How Tolkien’s Catholic Faith Impacted His Writings (Guest: Dr. Ben Reinhard)

January 19, 2024 00:52:43
How Tolkien’s Catholic Faith Impacted His Writings (Guest: Dr. Ben Reinhard)
Crisis Point
How Tolkien’s Catholic Faith Impacted His Writings (Guest: Dr. Ben Reinhard)

Jan 19 2024 | 00:52:43

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Eric Sammons

Show Notes

It's well-known that J.R.R. Tolkien was Catholic and that his faith influenced his writings. But how did his participation in the liturgy impact his writings and his imagination?
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:10] Speaker A: It's well known that J-R-R. Tolkien was a Catholic, and his faith influenced his writings. But how did his participation in the liturgy in particular impact his writings and his imagination? That's what we're going to talk about today on Cris Point. Hello, I'm Eric. Sam is your host editor in chief of Crisis magazine. Before we get started, we encourage people to smash that like button. To subscribe to the channel, follow us on social media at Crisis Mag, and also go to crisismagazine.com. And you can subscribe to our email newsletter where you'll get our articles to your inbox. Two a day. One email, but two articles a day. Okay, so let's go ahead and get started. We have a returning guest, Dr. Ben Reinhardt. He is an associate professor of English at Franciscan University of Studentville. I actually think you might have been Kristen when we interviewed you last time, but I can't remember now when you switched over recently. Right. [00:00:57] Speaker B: Yeah. So I came over in the fall of 22. So right when rings of power was coming out, I moved over to Francis. [00:01:03] Speaker A: Okay, right. Okay. You followed the ring to the Francis. University of Studentville. So he teaches courses in medieval literature, mythology, and western literary tradition. He received his BA from Purdue University and PhD from the Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame. Now, here's where he really is going to show his expertise. His articles have appeared in Mythlore, Tolkien studies Anglo Saxon England, and other several other journals. He's written for Crisis about the rings of power, the awful Amazon series. That's my short description of it. And he has a new translation of Beowulf published by Clooney Press in 2022. And though, for what we're going to talk about, though, is he's also the instructor of a new course from the St. Paul center, the Emmaus Academy, on Tolkien's liturgical imagination. And when this came up that all of a sudden it was announced this, I was like, oh, my gosh. Okay, now I'm going to get geeked out because I love Tolkien, love Lord of the rings, I love being Catholic, love the liturgy. Ben's going to bring it all together here. So thanks for coming on the program. [00:02:05] Speaker B: Thanks for having me. [00:02:06] Speaker A: Okay, so first thing I want to ask you, I might even ask you on the last podcast for people who didn't watch or whatever, what got you to be a Tolkien geek? What got you first interested in Tolkien and that whole world? [00:02:19] Speaker B: Oh, boy. So I don't think we've talked about this. This is a fantastic question. I was in the 7th grade. I think when I first discovered Tolkien, and it was sort of pure self discovery, I was reading an obnoxious amount of books. I was a very unathletic and introverted kid, and I would usually read about a book a night. And so I was just sort of cycling through things and I found, hey, here are these long books. They'll hold me over for a while. And so I read them first in 7th grade and then revisited them a couple of times through high school. I was already pretty deep into that sort of nerd realm by the time I went off to college. It was also then, right as I was graduating high school, heading off to college, the movies came out and they sort of added fuel to the fire, right. And it just sort of continued from there. I wasn't catholic when I first read the books. I didn't convert until 2008, so they were very much just fantasy novels to me when I first read them. But then as I grew older and I hope a little bit wiser and started to learn a little bit more, I started to see more and more connections, and that only deepened my attraction to Tolkien's art and to the world he made and my appreciation of the value of what he created. [00:03:40] Speaker A: A little bit similar, I think I remember around 7th grade, I think it was for me, tooth grade. Yes. A friend recommended them and so I read them. Loved. Mean, I was a little bit of a reader. I'm a bigger reader now than I actually was as a kid, but I really did. I mean, I just thought they were great. And back in my day, this was the 1980s, early 80s. Dungeons and dragons was a huge thing, of course. [00:04:02] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:04:02] Speaker A: And so I went super into that as well with some of my friends and stuff like that because obviously it's similar. There's connections there and everything. And so I really did enjoy it. So the movies then were much later for me. But then, of course, I got my kids into it and then got them to watch them. And I feel like it's a riot passage in our family with our seven kids. Like, okay, when do I first, I will read the hobit to them, and then typically they will read Lord of the Rings on their own. I don't think I've read the whole Lord of the Rings, my kids, because what happens is I read the hobit to them, they get so into it, they don't want to wait and have wait each night for me to read to them. Like, no, I'm going to just go ahead and jump into it. In fact, my 14 year old, she just watched the movies for the first time a couple of months ago, I think it was, and just obviously loved them. Of course, they can't watch the movies until they read the books. A clear rule. But anyway, okay, so we're both Tolkien geeks, is what we're trying to say, and proud of it. Like I said at the beginning, I think most people know, and I wasn't catholic either, by the way, when I first loving this fantasy. But when you start seeing the catholic connections, it's pretty cool. So most people know he's Catholic, but why don't you give us a quick kind of biography of him as a Catholic? Like, was he born Catholic? Did he ever fall away? Did he convert? What are the basics