Arman J. Partamian has written a fascinating piece entitled “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Catholic Imagination.” My question: What is distinctly “Catholic” about what he describes? Could a Lutheran or an Anglican or Orthodox or other kinds of Christians (at least sacramental Christians) have this kind of imagination as well? From the post (but read it all):
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a genius. The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece of Catholic literature, and in fact was a big factor in my conversion to Catholicism. The books are rich in the “sacramental imagination” – seeing the extraordinary behind the ordinary. In its deep and complex history and its high symbolism, it beautifully tells the story of our Fall and Exile (especially in the Silmarillion, which contains the creation myth and the ancient history of men and elves), and our longing to return to Eden/Heaven. It is a Christian story that powerfully draws non-Christians into its world, and it does this by concealing its Catholicism. In fact, Tolkien’s genius was to re-tell the Christian story in a hidden way. Unlike C.S. Lewis, whose fantasy books were overtly Christian stories, Tolkien purposely hid his Catholicism deep within the story – thus freeing the imagination of the reader from the constraints of centuries of pre-conceived images and patterns. As a result, Tolkien accomplished something remarkable in the history of Christian literature – he made the story of Christianity new again, and wonderful.
To the non-Christian, beginning a discussion about Christianity with the crucifixion and atonement of Christ is a bit like talking about marriage and babies on a first date. It’s just too much, too soon. Like courting, a person first needs to be drawn in by the romanticism and beauty of Christianity. The fact that there is romanticism and beauty in Christianity might be news to some folks! This is what Tolkien accomplished with the Lord of the Rings. The essence of his approach is what I described above as the “sacramental imagination”. This is the ability to see the extraordinary behind the ordinary. It is a sense of the supernatural, but not like the cartoonish wizardry of Harry Potter, or the “demonic-light” magic of the vampire/werewolf genre. The supernatural sense of Tolkien is a way of seeing the gleam of eternity behind Creation itself. It is a sense of permanence amid decay, of light beyond the darkness, and of a true Home waiting at the end of time, where there is no more death and suffering. It is the recognition of the eternal significance of moral choices, and the effects of those choices, good and bad, in this world. And it is an affirmation of Divine Providence, and angelic (and demonic) realities. In short, Tolkien creates an entirely new world upon Catholic/Christian realities, and tells us the story of that world in a way that makes us see those Christian realities in a new way.
Keep reading at J.R.R. Tolkien and the Catholic Imagination | Matins Musings.