J.R.R. Tolkien on
Truth in Story and Myth
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
—Opening Line of the Redbook of the Westmarch
It’s amazing how a single sentence about a little person, which popped into J.R.R. Tolkien’s head while grading papers, could make such a big difference in the lives of millions, not just in terms of entertainment, but by quietly exposing them to a Divine vision. It’s true that Tolkien’s concept of Middle-earth already existed before the opening sentence of The Hobbit entered his head. But except for a series of quite fortunate events, Tolkien’s world would have never come
to the rest of us. Without The Hobbit, there would have never been a call for a second hobbit book. And that second book, The Lord of the Rings, which some critics have argued to be the most important book of the 20th century, might never have been finished once started but for a chance meeting (with C. S. Lewis), and the encouragement of their literary circle (the Inklings), and Lewis’s unrelenting pressure on Tolkien to finish the book. Like the plots in his own books, Tolkien’s life and legacy seems to have been guided by an invisible hand from another world. The whole thing, retrospectively at least, has a ring of truth and familiarity to it.
Romantic Theology is a term coined by Charles Williams and carried out collaboratively with his friends--C. S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and others, in “our little literary club” known as the Inklings. In their shared vision and love of Greek and Norse mythology, Arthurian legends, Celtic sagas, and romantic poetry, they produced an enduring treasure of theological
fantasies and spiritual writings reflecting the romantic spirit in theology. Through the portal of what Lewis called the “baptized imagination” as a trustworthy faculty for receiving Divine disclosures to be tested by scripture and reason, Romantic Theology was born. Through their example of friendship and writing projects, the Inklings inspired generations of Christians and people of goodwill to read and write with the “feeling intellect” of the heart, and not just with the discursive reasoning of the mind.
As a literary scholar and orthodox Christian, C. S. Lewis felt that “if the real theologians were doing their job” there would be no need for lay theologians like him. Lewis and his fellow Inklings championed the creative conjunction of Logos and Mythos (Reason and Story) to produce compelling works of theological fiction. Mythopoetics–the language of myth, metaphor, poetry and narrative–was their distinctive genre to point to religious experience and theological truths in aesthetic and concrete ways.
This course on the primary works of J.R.R. Tolkien, takes up Tolkien’s commitment to truth and beauty, and his unique vision of the nature and function of myth and story: myth as invention about reality (in a similar way that words are inventions about objects in reality); and story as “subcreation” of divine activity re-enacting the work of the Creator as an act of worship and an avenue for revealing transcendent truth.
Course Outline & ASSIGNMENTS: See Syllabus