J.R.R. TOLKIEN

1892-1973
 

 

 

 

 

John Ronald Reuel TOLKIENJanuary 3, 1892–September 2, 1973. professor at Oxford University, philologist, poet,  and author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. He was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis from 1927 until 1940:

[C.S.L]ewis was my closest friend from about 1927 to 1940, and remained very dear to me. His death was a grievous blow. But in fact we saw less and less of one another after he came under the dominant influence of Charles Williams 1, and still less after his very strange marriage 2[From a letter to Christopher Bretherton dated July 16, 1964(Carpenter, § 257)].

MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD

THE EAGLE and CHILD PUB

The significance of Tolkien's deep Roman Catholicism for his writings is attested throughout his correspondence.  The following is an example:

    ‘Trends’ in the Church are .... serious, especially to those accustomed to find in it a solace and a ‘pax’ in times of temporal trouble, and not just another arena of strife and change. But imagine the experience of those born (as I) between the Golden and the Diamond Jubilee of Victoria. Both senses or imaginations of security have been progressively stripped away from us. Now we find ourselves nakedly confronting the will of God, as concerns ourselves and our position in Time ( Vide  Gandalf I 70 and III 155). ‘Back to normal’ – political and Christian predicaments – as a Catholic professor once said to me, when I bemoaned the collapse of all my world that began just after I achieved.

[   ] I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord’s followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but to pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.

[   ] There are, of course, various elements in the present situation, which are confused, though in fact distinct (as indeed in the behaviour of modern youth, part of which is inspired by admirable motives such as anti-regimentation, and anti-drabness, a sort of lurking romantic longing for ‘cavaliers’, and is not necessarily allied to the drugs or the cults of fainéance and filth). The ‘protestant’ search backwards for ‘simplicity’ and directness – which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because ‘primitive Christianity’ is now and in spite of all ‘research’ will ever remain largely unknown; because ‘primitiveness’ is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian ‘liturgical’ behaviour from the beginning as now. (St Paul’s strictures on eucharistic behaviour are sufficient to show this!)

[   ] Still more because ‘my church’ was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history – the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the ‘mustard-seed’ and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is pan of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree. Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites, and so forth. (With trepidation, knowing how little their knowledge of growth is!) But they will certainly do harm, if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth of the plant when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils.

[   ] The other motive (now so confused with the primitivist one, even in the mind of any one of the reformers): aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this ‘ecumenicalness’ has also become confused.

    I find myself in sympathy with those developments that are strictly ‘ecumenical’, that is concerned with other groups or churches that call themselves (and often truly are) ‘Christian’. We have prayed endlessly for Christian re-union, but it is difficult to see, if one reflects, how that could possibly begin to come about except as it has, with all its inevitable minor absurdities. An increase in ‘charity’ is an enormous gain. As Christians those faithful to the Vicar of Christ must put aside the resentments that as mere humans they feel – e.g. at the ‘cockiness’ of our new friends (esp. C[hurch] of E[ngland]). One is now often patted on the back, as a representative of a church that has seen the error of its ways, abandoned its arrogance and hauteur, and its separatism; but I have not yet met a ‘protestant’ who shows or expresses any realization of the reasons in this country for our attitude : ancient or modern : from torture and expropriation down to ‘Robinson’ and all that.

    Has it ever been mentioned that R[oman] C[atholic]s still suffer from disabilities not even applicable to Jews? As a man whose childhood was darkened by persecution, I find this hard. But charity must cover a multitude of sins! There are dangers (of course), but a Church militant cannot afford to shut up all its soldiers in a fortress. It had as bad effects on the Maginot Line.

    I owe a great deal (and perhaps even the Church a little) to being treated, surprisingly for the time, in a more rational way. Fr Francis obtained permission for me to retain my scholarship at K[ing] E[dward’s] S[chool] and continue there, and so I had the advantage of a (then) first rate school and that of a ‘good Catholic home’ – ‘in excelsis’: virtually a junior inmate of the Oratory house, which contained many learned fathers (largely ‘converts’). Observance of religion was strict.

    Hilary and I were supposed to, and usually did, serve Mass before getting on our bikes to go to school in New Street. So I grew up in a two-front state, symbolizable by the Oratorian Italian pronunciation of Latin, and the strictly ‘philological’ pronunciation at that time introduced into our Cambridge dominated school. I was even allowed to attend the Headmaster’s classes on the N[ew] T[estament] (in Greek). I certainly took no ‘harm’, and was better equipped ultimately to make my way in a non-Catholic professional society. I became a close friend of the H[ead] M[aster] and his son, and also made the acquaintance of the Wiseman family through my friendship with Christopher Luke W. (after whom my Christopher is named). His father was one of the most delightful Christian men I have met: the great Frederick Luke W. (whom Fr Francis always referred to as The Pope of Wesley, because he was the President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference). ....


1.I am a man of limited sympathies (but well aware of it), and [Charles] Williams lies almost completely outside them. I came into fairly close contact with him from the end of 1939 to his death -I was in fact a sort of assistant mid-wife at the birth of All Hallows Eve, read aloud to us as it was composed, but the very great changes made in it were I think mainly due to C.S.L. - and much enjoyed his company; but our minds remained poles apart. I actively disliked his Arthurian-Byzantine mythology; and still think that it spoiled the trilogy of C.S.L. (a very impressionable, too impressionable, man) in the last part. [From a letter to Anne Barrett,  August 7, 1964, (Carpenter, §259)]

2.I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis’s death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I learned of it long after the event.1 But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the deep affection that it begot, remains. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded official obituaries only scraped the surface, in places with injustice. How little truth there may be in literary appraisals one may learn from them – since they were written while he was still alive. Lewis only met Williams in 1939, and W. died early in 1945. The ‘space-travel’ trilogy ascribed to the influence of Williams was basically foreign to Williams’ kind of imagination. It was planned years before, when we decided to divide: he was to do space-travel and I time-travel. My book was never finished,2 but some of it (the Númenórean-Atlantis theme) got into my trilogy eventually.
    Publication dates are not a good guide. Perelandra is dated 1943, but does not belong to that period. Williams’ influence actually only appeared with his death: That Hideous Strength,  the end of the trilogy, which (good though it is in itself) I think spoiled it. Also I was wryly amused to be told (D. Telegraph) that ‘Lewis himself was never very fond of The Screwtape Letters’– his best-seller (250,000). He dedicated it to me. I wondered why. Now I know – says they. [From a letter to Michael Tolkien (draft) [Not dated; November or December 1963 (Carpenter, §252)]

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 


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