Tolkien claimed that all of his work was massively influenced—nay determined—by his Catholicism. Questions crowd in straightaway:

"I've read the trilogy and The Silmarillion ten times, and I never saw anything Catholic in it." Or, "How can he say that? The characters have to get along in their quest without a bit of 'divine' help."

True, the hobbits and the men of Aragorn's ilk don't seem to have any "god" to invoke, though there are some talisman-like cries for help from above—most notably "O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" But unless one has read The Silmarillion, one has only the sketchiest notions of the immense theological backdrop to the trilogy's "fragment" (see p. 28).

Magnetic north

The saga of The Ring most certainly draws upon Norse and Icelandic saga for its ethos and not, apparently, on Catholic categories. Tolkien, like his friend Lewis, was intoxicated by "northernness." When they came upon the Nordic tales, each found himself pierced with the dart of sehnsucht.

This is a sweet desire; an insupportable nostalgia for—for what? It is an inconsolable yearning that finds itself not only not satisfied, but intensified, by any small taste of beauty available to us mortals. Dante's Beatrice, the Alps at sunset, T. S. Eliot's "moment in the draughty church at smokefall"—such glimpses serve only to drive the knife deeper into the wound.

Midgard, or "middle earth," was the name given to our world in Nordic saga. And the world of which Tolkien writes is our world, only the events occur in a "time" not locatable in our calendars. The Age of Men is about to come forth in Tolkien's trilogy. Titanic events mark the waning of the elder world. The elves and their kind are "passing, passing," throughout the whole drama, and finally disappear ...

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