of his catholic faith? [00:05:31] Speaker B: Yeah, so he's not born Catholic, right. He's born in South Africa to anglican parents. He moves when he's young from South Africa to England. The goal is for his mother and young John Tolkien and his brother Hillary to go and then for his father to follow them. When he puts his affairs in order in South Africa, it turns out that his father can't follow him because his father catches ill and dies. So Tolkien is left without a father from a very young age. After his father's death, his mother starts to explore Catholicism. His mother eventually converts by this point. Tolkien, though, is this is a fantastic point that Holly Ordway's made in her new biography. He's too old to come in as a child convert. He's past the age of reason, so he has to be an adult convert himself and sort of be brought in. So he's not a cradle Catholic in a true way. He's a convert even though it's a child convert. [00:06:31] Speaker C: Right. [00:06:32] Speaker B: And his family becomes attached to the Birmingham oratory. [00:06:35] Speaker C: Right. [00:06:36] Speaker B: His mother's looking around for a good church and good sort of spiritual support, because as a widow with an entirely protestant family, she needs good spiritual support. She finds it in the Birmingham oratory, and then they continue their association with the oratory. His mother falls ill with diabetes and dies, leaving them orphans, and leaves John Ronald Tolkien and his brother Hillary in the guardianship of Father Francis Morgan, who's actually an oratorian priest. So his final formative years are spent, he calls it, as a junior inmate of the Birmingham oratory with a priest essentially as his father, and the oratory life being central to who he is. So he and his brother wake up every morning, they serve mass, right. They go off to school, they do their school thing, but then they live in the environment of the oratory, and that's when Tolkien, at this stage in his life, falls deeply in love with the blessed Sacrament, which is a love that he says never wavers, even though sometimes his practice of the faith becomes a little bit tepid. So that's the very short story. [00:07:49] Speaker A: And one of the things I didn't know until I watched your course. And by the way, I'll give a link. I'll put in the show notes, everything for people. They can sign up for the Emmaus academy and take the course. I think it's ten lessons, all about 2025 minutes, something like that, that goes through a lot of this stuff. So I highly recommend. I've done the whole series, and I loved it, but I never knew I have a real devotion to St. John Henry Newman. I actually have this picture up on the wall right over here. You can't see it. And I was reading a biography, a two volume biography of John Henry Newman, when I started watching your course, and I did not realize the connection between Jr. Tolkien and John Henry Newman. Of course, the Birmingham oratory is John Henry Newman's. That's his oratory, the one that he founded, basically. And, in fact, I believe the priest who became his guardian. What was it? Father Morgan, is it? [00:08:40] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:08:40] Speaker A: Father Francis Morgan. He was basically at the Birmingham oratory with John Henry Newman at the same time. And they were there. I mean, obviously he's much younger, but they were there at the same time. And I thought that was cool for me. And I'm excited about it also, because I attend a parish that's run by oratorians. So we hear about St. Phil Nere all the time. We hear about John Henry Newman all the to this. I'll get to this point in a second, so I'll halt there. I have a thought, though, about how John Henry Newman might have impacted and the way Catholicism was practiced back then, how it impacted Tolkien. But anyway, so basically then, he lived as a Catholic. Now, how was, though, specifically, what your focus is on this course is the liturgy. Right. So he lives as a Catholic. He converted at a young age. He lives as Catholic. Oratory obviously has some influence over him. But how did the liturgy, like, how is that part of his life beyond just. Of course, he went to mass on Sunday. [00:09:50] Speaker B: All right, so I think I'm going to answer this question in about three ways. Okay. So, first of all, if we talk about how it's part of his life, Tolkien was deeply formed in. We'll call it active participation in the liturgy. [00:10:07] Speaker C: Right. [00:10:08] Speaker B: He was an altar boy. He had that sort of deep altar boys, knowledge of how these things work. And then he's a daily mass goer for almost all of his life, right? He'd wake up early, go to mass, take his kids to mass almost every day. And the sort of suppressed thesis of the entire course is if you do that, it's going to leave a stamp on your imagination. If you actually care about these things, if you actually take the time and do this, this will leave a stamp on your imagination. I think this is probably even more true in Tolkien's day than it is in our own, because of the regularity of the one year cycle of readings, as opposed to the three year cycle of readings with the more strict rubrics, that would give sort of more consistent. Just a more consistent liturgy. [00:11:02] Speaker C: Right. [00:11:02] Speaker B: If you do that every day for 50 years, it's going to leave a mark. And this absolutely is what happens with Tolkien. So when you turn to his letters, you see how deeply his experience of the liturgy and his participation in the liturgy form him. He doesn't reference a whole lot of catholic thinkers in his writing. [00:11:24] Speaker C: Right? [00:11:24] Speaker B: He doesn't reference, like, he's not quoting Thomas Aquinas, he's not quoting Augustine. He's not even hardly ever referencing people like Newman, although we can believe that they did really impact him. [00:11:34] Speaker C: Right. [00:11:35] Speaker B: The way that you see his Catholicism come to play most in his writings is he talks about, I was at Mass and father said this, or he's writing to his son, who's stationed in World War II, and says, if you can't get to mass, a really great thing for you to do is to recite the roman canon, which you should know by heart, of course. [00:11:53] Speaker C: Right. [00:11:54] Speaker B: To make Latin. [00:11:55] Speaker