September 19th, 2014

granada holmes

(no subject)

I got out of the habit of checking LJ for a while and today tried to get back into the habit of it. Then burned out about two days into reading/replying to shorter posts and saving older ones. So I'm going to have to just write off the older ones unless I get a second wind in the next day or two. I'm sure they are all worth reading! Sorry about that.

The one thing really going on in my head, besides the typical living of daily life, is a meme I saw over on Tumblr about Tolkien's Catholic faith and religion. I'll probably come across a link when I go through my likes over there later tonight and may add a link when I do, but it was based around a quote (badly out of context IMO) from letter #142 where Tolkien says LOTR is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," and goes on to say that people who aren't familiar with Tolkien's Roman Catholicism aren't able to fully appreciate it, that they lack the proper framework - sort of like someone trying to read Biblical allusions in literature without being familiar with the Biblical stories. And that has me thinking about the extent to which Tolkien's stories are "closed" to people who aren't familiar with his Catholic, or at least his Christian, religion. I don't necessarily mean being a believer; it's possibly to be a Christian without being well-versed in the tradition, and equally possible to be well-versed and never "internalize" it, never really believe it. But I think there's this idea that there's something uniquely Christian in Tolkien's writings that you can't really understand without reference to Christian (or even specifically Roman Catholic) practice and teaching. And I've never believed it was quite that simple.

Anyway, I reread letter #142, which was really interesting because right after Tolkien makes the "fundamentally religious" comment he goes on to say how influenced he was by the classics - which are often seen as, not bad but certainly not the same story as the one the Bible is telling. Plus you see that this is written to an old family friend and priest, and I wonder how much of that bit is social nicety given who he's talking to. There are other letters where he cautions against expecting too much specifically Christian parallels with his work, another priest who chastised him for not including more and Tolkien defending that choice. And of course the famous allegory comments in the LOTR introduction. And then there's the letter (#131, IIRC?) that sometimes is used as an intro in some versions of the Silmarillion, where he talks about the extent to which there was an original sin in that story, and it's a very different kind of work than what you see in Genesis. On the other hand, there are real parallels between Christian philosophy and some of the creation myths (I've talked a bit before about Melkor's temptation and its parallels to Augustine's De Casu Diaboli), and there are certainly themes and arcs that religious people will relate to in distinctly religious ways. But does this mean you have to know something about Christianity or RCC or Catholicism generally to relate to Tolkien's stories, that if you don't have that you'll be missing out on something? There, I'm less convinced.

Anyway, I wish I had a list of letters or other bits where Tolkien talked about the extent to which LOTR and his other stories were distinctly religious in nature and what that meant to him. I'd love to read them and write up a bit about it. You know, without having to do huge amounts of reading to find the relevant passages. It's definitely something I've been thinking about, though.