Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lucia Catholic Hobbits

With Hobbit fever having gripped the capital of New Zealand, I thought I'd just point out that J.R.R Tolkien was Catholic and the world that the Hobbits inhabit is full of Catholic themes and ideas and symbols.

The new film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (opening Dec. 14) has got action and adventure galore, just like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy that preceded it. But the director and actors who worked on the movie are well aware of the deeper themes that lie at the heart of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), who authored all the original books, published between 1937 and 1955.

At a recent press conference about the film in New York City, Richard Armitage, who portrays the Dwarf warrior Thorin Oakenshield, said, “One of the things I find when I look into that book [The Hobbit] is a sense of Tolkien’s Catholicism, his Christianity – not necessarily in a denominational way, but in terms of his chivalric view of the world, his nobility which is expressed through kindness and mercy. It’s present in most of his characters and I find that inspiring.”

Tolkien did in fact acknowledge taking that approach in his stories. In a letter, he once wrote, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

No harm in getting a plug in.

Related links: The Director and Stars of “The Hobbit” Share Thoughts on Bravery, Mercy and Tolkien’s Christianity ~ Christopher Closeup
J.R.R Tolkien - Truth and Myth ~ CatholicAuthors.com

4 comment(s):

WRT said...

From the article "The Director and the Stars..." :

“…the pity of Bilbo rules the fate of all: meaning that Bilbo had a chance to kill Gollum but he didn’t. And the fact that he didn’t has now created the story for ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ So it was very interesting to shoot that scene and show the moment where Bilbo stays his hand – and also the reason why he doesn’t kill Gollum when he’s got the opportunity: because Gandalf insisted that ‘true courage is not about knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.’”

This is fascinating, but seems also like an unintentional slip of truth that exceeds the definition of LOTR etc being solely Catholic themed films – not that it’s important to me that it be proven to be one or the other.

Is Gandalf an echo of religious thought older than Christianity, or an acknowledgment of whatever Christianity emerged from? The idea that mature courage doesn’t go looking for a fight is older than Christianity. Tolkien was too smart to think there was nothing else in the World but Catholic ideas, even if he chose to believe what he believed.

Who do you think Gandalf represents? The idea that Gollum eventually ends his own life is also older than Christianity. (Note here that I do not suggest Christianity has no claim to certain ideas simply because they’ve been around for a while.)

What would Catholicism say about Bilbo if he had realised that if he just left off, everything would sort itself out on its own? There would still be a story, but there wouldn’t be Lord of the Rings. Did Tolkien write a book where Gandalf is the central character?

Tolkien says it was a subconscious event that Bilbo does not kill Gollum when they first meet. Nowadays, many films go through an easy killing spree of several bad guys who approximate a dark but unexplored version of the hero, before meeting up with the big boss that sets the scene for the film. Did Tolkien just switch the order around: plenty of faceless Orcs get the chop in LOTR films, who did they represent? What does Catholic thought to have to say about this? Mercy for some, but not others? Which others? Where is the line? Is a demon a person, an element of a person or both at the same time? Does a trait that “needs destroying” exist before or only because of humans? Is the symbolism too vague to make an assumption and I should just shut up and enjoy the film?

I haven’t read the books, just seen the films so far, not including the latest offering. Is there much symbolism and Catholic detail missing or altered in the films?

Ciaron said...

WRT, have a look at this:

Lucia Maria said...

WRT,

You said: "This is fascinating, but seems also like an unintentional slip of truth that exceeds the definition of LOTR etc being solely Catholic themed films – not that it’s important to me that it be proven to be one or the other."

I've highlighted the Catholic aspect, however, note that he himself, in the quote I give in the post, says: "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision."

In other words, it's not completely Catholic, but, as the following writer says, "Tolkien’s imagination was informed and fired by his faith and piety." For example:

As the passion of Christ is dimly echoed in the struggles of Tolkien’s three heroes [Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn: Priest, prophet, king], so the place of Mary in Catholic faith and piety is reflected in another key figure of Middle-earth: Galadriel, the elven Queen of Lothl√≥rien. Tolkien himself explicitly acknowledged this connection, observing in a letter to a friend, "I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary." In another letter he remarked that it is upon our Lady that "all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded."

Once again, this isn’t to say that Galadriel is an allegorical representation of the Blessed Virgin, any more than Frodo or Gandalf or Aragorn are direct representations of Christ. The actual relationship is more subtle: In imagining a glorious and immortal Queen of a paradisiacal realm, and in depicting the devotion of others to her, Tolkien could hardly help drawing on the actual devotion in his religious tradition to a glorified Queen of a divine realm.

Indeed, in being drawn to create such a character in the first place, Tolkien’s imagination was informed and fired by his faith and piety. Had he been, for instance, a Southern Baptist, or a Dutch Calvinist, doubtless Galadriel either would never have existed at all, or would at any rate have been an entirely different figure.

It’s in the devotion she inspires, most especially in the dwarf Gimli, that Galadriel’s Marian resonances are most apparent. Gimli’s heart belongs to his immortal Queen as unreservedly as the heart of St. Louis de Montford or St. Maximillian Kolbe to the Queen of Heaven, and through Gimli the reader, even the non-Catholic or non-Christian reader, has a kind of window into the world of such devotion.


link: Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic, The Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson’s Film Trilogy

Lucia Maria said...

"Is Gandalf an echo of religious thought older than Christianity, or an acknowledgment of whatever Christianity emerged from? The idea that mature courage doesn’t go looking for a fight is older than Christianity. Tolkien was too smart to think there was nothing else in the World but Catholic ideas, even if he chose to believe what he believed.

Who do you think Gandalf represents?


The prophet aspect of Christ, but imperfectly, as that wasn't Tolkien's intention. See the link I gave in the previous comment.

"The idea that Gollum eventually ends his own life is also older than Christianity. (Note here that I do not suggest Christianity has no claim to certain ideas simply because they’ve been around for a while.)"

True.

"What would Catholicism say about Bilbo if he had realised that if he just left off, everything would sort itself out on its own? There would still be a story, but there wouldn’t be Lord of the Rings."

Catholicism would say that he would have been yet another person who has fallen short of fulfilling the mission that he had been given, that he had been made to do. In that, he would not be unusual.

"Did Tolkien write a book where Gandalf is the central character?"

I don't think so, but then I haven't read everything Tolkien has written.

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