A: You probably, too. [00:11:56] Speaker B: Yeah, of course in Latin. [00:11:57] Speaker C: Right. [00:11:58] Speaker B: To make a spiritual communion. He says, the entire point of life is expressed in the Benedicte and the gloria and excelsisteo. Right. Those two prayers, which are both liturgical prayers, express the entire meaning of life. So this is how you see it really impact him. And this is just one anecdote from the course, but I'm going to give it because I think it really does illustrate how deeply liturgical his imagination is. [00:12:28] Speaker C: Right. [00:12:30] Speaker B: It's December in the 1960s. He's writing to a friend, Clyde Kilby, and he says, hey, this letter will reach you on or after Christmas. Luke's full jabot. The light has shined upon us. Right. Luke's full jebat nobis. [00:12:47] Speaker C: Right. [00:12:48] Speaker B: And in this letter, people have always sort of wondered, what's he quoting here? And Clyde Kilby talks to his Holkin's friends. He says, what does this Latin mean? It means the light has shined upon us. Where did he get it? They don't know. What he's doing here is he's quoting from memory from a year ago. One of the prayers for the mass of the shepherds at 08:00 in the morning on Christmas day. [00:13:14] Speaker C: Right. [00:13:14] Speaker B: He's got liturgical prayers memorized, not just the set ones, but he's got them memorized through the year as well. And that's where you just see how deeply this sort of seeps into his imagination. [00:13:27] Speaker C: Right. [00:13:28] Speaker B: And then when he turns around and says, the Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally religious and catholic work. It's founded on Catholicism. What does being founded in Catholicism means? Well, for Tolkien, it means the life of prayer of the church, right? That's where he gets his most important formation. And so the argument is, if you want to understand how Catholicism works in Lord of the Rings, you've got to understand how the rhythms and the imaginative world of the liturgy works as well. There we go. [00:13:57] Speaker A: Yeah. And I think that's a key insight. I think that I did not. I think when people think, okay, Catholic, how do they express it? I think they think of, like, okay, C. S. Lewis expresses Christianity very clearly in the line of witch and wardrobe, and we all see know, and a kid can see it. And that's what he intended. But that's not the case of J. R. Tolkien. Now, I want to get into that in a minute, but I want to get back to the fact that somewhat of an elephant in the room here, which is Tolkien was born in 1892, I believe, and then he died in 1973, correct? Yeah. Okay. So I actually overlap him a little bit. How about that? So what that means is that he grew up with what we now call the traditional latin mass, and that is what he experienced. So when we say liturgy, that's what he is living out, is the traditional liturgy, both in the mass and in the office and all of that. Now, that also means, though, since he died in 1973, he then experienced all the changes that happened in the 1960s, after Vatican two, actually. They started, of course, in the liturgy in 1955, and then the full novice Ordo in 1970. What did Tolkien think about those changes? [00:15:17] Speaker B: The most simple way to describe it is he was deeply, deeply pained by the changes that happened. [00:15:24] Speaker C: Right. [00:15:26] Speaker B: The great love of his life was our Lord in the Eucharist. The great love of his life was the blessed sacrament. That's what tethered him to the faith. And so the idea of showing due reverence to the Blessed Sacrament was central in his life. And already before any of the changes, you'll find him worrying about priests who don't celebrate in a dignified way, congregations who don't comport themselves appropriately. This is something that pains him in the 1950s, right? And he's a good enough man. He's a good enough man that he actually takes small steps to help fix it. There's an anecdote from the 1950s where he's at mass. He's sitting behind a sort of hairied mother who has small children who are distracted and can't follow the mass. And he leans over the pew and he helps them find their way through the mass. And then he takes them to the statue of our lady after mass, and he prays with them and he tells them stories. So he wants there to be a deep reverence. He wants there to be a deep reverence. He wants there to be a worthy honor shown to our Lord in the liturgy. [00:16:41] Speaker C: Right now. [00:16:44] Speaker B: That's Tolkien in 1960, right? When the changes come, they become very deeply painful for him as he writes to his son. The church, which once felt like a refuge, now feels, often feels like a trap. But there's nowhere else to go. So it is a curious time. Apparently he had a habit for years of making all the responses in Latin when everybody else was making them in English. [00:17:15] Speaker C: Right. [00:17:17] Speaker B: There are stories of him at some reformed liturgy, and it's not clear if this is after the mass is introduced in English, which happens in the mid sixty s, or if it's after the novus ordo, but at some new liturgy which featured not just English but also a diminution of genuflection. So less genuflection. Tolkien apparently storms out of mass genuflex and just leaves because he can't handle the lack of reverence. That being said, for all the pain that he experienced, he remained loyal. [00:17:52] Speaker C: Right. [00:17:53] Speaker B: He says loyalty is only a virtue when it's tested. So he doesn't stop attending mass. And her new spiritual biography of Tolkien, Hollywoodway points out that he would even in the last couple of years of his life, occasionally serve as a lecturer at the new mass. So he never stops attending, even though it's very deeply painful for him. [00:18:15] Speaker A: Yeah, I can just understand that from on, just anybody, if this is that much of their life and their entire life is basically kind of lived in these rhythms and these ways, and he knows it. And he, of course, even more so because he understands. I've attended latin mass myself for about 1213 years now, and I'm a terrible language person. I barely can do English, and so Latin to me has always been a struggle. But after twelve years, I can kind of. Now when we say