Sunday, September 30, 2007

Marred Arda and Tolkien's Hope for the Future Part 2

If you have ever had a parent or other relative who had Alzheimer's, you must know how frustrating it can be for the family. Last week I mentioned that my mother has the disease. Often I wonder why God would let her go through this. But, if I am honest, my frustration is not with what she is going through, but what I am going through.

Could it be that is what Tolkien had in mind when Aragorn says goodbye to Arwen and voluntarily gives up his life? Is he thinking about what Arwen would have to go through as he ages?

Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to
me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also
the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.

There is only One I know of Who gave up His life voluntarily for completely unselfish motives--Jesus Christ. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down voluntarily. (John 10:18) As I implied last week, I feel much better with life and death decisions in God's hands than my own. I would surely make a mess of things (more than even "Bruce Almighty" ever did!).

I do know that this whole ordeal with my mother, and the other events I mentioned last week, help me to remember what is important. It it very easy to get distracted with things, when our focus in life should be people. Hopefully this is one lesson I am learning.

Things are only temporary; people are forever. That is what gave Aragorn hope as he gave up his life:

In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound to the
circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!

In Tolkien's famous essay "On Fairy-Stories," (which can be found in found in Tree and Leaf, The Tolkien Reader or A Tolkien Miscellany) he asserts that the highest function of the Fairy Tale is to bring Consolation through the "Happy Ending." He coins the term "eucatastrophe" meaning a "sudden joyous turn" or "sudden and miraculous grace."

It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it
denies (in face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so
far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

The Consolation in Fairy Stories is a picture of the Gospel--the evangelium--the Good News about what Christ has done for us. For some reason Tolkien believed that his stories, rather than be overtly Christian, should point to our Consolation in much more subtle ways. This is, of course, in contrast to C S Lewis's more overt pictures of Christianity in The Chronicles of Narnia. In Middle-earth, the Hope of Life beyond "the circle of this world" is mostly relegated to a short passage in an Appendix.

Next time we will consider Tolkien's apparent plans to include a more overt picture of Christianity in an Appendix to The Silmarillion.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marred Arda and Tolkien's Hope for the Future

Incomparably greater than the power of Sauron, concentrated in the One Ring, Morgoth's power (Tolkien wrote) was dispersed into the very matter of Arda: "the whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring." [Dust Jacket of Morgoth's Ring, Houghton Mifflin, 1993]

For those of you who are not familiar with Morgoth, he is very much to Arda (the physical world, of which Middle-earth is a part) what Satan is (in the Christian Concept) to Earth. Without going into too much detail, Morgoth (The Enemy) was a "god" (somewhat similar to the concept of an archangel in Christianity) that rebelled against the will of the One (Eru, also called Illúvatar). As Satan is responsible for introducing evil into this world, so Morgoth was responsible for introducing evil into Arda.

In Christianity, the relationship between evil (sin) and death is clearly stated: "through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned ... For the wages of sin is death ..." [Romans 5:12; 6:23] Because Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, sinned, sin and death became the inheritance passed on to every generation since. Not only were human beings affected, but everything in the world: "the creation was subjected to futility ... the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs ... [Romans 8:20, 22]

In Middle-earth, death is often seen as the "gift of Eru." The Elves are forever tied to Arda; Men are not. They are meant to spend eternity not in Arda, but beyond it. This matches the Christian concept that we are "not of this world" but have our "citizenship in Heaven" and are waiting for the Heavenly City where we will dwell forever in bodies designed for the celestial, rather than the terrestrial realm. (See John 17:14-16; Philippians 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:40.) It could be debated whether this "gift" of death was "God's original Plan" or an "unfortunate necessity," but such matters are (thankfully) beyond the scope of this Blog entry. I leave that to the Theologians to debate.

"Half-Elves" such as Aragorn were apparently allowed to choose the gift of death, and were even allowed to die at will. Arwen was also given this gift. In Appendix A (I--v) of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn lays down and dies of his own accord. Awen does the same shortly after. The reasoning Aragorn gives Arwen for laying down his life at that point is (to me at least) troublesome:

Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have
me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay,
lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days;
and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but
also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will

Is Aragorn saying that a life is worthless once you lose your virility and intellect in old age? Is not human life precious even if the mind and body have lost their strength?

I have been thinking about life and death recently. Friday was the 79th anniversary of my Father's birth. He died in 1992 at the age of 63. My granddaughter, who had been born prematurely, had her first birthday Saturday. My father for many years was required by his employer to have an extensive annual physical. Modern technology never discovered any indication that he had any trouble that would have led to the sudden massive stroke which killed him. However, modern technology probably saved the life of my granddaughter.

