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You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. True Myth: Tolkien's Catholic Imagination. Aldean Hendrickson. Ringwraiths, balrogs, and trolls. And One Ring to Rule them all. The name and works of J. Tolkien is familiar around the world.

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His books have fascinated gen- erations of readers since their initial publication: The Hobbit in , and The Lord of the Rings in and But here is a passage from his pen that you may not have heard before: I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sac- rament. His books have been translated into dozens of languages, selling millions of copies, and have served as the basis of a monumentally popular trilogy of films. His mother, a young widow struggling to provide adequate support for her two young boys, made the surprising choice to secretly take instruction in the Catholic faith, and was received into the Church of Rome when Ronald was eight years old.

This decision was absolutely pivotal in the life of her oldest son. The increasingly straightened circumstances of the tiny family placed enormous pressures on Mabel as she desperately struggled to provide her boys with educa- tional opportunities. She poured her whole energies into providing for her boys, at the expense of her own health: she collapsed into a diabetic coma and died in at the age of thirty-four. Ronald was twelve years old when he buried his mother.

Nine years later he wrote: My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith. Tolk- ien was a philologist: a scholar of the historical development of language. As a stu- dent and later as a professor, Tolkien was particularly interested in Norse, Anglo- Saxon, and other old Germanic languages.

Obviously such a convention lies open to a blurring between the purely histori- cal and the imaginative. One of these made its way into The Lord of the Rings, where the story of the cow jumping over the moon is spun out to a poem of some sixty-five lines. Clearly, as I said, such exercises mark a conscious leap from scholarship to the work of imagination.

So, too, in its way, does the vast written work which Tolkien la- bored over nearly all his life. An ardent Eng- lishman and a passionate — as well as professional — devotee of the myths of an- cient peoples throughout northern Europe, he was perennially disappointed that his native England had no extant epic myths of its own.

Rather than producing a supremely English myth, Tolkien came instead to craft something more universal, and also something more personal, more essential to his deepest held convictions: he composed a Catholic myth. This is not to say that he composed an alternative to or an improvement on the Gospel. Such an accusation would have infuriated Tolkien, or more likely set him off in peals of incredulous laughter. For him such a project would have been as ab- surd as it would be unthinkable. There he makes a very careful and important distinction between levels of belief: there is the primary level, 6 Thanks for this definition to Rev.

Yvan Mathieu, S. Within such an imagined world, within for example a work of literature, the reader can be reasonably expected to give this secondary level of be- lief to what he or she encounters therein assuming the sub-created world they en- counter is well-crafted and sufficiently believable. Rather, Tolkien wrote the myth, and some readers enjoy the myth, because of previously held beliefs. The belief creates the myth, not the myth the belief.

Tolkien held an intense dislike for allegory as a literary form, one of the rea- sons he was highly displeased with his friend C. It is hard to over- state his distaste for allegory: one of the to his mind damning faults of the Arthu- 8 See Purtill, 4. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.


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Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony. The romancer, who invents a whole world, is worshipping God more effectively than the mere realist. Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be re- deemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.

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But since the author of it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made to Be, to be true in the Primary Plane. This is widely pointed to as a derivation of Catholic Eucharistic belief. Tolkien acknowledged that such a connection was made by readers in one of his letters, but without commenting further upon it, either yea or nay. But although not insignificant, these are all details in a vast scheme.

And they all lead us too far in the direction of allegory, of looking for isolatable equivalencies t our primary beliefs in the primary reality. Have one to sell? Sell now - Have one to sell? Get an immediate offer. Get the item you ordered or get your money back. Learn more - opens in new window or tab. Seller information archivesbooksinc Contact seller. Visit store. See other items More See all. Item Information Condition:. Sign in to check out Check out as guest. The item you've selected was not added to your cart. Add to Watchlist Unwatch.

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