Thursday, September 18, 2014

To the Anti-Tolkien Redhead Across From Me

We sit down to the lunch table at work.
We acknowledge each other briefly.
You watch me ask your neighbor if she has read The Silmarillion.
When she shakes her head no, you jump in with your completely unsolicited opinion.

To paraphrase: "I don't like Tolkien. He's just WEIRD. I like Lewis, because he has SUCH a good ideology. Tolkien had a weird ideology. His writing is so dark and depressing. Not like Lewis'."

I'm not quick-witted, so I outwardly ignored your comments. Besides, I had lunch to eat, books to shop for, and work to do, all of which was a better use of my time than bantering with a narrow-minded twit.

But I still have a few things I'd like to say to you.

To begin with, let's compare these two authors. Tolkien may require deeper study, but Lewis is no less meaningful than Tolkien.

Consider their audiences. To whom was The Chronicles of Narnia written? Children, for the most part. To whom did Tolkien write? Well, perhaps it was intellectuals, because I just recently read that Tolkien was surprised at his books' popularity, because he didn't think people would understand them.

So of course Tolkien will seem more dark, more depressing. Lewis didn't necessarily sugar-coat Narnia's evils, but they could've been portrayed in a much scarier way. But then it doesn't take much to convince children that evil is evil. 

Tolkien's evils, on the other hand, are deep-seated, purely bad, and utterly terrifying. Most of his villains come straight from the pits of hell.

But, knowing you as well as I do, I'm going to assume you haven't even read Tolkien, so allow me to explain it a bit.

The Silmarillion is beautiful fable of a world's beginning, bearing subtle influences of our own Creation story.
The Hobbit is the tale of a wearying journey to reclaim a homeland, a treasure, and a heritage; it mirrors some of our own life struggles.
The Lord of the Rings is a gritty, emotional picture of life, which often causes more tears than laughter, more loss than gain. This can especially be a picture of a Christian's lifelong battle with our Enemy.

I would think that all this would be enough to pique your interest, but, again, I didn't say anything, so you kept rambling. 

Then--then you were impudent enough to say that Persuasion is your favorite classic.

How can you infer to love the themes in an Austen and concurrently dismiss those same themes in Tolkien?

Anne never stopped loving Wentworth, even when she thought he would never return it.

Samwise Gamgee is the sole reason the Ring ever made it to Mount Doom. Every time Frodo was completely overwhelmed, Sam was right there to push him forward, or--literally--carry him forward.

Utter heartbreak: 
Anne loved Wentworth like no other, and had to give him up without any hope of getting him back. Then, when she had a sliver of hope, it was dashed, and she had to watch other girls fawn over him.

People die in Tolkien's books. Good reigns supreme in the end, but only at a steep cost. Saruman ruined so much of the Shire, and several hobbits gave their lives to take it back. Boromir, the hope of his people and the idol of his younger brother, died defending the Ringbearer. The Battle of Pelennor Fields was successful, but not before the death of Theoden King, one of the most valiant and noble leaders of his people. Gandalf sacrificed himself to protect the rest of the Fellowship without any hope of surviving. Thorin lived his whole life to reclaim his people's treasure and his family's heritage, only to die in the very battle that secured his goal. And we won't even try to count the number of people who die fighting over the Silmarils, most of all the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, all of which could've been avoided if Feanor hadn't been so selfish to begin with.

Being too easily persuaded: 
Anne let others convince her that marrying Wentworth at 19 was a bad idea. Granted, she didn't have a lot of say at her age, but she still had some choice.

Denethor II believed he was strong enough to look into the palantir, but he wasn't, and nearly caused the complete ruin of Gondor in the process.

Loving even when it isn't returned: 
This sort of ties into faithfulness. Anne could've given up on Wentworth, but she knew he was the one for her, and never quit loving him, even when it looked like he was interested in Louisa.

Faramir fell in love with Eowyn, and waited patiently for her to see this. Even though she didn't love him at first, his gentleness in helping her get past her infatuation with battles and with Aragorn won her over in the end.

Avoiding bitterness over family's mistreatment: 
Anne was the most sensible, level-headed member of her family, yet everyone treated her like she was stupid and knew nothing. She wisely didn't let their attitudes get to her and she kept on helping out like she had always done.

Faramir had a weighty reason to be bitter about life. Sure, his big brother loved and appreciated him, but Daddy Denethor barely gave the boy the time of day, and basically wrote him off as a worthless son. Faramir never let that affect his motivation and he chose to work just as hard on his strengths.