Last December, my mother-in-law had a massive hear attack. Her husband gave her CPR, and they finally restored her heart rhythm at the hospital. However, too much damage had already been done, and she died several days later. Watching her slowly slip away was not a pleasant experience for the family.

When my mother was born in 1933, she weighed less than three pounds. Her twin brother was quite a bit bigger, but he died. Most modern technology did not exist, but she lived.

A few weeks back my mother fell and broke her hip. Because of her heart condition and previous reactions to general anesthesia, surgery was problematic. However, the alternative of letting her suffer in excruciating pain for the rest of her life was not an option. Several times we thought we were going to loose her, but she is still alive. She is extremely week, and her Alzheimer's has apparently been exacerbated by what she has gone through, but she is still with us.

We humans do not have the power to will our own deaths as Aragorn, any more than we have the power to extend our lives beyond the limit He has set. I do not know why God has allowed my mother to live, graced us with a beautiful grandchild or took my Father Home at such a (relatively) young age. But I trust Him that he knows what He is doing. I would not want the power to choose death for myself or anyone else--I am not wise enough.

As Aragorn (whose Elvish name Estel means "hope") says goodbye to Arwen, he gives these words of hope:

In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound to the
circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!

More on the concept of Hope in Middle-earth next time.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

C. S. Lewis in a Time of War: Learning from Lewis's Work Ethic

How do you distinguish between working too hard and being lazy?

C. S. Lewis had to make that choice during World War Two. Besides his duties as an Oxford professor, Lewis also kept busy giving talks at various RAF (Royal Air Force) bases throughout the country. The invitation by the BBC to give Radio Talks was inconvenient and would put more pressure on his time, but Lewis could not turn down the opportunity. So Justin Phillips tells us in C. S. Lewis in a Time of War (HarperCollins 2002).

Lewis turned out to be a captivating broadcaster, and the "Broadcast Talks" kept Britain riveted to their radios when he was on the air. These Talks became Mere Christianity, perhaps Lewis's best-known non-fiction book. There might have been more of these talks, but Lewis knew he had limit, despite pressure from the BBC to do more. (Phillips speculates that this may have been a good thing. Lewis might have gained celebrity status and actually weakened his influence in the process. We will never know.)

Phillips mentions that Lewis had confided in a friend that he was naturally lazy (p.63). But Lewis certainly did not have a lazy mind, and was willing to work, especially on projects where he would have a positive influence. And I am sure he believed his work ethic was as much a part of his spiritual life as going to church on Sunday. It is so easy to not take advantage of opportunities God gives us by making the excuse that we are "too busy." Certainly we need to be aware of our physical limitations. But, perhaps it is more often closer to the truth that we are just "too lazy."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The C. S. Lewis Hoax: Searching for Truth in a Positive Way

Finally a book that looks at the facts without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

Why is it that we are so fascinated by conspiracy theories? From speculation about who really killed JFK (or assertions that he is still alive) -- to UFO's -- to the President Bush's supposed lying about what he knew to get us into a war with Iraq -- books and "documentaries" and Blogs abound trying to "prove" that what really happened is being "covered up." Certainly it is one of the founding principles of this country that we have the right to "get to the truth." Sam Adams wrote, "The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men."1

But there is a difference between "muck-raking" (actively looking for the worst to report) and honest reporting of the truth. One begins with negative ad hominem assumptions and attempts to prove those assumptions. The other seeks the truth and (as much as humanly possible) reports the findings without prejudice. There is a difference in stating someone is evil and trying to prove it and reporting the facts and letting the reader decide.

That is why Kathryn Lindskoog's book, The C. S. Lewis Hoax (1988, Multnomah Press), was unexpectedly refreshing. Rather than make assumptions about the character of Walter Hooper (and others assigned to the stewardship of Lewis's work after his death), Lindskoog simply presents the facts that she has discovered and leaves the conclusions (mostly) to the reader. This is one book any serious student of Lewis cannot be without.

Kathryn Lindskoog was a Lewis scholar from 1954, when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Redlands in California, until her death from MS in 2003. Her biography, C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian, was first published in 1973, which is probably her most famous book. She has written several other volumes about C. S. Lewis, prose versions of Dante's Divine Comedy, and a series of classic fiction edited for young readers. There is a web site with more information on her life and works:
Update, 9/19/2012: Apparently the Lindentree website has been taken down and that web address is now being used by another entity.


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