Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tolkien's Sacramental Vision and The Hobbit Party (Angelico Press and Ignatius Press)

Despite the insistence of many atheist/agnostic Middle Earth fans, Tolkien's works are bursting at the seams with religious, more precisely, Catholic themes and values. To try and ignore or dismiss the Catholicism that is found in his works is an insult to Tolkien and a sign of ignorance on the reader's part. In Craig Bernthal's work Tolkien's Sacramental Vision, he examines different scenes, objects, and characters in Tolkien's works (mainly The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) under the light of Catholic Sacramentality.

The book begins by explaining what exactly a Catholic novelist is, and then defends Tolkien's place as one. Other topics discussed include the creation story in The Silmarillion; Baptism and the character of Frodo; Penance and Reconciliation; and Galadriel and her gifts, to name a few topics. I learned a lot of interesting things, which I missed in my readings of The Lord of the Rings. For example, I learned that Boromir took Faramir's place at the Council of Elrond. Perhaps, if Faramir had gone like he was supposed to things would have turned out differently. My favorite section of the book discussed Leaf by Niggle. I could definitely relate to Niggle in many ways including time-wasting and the need for perfection to a fault. This brief section in the book led me to reading this work, and hopefully becoming less of a "niggler."

Overall, this was a very fascinating book and one I would highly recommend to any Catholic or Christian who loves Tolkien. It opened my eyes to many nuances in Tolkien's works and made me appreciate The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on a whole new level. If I had more time, I would break out my copies of the two works and read through them again with this book by my side. Unfortunately, that is not feasible for me at this time, but it is something I plan/hope to do in the future. Five stars and cannot recommend this book more highly.

When you hear the title for The Hobbit Party, you might think the word party is referring to a gala of sorts, like I did. In actuality the title is a play on politics, like the Republican or Democratic Party. While most authors/commentators on Tolkien's work tend to focus on the religious themes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the authors, Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards, chose to focus on how the political environment of his day shaped his writings and the political and economic themes we find in his writings if we look closely.

Some of the interesting topics discussed include just war, free market/capitalism, and big government. The most interesting chapter to me however was the last one which touched on the topics of love and death. The authors begins this chapter by stating that "Death and the desire for deathlessness was Tolkien's central theme of The Lord of the Rings. We are then given a litany of examples, including the obvious One Ring and Gandalf's death and resurrection; as well as less obvious example of the White Tree of Gondor. Despite all the mention of death, Tolkien however had the right perspective on death. He saw it as a gift, and not a curse. This may sound confusing at first, because death is a consequence of the Fall, but without death we would continue to live on and sin and never reach the ultimate reward of Heaven.

Overall, this book was an interesting read. While it is hard to argue that these political and economical messages/themes are in Tolkien's work, I question whether it is worth reading this much into the works of Tolkien. Sometimes you can over-analyze a work that you risk killing it. Just my two cents. If you are a fan of Tolkien and politics, then this is the perfect book for you. If politics aren't your cup of tea, then you're probably better off avoiding this book. I will end by saying that the book is worth checking out for the End Notes section alone. It contains a great deal of interesting/edifying works that I plan to read in the future.

These books were provided to me for free by Angelico Press and Carmel Communications, respectively, in exchange for honest reviews. If you find these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!