Archive for the ‘Worldview’ Category

For those interested, I recently found this online class series.  Michael J. Kruger, from Reformed Theological Seminary, did a 7 part series on the worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as a Wednesday night class with student interaction, in the fall of 2020.  This post has all of the mp3 downloads as well as powerpoint “handout” files showing the topic outlines for each session.  After the intro on the authors, each week takes a look at various Christian themes in Tolkien’s writings as well as in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series:

  • The Fall: Sin and Evil in Narnia and Middle Earth
  • Redemption: Images of Christ in Narnia
  • Redemption: Images of Christ in Middle Earth
  • Sanctification: Duty, Honor and Courage
  • Sanctification: Friendship and Loyalty
  • Glorification: End Times in Narnia and Middle Earth

So far I’ve listened to the second lesson, and it’s a good general overview with some specific character examples.  He makes reference to The Silmarillion in addition to the Lord of the Rings, and mentioned that, though he would give examples from both Tolkien and Lewis, he tended to favor Tolkien and would likely have more teaching there, as he had more familiarity with Tolkien’s writings — plus, as he said, there’s more content to work with from Tolkien.  As just a minor criticism, I observe that Kruger must not have read the appendices after Return of the King, as he is off on his pronunciations.  (The word “Cirith” as in Cirith Ungol, in Tolkien’s world is pronounced with a “K” sound as Kirith, not Sirith, for example.)

Overall, though, Kruger’s series is interesting so far and worth listening to, or reading through the Powerpoint notes outlines.  I’ve previously listened to some of Kruger’s other teachings, including some of his study on the book of Hebrews.  I recall that Kruger from time to time has used illustrations from Narnia and Middle Earth in his other teaching series.  In the Hebrews series, for instance, he mentioned the character of Susan Pevensie as an example of an apostate, the one described in the book of Hebrews that had experienced and tasted the good things of God’s word, and then had rejected them — and thus unable to be restored to the faith.  I find that an interesting application of the story about Susan Pevensie — but I tend to disagree with that interpretation, especially since C.S. Lewis himself, the author, had a quite different view regarding the future of Susan Pevensie.  But that’s another topic, maybe for a future blog post.

Does anyone have further thoughts to share, on the topics mentioned here today?  Such as on Michael Kruger’s teachings?  Or the pronunciation of words in Middle Earth?  Or the fate of Susan Pevensie of the Chronicles of Narnia series?


Read Full Post »

Christian themes in Lord of the Rings:  It is sometimes said that Tolkien’s fiction is not “Christian” because it does not show people in a church context with worship and prayer to God.  The answer is more complex, and subtle — we see types  (that is pictures, examples), of the prophet, priest, and king roles, plus many other Christian themes.  The background history told in The Silmarilion is where we find the more direct Christian teaching of Iluvatar (God) along with Middle Earth’s creation story.  In Lord of the Rings (see boxed set for sale at Abebooks) itself, one event often mentioned is that of Faramir and his men standing, facing west, in a moment of silence before dinner is served — “so we always do,” said Faramir — “we look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

In my current re-reading, I’m nearing the end of The Two Towers, and again impressed with Faramir.  In particular, in my reading up to this point, is the importance of oaths and vows, of promises that are made by something greater than the person making the promise.  In book 2 of Fellowship of the Ring, Elrond gave his final words including the charge to the ring-bearer — and for the others in the fellowship “no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will.”  Then earlier in book 4 of The Two Towers, Frodo requests of Gollum a promise that Frodo can trust.  Smeagol says he will swear on the Precious — and Frodo presents Gollum with the solemness of oaths, and the important distinction between swearing “on” something versus swearing “by” it — and will only accept Smeagol’s swearing by the Precious.

Oaths and vows are one feature that give Middle Earth its flavor of ancient, legendary times.  We know that in our world, oaths and vows, and the concept of one’s integrity and making trustworthy promises, was a characteristic in ancient times, as seen in the earliest history in the Bible, in the early chapters of Genesis, as well as among the pagans.  Biblical history soon after the Fall, shows God making covenants — which include oaths, promises — first in the Protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15), and later with Noah and Abraham.  The Gentile nations, all descendants from Noah’s three sons, and though fallen still Image Bearers of God, retained among their basic moral values, the importance of trust, oaths, and vows.  This article from a secular viewpoint, tells about oaths taken by soldiers in ancient Rome.  Oaths and vows continued in our history through medieval times, and again Lord of the Rings has a medieval feel.  Who can read the scene of the hobbit Pippin swearing fealty to Denethor the Steward of Gondor, without thinking of the medieval knights?

The actual word “prayer”  is also found in Tolkien’s Middle Earth — though only twice.  The first use is near the end of The Hobbit, when the Elvenking heard the the news that Smaug the dragon was dead;  “the king, when he received the prayers of Bard, had pity, for he was the lord of a good and kindly people”.  The next time occurs in The Two Towers, from Faramir, referring to Frodo’s prayer to accept Gollum as his servant and to have Gollum under his charge.  In this context, the meaning of prayer conveys the idea of a request from a lesser person to one of a higher social station, and in this same scene Frodo calls Faramir “Lord.”  And such a type of request is certainly part of what is involved in prayer.

