Tolkien on Modernity, Part I

Recently it was announced that an old reel-to-reel audio recording of a talk by J.R.R. Tolkien will be restored and released after having been kept from the public for many years. In 1958 Tolkien gave a speech at a dinner given in his honor in Rotterdam, which was attended by about two hundred enthusiasts of his mythology. The entire event was recorded and then forgotten about. Subsequently, the recording was found and then hoarded like part of Smaug’s treasure. Now it has been rescued from the clutches of the dragon and all are about to share in the fortune. It is a wonderful find, especially since it promises to reveal a few new insights about The Lord of the Rings.

It has long been known that a recording was made, but it was lost until 1993 when a collector named René van Rossenberg discovered it in a basement. Only now has he agreed to partner with several Tolkien fan sites to restore and release the recording.

What is extraordinary about the tape is that it contains the entire twenty-minute speech and gives an insightful look at the personality and character of the author. In the speech, Tolkien deals with the serious issues that he is passionate about, but in a playful manner. Tolkien speaks to his listeners as though he were Bilbo giving his farewell speech to the Hobbits of the Shire, though he shows much more insight about the evil of the Ring than Bilbo ever possessed. Indeed, Tolkien has much to say about the evils of modernity.

The Meaning at Last?

Legendarium and the Middle Earth Network, who have partnered to restore and release the recording, are looking to raise funds and are luring potential donors with the promise that in “unambiguous terms” Tolkien tells us the real meaning of The Lord of the Rings. We will have to wait and see how truly revelatory this will be, but I suspect it will do more to confirm what we already know than shatter long-held conclusions.

Perhaps the little of the recording already revealed offers some insight into what we will learn when the whole thing is released. Here are the last few minutes of the speech:

Twenty years have flowed away down the long river, but never in my life will return to me from the sea. Ah, years in which looking far away I saw ages long past, when still trees bloomed free in a wide country. Alas, for now all begins to wither in the breath of cold-hearted wizards. To know things they break them. And their stern lordship they establish through the fear of death.

I looked East and West, I looked North and South and I do not see a Sauron but I see many descendants of Saruman! And I think we hobbits now have no magic weapons against them. And yet, dear gentle hobbits, may I conclude by giving you this toast: To the hobbits! And may they outlast all the wizards!

So far here there is nothing terribly surprising. Tolkien rages against the reek and havoc laid upon us by the necromancy of Mordor and the technocracy of two world wars. Tolkien’s hatred of the Machine and the kind of Magic (not Enchantment) that dominates the wills of other men is a major theme of The Lord of the Rings. And although the “meaning,” of the mythology may be something else, this theme of the “evil as Machine” remains dominant.   What is particularly interesting about this passage is that Tolkien does not see in the modern world the work of Sauron, the ultimate sorcerer, but that of Saruman, the pragmatist. I’ll come back to this.

Death by Machine

The above passage may point us in the direction of the “meaning” that is promised to be revealed in the rest of the recording. And it is likely to correspond to what we already know. In one of his letters Tolkien writes that the “real theme” of The Lord of the Rings is “Death and Immortality,” and the paradox of men who are doomed to love and leave the world, while the elves are equally doomed to linger on as their world fades away (Letter 186). In another letter he writes this:

But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ was the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a Ringwraith. The Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different,: towards a faineant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt time (Letter 208; emphasis mine).

I would suggest that the meaning of “Death and Immortality” is related to the theme of contempt for the Machine in a fundamental way, and I speculate that this will come out more fully in the recording. Men use the Machine to control death, to quicken it upon their enemies and to delay it for themselves. Both temptations are in the Ring: power and lengthened life. Elves use Magic not to lengthen their own lives but to preserve the earth against their quasi-immortality. So men unnaturally attempt to lengthen their lives in order to cling to the world, and elves unnaturally attempt to lengthen the life of the world so they can longer enjoy it. This was Galadriel’s temptation to take the Ring. It would empower her to save Lothlorien and prevent her from having to leave Middle Earth.

