Fra Josemaria M. Barbin on The Temptation of the Istari

The following essay has been writing for this blog by one of our seminarians, Fra Josemaria M. Barbin.  I agree with it in its entirely.

Some say that J. R. R. Tolkien is a black-and-white thinker who just pits the force of good against that of evil. However, his characters prove how Tolkien’s writing does not fall readily into such simple categories. The Istari (also known as wizards), for instance, reveal that in Middle-earth things are no so black-and-white. Tolkien’s wizards illustrate how one may do evil even with the best of intentions, when one is seduced by the temptation to use an evil means to a good end. Continue reading

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Naught for Your Comfort

This comment epitomizes the reasons why I have not wished to be identified with the traditionalists (qualifiy that as you like, “radical traditionalists,” “Catholic reactionaries, etc.; my definition is here.)  Unfortunately, the whole effort to extricate ourselves from this mess, has only confirmed the reasons why we wanted to free of the problem in the first place.

The commenter writes:

How do you show that no conspiracy exists? Easy you let people whom the conspiracy theorists (for want of a better term) trust to go in and show that there is no conspiracy,

That really sums it all up.  “Conspiracy theorists” is actually the precise term.  Innuendo becomes plausible theory, which immediately becomes probable fact and the lack of evidence along with the number of times the innuendo is repeated turns into the “modernist reeducation project of the See of Peter against the unimpeachable Friars of the Immaculate.” Continue reading

Enchantment vs. Magic in Tolkien’s Myth

The following is a reply to David Llewellyn Dodds who has been very generous in his comments on my previous Tolkien post.  This reply fits here and if you are interested you can follow the flow of thought in comment section of the previous post.

In Letter 155 Tolkien takes the traditional distinction between magia (wisdom) and goeteia (sorcery) and for the purposes of his tale distinguishes between magia that has actual effect (machine, technology) and geoteia that is artistic (enchantment).  Both forms can be used for good or ill depending on intention.  Tolkien is more suspicious of the machine, though he in no way discounts that art can be used to deceive. Continue reading

Behind the Looking Glass, and It Ain’t Pretty

I feel like I am caught in a bad fairytale.

I am publishing in-full Rorate Caeli’s follow-up on their Tolkien post and linking to it in my original rebuttal of Father X.

Follow-up: on Tolkien

The post including transcripts of the conferences first posted on Audio Sancto with a somewhat critical view of the value as Catholic literature of the mythological world created by traditional Catholic author J. R. R. Tolkien generated quite a bit of heat.

The reaction from many quarters was stronger than might have been expected if we had posted a denial of an article of the Creed!… In a sense, even though I personally disagreed with much of what Father had to say, it seems to me that this bizarre overreaction validates much of his concern over a sacralization of texts which, as loved as they may be by many, are just a modern piece of entertaining fiction, and, let us be quite honest about it, regardless of the academic brilliance of the author, are not part of the canon of great literature of Christian Civilization.

In any event, precisely because this does not involve an article of the faith, but a prudential judgment on which Catholics may reasonably disagree, we would be more than happy to post a rebuttal of the conferences from a traditional Catholic perspective, in case it is also authored by a traditional priest and is, of course, respectful towards his fellow man of the cloth.

Rorate Caeli (exactly who from RC, I don’t know) made a request yesterday in the comments section of my rebuttal that I provide a link to the above follow-up.  I asked him to provide a link on RC to my post in return, but he declined, saying Continue reading

Is Tolkien’s Fantasy Gnostic?

I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.

—J.R.R Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, wrote the above in a letter to a lady in which he discussed Frodo’s attitude towards the weapons and war.  He was expressing his own skepticism about how much was possible to accomplish for the good of man through the force of arms.  In so doing he quoted a remark of Galadriel about Gandalf and how for many ages they had together “fought the long defeat.”

History often appears to be a long defeat and under its burden we may break, or we may just live for the day and damn the consequences, or we may fight like hell in spite of it all.  In any case, the “long defeat” itself may contain “the glimpse of victory” in spite of the fact that no such victory seems to be written into the historical circumstances we experience. Continue reading

Frodo and the Machine

I have tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger. Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Love, sacrifice and the primacy of the ordinary life, enjoyed as the fruit of freedom, are the beginning and end of The Lord of the Rings.  The story begins with the microcosm of the ordinary, the Shire, among Hobbits who have little knowledge or care for the bigger and darker currents swirling around their little world.  The story ends with a bewildered Sam arriving back at his home, just having concluded a long hero’s journey, bearing all the tragedy and loss that it entailed, saying:  “Well, I’m back.”

Although the conflict arising from the logic of power, symbolized by the Ring, dominates the story, Tolkien said that LOTR is really about love, sacrifice and the struggle for happiness that arises out of the limitations of our mortality.  Frodo is an icon of those limitations.  Small in stature, he was made even smaller in the comparison to his quest, the accomplishment of which Gandalf himself claimed was based only on a “fool’s hope.”  That the Shire might be saved Frodo has to give up everything, including any rational hope of succeeding.  And in the end it is precisely in his failure that he succeeds.  In Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, which some argue had a significant influence on Tolkien, Our Lady tells the Frodo-like figure of King Albert, whom She sends on a fools quest:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

Continue reading

Christmas Distractions?

The center of every Christmas is the Christ Child in the manger, really present in the Holy Eucharist on our altars and visually represented in our mangers.  We are all aware of how many ways contemporary culture provides us with distractions from this supreme truth in our celebration of Christmas.  It is a bit of a paradox.  Chesterton said that the mystery of Christmas is too good to be true, except that it is true.  Mankind has never gotten over it, even if it has largely forgotten why the lights and tinsel are so important.

This Christmas entry is a rewriting of one I posted several years ago about the place of Santa Clause in our celebration of the Birth of Christ.  It is the fruit of further reflection on a subject relevant to those concerned about our culture.

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Tolkien and the Mystery of Faith

Jen sent me the following quote of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth…by…which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, and take on that complexion of reality of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

I have read it before, but am stuck now on the way he expresses the relationship between the Eucharist and the chivalric ideals of “romance, glory, honour, fidelity.”  Indeed the Jesus in the Eucharist is “eternal endurance” itself.

Tolken expresses The Mystery of Faith well:  “out of the darkness,” “the one great thing to love,” “which every man’s heart desires.

Damsels in Distress

kill-bill

I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time.  While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out.  I shot a video on the same topic  a while back.

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As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.

I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.

Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.

So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.

Continue reading