In a key scene, Faramir tells Frodo what his response would be to finding the “heirloom” that belonged to the Dark Lord.  He does not actually use the word oath or vow or swear, but says:

“But fear no more!  I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.  Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.  No.  I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.”

Later, when Faramir finds out that “this thing” is the enemy’s ring, he attests to what he had earlier said: We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor.  We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt.  Not if I found it on the highway would I take it I said.  Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.

Faramir shows great qualities of character, truth, and integrity, and yet he is just one example of such in the Lord of the Rings.  Often, when I read through Lord of the Rings, I think about which character I am most like, and which character I would aspire to be like.  In the Frodo and Faramir story, I generally identify with Frodo, the introverted traveler who does not easily trust others, keeps things to myself and slow to trust.  But I certainly would want to be like a Faramir, an encourager and able to help others in need, as providence brings such situations into my life.  What about you?

Questions and “food for thought” for Lord of the Rings fans:

  • What are some other positive character traits seen in Faramir?
  • What are some other examples, with other characters, of showing their integrity and keeping promises?


Read Full Post »

While reading an audio book version of Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live recently – and enjoying it, this first time reading —  I was reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing.  I have continually returned to Tolkien over the years, always finding joy and hope and adventure in Middle Earth.  In Schaeffer, I noticed similar thoughts in terms of worldview and especially a pre-modern view of history and the world.

An online search on Schaeffer and Tolkien turned up a few common references, including this interesting five-part series from Credomag:  Retrieving an Ancient Sacramental Ecology.  Starting with the early church’s view of nature as a great contrast with our industrialized modern age, this series traces the development of Christian thought from the ancient world through the Middle Ages; the 4th and 5th articles specifically look at the Inklings (Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis) and then at Francis Schaeffer, and their pre-modern (before the industrial age) views of ecology.

Lord of the Rings is so rich with so many themes.  I have always enjoyed the interesting characters, the background history, and the grand themes of good triumphing over evil and joy out of sorrow.  As I re-read through it this time, I’m noting even more the types of Christ in the characters along with Christian themes.  I’m also observing the references throughout to the natural creation – the many detailed descriptions of the various places along the journey, but also giving more attention to Tolkien’s love of trees and flowers.  As noted in the Credomag article:

When the Lord of the Rings books were published in the 1950s, Tolkien explicitly portrayed the ravages of “industrialized and militarized agriculture.” His villains—from Sauron and Saruman in their dark towers to the hobbit Lotho Sackville-Baggins who takes over the Shire—regularly despoil the land over which they rule through industrialization. Saruman the wizard “has a mind for metals and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment,” wrote Tolkien.

The “black engines and factories” of Mordor were decried by Tolkien’s sentient trees, such as the Ent Treebeard, who responded to Saruman’s deforestation of Isengard: “We Ents do not like being roused; and we never are roused unless it is clear to us that our trees and our lives are in great danger.” Mordor was a “land defiled, diseased beyond healing,” with “dead grasses and rotting weeds.” In short, Tolkien associated large-scale, slave-based agriculture with horrific evil.

Then the next (fifth) article has good insights into Francis Schaeffer.  From the recommendations in this article, I’ve also bought a used copy of Schaeffer’s “Pollution and the Death of Man,” to read in the near future.

While Schaeffer may have been co-opted by America’s “Evangelical Right,” he was never truly part of it. Indeed, in his The God Who is There (1968), he chided conservatives for being “far too provincial, isolated from general cultural thinking.” At the same time, he rightly complained that modern theology was not merely pantheistic but anthropomorphic, in that it worships human achievement. He argued that modern theology was blindly following cultural trends. To wed God to human culture or accomplishments was indeed what Bacon’s philosophy tried to do. But in his Pollution and the Death of Man, Schaeffer contended that such theologians were merely pragmatic and technological. According to Schaeffer, pragmatism is the death of morality, offering only a completely “egotistic position in regard to nature.” We save nature only because of how it affects us and our children and the generations to come. “Modern man has fallen into a dilemma because he has made things autonomous from God,” wrote Schaefer.

Schaeffer indeed is in a similar line of thinking with the earlier writers J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  As mentioned in the description of this book – An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien — on Goodreads, the author learned a lot about the Christian worldview from Francis Schaeffer and CS Lewis, but it was actually Tolkien who first showed him that such a thing exists and is an essential component of maturing faith.