Allegory as Machine

For Tolkien, this is the temptation of modernity. It is the temptation of the Machine and, one might say, also of allegory.

But the first thing that should jump out at us from Tolkien’s parody of Bilbo as well as his soapbox rant against the modern world is the fact that the whole speech is allegorical, and unabashedly so. Tolkien has always seemed somewhat contradictory concerning his views on allegory. Throughout his life he adamantly denied that his mythology was intentional allegory and was quick to indicate is dislike for literature that was. But here he is clearly allegorical, and he was on other occasions as well, such as when he wrote this:

You can make of the Ring an allegory of our own time if you like, an allegory of the inevitable fate that awaits all attempts to defeat evil, power by power. But that is only because all magical power, or mechanical does always so work.

This is the perfect passage to illustrate what I think is the solution to this conundrum of Tolkien’s dislike of allegory. He hated machines.  His son Christopher commented in a documentary how his father expanded the meaning of “Machine” to represent the modern world and its attempt to provide “alternative solutions” to those that are organic to the “development of the inherent and innate powers and talents of human beings.  This is why in Tolkien’s secondary world there is so little space provided for the “man-made.” Tolkien once said to his son: “You know, it isn’t the not-man, like the weather, nor man, even at a bad level—it is the man-made that is so ultimately daunting and unsupportable”  (from the documentary).

This is why in Middle Earth both elves and men exist in order to represent the full range of man’s subcreative power. Magic and the Machine go hand in hand. Men can produce either tools that allow them to function on a truly human level by “making” as they were made, or they can build Machines for the purpose of power and domination. The elves and the higher powers can either use their natural power to enchant the world around them and raise it up in an artful way, or they can resort to Magic in order to coerce and dominate. The human intuition is toward functionality and more easily leads to the choice of power and domination. The elves are less disposed to this error, but when they fall, they fall badly, as when they were deceived by Sauron to make the rings of power and to teach him the ring-craft so that he could forge the One. Magic is the ultimate Machine.

Middle Earth is an archaic society, and only those who are bent on the coercion and domination of other wills wish to make it otherwise. Mordor was the fruit of modernity. Tolkien called World War I, “the first War of the Machines,” in which only they were triumphant. And he wrote: “the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class” (Letter 96), just like the servants of the Dark Lord in Middle Earth.

What does this have to do with his dislike for allegory? I think in Tolkien’s mind intentional allegory was a form of the Machine. C.S. Lewis once called myth “lies breathed through silver,” and Tolkien rebutted this in his in poem Mythopoeia, in which he placed in opposition the “legend-makers” and those who shunned such craft in favor of “organized delight,/in lotus-isles of economic bliss.” He called the latter’s sin a selling out for a “Circe-kiss,“ which was “machine produced” and the “bogus seduction of the twice seduced.” The legend-makers were not lying, but making “by the law” in which they were made. On the contrary, it was the organizers and controllers who lied, and the stories they told were like machines that seduced. If I understand him correctly, the first seduction is the failure to see that the machine is a substitution for the real, and the second seduction is to place one’s hope in what the machine produces.

A lie breathed through silver is like a machine. It is artificial and manipulative. In heaven there will be no such lies or seduction. Tolkien writes:

In paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.

In his foreword to the trilogy, Tolkien distinguished “applicability” from allegory, saying that “the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” So it would seem for Tolkien, allegory was an attempt to coerce and dominate the reader. This is analogous to the operation of a machine.

Regardless of how consistent Tolkien was in his views and practice (or even how right he was about the issue), it is clear that what put him off about allegory was exactly what he hated about machines. This is why I suspect he equally disliked Lewis’ later view of myth (a softened view based on Tolkien’s influence), that myth is a way of “smuggling the gospel.” Like the Ring, allegory would then be an attempt to defeat evil, “power by power.” Tolkien’s very trilogy would become a manipulative Machine. But as Tolkien says of the Ring “that is only because all magical power, or mechanical does always so work.” Tolkien was not “the Lord of the Rings.”

