an evil creature did good and the Christ-like Frodo was seduced by evil! A perversion of doctrine! The Rad Trad says hogwash!

First of all Frodo is not the only Christ-like figure. Tolkien began drafting the Lord of the Rings as an adventure story, unwittingly installing a Catholic aesthetic and outlook within the plot and characters. During his many revisions Tolkien made the Catholic elements more profound. Lord of the Rings is not a parallel, epic re-telling of the Bible. It is an adventure story based on the epic style which integrates a linguistic experiment on the author's part. Three of the characters have Christ-like features—as do all the Saints—but none of them are meant to be Christ. Frodo's selflessness and willingness to suffer everyone else's burden, of which he owns no responsibility, reflects Jesus' acceptance of the Cross. Aragorn is the king of men who will redeem a people paying for the sins of a king of ages past, paralleling Our Lord and Adam. And lastly, Sam whose good, pure and incorruptible spirit sustains the journey. Tolkien, if anything, avoided making any character into a Jesus figure, which would be the height of literary trouble.

Another point is that while evil cannot do good, God can use or re-direct evil so as to accomplish something good. The Jews' rejection of Jesus and Pilate's politically motivated cowardice were clearly evil, rejecting the God-Man in favor of a revolutionary murderer. What greater sin could there be? And yet did not the Father and His Only Begotten Son know this would happen? And did Our Lord not proceed to Golgotha with His Cross to redeem us after this rejection? Similarly Gollum did not destroy the Ring per se. Both he and the Ring were consumed in their own greed and evil, which backfired on both of them. Providence within the story allowed good to come from choices made favoring evil. Yet, did not Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom make the destruction of the Ring possible?

The Rad Trad is not a Tolkienophile, but he sees no reason why a good writer and devout Catholic's books should be questioned, particularly in the way that this priest and the Rorate Caeli bloggers question his work.


  1. When you were talking about evil and sin i remembered: "O felix culpa.".

  2. Dear Rad Trad. Thank you. Adfero created a controversy by posting the story (while referring to ...otherwise faithful Catholics...) and it was left to New Catholic to attempt a clean-up of the captious mess with a post that was clearly as defenisve as it was disingenuous:

    The reaction from many quarters was stronger than might have been expected if we had posted a denial of an article of the Creed!... In a sense, even though I personally disagreed with much of what Father had to say, it seems to me that this bizarre overreaction...

    Does this Priest truly think Catholics were more upset about the Tolkien mess than they would have been had Rorate posted a denial of an article of the Creed?

    No; of course he does not believe that and as to why he said it we can only guess as to his motivation.

    And ...Bizarre overreaction....?

    How about bizzare accusations that baited ...otherwise faithful Catholics... into an entirely predictable reaction?

    It would have been far more honest had the Rorate Caeli Priest, New Catholic, simply admitted bad judgment and apologised.

  3. A blogger, and a friend of mine, who is an expert on Tolkien has written an essay in response to that ludicrous nonsense on Rorate. The first part is here. I read the risible transcript of the conference that Rorate have given and was horrified to realise that the author is entrusted with the care of souls. He should, temporarily at least, be relieved of all pastoral work and undergo a thorough psychiatric examination and assessment.

  4. I think that the level of upsetness about Tolkien was so great because the accusations were nonsensical and they were made by "one of us". Also whether or not Tolkien's works are Godly or demonic is not quite important topic for the traditionalist world, and that's also what, imho, spiked the reactions.