Tolkien’s Imagination

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. [Read more...]

The eucatastrophe of Man’s history

It’s still Christmas and will be for a total of 12 days.  Jim Denney reminds us of what J. R. R. Tolkien said about it in his classic essay “On Fairy-Stories“:

JRR Tolkien, the creator of “The Hobbit,” once wrote that his goal as an author was to give his readers “the Consolation of the Happy Ending.” That consolation takes place at the point in the story when all hope is lost, when disaster seems certain—then Joy breaks through, catching the reader by surprise. In a 1964 essay, Tolkien called that instant “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Tolkien even coined a word for the moment when the light of deliverance breaks through the darkness of despair. He called it “eucatastrophe.” When evil fails and righteousness suddenly triumphs, the reader feels Joy—”a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears.”

Is the Joy of eucatastrophe just a literary device for manipulating the reader’s emotions? No. This same sudden glimpse of Joy, Tolkien wrote, can be found in our own world: “In the eucatastrophe we see in a brief vision . . . a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.” Evangelium is Latin for “good news,” the message of Jesus Christ.

Tolkien went on to compare the Christian Gospel, the story of Jesus Christ, to “fairy-stories,” the kind of fantasy tales (like “The Hobbit”) that produce the Joy of “eucatastrophe,” the consolation of the happy ending. The difference between the gospel story and fairy-stories, Tolkien said, is that the gospel is true: “This story has entered History and the primary world.”

“The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history,” Tolkien explained. “The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.”

via JRR Tolkien, the star of Bethlehem, and the fairy-story that came true | Fox News.

HT:  Paul Veith

How was the Hobbit?

On another, appropriately escapist note, who has seen the Hobbit last weekend?  We plan to take it in later this week in a lull between family Christmas visits.  I’ve heard of people who loved it greatly, who were disappointed, and who were made nauseous by the twice-as-fast photography and rate of projection.  (One can see it without that effect, in the 2-D version.)  I’d like to hear what you thought of it (including your reaction to the special photography in the 3-D version).

Here is the Hobbit soundtrack

The soundtrack for the upcoming Hobbit movie has been posted online, for free. Listen to it here:  Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins is being played by Martin Freeman, who plays Dr. Watson in BBC’s excellent modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes saga, Sherlock.  And the actor who plays said Sherlock, who has the splendid name of Benedict Cumberbatch, has a part in the Hobbit, playing the Necromancer.  (I believe that’s the mysteriously sinister figure who turns out to be Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.)  By the way, Sherlock is many times better than the American attempt at the same scenario Elementary.  Wouldn’t you say?

Tolkien's new book on King Arthur

J. R. R. Tolkien has a new book coming out next year, a 200-page narrative poem about King Arthur.  From the British newspaper The Guardian:

It’s the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it’s from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it’s ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.

HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien’s never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. Running to more than 200 pages, Tolkien’s story was inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory’s tales of King Arthur, and is told in narrative verse. Set in the last days of Arthur’s reign, the poem sees Tolkien tackling the old king’s battle to save his country from Mordred the usurper, opening as Arthur and Gawain go to war.

“It is well known that a prominent strain in my father’s poetry was his abiding love for the old ‘Northern’ alliterative verse,” said Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, who has edited the book and provided commentary. “In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the 14th century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur.”

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Arthur a few years before he wrote The Hobbit. Its publication is the latest in a series of “new” releases from the author, including The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún in 2009 and the unfinished Middle-Earth story The Children of Húrin in 2007.

For the book’s editor at HarperCollins, Chris Smith, the news that Tolkien had finished work on The Fall of Arthur was an unexpected surprise. “Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter’s Biography and JRR Tolkien’s own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day,” he said.

He described the previously unpublished work as “extraordinary”, saying that it “breathes new life into one of our greatest heroes, liberating him from the clutches of Malory’s romantic treatment, and revealing Arthur as a complex, all-too human individual who must rise above the greatest of betrayals to liberate his beloved kingdom”.

He added that, “though Tolkien’s use of alliterative verse will mean the poem is of more specialised interest than his other work, we would like to think that the subject of King Arthur is one that will resonate with readers of his more celebrated works.”

“In The Fall of Arthur we find themes of lost identity, betrayal, and sacrifice for greater glory, which have their echoes in other works, such as The Lord of the Rings, but anyone looking for closer connections will find no wizards or magic swords. In this respect The Fall of Arthur is closer to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.” . . .

John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War, said that from the fragments he had seen, the omens looked good. “In The Fall of Arthur, Tolkien depicts Arthur going off to fight the Saxons in Mirkwood – not the Mirkwood of Middle-earth, but the great German forests. Whether it’s as good as the best by Tolkien will have to wait on the full publication, but snippets published so far are encouraging, showing him in darkly evocative mode writing about one of the great English villains, Mordred: ‘His bed was barren; there black phantoms/ of desire unsated and savage fury/ in his brain brooded till bleak morning.’

“Any addition to the Arthurian tradition by a major author is welcome; this one is also exciting because of what it adds to our picture of a great modern imagination.”

via ‘New’ JRR Tolkien epic due out next year | Books | guardian.co.uk.

I’m excited about this.  I’m even excited about the narrative verse, which uses the alliterative patterns of very early English poetry, as in Beowulf.  Here are the opening lines of The Fall of Arthur, as quoted in the Guardian:

“Arthur eastward in arms purposed

his war to wage on the wild marches,

over seas sailing to Saxon lands,

from the Roman realm ruin defending.

Thus the tides of time to turn backward

and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,

that with harrying ships they should hunt no more

on the shining shores and shallow waters

of South Britain, booty seeking.”

Can you handle a story told in this kind of poetry?

Whatever happened to narrative verse?  Other cultures and other times have loved stories told in poetry (think Chaucer, Milton, Longfellow).  Have we just become too prosaic?  Do you think Tolkien can bring back the form?

HT:  Jackie

Hobbit update

Titles and release dates have been released for the upcoming movie trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit.

As announced last month, The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s long awaited adaptation of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, will be made into a trilogy rather than the two-parter originally announced. Yesterday, the new title of the second instalment was announced, with the intended title going to the final instalment, and the expected release date of the final instalment also being announced.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be released on December 13th, 2013; whilst the third and final instalment in the series, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, following on July 18th, 2014. The first of the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be released at the end of this year, on December 14th.

Jackson, who directed the LOTR trilogy, announced the news that the series will be extended into a trilogy through his Facebook page early last month. On The Hobbit Jackson will be rejoined by LOTR cast members such as Sir Ian Mckellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood, who will be reclaiming their former roles. Meanwhile, stars such as Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch will join the cast, taking on the roles of Bilbo Baggins and the voice of The Necromancer respectively.

via Second The Hobbit Instalment Title Changed, Thrid Movie Release Date Announced | Contactmusic.


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