Not Sauron but Saruman

The second thing that jumps out from the first release of the lost and found recording is Tolkien’s comment on Sauron and Saruman:

I looked East and West, I looked North and South and I do not see a Sauron but I see many descendants of Saruman!

This seems to correspond to something noted by Christopher Tolkien in the documentary already mentioned. He said that one of his father’s greatest fears was “coercion for good ends.” Gandalf and Galadriel, who both had opportunities to seize the Ring for themselves were much worse threats to Middle Earth than Sauron, because, to quote Christopher Tolkien, they would be “righteous and self-righteous.” In other words, they would come more fully under the domination of the Ring because they would accept the lie of the Machine, thinking that they were doing good, whereas Sauron fully knew and desired the malice that poured into the Ring. But, of course, both Gandalf and Galadriel “passed the test,” and overcame the temptation to use the Ring for a good end.

Saruman, on the other hand, did not. He was too pragmatic. He tallied up the resources on both sides of the conflict and chose the winning side in the foolish hope that some good could be done in spite of an alliance with Sauron. Of course, this was a thinly veiled attempt to obtain the Ring for himself and become the new Dark Lord.

At the Council of Elrond, Gandalf recounted his conversation with Saruman on the matter:

‘“For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”

‘I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.

‘“I liked white better,” I said.

‘“White!’ he sneered. ‘It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”

‘“In which case it is no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”’

Saruman now counts himself wise because of his pragmatism. In fact, he even misappropriates to himself the making of the Ring. He wants to be lord of the Machines. Tolkien said in his recorded speech:

Alas, for now all begins to wither in the breath of cold-hearted wizards. To know things they break them. And their stern lordship they establish through the fear of death.

He is obviously referring to the words of Gandalf and Saruman above. In their effort to control and dominate, the cold-hearted wizards, that is, the technocrats of the world, have chosen science over wisdom. Even religious men have lost wisdom and have failed to see that some things are greater than the sum of their parts, such as sacred scripture, the deposit of faith, the sacraments and even the liturgy. To know these things, they break them. Theirs is not the path of wisdom because the fruit of their knowledge is not freedom but control, which brings death, destruction and damnation. Tolkien called those who produced the atomic bomb “babel builders,” who hoped in vain that their creation would bring peace (Letter 102). So too, the architects of the “Church as Machine,” constructed in the service of Revolution or Counter-revolution, break the very thing they wish to reform or restore. For Tolkien the real danger was not open malice, but the self-deception of overcoming power by power. The real danger even today is the mirage of the benevolent Machine.

Saruman summarizes the argument for Gandalf thus:

“As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order, all things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak and idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

This seems to be an accurate description of modernity, as well as the revolution against modernity, which by definition is “modern.” It is the spirit of the activist, the community organizer, the social engineer, the technocrat and the theocrat. All is permitted in the service of the good. This is not wisdom, but the logic of power.

Modernity Defined

It may just be that Tolkien offers us one of simplest and yet farthest-reaching and most accurate definitions of modernity or the “modern world,” which the Church has attempted to critique without every quite defining exactly what it means. Modernity unfettered is the Machine and the subjugation of the human person, and even the attempt to subjugate God, to the logic of power. I will reflect on this further in the next post. Meanwhile, let me take this opportunity to register this essay as my prediction about what might be revealed when the recording is released in full.

18 thoughts on “Tolkien on Modernity, Part I

  1. Fr. Angelo,

    Thank you for this, with so much of interest and so much to think about, including some very bold bits of various sorts!

    I have only read it twice, so far, and want to brood – and probably re-read it (and some Tolkien) – a bit more, before attempting to discuss any of it.