Treating every person with the same dignity and respect: 
Part of Anne's wisdom was that she treated everyone the same. Elizabeth and Sir Walter made sure they only associated with wealthy, important people, and Mary's attention deficit kept her chasing after the people who made her look good and had money. Anne, though, talked to anyone and helped anyone she could. Money made no difference to her, as we see in her attentions to Mrs. Smith.

Every person, no matter the height or bloodline, is important in Tolkien. The Lonely Mountain and its treasure was won only by the teamwork of the Eagles, 1 hobbit, dwarves, men, and elves. The Fellowship is purposely diverse: 4 hobbits, 1 dwarf, 1 elf, 1 Gondorian, 1 Numenorean, and 1 wizard. Every member of the Nine plays an equally important part. 

Always do your best no matter the criticism: 
Almost everybody ignored Anne, and plenty of people criticized her. But she still worked and helped out as much as she could in spite of that. She never hesitated to step in behind the scenes even though no one would notice.

I think every person in Middle-Earth that knew about the Ring's journey thought it was a lost cause. But every one of the Nine kept plodding along till the job was done. Even though it might have looked foolish to others, Aragorn led the charge on Mordor's gates because he believed it would give Frodo and Sam a fighting chance. And the hobbits probably were the most surprising. Merry and Pippin convinced the Ents to destroy Orthanc, Merry helped defeat the Witch-King, Frodo carried the Ring to Mordor, and Sam carried Frodo to Mordor! Then, to top it off, they came back and cleaned house on Saruman and his thugs.

 That's 7 common themes right there. I could go on, but you know what? It doesn't really matter. You don't read my blog, and I refuse to start an argument by making this visible to you on Facebook. Furthermore, I know I can't convince you. Of anything, actually, for that matter.

You would still ask me why anyone would read Tolkien, and this is all I can say to you. Because art imitates life, and the art of writing fiction is a way of grappling with life's often answerless questions. We read fantasy to temporarily escape reality. By reading about the conquests of our beloved heroes, we find the strength to reclaim our own stolen treasures; slay our own usurping dragons; and defeat the enemy threatening to overwhelm our own worlds. 

And until you grow some speck of imagination, I don't suppose you will ever understand that.


  1. Your defense is amazing. ♥♥ Isn't fall weather totally LOTR weather? The crispness, the sense of adventure... I think I'll pull it down and read it again. :)

    1. Thank you. :-) Well, I figure any weather is Tolkien weather, but I'm reading Silmarillion right now to get ready for Hamlette's blog party. I've never read it, and it blows my mind. Every dozen pages or so, I just have to stop and process the level of genius. He SO knew what he was doing.

  2. Brilliant, simply brilliant, defense. Thank you. I love the similarities you drew between Persuasion and LOTR. Tolkien FOREVAH. <3

    1. Thanks! The more I thought about it, the more I realized they were SO alike. So I decided that was the best way to defend my beloved Middle-Earth. Plus, Persuasion is my favorite Austen ever, so she kind of stepped on both my turfs. I get really defensive of books. :-)

  3. Well said! Well said indeed. I confess I haven't read any of Tolkien's works, although I'm planning to remedy that in the very near future. And one of the biggest reasons is that I have flipped through a few of his books and realized that while I want to read them, I need to make the time to fully appreciate all the themes and nuances. Because if there's one thing that Tolkien and Lewis had in common, it's that they both excel is writing one sentence and saying a million different things in it.

    I have read Austen and Persuasion in particular is my favorite of hers. So I absolutely love that you contrasted the themes of the books/authors. And it makes perfect sense! So thanks. :)

    1. Thanks, Kara! I waited about 10 years to read the books, and I think it's because I was intimidated. There is so much to think about and study.

  4. Dude. I would never have thought of comparing Persuasion and LOTR, but this is brilliant! I love it!

    One thing I wish they'd put more emphasis on in the movie is that really, it's Merry who defeats the Witch King of Angmar. It was his blade that made him killable. Of course, in the movie they wanted to beef up the female roles, so they make it all about Eowyn being female, but if Merry hadn't stabbed him first, Eowyn wouldn't have been able to kill him. That's my take on the book, anyway.

    1. Thanks. :-) The similarities hit me like a ton of bricks, so I knew I had to write it down.

      Hmm...I'm gonna have to go read that part again. That's was a Barrow-blade. I forgot about that. See? Nobody saw the hobbits coming, but if Master Merry hadn't had that particular sword, everyone would be dead.