This past spring, CiRCE Institute hosted a literature bracket (“The Great Novel Knockout”). Out of 62 great works of literature, two remained to compete in the championship round.
Which two books stood at the top? The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Two summers ago, my dear friend and Scholé Sisters facilitator, Mindy Pickens, attended the CiRCE Summer Institute. While there, she took advantage of the time with Andrew Kern to ask a big question. “What should my husband read in answer to the question, ‘What is a man?’” Kern’s answer was Tolkien.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings show up on almost every “must read” book list, from classical schools to secular reading lists.
And I hadn’t read them.
I knew I needed to pursue Tolkien as my next reading project, and, unbeknownst to me, Mindy had been thinking the same thing. Our Scholé group was just finishing a year of Flannery (after a year of Hamlet), and we were ready to tackle a new author. (If we’re going for variety, I think we’re set.)
My friend Sara at Plumfield and Paideia suggested I read Bilbo’s Journey and Frodo’s Journey by Joseph Pearce to help me on my own journey of understanding, so I eagerly purchased both books. I already had The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft on my to-read stack.
Mindy is reading On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, and I may have to join her before my journey is over.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories is a must-read. [Link contains the full text.]
I also took this opportunity to add Letters From Father Christmas by Tolkien to our Christmas book collection. I am looking forward to sharing this one with the kids! I’ll also be re-reading Tolkien’s quirky illustrated tale Mr. Bliss.
Levi is thrilled that I am finally reading his favorite series. His enthusiasm was so great that he recently re-read them all and spent more time digging into The Silmarillion. I am strongly considering enrolling him in Roman Roads Good Books II: The Lord of the Rings online class led by James Nance from January until May. Maybe he can share some of the discussion with me.
Luke and Leif both read through The Hobbit recently and all of the kids have watched and re-watched the movie. (It is one of Lola’s favorites, surprisingly. She is not a sensitive child, for sure.)
Even though I am just now sharing this new literary project here on the blog, I have already finished The Hobbit and Bilbo’s Journey as well as enjoyed two meetings to discuss them with my Scholé Sisters. I’m well on my way! I’ll share more thoughts about those books specifically in another post.
Until the next post, enjoy this short collection of related articles.
Perhaps the most beautiful facet of this almost biblically-worded passage is its position within the story of Tolkien’s world; it foreshadows that Men will be born into a world already broken and remade, in which pain and comfort, joy and sorrow, and (most importantly) rebellion and reconciliation have all been introduced. Everywhere in the passage we find descriptive thematic elements set against one another, all pointing to a truth vital to Tolkien’s project: life comes from death.
Certainly grace builds on nature, but we need to let nature be nature before we start building. We need to know what natural wisdom, justice, courage, temperance, and friendship are before we can know them as supernatural.
It is not surprising that language should be used in especially complicated ways in Tolkien’s fiction, used not only to present the story but to be an important formative element of its most basic and pervasive mythic pattern. His fascination with language—its nature, its “feel,” its relation to thought, myth, and literature—began early and continued unabated throughout his life.
Like Sam Gamgee, we know we are little things, incapable of moving the gears of the great. We know we are not the world’s saviors, but the companions of the world’s savior. We are, rather, the servants of him who walks a sorrowful road of sacrifice. We remember that it is our master’s job to save the world, our master’s to eradicate evil, to root it out, to burn it in the fires of his Sacred Heart. Because we walk alongside our master, his path is ours, and his death may well be ours as well. But our primary job is to be available to our master, to adopt the same humble attitude of Sam, the servant of him who bore the evil of the world, the little hobbit who “knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden…[that] the one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.”
Middle Earth is described as following Tolkien’s "early life and love affair with Edith Bratt," as well as his service to the British Army during the First World War. The film, to be written by Angus Fletcher, is reportedly based on years of archival research on Tolkien’s life.
We’ve been singing The Misty Mountains Cold here at our house for weeks now. I even learned to play it on the tin whistle!