    My first impression, however, is that you are probably right when you say of the 1958 speech, “I suspect it will do more to confirm what we already know than shatter long-held conclusions”, with special reference to the “theme of the ‘evil as Machine’ ”.

  2. Your post is my first real plunge into the matter of this rediscovered “final reply” of Tolkien’s at the Dutch “Hobbit Dinner”, and I have not begun to follow it up in all the detail which seems available (such as the John di Bartolo Alex Jones interview on YouTube).

    I will just say that, while I do not know him intimately, I have had very pleasant contacts with René van Rossenberg of the Dutch Tolkien Society over the last two decades or so, with him always answering promptly and courteously whenever I boldly ventured to ‘pick his brains’ about something – which should not be taken to suggest there is an ‘open season’ on his brains: I have no ‘insider knowledge’ about this talk and will patiently bide my time until he chooses to publish something about it!

    It is interesting to consider the details provided in the excerpt which forms Letter 206 and its introductory note, which give some context for the date of the talk, 28 March: that is, just after the Feast of the Annunciation and anniversary of the destruction of the One Ring on 25 March.

    Whoever introduces Tolkien in the ‘teaser’ excerpt on YouTube (Professor Piet Harting? or C. Ouboter?) refers to him as “the descendant of Lüthien”. That would suggest that Tolkien was not only descended from the Dúnedain but from Eärendil and Elwing and so (as the “Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion puts it) “in part also from the Eldar and the Maiar” – though who would have known all these details in 1958 is an interesting question!

    This forms an interesting background to Tolkien’s own reference to “very many descendants of Saruman”. If this is ” allegorical, and unabashedly so”, it can, at the same time, be playing with the history of Middle-earth as his intoducer was, in moving back and forth from Toikien as “the historian of the hobbits” to “the creator of Bilbo” et al. to “the descendant of Lüthien”. Did Saruman, within the legendarium, have offspring and descendants? I don’t know. But, presumably, he could have, just as Melian did. So, for that matter, could the Maia Sauron.

    The shift in this speech – “I do not see a Sauron but I see very many descendants of Saruman” – from his earlier practice is also interesting. For example, in Letter 66 of 6 May 1944 to Christopher he writes, “we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story”. Nearer the speech, in his September 1954 draft to Peter Hastings (Letter 153) he notes “Sauron was of course not ‘evil’ in origin. He was a ‘spirit’ corrupted […]. He was given an opportunity of repentance, when Morgoth was overcome, but could not face the humiliation of recantation, and suing for pardon; and so his temporary turn to good and ‘benevolence’ ended in a greater relapse, until he became the main representative of Evil of later ages.” He adds, that “at the beginning of the Second Age” Sauron “was not indeed wholly evil, not unless all ‘reformers’ who want to hurry up with ‘reconstruction’ and ‘reorganization’ are wholly evil, even before pride and the lust to exert their will eat them up.”

    So, I think you are right in analyzing the distinction of “very many descendants of Saruman” but not “a Sauron”: the “descendants” are, like Saruman (or the younger Sauron), less old in evil-doing, though having succumbed to temptation, closer to willing good, perhaps more susceptible of repentance. “Of course” as Tolkien writes to Christopher on 30 January 1945 (Letter 96) “I suppose that, subject to the permission of God, the whole human race (as each individual) is free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom (as each individual can singulariter). And at certain periods, the present is notably one, that seems not only a likely event but imminent.”

    I will hope to return to the “Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion to say something about the will to instrumentalize everything, including the human reason, especially in the face and fear of death.

    • David,

      Thanks for the research! What Tolkien had to say about “reformers,” “reconstruction,” and “reorganization” will be particularly helpful to me in Part II.

      I look forward to read what you have to say about the Akallabêth. This is very important.

      Tolkien was a prophet.

  3. It is worth noting that what Tolkien says in the recording and what Humphrey Carpenter quotes from the speech in VI.3 of his biography (pp. 225-26 of the first edition) are similar but distinctly different. What – and where – is Humphrey Carpenter’s source? A text from which Tolkien departed in practice? A revised version of what he had said?