the creed, I don't look over at the English anymore. But for somebody like Tolkien, who clearly languages were one of his things, I can see how that just be so jarring, if nothing else, and so difficult for mean. I'm going to ask a real controversial question. You can pun on it, that's fine, but that's what we're here. I want to stress my opinion, ask what you think about. And that is, I feel like Tolkien could only have a Tolkien. Somebody like a Tolkien could have only developed in that atmosphere he was in. In which there's this beauty and the liturgy is irreverent. And there's all this because I was reading the Orwe's book about Toma, how they built a brand new church when he was young around the old church, which was basically just throwing up to have something. [00:19:49] Speaker C: Right. [00:19:49] Speaker A: Remember, this is England. They're not exactly a catholic country, especially at this, so. And how beautiful it. And like, this is what he's seeing. He's serving at masses for this. He's seeing all these beautiful liturgical things. And of course, in the oratory, St. John Henry Newman particularly encouraged the arts and beauty and the arts and music and writing and all that. And I just wonder, can we produce a Tolkien today in like, a typical parish in which things are. I don't even want to say typical, but let's just say a parish where things are haphazard, they're not really that mean. Do you think there's something to what I'm saying? [00:20:27] Speaker B: Or, uh. The short answer is, yeah, I think there's something to what you're saying. [00:20:34] Speaker C: Right. [00:20:34] Speaker B: Tolkien is really sort of. Sort of a one of a kind figure. He has all sorts of advantages that would be impossible to recapture for most people today, right? We can think about his education. We can think about the language learning that he had from basically the age of reason on up. You've got a guy who taught himself Gothic when almost nobody in the world studies Gothic when he was in his teens, right? I mean, you've got his natural genius, you've got his education, and then you have, I'll say two other things, right? He's one of the last people to have a living connection to a quasi preindustrialized life too, right? Growing up in the countryside, he's got his memories of the sort of idyllic English industrialized countryside, and then you've got his experience in the liturgy. Right, which is also very hard to replicate. And if you believe, as Tolkien says, that all of his ideas of beauty and majesty and all of his ideas of all the little things he know has come from the church, it would be hard to recapture that in 2023. Across each one of these points, it'd be hard to get somebody who had the learning. Be hard to have somebody who had the formation, be hard to have somebody who had the liturgical experience. So I think that's probably true. Yeah. [00:22:14] Speaker A: Okay, so let's go into now, specifically, how did Tolkien's connection to the liturgy? How did it form his imagination and therefore form his writings? Now, one of the things that you bring up in the course that I want you to explain here a little bit is the connection to Fairy. And how's that spelled? F-A-E-R-I-E. When you first, I was like, what word is he saying? I wasn't quite sure, because there's, like, a fairy that goes across a river and stuff like that, fairy godmother and things like that. Could you explain a little bit what Tolkien means by that? And why is that important for understanding Tolkien's liturgical imagination? [00:22:49] Speaker B: So this is probably the most important point in the entire course. So if we can get this one down, we'll be in a pretty good place. The place to start is Tolkien's essay on fairy stories, which is where he lays out his entire theory of how fantasy works. [00:23:07] Speaker C: Right? [00:23:07] Speaker B: Fairy is just another word for fantasy or the fairy story or whatever else, right? It can talk about the inhabitants there. It can talk about the realm where the fairies, the elves live, or it can talk about this thing that we do when we create fantasy. And Tolkien's really, really clear that when people are making fantasy, they are not doing something that is itself didactic. They're not doing something that is catechetical. [00:23:38] Speaker C: Right? [00:23:38] Speaker B: It's not a simple act of. A simple act of religious education in a way that sort of the chronicles of Narnia can sometimes be. But what he does say is that the fairy story can help you recapture the wonder of things. And something that's really, really funny. In his essay on fairy stories, three times, he says, the realm of fantasy contains all sorts of things. It contains the sun and the moon and trees and forests. But every time he gives one of these lists, he says, and it includes bread and wine. Includes bread and wine. It includes bread and. And, heck, let's dive into the weeds. Okay. Tolkien is basing a lot of his theory on fairy stories on Christopher Dawson, another english catholic convert on his 1928 book, Progress in religion. And in this book, Dawson talks about how the instinct to worship comes from a sense of natural sacredness that we find as human beings going through nature. Okay, so we recognize there's this sort of sense of wonder or awe or the numinous. [00:24:51] Speaker C: Right. [00:24:51] Speaker B: And our instinct to worship comes from the recognition that there's something marvelous about creation. All right, Tolkien roots fantasy. He roots the fairy tale making thing in this idea. If you're making a fairy tale, you recognize that there's something amazing about, what? About silver and gold, or about a tree, or about the sun, the moon, whatever. And you're responding to the natural sacredness of creation, which is the same instinct that prompts worship. First point. [00:25:28] Speaker C: Right. [00:25:29] Speaker B: Second point is that the liturgy both presupposes that natural sense of the sacred and responds to it. [00:25:41] Speaker C: Right? [00:25:41] Speaker B: Why did Christ take bread and wine in his hands at the last supper? [00:25:46] Speaker C: Right. [00:25:46] Speaker B: Why is it bread and wine as opposed to anything else he could have taken? C. S. Lewis says, it's because bread and wine have always been sort of recognized as the body and