Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Autumn in Middle-earth: not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall

It's definitely not fall here in northern Indiana. Today and yesterday, the heat index was near 100 degrees, reminding us that even though school is back in session, and it's September, officially it's still summer. Last year on this date, it was Labor Day, and it did get up to 90, but the humidity levels were much lower, making for a pleasant day. I must have spent part of the day looking through old pictures on Facebook, as the one below prompted me to post this article on I hope you enjoy it as you think about cooler days to come.
Fall colors from 2012
Photo by Mark Sommer, October 2012

In the Peter Jackson movie "The Two Towers," Aragorn finds a clasp shaped like a mallorn leaf from an elvish cloak. For Aragorn’s reaction, the movie uses the exact same words as JRR Tolkien wrote in the book.

Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.

This quote is quite ubiquitous on the Internet, but no one seems to know why it is such a favorite. There appears to be more to it than just “This brooch didn’t fall to the ground by accident.” 

Aragon’s declaration has a certain rhythmic quality to it as though it were a well-known saying.
It would seem that not idly does Tolkien use these words.

Aragorn could very well be remembering a saying about Lorien which aptly applies to what he has found. Does Tolkien intend a double meaning?

What does Lorien represent in The Lord of the Rings? In a draft of a letter to the editor of New Republic, Michael Straight [letter #181 in The Letters of JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, p.236], Tolkien gives us a little hint.

Elves… are... ‘immortal’… to endure with and within the created world, while its story lasts… When ‘killed’… they do not escape from time, but remain in our world, either discarnate, or being re-born. This becomes a great burden as the ages lengthen… [T]he Elvish weakness is… to become unwilling to face change: as if a man were to hate a very long book still going on, and wished to settle down in a favourite chapter. Hence they fell in a measure to Sauron’s deceits: to arrest change, and keep things always fresh and fair.

The great desire of the Elves of Lorien was to preserve the world ever the same – especially their part of it. Elves were especially gifted at controlling nature, which may have led to the saying, “Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall.” Not even the falling of a leaf was an accident in the Perilous Realm.

The mallorn trees in Lorien had green and silver leaves and golden flowers in spring and summer, and their leaves turned gold in autumn. However, the golden leaves would remain all winter, and not fall until replaced by green and silver in spring.

The falling of the brooch also seems to have more significance than hope for Merry and Pippin. The age of the Elves was coming to an end. Their autumn is here; soon winter will come, and the next age will dawn as the beginning of the age of Men. The Elves will no longer try to hold on to Middle-earth, but will return to the West where they are meant to be.

In the same passage of the letter quoted above, Tolkien tells us that the Elves, while they were resisting the change coming to Middle-earth, were opposing “the unfolding of the story and to refuse this is of course against the design of God.”

The temptation for Men was their thirst for power in order to enforce unmitigated “progress,” while the temptation for the Elves was to obtain power to resist change. Both temptations can be lessons to us as we seek to be responsible in our stewardship over the earth. (Genesis 1: 26-28) God has given us “all things freely to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), but we are to be conscientious in how we use the resources we are given. The wide use of natural resources has done much to mitigate suffering and poverty. But wanton waste of the environment benefits neither humankind nor the other species of earth. The hard part is finding the balance between progress and conservation.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Remembering C. S. Lewis scholar Dr. Bruce L. Edwards

Dr. Bruce Edwards at a C S Lewis seminar
 at The Little Church in the Vale in Ohio in 2012
Photo by Mark Sommer, October 2012
I was reminded today that Bruce Edwards would have been 64 today. We lost this C. S. Lewis scholar way too early last October. Shortly after his death, I wrote this piece for 

C. S. Lewis scholar Dr. Bruce L. Edwards passes away

Dr. Bruce L. Edwards Jr., well-known C. S. Lewis scholar and author, passed away last Wednesday in Willow, Alaska. He served on the faculty and in various administrative positions at Bowling Green State University in Ohio from 1981 until his retirement to Alaska in 2013. News of Edwards' death had been kept mainly to family and friends until an obituary surfaced on the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune website Tuesday. The obituary was also published on Monday the Bowling Green State University website posted an announcement about the Memorial service, which will be at Bowling Green Covenant Church Thursday.

Edwards served as the general editor of the 2007 four-volume scholarly work, "C. S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy" from Praeger Perspectives. In conjunction with the release of the first Chronicles of Narnia move, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," in 2005, Edwards published two Narnia-related books that same year: "Not a Tame Lion," and "Further Up and Further In: Understanding C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Previously he had released two other Lewis-related volumes: "A Rhetoric of Reading: C. S. Lewis’s Defense of Western Literacy" (1986), and "The Taste of the Pineapple: Essays on C. S. Lewis as Reader, Critic, and Imaginative Writer" (1988).

Dr. Edwards also lectured frequently on C. S. Lewis at various locations throughout the country, and maintained the C. S. Lewis Review website (under various names) for about twenty years. According to the About page, the website "is an online journal designed to stimulate reflections on the life, work, and influence of Clive Staples Lewis, and other Christian writers and thinkers who represent significant linkages to the tradition Lewis exemplified of Christian scholarship and imaginative writing."

While Edwards may have "retired" in 2013, his love for teaching about C. S. Lewis continued. A video of an Introduction to an eight week course, which can be viewed on YouTube, gives a glimpse of his personality and his love for his topic. There will be no more videos from Alaska like this, but Lewis enthusiasts are grateful Edwards' legacy will live on through his books, audio and video recordings, and those he taught and influenced.

As Narnians would say, "Further up and further in," Bruce.

Devin Brown's book shares lessons from Narnia

On this date last year, published my very brief review of Devin Brown's 2015 book. has ceased to exist, and all its content was removed from the internet. So, I'm reproducing the text of the review here for posterity. 

Bringing Narnia Home: Lessons from the Other Side of the Wardrobe

A good book has new things to discover every time you read it. So it is not surprising Devin Brown, an expert on the Chronicles of Narnia, has more to say about the books, even after writing extensively about them in his Inside Narnia series. Similar to his Hobbit Lessons from last year, the emphasis this time is on the lessons the books have to teach us. Dr. Brown seeks to get us to live out the lessons to be learned, as implied by the title, Bringing Narnia Home.

When we finish the last page of each adventure and close the book, we do not have to leave Narnia behind. If we bring home the lessons we have learned and apply them to our lives, we are like a person who returns from a distant country with magical treasure. Not someone who buries this treasure in the ground where no one will find it, but instead shares it with everyone they meet. [p. xi-xii]

Each of the twelve chapters examines a certain principle which can be found in the Chronicles, such as "Actions We See as Small and Insignificant Can Be Far More Important Than We Realize" (Chapter 1). Brown then gives specific examples of how that principle is demonstrated in the Narnia stories. The principle is reiterated in a short "Bringing Narnia Home" section at the end of each chapter, followed by a "Futher In" section with questions designed to help the readers understand how the principle applies to them personally. This could be a good exercise to further discuss the book in classroom situations, or less formal book discussion groups.

Devin Brown asks the reader to have read the Chronicles prior to tackling Bringing Narnia Home. His examples will make much more sense if you have a good sense of the overall story and context. But if you know the stories, or plan to read them soon, Bringing Narnia Home would be a good place to follow up your adventure. Dr. Brown's expert eyes may help you uncover buried treasure you might have otherwise missed – and bring it home.