A very happy 128th birthday to the great myth-maker and devout Catholic (and one of my favorite writers), J.R.R. Tolkien!
Tolkien’s writings are richly textured and immersive. He was more than an author. He was a “sub-creator” of an incredibly complex world, replete with exotic and unforgettable creatures, invented languages, histories, and characters. His legends unfold an entire cosmos in intricate detail. Moreover, Tolkien is one of the few writers who can claim to have birthed an entirely new genre: epic fantasy.
While Tolkien found strict allegory repellant, it is undeniable that his devout Catholic faith informed his work. Indeed, he called Lord of the Rings a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” One cannot read his works without receiving a deep sense of sacramentality.
His books also illustrate profoundly the complex interplay between personal choice and divine providence. Yes, Bilbo was meant to have the ring. As was Gollum and Frodo. Yet, it is their difficult and seemingly accidental choices also lead to its destruction and the salvation of Middle Earth. There are no accidents.
Of course, I am deeply appreciative of his tales about hobbits, orcs, and wizards. But I also love to pour over his collected letters. Hidden within them are many nuggets of real wisdom and deep insight. They reveal a true gentleman with an incredibly complex mind, a loving father, and above all a man of deep and abiding faith.
The strangeness of Tolkien’s world is spellbinding, but ultimately, it points us back to our own world. His mythology reminds us that we, too, live in an unfolding story, and we all have our part to play. No person, no choice, is too small to play a pivotal role in this true myth. Above all he reminds us that there is good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.
So today, let’s toast to this brilliant and holy man on his birthday. The toast is simple:
At 9 p.m. your local time, raise a glass of your favorite beverage and toast simply, “The Professor!”