blood of the dying and living God. There's something naturally symbolic about bread and wine. So Tolkien says that fairy story is playing around with this idea of natural sacredness or natural symbolism, the same sense that the liturgy relies on. Does that make. Yeah, okay, so. And this is why you can just sort of feel at home in Tolkien's world, because he lives in a world where things matter, and he lives in a world where things that become humdrum because we use them every day, you can see them and they can become enchanted, and they can become powerful again. So that's one way that these two things intersect, that Barry stories fantasy draws on the same. Well that the liturgy draws on, which is natural significance, natural sacredness. That's the first point. The second point is that just as they draw on the same. Well, the liturgy and the fairy story are supposed to take us to the same end. This is a way that the fairy story is actually derivative of the gospel. Okay, Tolkien invents a new word to talk about fairy tale happy endings. The new word is you catastrophe, which is the sudden overthrow. The sudden, joyous overthrow, where, oh, you think the princess is dead, but the kiss brings her back to life? Or you think everything's lost, and at the last moment, there's redemption. [00:27:23] Speaker C: Right. [00:27:24] Speaker B: The joy of the fairy tale, Tolkien says, is actually the joy of the Gloria. The Gloria in excelsi steo. [00:27:32] Speaker C: Right. [00:27:32] Speaker B: The Gloria in Shelcisteo is, for Tolkien, the fundamental language of the universe, the Gloria in Chelsea steo is what the whole created universe actually means. And we usually don't see this because we're walking around daily life and we don't see it. We don't feel it. But sometimes you can sort of pierce through the veil, and you can see that this is what God created the universe to be, and this is the way that things really work in heaven, right? And so the fairy story, because it can recapture and it can present that marvelous deliverance, right. Draws on that joy, even when it's a purely secular or it's a purely just nursery story fairy tale, that joy of deliverance, that joy of sort of the rapture of the happy ending is ultimately derived from and points back to the Gloria. So that's where fairy stories both come from and lead to the liturgy. That was a lot to say in five minutes. [00:28:39] Speaker A: No, that was very good. I mean, it's important. Okay. So, one of the things I took away from the course, this is kind of a radical takeaway for me. So, traditionally, most of the books I read are nonfiction. I read theology books. I read history books, things like that. And sometimes I read some fiction. I used to read more when I was younger, but I don't read very much of it. And my brain considered them very different in that when I read a nonfiction book, I was very much like, okay, I'm learning something. I'm growing as a person. All these things, positive things. I looked at reading fiction as, okay, it just is something almost like watching television or just being brain dead. Just something to do to relax, which it is on some level. What I will say, because what I'm doing is that I'm actually planning on. I'm started rereading. I have my lord of the Rings, my Tolkien illustrated version here. I'm geeked up. I know you appreciate. So I want audience to see it as well. I'm starting it. You can tell I'm right at the beginning right now. Gandalf just told Frodo to keep it safe, keep it secret. But what happened is, because of taking your course, I'm now reading it. And I admit my whole mentality is a little different because I'm reading it now. Not in a sense of like, oh, I'm learning something. This is catechetical. No, more. Just like, okay, this is a way of. I can't explain as well as you can, but this is a way of understanding the world. This is as valuable, maybe more valuable in some ways, as an important nonfiction book that teaches you maybe a theology book, for example. It's not, like, just a throwaway recreation. Now, of course, there's a lot of nonfiction, I'm sorry, fiction. That's just crap and doesn't help. But this reading, this actually can help form the way I look at things in this world and how I live. I want to thank you, first of all, because I can already tell, just starting it. I have a whole different mentality, and I've read Lord of the Rings, I don't know, maybe half a dozen times in my life, probably more. And so it's a whole different thing. And I think it has to do with what you were just saying about fairy, about how it shows us something about our world, even though it's talking about another world, so to speak. So, anyway, I just wanted to bring that up. Now, one of the things, though, about Lord of the Rings in particular, I remember when the movies came out, oh, what's the guy who played Gandalf? Ian something. [00:31:26] Speaker B: McKellen. [00:31:26] Speaker A: McKellen, yes. Thank you. Who is an excellent actor, by the way. I mean, he's just phenomenal as an actor, but he's an atheist. I think he's homosexual, something like that. And I remember him in an interview, he said something about, one of the things he liked was, there's no religion, there's no God, there's no all this stuff in the books. And so that he liked that about that. And, of course, a lot of Catholics cried foul. A lot of Christians cried foul. But why is you. We go from chronicles of Narnia, which is so explicit, to spoiler Aslan is Jesus, to lord of the Rings. I do think it's legitimate that there might be a little bit of a jarring impact of like, well, you don't see Frodo ever going to church, or you don't see any talk about God or anything, really about that. So what's going on here? [00:32:22] Speaker B: That's a fantastic question, and it's probably the single most confusing question that we can ask about Tolkien, his works, and religion, because Tolkien will give massively contradictory answers to the presence of religion in his imaginary world. So at times, he'll say things like, well, I have not put in, or I've cut out practically all references to anything like religion. At other times, he complains that people aren't paying attention because if they paid enough attention, they would see that religious acts do happen, even in Lord of the Rings. Or he'll say, no, I've absorbed