May 6, 2007

A shadow of hope...

From a review by Msgr. Eric Barr of the Anamchara Blog on the new book by Tolkein, The Children of Hurin.

If you have read the Silmarillion you have already read this tale in more fragmentary form. I read it long ago, and remember the story of Turin being one of the most harrowing things I ever encountered. But I didn't understand what Tolkien was getting at...

...In our world, we like to think of ourselves as the masters of creation, flawed but not really sinful. Ask a friend if he or she sins and they will tell you they make mistakes but "sin?"--not so much. The Western world values "niceness" above all other virtues and raises tolerance to an almost oppressive level. We must accept anything and everything because each of us is the ultimate decider of what is right and wrong. Ambiguity rules our hearts and assuages our consciences. What is good for you may be wrong for me and vice versa. Too much reflection and we may think badly of ourselves. The problem is: not enough reflection and when our sins come home to roost and we must face them, then we may just give in to despair.

Critics will say our world is nothing like the one Tolkien created in his mythology, but they would be wrong. It is exactly like it--peopled with characters who are much like us, convinced that they can look evil in the eye and conquer it; convinced that if we just all tolerate everyone's take on the truth, we can do anything we want; convinced that salvation rests in our own virtue and courage. Just like the heroes in Tolkien's story, we do not reflect on our weakness for fear that such reflection will drag us down and tear us apart. The irony is that a little reflection on personal sin, balanced with humility usually leads to a chastened and wiser person who goes forward better for the examination of conscience. If we keep running away from the evil within us, then it becomes most dangerous when we are forced to face it. That fact destroyed Turin and Hurin, his father, and may very well destroy us...
...Turin is a kid who grows up with an absent father, who happens to be a hero, and deals with the fear of terror every day. His father, Hurin, captured by the Satanic figure of the story--Morgoth--is held in thrall in Middle-Earth's version of hell. As Turin's world breaks apart (Morgoth stretches out his hand to conquer his family), he flees to the Elves where he is fostered by the Elven King. Yet, as he grows into adulthood, he remains a man apart, a loner, given to flashes of anger and compassion, in the grip of emotions he doesn't understand. In his hatred of Morgoth, he dances with the Dark. His loathing is very close to a perverted form of love, for his very self finds its only meaning in relationship to this terrible evil force. Elves and men who try to befriend him, women who try to love him are pushed away in favor of his lust for revenge...

— — — — — — —

...Never has Tolkien shown so powerfully, the existence of Original Sin. This is an unredeemed world, long before the advent of Judeo-Christianity, and in this graceless time no human, despite his or her inherent goodness, has the power to successfully confront evil. Neither elves nor men can destroy Morgoth; sin has weakened them too much. Indeed, though not told in this tale, it takes the angels of Middle Earth, the Valar, to thrust Morgoth outside the world's bounds. Humility is the lesson of this story. If humanity is to succeed in conquering evil, it must look elsewhere for salvation. It will not come from man, or elf, or anything in this creation. Critics see only tragedy in this story, but there is a shadow of hope, an unseen answer that Tolkien is pointing to. It will not be found in the later Lord of the Rings tales, but will only be found, as Tolkien has written elsewhere, in the Gospel with the Incarnate God who came to earth to save a fallen humanity and cosmos. Tolkien the Catholic is alive and well in this newly published story. A parable for our times, this cautionary tale warns us of thinking ourselves as gods, as masters of the universe...

Posted by John Weidner at May 6, 2007 6:29 AM
Weblog by John Weidner