I have been enjoying Bruce Charlton’s blog immensely recently – it’s been a real pleasure to read someone who knows even more about Tolkien than I do; who draws better insights from Tolkien than I do; and who really echoes my own worldview at every turn.
First, a comment that I left at the good doctor’s blog:
Thanks for posting this; I had heard much ado about it but lacked any portable reading device on which to read the thing.
It reminds me of a not-entirely-unrelated thought that I had recently, which I will share with you in the hopes that you appreciate it:
Some time ago, a couple of years, maybe, I read an interview with Robert Plant, whom you may know as the former singer for Led Zeppelin, arguably (and in my opinion accurately) called the greatest rock band of all time. Zeppelin used to feature quite a number of songs (I often play them for my family!) that were softer and more acoustic in nature, evoking the history and bucolic feel of Olde Englande. Some of these songs, in the lyrics, made reference to Tolkien’s works, of which Plant was once a big fan.
Well, in the aforementioned recent interview, Plant more or less disclaimed those Tolkien-inspired lyrics, saying, more or less, that he was “embarrassed” by them and “couldn’t believe he ever wrote such nonsense”. He regarded them as youthful silliness, not something he was interested in any longer as a “mature” adult.
At first, when I read this, I was disappointed – “Et tu, Plant?” But I thought about it and I realized something that I can articulate better now, which is that *of course* Plant feels embarrassed that he ever drew inspiration from Tolkien. His empty, secular worldview leads nowhere else! *Of course* a person who doesn’t understand the spiritual context of Tolkien’s work is going to eventually reject it as “childish”. By and large, to continue to enjoy Tolkien as an adult you have to believe in, or at least long for, or at least appreciate in some way, the transcendental worldview that underlies his opus.
Second, some preliminary comments on Sauron Defeated, which I purchased at Dr. Charlton’s inspiration. I have not yet gotten to reading the Notion Club Papers, but I did make it through LOTR’s unpublished epilogue, from which a couple of excerpts:
‘Still I think it was very sad when Master Elrond left Rivendell and the Lady left Lorien,’ said Elanor. ‘What happened to Celeborn? Is he very sad?’
‘I expect so, dear. Elves are sad; and that’s what makes them so beautiful, and why we can’t see much of them.’
Indeed. If we understand the elves as an intelligent, reflective, and immortal people who actually have memory of a time that was better, it makes sense that they should be sad. Not only sad, but sad in a way that only an intelligent and immortal people could be sad. I say this to point out the contrast with the pop Christian understanding that being a Christian, being “saved”, should always make us happy and joyful and bubbly people. (Note the similarity between this and my point here about sin and its effect on us.) We do experience that joy, sometimes, in those infrequent moments when we have a real experience of divine presence. But I find that often, being a Christian makes me sad, in a way that *only* Christians could be sad. Why? Because I understand, and believe, that we dwell in a world that is fallen, that was once *not* fallen, that we’ve lost something that we cannot get back (without going on a difficult journey at any rate – for the elves this was going over the sea, for humans it is death). The sadness of the elves carries profound spiritual significance. How could a people that had literally experienced “Eden” *not* be sad?
‘I was afraid they were all sailing away, Sam-dad. Then soon there would be none here; and then everywhere would be just places, and’
‘And what, Elanorelle?’
‘And the light would have faded.’
‘I know,’ said Sam. ‘The light is fading, Elanorelle. But it won’t go out yet. It won’t ever go quite out, I think now, since I have had you to talk to. For it seems to me now that people can remember it who have never seen it. And yet,’ he sighed, ‘even that is not the same as really seeing it, like I did.’