all the religious element into the symbolism of the story itself. And that's where you find it. So Tolkien points this way and he points that way, and you can't sort of proof text it and say, aha, tolkien said, therefore it is or it isn't, because you just don't find it there. The bigger answer is there are relatively few overt references to religion in the Lord of the Rings. [00:33:24] Speaker C: Right. [00:33:25] Speaker B: You could say that when the elves invoke Elbreth, they sing, oh, elbreth, giltonial. [00:33:32] Speaker C: Right. That. [00:33:33] Speaker B: That is a prayer. And in fact, it is. They pray to this angel in the way that we would pray to angel or a saint. So that is, in fact, a religious act. [00:33:43] Speaker C: Right. [00:33:47] Speaker B: Beyond that, you're really hard pressed to find direct references to religion in Lord of the Rings itself. The closest religious ceremony comes in the two towers. It's when Frodo and Sam are with Ferramir, and they pause before their meal to gaze west. And they gaze west towards Numenor, which was. Which is where Aragorn and his people come from. That island sank. It's gone. They gaze beyond it towards elven home, which is where the elves have their natural home is. And beyond that, they gaze in thanksgiving towards that which is beyond elven home and shall ever be. Okay, so they do have this little act of grace or act of sort of thanksgiving, but it's really subtle. You blink and you miss it. But that's all that Tolkien gives you directly in the Lord of the Rings. Now, in his other books, he makes it very clear he has a monotheistic universe. There's God, there's the devil. God created everything, and a whole part of the meaning of life is giving due honor to God. Elsewhere he says, the whole conflict in the Lord of the Rings is not ultimately about freedom. It's about God and his sole right to divine honor. That's what Lord of the Rings, the War of the Ring, everything is about giving God his due honor and not giving it to a creature. So all that is to say, it's there, but it's suppressed. And this is where I think that Tolkien's real genius comes in, right? Because first of all, it'd be bad fantasy writing if you would just stop and have people directly invoking God all the time, because it would introduce something that you and I take as something really real and not to be trifled with into a realm of fairy story. So that would create a real challenge for religious readers, because we don't want that in fairy story, because we don't want God to be made the subject of fairy story. [00:35:47] Speaker C: Right? [00:35:47] Speaker B: First thing, it would also be a problem for non religious readers, because non religious readers would tune out at that point. So Tolkien instead creates a world that's more sort of implicitly religious than explicitly religious. And that's why, in some ways, I think he's such a great evangelistic tool. [00:36:05] Speaker C: Right. [00:36:06] Speaker B: Because people don't put their guards up when they're reading Tolkien. [00:36:09] Speaker C: Right. [00:36:09] Speaker B: You read Lewis, you put your shields up, you filter out the christian stuff if you don't like the christian stuff, and then you're left with whatever you're left with. Tolkien operates on a much more subtle and a much more, I think, ultimately powerful level because he doesn't do that in the same way. So Ian McKellen can be playing Gandalf, who is an angel, and an angel who is particularly attached to the Holy Spirit. Ian McKellen has no idea that this is happening, but he's still doing it. [00:36:39] Speaker C: Right. [00:36:39] Speaker B: And so as sort of an imaginative catechesis, it can work even on people who don't know that it's working on them. [00:36:48] Speaker A: Yeah. And I know people who have said that lord of the Rings, they read as, like, an atheist or something like that, and they do kind of credit it as one of the factors that end up leading them to Catholicism. Not like, in this explicit way, but definitely, like you said, starts to form their own imagination, starts to form their own way of looking at. And I will say in silmerillion, which I did not read till later in life, which I unfortunate the creation account in there is just so, just right at the beginning of it. I recommend people read that. How basically God, I can't remember the name he gives to God, but he sings creation and the angels enjoying him. And then how Melkor, I think it is, Satan basically starts singing his own mean. It really is just a beautiful scene there. Of course, that's in similarly not Lord of the Rings. You wouldn't know any of that, of course, if you just read Lord of the Rings. And another thing is, I think I lost my train of thought here, but it had something to do with this. Okay, so I'll just skip then. I'll come back to it. One of the things that you have a whole, one of your classes is on the liturgical calendar in his mythology. And so obviously, as somebody who lived out the liturgical calendar, you said it was a one year cycle back then, and he knew this. I mean, he was quoting things from the liturgy from a year before because he knew it was coming and all of that. How is that liturgical calendar then seen in the lord of the Rings and his other mythology. [00:38:27] Speaker B: So there are lots of small ways and one, I think, really, or a couple really big ways that it comes up, there are small ways that people have noticed. Know, Frodo wakes up in Rivendell on the feast of St. Raphael in the old calendar, right? So the feast of the healing archangel, is that merely coincidental? Maybe, but maybe not. Right, but the two really huge ones are the fellowship leaves from Rivendell on December the 25th. Okay, so they leave on Christmas day, and then the ring is destroyed on March 25, which is, of course, the date of the annunciation, but it's also the date of the crucifixion. [00:39:12] Speaker C: Right? [00:39:12] Speaker B: So the ring is finally destroyed and the power of Satan effectively broken on the day that Christ died and did this. And then we have a whole sort of, like, paschal Easter into ascension period after the rings destroyed with the celebration and all of that. Those two dates, the 25 March, 25 December. Tolkien says at one point they were completely accidentally chosen. Probably not. At