Read Full Post »

Originally published Oct. 14, 2016

Tolkien’s LOTR endures through the years, good and fresh for many re-readings; online articles that mention Tolkien and Lord of the Rings abound to this day, with several such articles in the past few months (note this recent post from Justin Taylor, remembering what happened 85 years ago), and more over just the last few years.  The Gospel Coalition blog alone features several articles, including the aspect of “reading for worldview,” and this good observation:

Those who dismiss The Lord of the Rings as simply Harry Potter for grown-ups, or as a source of bumper sticker material for aging hippies to put on their Volvos (“Not all those who wander are lost”) have really missed the central prophetic vision of the books—a prophetic stance taken against modernity . . . or perhaps what we might want to call mordornity. This is the prophetic element that makes Tolkien’s vision a fundamentally Christian one. There are places where I prefer Lewis’s Protestant take to Tolkien’s Catholicism, obviously, but on this issue Tolkien reflects the ethical perspective of the entire Christian tradition. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Also, from the introductory “Reading for Worldviews” article:

Oddly, many modern readers are not only drawn to books that reflect their own personal worldview, but also to those that present them with a radically different worldview. On the one hand, they want to see the values they hold dear acted out on a fictional stage, partly so that they may study, and be challenged by, the decisions made by the hero. On the other hand, they want to explore realities that stand outside their normal experience and thus carry with them a sense of danger that is strangely appealing.

Thus, Christian readers are drawn to The Lord of the Rings because they encounter within its pages a world that affirms Judeo-Christian concepts of good and evil, virtue and vice. And yet, at the same time, Tolkien’s epic fantasy has attracted tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of atheist and agnostic readers intrigued by a world that privileges many of the things they reject: absolute standards of right and wrong; hierarchy and kingship; the reality of a supernatural realm that impinges upon the natural; the existence of a higher purpose that chooses us rather than us choosing it.

Yet at least some Christians continue to dismiss LOTR and lump it into the same category of “problematic/evil reading” along with Harry Potter and all fairy tale stories.  The following article Harry Potter vs Gandalf – a rather lengthy essay that may take more than one reading session  — (the author is knowledgeable regarding the literature of Tolkien, Lewis, and J.K. Rowling) takes a detailed look at how “magic” is used in different literature, noting seven literary “hedges” that Tolkien and Lewis employed to “fence off” magic from the reader in this world, hedges which are not present in the Harry Potter novels:

  1. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.
  2. Reinforcing the above point, in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fictional worlds where magic is practiced, the existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science — even if most of them might have as little chance of actually encountering magic as most of us would of riding in the space shuttle. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a world in which magic is a secret, hidden reality acknowledged openly only among a magical elite, a world in which (as in our world) most people apparently believe there is no such thing as magic.
  3. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are numbered among the supporting cast, not the protagonists with whom the reader is primarily to identify. By contrast, Harry Potter, a student of wizardry, is the title character and hero of his novels.
  4. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis include cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on their protagonists: Frodo is almost consumed by the great Ring; Lucy and Digory succumb to temptation and use magic in ways they shouldn’t. By contrast, the practice of magic is Harry Potter’s salvation from his horrible relatives and from virtually every adversity he must overcome.
  5. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are not in fact human beings (for although Gandalf and Coriakin are human in appearance, we are in fact told that they are, respectively, a semi-incarnate angelic being and an earthbound star.) In Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, while some human beings (called “Muggles”) lack the capacity for magic, others (including Harry’s true parents and of course Harry himself) do not.
  6. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis emphasize the pursuit of magic as the safe and lawful occupation of characters who, in appearance, stature, behavior, and role, embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, mysterious, remote, unapproachable, who serve to guide and mentor the heroes. Harry Potter, by contrast, is a wizard-in-training who is in many crucial respects the peer of many of his avid young readers, a boy with the same problems and interests that they have.
  7. Finally, Tolkien and Lewis devote no narrative space to the process by which their magical specialists acquire their magical prowess. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in the least encouraged to think about or dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic. In the Harry Potter books, by contrast, Harry’s acquisition of mastery over magical forces at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a central organizing principle in the story-arc of the series as a whole.

A few more links to some interesting posts about the Lord of the Rings, from Christian blogs:

A final thought, excerpted from the above-linked “Tolkien on Fairy Stories”

Perhaps the most persistent (and nastiest!) critique leveled against Tolkien is that his work is “escapist,” that it draws its readers away from the rigors of the “real world.” Tolkien gives the lie to this critique by reminding his readers of something so obvious it is often overlooked: “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?”

Tolkien is not thinking here of a killer or rapist confined to a jail cell for the protection of society, but of a political or military prisoner who has been captured by the enemy. In the latter case, the prisoner who escapes is neither naïve nor juvenile. Indeed, he is both practical and realistic. Far from donning rose-colored classes or acting like a cock-eyed optimist, he bravely and maturely refuses to define himself by the artificial boundaries around him and yearns for the free open air that he knows exists outside his prison walls.

Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn, and Faramir are all escapists, for they risk their lives to free the world of Middle-earth from the control of forces (Smaug, Sauron, Saruman, Shelob) that would steal life, kill joy, and destroy the earth. They do not accept the creeping darkness that relativizes, existentializes, and uglifies. Rather, in the face of this onslaught, they uphold a counter-vision of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.

Read Full Post »