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book: The Gospel According to Tolkien
Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 4:07 am
As anyone read this book by Ralph Wood?
If so, care to share you opinion about it?
I am asking since I am taking a course on the theology of Tolkien. We have to read this book, CS Lewis's Mere Christianity and the biography by Humphrey Carpenter on Tolkien.
Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 8:31 pm
What school are you going to? I havn't read the book you mentioned, but did read some in "Finding God in Lord of The Rings" a few years ago. Let me know if it's any good. :D
Wood's book and Others'
Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 8:18 am
Forgive for the long response, but this is an interest of mine. I do not mean to start a long discussion or debate on this issue, just offer my semi-informed ramble on this, sit down, shut up, and play MECCG.
I have read through parts of Wood's book as well as an article he wrote, "Frodo's Faith." While I would say that Wood is the best of the lot of those books which attempt to interpret Tolkien's works theologically (most of which are pretty awful), it is still below par. Wood, a professor of English at Baylor U., tries to turn Tolkien's work into that of C.S. Lewis', an "apology" and "allegory" for a particular kind of (mostly Protestant evangelical) Christianity. He seek to find analogues in JRTT's work--LotR only mind you (he ignores the Silmarillion and HoME volumes)--to that of the Christian faith. This approach violates JRRT's warning both in the LotR and the Letters to how to approach his work both in general and in term of it religious character. And that's just one of the problems.
Ironically, there are books that give better clues about the theological character of JRRT's work that do not seek them directly. One of the reasons Wood book suffers is that he ignores the best Tolkien scholarship available: esp that of T.A. Shippey (The Road to Middle Earth, JRRT: Author of the Century) and Verlyn Flieger (Spilintered Light and Interrupted Music--published after Wood's book). Two other books I'd recommend over that of Wood's are Brian Rosebury's Tolkein: A Cultural Phenomena and Christopher Garbowski, Recovery and Transcendence in the Contemporary Mytmaker: the Spiritual Dimenion in the Works of JRRT. Check those out and formulate your own theological opinion.
To leave you further to your own devices, I would argue that there are no good books available about the theological dimension of JRRT writings because there are no scholars who combine a real familiarity with Tolkien scholarship (which Wood does not posess) and a solid grounding in theology (Wood is not an academic theologian but English professor).
With that said, please don't get me wrong. I think there is much religiously-spritiually-theologically rich in JRRT. Again, ironically, I believe there is much much more of that in his legdendarium than in Lewis' fantasy world, despite the fact that Lewis' is unabashedly Christian. Too much to go into here....but the bottom line is don't rely on Wood, read other, and figure it for youself.
Yours in Arda Healed
P.S. Do let us know where this course is being offered.
Re: Wood's book and Others'
Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 5:28 pm
Again, ironically, I believe there is much much more of that in his legdendarium than in Lewis' fantasy world, despite the fact that Lewis' is unabashedly Christian. Too much to go into here....but the bottom line is don't rely on Wood, read other, and figure it for youself.
Maybe not so ironically, since it was after much nagging from Tolkien (a devout catholic) that Lewis began to investigate christianity. I think both authors created worlds with deep spirituality because they both believed in such a thing in their own world. What you believe can be learned through what you write, as your belief system comes out in your works.
Re: Wood's book and Others'
Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 5:48 pm
jhunholz wrote:What you believe can be learned through what you write, as your belief system comes out in your works.
Exactly. I heard a quote last year (I believe it was Lewis who said it) in regards to Christian literature. The quote was basically that "The world doesn't need Christian who are authors, but authors who are Christian." Even while writing a book on fantasy where he may have not been emphasizing his beliefs, there are still some themes that can be taken from Tolkien's book.
Feel free to correct me if I am wrong; this is an interesting topic, and one that I am getting interested in. :D
Tolkien and Lewis: Different Christian Sensibilities
Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 6:03 pm
Thanks for those replies, gents.
As Josh points out, it is not that one author is Christian and the other not. Yes, both were "devout" Christians, and yes, JRRT was instrumental in Lewis' "conversion," and most importantly, yes, both authors' Christian faith influenced and shaped their literary works.
Yet, it must said that Christianity, especially in the Latin/West, is not monolithic. There are as many forms, branches, and types of it as there are other religions in the world. And I would claim that their Christian sensibilities and respective theologies as it affected their their writing and notions of fantasy where not only different but sometimes at odds with one another.
Because I promised earlier to "shut-up," I won't go into further detail about those differences, unless someone is authentically interested in the complexity of that topic and really wants me to offer my take on it (either here or privately)..... as one, this is an MECCG site and two, discussions of religion and/or politics on online forums can turn explosive and become simplistic. However, I want to be of assistance to those interested in such an important and complex topic.
My basic conclusion (simplistically stated) is that I (not an "expert") cannot recommend any books "on the market" that discuss the Christian nature/aspect of JRRT's works because my causual reseach shows them to be fundamentally flawed by trying to treat JRRT's works as one could/should treat Lewis' and by completely ignoring Tolkien scholarship. And while Wood's is by far the best of the lot, there are other books which I believe better illuminate these theological dimensions, albeit in a more indirect manner.
Apologies for any confusion my prior post might have incurred.
Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 9:11 pm
An interesting thing about this topic is that people seem to accept that Tolkien's work can be interpreted differently to the way he himself has stated (ie no religious undertones). I find this refreshing. It is very irritating when people continually argue that Tolkien's words are absolute and cannot be debated. All literature can be interpreted in different ways and Tolkien is no exception.
Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 11:57 pm
Sly Southerner wrote:All literature can be interpreted in different ways and Tolkien is no exception.
Yeah, isn't all literature and aren't all people to considerable extent shaped by their surroundings and the course of their own life? I'm sure he spoke thruthfully when he said he didn't intentionally put any of that in, but that's doesn't mean that per definition none of it can be found in there.
If someone finds that hard to imagine, chew on these non-religious but also very society based aspects. Would he have so many people innocently smoking if it were written today? Would the role for women be the same?
Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 3:19 am
I am taking the course at the University of Missouri-Columbia in Missouri, USA (Religious Studies 2005). The course is taught by an emeritus professor. The professor has much honor to him and he is allowed to teach any class he wants at the university.
From comments by others:
JRRT is a big reason why CS Lewis came back to Christianity, but Lewis's path towards Anglican Christianity burned a deep wound in JRRT that never healed.
Yes, this is a MECCG forum and the comments by others were the depth that I expected and wanted. True, if this was a general Tolkien forum I would ask for more of your views. Alas! I am still reading Wood and I will remember the question about speaking privately. Yes, talk on religion is viotile; but I am here to listen to tales and learn more of JRRT.
If were given the chance to have tea with JRRT himself or that of a person new to MECCG/LOTR; I shall chose the newbie.
I shall give my own review of Wood when I have read more. Maybe a chapter by chapter review or one at the end.