  4. Presumably, most if not all Dutch readers at the dinner in 1958 would have had the Allen & Unwin first edition, completely available to the public since 20 October 1955. I do not now have access (unless they are hiding online, somewhere) to the Appendices of this edition, I have never studied them, I am not even sure I have ever cast so much as a fleeting glance over them. So, I cannot say just what his hearers could have known about the history of Númenor, including royal descent from “Melian of the people of the Valar” (as my late impression of ed. 2 from 1966 puts it). The 1966 Appendix A, which I do have, says, “Sauron lied to the King, declaring that everlasting life would be his who possessed the Undying Lands”, saying “great Kings take what is their right”. Sauron tells a (lying) tale, which pretends to be a true explanation or exegesis of “the Undying Lands”. They are made to appear as an instrument, an ‘everlasting-life-machine’, which any owner by the mere fact of owning could ‘operate’, or would be ‘operated upon by’. To this purported fact of ‘machine ownership and operation’ – which is like a varied recapitulation of the Serpent’s ‘instrumentalization’ of the fruit (“you shall not die the death”, “you shall be as Gods”: Genesis 3:4-5) – is added the assertion of a “right” to it/them, which is distinctly a Kingly right. I am reminded here of what Lewis had written in 1943 in The Abolition of Man (ch. 3): “What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by” and “what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

    The “Akallabêth” as published in 1977 is, of course, much more detailed. Among all the Messengers of Manwë tell “all who would listen” is the explicit explanation that “it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land”. There is no ‘machine’ or ‘mechanical operation’, Rather, there is the gift of human nature or being that our “home is not here […] nor anywhere within the Circles of the World”: a matter of trust – even the Messengers can only say “this we hold to be true” – and of hope, in which “the Valar bid you earnestly not to withhold the trust to which you are called […] Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit.”

    Here, Sauron “gainsaid all that the Valar had taught”, even seeming to suggest they enjoy their condition because they “have possessed themselves of the land where there is no death”. This imaginary ‘machine’ is not, however, presented as some sort of chance phenomenon happily discovered and unfairly monopolized by the other Valar to the exclusion of Melkor, who would share it, Prometheus-like.

    For, not only are the Valar ‘gang’ presented as having “devised in the folly of their hearts” a “phantom”, “the name of Eru”, as an ‘instrument’ of oppression – and ,so also, the faith and trust called to and the hope, the gift of the nature of man – in “seeking to enchain Men in servitude to themselves”, but Melkor is asserted to be “their master”, though somehow temporarily unjustly victimized, the maker and “Lord of All, Giver of Freedom”, who shall make the Númenoreans stronger than the Valar, “and may yet make other worlds to be gifts to those that serve him, so that the increase of their power shall find no end.”

    Seeming, as the Messengers said, to “desire now to have the good of both kindreds”, that is, including – and especially – the endless longevity of the Elves, “their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at least of the prolonging of Men’s days” – alchemical aspirations of the most extreme sort. Such ‘mechanical’ striving could be combined with skepticism, dogmatic agnosticism, or atheism, with the complete ‘instrumentalization of human reason’ as tool of tools which refers to nothing beyond its instrumentality and what appetite might will.

    One might compare this with the state of the imagined future at the beginning of R.H. Benson’s Lord of the World (1907). But (without ignoring their distinctive characteristics) here, as there, an ersatz religion is then promulgated, positing a creature as worthy of latria, and consolidating power thereby. Here, Sauron clearly does this, not to recruit loyal servants of Morgoth, but to destroy the Númenoreans.

    Tolkien in his 1958 “final reply” says, “I do not see a Sauron” – there is no single enemy or threat within the world, in his own right or as seducing “the mightiest tyrant that had yet been in the world since the reign of Morgoth, though in truth Sauron ruled all from behind the throne”, as the ‘Akallabêth” says of the last King of Númenor. But there seem to be “very many descendants of Saruman” striving, as you suggest, for “Knowledge, Rule, Order,” imagining this to be without “any real change in our designs, only in our means.”