another point, he says they were deliberately chosen. It seems much more likely that they are deliberately chosen because you can't do that by accident. [00:39:50] Speaker C: Right. [00:39:51] Speaker B: And so there's this whole sort of. Right. Liturgical pattern moving from Christmas where our redemption sort of begins, but it begins with Christ in the manger. It begins timidly. And then there's the flight into Egypt in the exodus and all this imagery. [00:40:08] Speaker C: Right? [00:40:09] Speaker B: And then you move through this Lenten period, right, because Frodo's journey through Mordor is very much a lenten journey of dust and ashes and mortification, the final destruction on March 25, and then the celebration after. So in the course, I argue that all of this can be patterned not just in the sort of macro way like, hey, birth of Christ, passion of Christ, but even in a micro way. If you look at the prayers, say, associated with the feast of the ascension, there are strong overlaps with Aragorn's coronation. If you look at the imagery used when Frodo and Sam wake up and you've got this resurrection moment, it can be paired very closely with things that you see in Easter liturgy. And that's how this all works with the patterning in Lord of the Rings. [00:41:01] Speaker A: I want to ask specifically about Aragorn, the return of the king and this ascension connection. So how exactly is because you have one of the classes in your course is called the Pascal patterns in return of the king. I don't want to give away the whole thing, but just on a high level, what are those pascal patterns all. [00:41:25] Speaker B: Right, so if we think about the whole mystery of Christ, right, it's his incarnation, it's his passion, his death, his resurrection and his ascension. And that completes the whole mystery, right? So for Lord of the Rings, we don't have things absolutely complete until we have the coronation of Aragorn, which brings everything to its natural conclusion. From the patristics right on down through the 20th century, you'll find the ascension is the coronation feast of Cris, when God ascends his throne to shouts of joy, right? And you see all those patterns. He enters the gates, the princes welcome him, he judges the nations. All these things you find in the ascension liturgies, right? And all these things you find with Aragorn going up at the end, it doesn't make him an allegory of Christ, but it just means that our climax of Lord of the Rings and our sort of joyous triumph at the end, just as it's patterned on incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, it brings in the ascension element to bring it all to its conclusion. [00:42:31] Speaker A: So I should ask this earlier, but this is my final major question, and that is something you just said, which is it's also well known that Tolkien said he hated allegory, and yet you are saying there's these connections between the dates and christian dates and then the ascension and Aragorn's ascension as the king and stuff like that. Give us why that is not allegory, but it is still connected. What is the difference? Because we know that, again, we keep referencing chronicles, Narnia, which is an allegory, and very clear why is this not allegory? But yet it is connected in some way. [00:43:16] Speaker B: So, first of mean, allegory is such a messy term, right? What does allegory mean? I'm going to just bracket that entire question, right? Because Tolkien can give contradictory answers on that, too. [00:43:30] Speaker A: But just to bother future scholars of his, he's like, you know, people are going to be studying me in future years. I'm just going to start saying things contradictory just to give them work to do in the future. [00:43:43] Speaker B: No, that could very well be. But look, right? Aragorn doesn't mean Jesus. Aragorn means aragorn. Frodo doesn't mean Jesus. Gandalf doesn't mean Jesus, even though elements of their stories mirror elements of Christ's life. I think there are three different ways that we could look at the question of the religious influence on Tolkien's imagination, from sort of the minimalist to the maximalist. [00:44:13] Speaker C: Okay. [00:44:14] Speaker B: The minimalist version would go like this. Hey, Tolkien's a daily mask goer. Tolkien, as daily maskoer, will pick up certain associations. Images will inevitably work their way into his work. And it's just sort of something that happens on the way. Even on that level, you can understand Tolkien better if you understand what his religious formation is, right. We could kick it up another notch where we say the Lord of the Rings is founded on Catholicism, right? If we go back to the very famous quote he's writing to a friend, who noted that Galadriel sort of seems to be drawn in the colors and the lines of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He says, well, of course, all my images of beauty and its nobility and its simplicity are founded on the Blessed Virgin, and the Lord of the Rings is itself a fundamentally catholic and religious work, right? So all my ideas of beauty are founded on our lady, and the Lord of the Rings is founded on Catholicism. So we can move it a step further and say, well, if nothing else, Tolkien tells us that just like Galadriel grows out of Mary, so too the Lord of the Rings grows out of his practice of the faith it's founded on, it's rooted in, and it blossoms out of that. So that's the next stage forward to more sort of conscious working out of these images. But I think there's a third layer that probably works, too. Tolkien conceives of Lord of the Rings as something that actually happened, right. Part of the sort of mythic story is this actually happened at a stage in the history of our world sometime after the fall, but probably before the flood, this actually did happen, and the God in that world is just the God in this world, and middle earth is just our earth, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? And if this actually did happen historically, I think the third thing that we could do is say there might be some justification. I suggest avoiding an allegorical reading, like a strictly allegorical reading. But maybe you could do something more fluid, and you could do a figural reading, right, where it's not that Aragorn is an allegory of Christ, but in some ways, if