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.

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