    “And I think we hobbits will now have no magic weapons against them” seems an odd sentence at first hearing or glance, since they clearly refused, ‘then’, to use the Ring as a weapon: but they did have the help of Gandalf and Galadriel in various ways at various times.

    And “may they outlast all the wizards” can seem odd at second thought, if one wonders if that “all” goes beyond the obvious sense of ‘all those very many descendants of Saruman’ to include the likes of Gandalf and Radagast.

    Yet, in the “Scouring of the Shire”, they are left without the help of good wizards to sort things out. And would it be straining things too much to think that hobbits are human, too, and as such to them too may be said, “your home is not here […] nor anywhere within the Circles of the World”, and are intended to “outlast” even the mysterious stewardly life within the world of a Gandalf the White?

  5. Having mentioned the “Scouring of the Shire”, I wonder how much weight it should be given in considering the background of Tolkien’s “final reply”. For Saruman, as malicious tyrannizer over, and damager of, the Shire, has been previously cast “from the order and from the Council”, his staff broken, by Gandalf (Book III, ch. 10). Presumably, this means any “magic” he had, as distinct from ‘the machine’ or ‘technology’ in their everyday sense, had been taken from him. Perhaps the same can be assumed of the “very many descendants of Saruman”: they are indeed no more than “technocrats”, with all the extensive scope that gives them for abuse.

    • Thanks for that, David.

      That is a very interesting observation about Saruman and is techno-dominion over the shire. Deprived of spiritual means to accomplish their ends, organizers and reformers will resort to industrial solutions. On the other hand, we might ask ourselves how long will it be before the technocrats are dissatisfied with the speed and efficiency of their machines and resort to more effective spiritual measures.

  6. Tolkien and “allegory” is a big matter, in which I am very far from expert. A couple remarks in letters struck me as perhaps especially relevant to his 1958 “final reply”. One is from an airgraph to Christopher of 25 May 1944 (Letter 71): “I think the orcs are as real a creation as anything in ‘realistic’ fiction: your vigorous words well describe the tribe; only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For ‘romance’ has grown out of ‘allegory’, and its wars are still derived from the ‘inner war’ of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels. But it does make some difference who are your captains and whether they are orc-like per se!”

    The other is the excerpt from a letter to Herbert Schiro (Letter 203), written on 17 November 1957, four months before his “final reply” at the dinner, and a time when he was busy with The Silmarillion. The whole is well worth (re)reading. Saying there is no “conscious allegory”, he adds that there is, as always, “applicability”: “And since I have not made the struggle wholly unequivocal: sloth and stupidity among hobbits, pride and [illegible] among Elves, grudge and greed in Dwarf-hearts, and folly and wickedness among the ‘Kings of Men’, and treachery and power-lust even among the ‘Wizards’, there is I suppose applicability in my story to present times.”

    In the ‘psychomachia’, “the ‘inner war’ of allegory”, personified vices and virtues struggle in all their unmixed, “wholly unequivocal”, final clarity in and for a human soul. And ‘romance’, though less unequivocal, both allows for simplification and clarity in a way accurate historical fiction would not, and has heightened dangers of overly simple and ‘finalized’ characters, too demonic or angelic. While there is a validity to generalized ‘types’ – orcs tend ‘realistically’ to a predictable ‘trueness to type’ and a given character, like Saruman, can be expected to go on behaving in a certain way, neither characters nor types are wholly unequivocal. And “sides” include a mixture of ‘type’-like persons each of whom is in fact not “wholly unequivocal”. Thus, Tolkien says in another letter to Christopher (Letter 78: 12 Aug. 1944), “Urukhai is only a figure of speech. There are […] not many who are so corrupted as to be irredeemable”.

