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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Of March 25 And Tolkien

Today is March 25th and Good Friday. In a little while, after breakfast I will be off to join some friends in collecting for the Royal Children's Hospital, which uses the money for research that, sooner or later, helps the little ones.

And it occurred to me that on this day, on Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam arrived at the Cracks of Doom to throw in the Ring and Frodo nearly yielded to the temptation to keep it. Well, actually, he did yield to the temptation, but was saved from himself by Gollum's action in biting off the finger with the Ring.

Eruption of Hawaiian volcano 1954. Public Domain.


Tolkien, a devout Catholic, didn't choose his dates at random. He knew exactly what he was doing. His Fellowship leaves Rivendell on December 25. Frodo and Sam reach their destination on March 25, which was also significant in the Church year, as the Feast of the Annunciation. It was New Year in England for hundreds of years.

It was also the traditional date of the Crucifixion. In other words, Good Friday. Is there a better date for the destruction of Sauron's instrument of evil? If you've read some of Tolkien's other works, you'll know that Sauron wasn't just a standard Dark Lord of the Voldemort(whoops! You know Who) persuasion. He was originally the sidekick of Morgoth, who was Middle-Earth's Satan. In other words, fallen angels, both of them. What they're offering is temptation to truly horrible sin. Not just the "I swore at my brother" type of sin, not even the "I robbed the bank" type of sin. That's amateur! This is the real thing, the kind of sin that turned a bunch of kings into the Ring Wraiths.

A Catholic website I found while refreshing my memory on the significance of the date suggests that the "unmaking" of the Ring is like the unmaking of sin by the Crucifixion. 

Makes sense to me. I read LOTR originally as a straight epic fantasy novel, the greatest of them all(one of the reasons why I so rarely read epic fantasy these days - they just can't compare to this one). You can read it that way and enjoy it, even love it. Tolkien doesn't hit you over the head with his faith. If you pick it up, wonderful, if not - enjoy anyway! 

But once I discovered the Catholic significance I was amazed that I hadn't noticed it first time around. For example, Gollum choking on the lembas bread(the Host). Frodo and Sam finding themselves able to live on just that and the Elven drink which is the sacramental wine. Go back and read! I promise it won't spoil it for you. It didn't spoil it for me, and I'm not "of the Nazarene   Persuasion." ;-)  Of course, I am a lover of things mediaeval and so was Tolkien. 

By the way, you'll pick up some bits of Tolkien in the wonderful though lesser Harry Potter books. I remember nearly choking on my drink the first time I read that scene in Prisoner of Azkaban in which the very Gandalf-like Dumbledore tells Harry that he may one day be glad he saved Wormtail. It took me back to a very similar scene between Gandalf and Frodo, only it's Gollum. Well, I guess Joanne Rowling is entitled to a bit of homage. She also, IMO, paid tribute to C.S Lewis in that scene in which Harry goes to the Deatheater camp. But Harry is her Frodo, if not with a Ring to tempt him. 

It seems almost irrelevant to this post, but I'm going to add a few birthdays of people who have given me delight. One is Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor. Another is Jim Lovell, astronaut of the Apollo 13 and hero of that wonderful film of the sane name. Happy birthday, Jim! A third is the glorious singer Aretha Franklin. 

So, have a great day, sleep in, go to church if that's your thing and consume lots of chocolate eggs. I'm going to have brekkie and raise money for the Royal Children's Hospital.

6 comments:

Lexa Cain said...

That's really fascinating, especially since you never noticed the religious connections before. I was told the Narnia books were the same, though I never saw the connection myself. Just seemed like straight-up fantasy to me! LOL! Have a great weekend!

Pamela said...

How fascinating! I devoured them in one go when I was moving back home from France (long plane rides) and I'm far overdue for a re-read. I also read them as straight-up fantasy, but this is so interesting! Tolkien was such a master.

Sue Bursztynski said...

He was indeed! As I said, I just can't appreciate other people's epic fantasy these days. I remember my anger with Terry Brooks's Sword Of Shannara when I realised who it was trying to copy. (And it really was - it was commissioned after Tolkien's death to cash in). I couldn't finish it. I don't care how famous and popular the series is now. Enjoy your reread! It won't let you down, I promise.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, Lexa, a lot of people say they didn't notice the religion in Narnia as children. I read it as an adult, so I did. :-) But not all adults do either. My brother in law had to read it to teach it to his primary school class. He's an excellent teacher, but for some reason, he didn't read ahead this time, just read it with his class. One night in the car, driving me home, he said they had just reached the bit with Father Christmas and he felt there was something a bit strange here... He was startled when I burst out laughing and explained the religious significance. See, this was an Orthodox Jewish boys' school. His predecessor had gotten away with teaching it for years. The kids might not have picked up the Christianiity, but some of their parents might, and might not have been happy. In a way, I'm sorry I told him, because the kids were enjoying it and in their lives they might not ever have got around to reading it again.

Katherine Langrish said...

I'd never thought of the wafer/lembas thing befoer, Sue - now you've said it, it's obvious! And you comment above is reminding me of a similar moment my mother-in-law experienced years ago - she was a Gentile teacher in King David's School Manchester, then the biggest Jewish school in the country. And she was reading aloud to her class: Oscar Wilde's 'The Selfish Giant' (having only the vaguest memory of the story's trajectory) when her eye - leaping ahead - spotted the lines about the little child who melts the Giant's heart having 'the prints of nails in his hands and feet' - and she had to do some extremely fast thinking. Somehow, though, she managed a revised ending which wouldn't bring the parents down on her in wrath.

Sue Bursztynski said...

That must have been embarrassing for your Mum, Katherine! ;-) My brother-in-law was a Jewish teacher in a Jewish school, just not religious. But he hadn't read Lewis before or would have picked it up. In the end, he switched novels, reading a classic Australian children's novel instead.

I have a vague memory of Tolkien himself actually saying what the lembas and miruvor were, though I had already picked it up and was pleased to have it confirmed.