Tolkien's imagining him as a historical figure, might he, like Cyrus, prefigure Christ in some way or be allowed to point to or draw the attentive readers to? And I think that's probably a fair comparison, right? Because, after all, if we want to bring it back to the idea of liturgy, the liturgy itself operates all the time on this figural level, right? We call the sacrifice of Abraham, the sacrifice of Melchizedek, the sacrifice of Abel to our minds, not because they're just allegories of Christ's sacrifice, but because they point to it, and I think at sort of the fullest level, we could allow that Lord of the Rings might be intended to sort of point to or gesture in the direction of truths of the faith, even though it's not a simple allegory of those things. [00:47:29] Speaker A: Yeah, I think as Catholics, we should believe that the liturgy really forms us as people. As a Catholic, all the books you read and all that are helpful, maybe, or interesting, but ultimately, it's the liturgy that's the most important thing. It's the reason we have liturgy wars is because we know it's so mean you wouldn't fight over something that doesn't matter. And so what you realize, which I think is, I've not seen anybody else talk about this as much, is that when we talk about Tolkien's Catholic, we have to talk about him as a liturgical Catholic living the liturgy. And that just seeps into the deepest part of who he is. So when he writes something, of course it's going to come out. Not that he's like, saying, okay, I want to make Aragorn a Christ figure, or I want to tie this into the ascension. The ascension is literally in his head, just, like, bouncing around there. So when he thinks of a king going to glory and being a coronation, that's just what's in his head is these images of. And it would be completely different if he grew up, for example, muslim or atheist or something like that. So I think that kind of ties it all together. So I got to ask you now, are you going to write a book on this? Because you should. [00:48:49] Speaker B: I'm working on turning the course into a book. Yeah. So the hope would be to have this book come out late in this year or early next would probably be the publication date. So I'm working on that. Another fun thing, if I can just make a self serving plug, there's the Emmaus academy course, which everyone should go use their free trial of Emmaus Academy and go there. But Franciscan is actually letting me do a course on Tolkien's imagination in Gomming, Austria this summer. So if there's any college students not at Franciscan who are listening to this, or if there are late high school students who might be moving towards college, this is open to non franciscan students, too. So if anyone's interested, we're going to be doing a course on Tolkien's imagination in the alps, or the foothills of the alps in gaming, Austria. So this is going to be something that I get to play around with for a long time. Yeah. [00:49:42] Speaker A: Oh, that's exciting. I mean, maybe at some point you think you might teach it also at Francisca, at the Steubenville campus. [00:49:49] Speaker B: That'd be amazing. [00:49:50] Speaker A: Yeah, that thing would sell out. That would be like, filled up within seconds. Because I think, isn't it like seniors, they can get their choice of courses first and then juniors, that probably be. [00:50:03] Speaker B: A largely senior course. [00:50:04] Speaker A: Yeah, right, exactly. You got to figure out a way to get this in spring of 2025 because my son will be a second semester senior then. And I'll tell him, you got to jump into that. But. Okay. So a book will be. I recommend people definitely take the course itself. It's not really super long. It's like ten courses. And I'm looking at the listed all about 2025 minutes. And there's a little quiz afterwards, which I actually liked. I usually skip those, but I liked it because knowing it was there, I was like, okay, I don't know about you, but I can zone out when I'm listening to something online. People probably zoning out to us right now kind of be like, okay. Have that know, like, okay, I got to remember this stuff. It actually helps me then remember it had a bigger impact. So I will put a link to it. Like you said, I think there is a free trial you can get. I don't know if seven days or something like that. Mayas Academy has a lot of other great courses, too. I mean, that's just one of them that I think are great. So I'll put that in there. And like I said, your book about it hopefully will come out in the next year or so. If you can make it to gaming Austria this summer, do that. Sign up for that. So lots of good token stuff. And then my final question is, are you going to watch rings of power season two? [00:51:18] Speaker B: You know what? [00:51:18] Speaker A: The rest of us don't have to. [00:51:20] Speaker B: But somebody's got to do it. So, yeah, I mean, everything coming out of Amazon studios sounds like it's going to take the dumpster fire of season one and then throw some gasoline on it. But you know what? Let's not prejudge. Who knows? [00:51:34] Speaker A: We know counting on you. At least watch some of it so you can tell us whether or not we should bother to watch it. Because most of us are probably just assuming. I never watched the first season because I heard so much, particularly from you, but then from others as well. So you're required to take one for the team is what I'm saying. [00:51:53] Speaker B: I'll take it for the team. [00:51:54] Speaker C: Yeah. [00:51:54] Speaker B: So I don't know when they're planning on coming out with it, but it will be. [00:51:57] Speaker A: I think it was this year. I thought I heard it was later this year. [00:52:00] Speaker B: And then they've got an anime coming out too, about. [00:52:04] Speaker A: That's going to be terrible. [00:52:06] Speaker B: It's going to be interesting. [00:52:08] Speaker A: Exactly. Okay, Ben, thank you very much for doing this. Like I said, encourage people to watch it. Read your tolkien as well. If you haven't read Lord of the Rings in a while, like in the last month, read it again and you'll enjoy it even more. Okay, thank you very much, Ben. [00:52:24] Speaker B: Thank you so much, Eric. [00:52:25] Speaker A: Okay, until next time, everybody. God love you.

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