    So, in his “final reply” Tolkien can validly generalize in terms of “cold-hearted wizards” and “descendants of Saruman” without ‘demonizing’, and implicitly call ( and pray for) his hearers to be hobbit-like in accordance with what is best in “hobbitry in heart” (to apply a phrase from Letter 66, to Christopher, of 6 May 1944).

    • Again, thanks for this contribution, David. It reveals that Tolkien’s views on allegory are quite complex. My take away from this is that his use of “allegory” affords, not only freedom in the reader, but also in his characters. The author refrains from manipulating both his readers and his characters. His myth does not have the dimensional breadth of modern fiction, but neither are the characters jammed into a type in order to serve a symbolic narrative. Tolkien respects his characters as much as his readers.

  7. A curious thought struck me about the ‘play’ of Tolkien’s address to “gentle hobbits”: it could be imagined to be taking place at any time from the scouring of the Shire down to the present – for does not the fourth paragraph of chapter one of The Hobbit suggest they may still be alive and around, though “they have become rare and shy of the Big People”?

    But if this is so, there is a great difference between the hobbits “of long ago” and any “nowadays”: the transition from living before to living after the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Paraclete. What can be said about how the hobbits may, or do, relate to these?

    I have just been rereading around a bit in Morgoth’s Ring (1993), but do not recall, and have not so far encountered, any discussion touching on such matters.

    • David,

      Is there not a similar tradition concerning the elves—that some of the elves did not leave Middle Earth but gradually became more ethereal? That is the reason why now they are rarely seen, and then more or less like ghosts.

      And is there not also some suggestion that the growth of Pippin and Merry—admittedly through the drinking of the waters of Fangorn—suggests that the edges between hobbits and men may have been blurring anyway? I seem to recall that Tolkien suggests something like this.

  8. Fr. Angelo,

    Both points certainly sound familiar, but I would have to do some fine searching to see just what he was entertaining or had arrived at, when,

    I think two Patristic passages that may be relevant for comparison, or more than that, are St. Augustine’s City of God, Book XVI, ch. 8 about “monstrous races” (as Dods translates it) and St. Jerome’s account in his Life of St. Paul the Hermit of St. Anthony’s encounters with apparent “Hippocentaur” (ch. 7) and with the ‘Satyr’ who says to him ” ‘We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and “whose sound has gone forth into all the earth” ‘ ” (ch. 7: as found at New Advent).

    • Yes! The sixth chapter, on “The Longaevi”, especially the first of the “rival theories of their nature”, which includes the astonishing fact, “In the fourteenth century the family of Lusignan boasted a water-spirit among their ancestresses.”

  9. Best wishes with your studies!

    I thought that you, and your other readers, might be interested in another Tolkien ‘first’ of sorts, if you have not heard already. The Journal of Inklings Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (October 2014) includes (pp. 5-9) the first publication of Tolkien’s translation of the book of Jonah for the English version of The Jerusalem Bible as he submitted it, before its style was ‘regularized’ (“in consultation with Tolkien”) to form part of “a coherent whole.”

    This is followed by an essay by Brendan N. Wolfe (pp. 11-26) drawing on published and previously unpublished material about Tolkien’s correspondence with the editor, Fr. Alexander Jones, and his involvement with The Jerusalem Bible – including a sample of Tolkien’s translation from the first chapter of Isaiah (verses 2-3), along with some thoughts about “Middle-earth and the World of Jonah” and “Tolkien’s literary ideas and Jonah”.

    If a nearby library does not have a subscription, they might be politely encouraged to think about whether it would be a responsible use of their funds to take one. The website has more information about various subscription details, single-copy sales, kindle, things available to read free online, etc.:

    • David,

      Thanks for the best wishes! I am studying hard.

      Thank you also for this information. I am skeptical that the Angelicum will be interested in the Inklings, but I might inquire. I would dearly love to read this.

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