3 Ways True Myths Will Be Changing in 2017

Contrary to what it may appear, I do not spend every waking moment of my life thinking about Tolkien. In fact, late last year, I tried to launch another blog that would cover every interest of mine *NOT* having to do with Tolkien. Though that blog never really gained traction, over the last few months, I’ve had the epiphany that there really is no good reason I couldn’t be blogging about all those other things over here.

This is not the end.
Don’t worry. This is not the end.

Now before I tell you about what will be changing, let me assure you that one very important thing won’t be changing: I’ll still be writing a lot about Tolkien. In fact, I’m working on another book about one of Tolkien’s most important works right now, and I can’t wait until it’s at a point where I’m ready to tell you more about it. Like Tolkien’s Requiem, I think it’s going to stand out as a truly unique work. And with the release of Beren and Lúthien coming next year, there’s so much more to say about that story.

Now, without further ado, here are the 3 things I will be writing more about next year:


I am an inveterate music lover. Several years ago, I had a music blog where I would write about my favorite records. I gave it up for some reason, but for the last year I have been hungry to undertake writing about music again. I will be writing about the music I love from a very personal perspective, because I really can’t stand “3rd party omniscient/God’s eye view” music criticism. For a hint at my musical taste, here’s a list of some albums I particularly love. That list could be much longer.

I’ve also mentioned my music project (pale horse sailor) here before, and there’s a lot to come from PHS (that’s what all the tastemakers are calling it – Kanye’s idea) in 2017. I’m very excited about sharing my own music with you. Please do check out my songs “Vingilot” and “Bad Ghost”.


I have always been a Christian, and my faith remains the center of my life. A few years back, I joined the Catholic Church, and that has exposed me to an incredible depth and richness in Christianity that I had no idea existed. Still, one of the reasons I’ve struggled with writing about Christian things here on TrueMyths is because I didn’t want my writing on these matters to be for Catholics (or Christians) only. While I do consider myself an orthodox Catholic, I very much believe that the truths of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ are for every human being. I hope to explore Christianity in such a way as to help fellow Christians on their respective journeys, but I also hope to open it up to anyone who stumbles across this blog, no matter what their religious affiliation is. In addition to my continuing exploration of Tolkien’s faith, you’ll probably find me writing about the thought of Christian greats such as St. John the Apostle, C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton (among many others).

Everything Else

Though my focus will mainly concern Tolkien, Music and Christianity, I often feel a need to write about things that don’t fit into one of these categories. Therefore, from time to time, I’ll be writing about my perspective on matters ranging from movies (Star Wars! Raising Arizona!) to TV shows (Star Trek! Breaking Bad! Fargo!) to classic video games (Zelda! Star Control 2!) to being a dad (Awesome! Lots of work!) to sports (Let’s Go O’s!) to great (non-Tolkienian) literature to astronomy to quantum physics to cute pictures of kittens to whatever else the spirit moves me to write about. One thing my Christian faith inspires in me is the idea that everything is imbued with a deep sense of meaning and is a means for discovering and deepening our knowledge of the eternal. Even cute pictures of kittens (maybe especially cute pictures of kittens).

Obviously this is profound and worthy of contemplation.
Obviously this is profound and worthy of contemplation.

The tagline I’ve been using in my own head for all this? “Mystical mutterings on Tolkien, Music, Christianity, and Everything Else.” It’s wordy, but it fits. I’m quite excited about what the next year will hold, and I invite you to bookmark or feedburn this site and to tell others about it.


The Tolkien Road – Ep91 – The Lord of the Rings – B3C7 – Helm’s Deep – Pt1

Concerning “Helm’s Deep”, Book 3, Chapter 7 of The Lord of the Rings, from a heaviness upon the land to heavy blows in Helm’s Deep…


Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through Middle-earth. On this episode, we continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings with the first half of Book 3, Chapter 7, “Helm’s Deep.” By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Announcements, Correspondence, etc. – 1:00
  • A heaviness upon the land… – 20:00
  • “All Isengard must be emptied…” – 29:00
  • Helm’s Deep – A description – 37:00
  • Race to Helm’s Deep! – 47:00
  • The battle begins! – 55:00
  • Haiku Time – 59:20


3 Fascinating Things Tolkien Said About the Incarnation

The Incarnation is one of the central mysteries of Christianity, and it’s the heart of the matter when it comes to Christmas. It is the teaching that the Son of God, being divine, loved us human beings so much that He became one of us in order to redeem us from sin and death.
fridolin_leiber_-_pater_nosterTolkien spoke a lot about “incarnation,” especially in reference to his Middle-earth works, where some of the “angelic” figures (the Ainur) would take on human form much like we’d put on clothing (for example: Gandalf). In a few specific cases, however, Tolkien spoke directly of his views on the Incarnation of Christ. These instances show how vitally important the holy mystery of the Incarnation was to Tolkien.

“The Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”

In a letter to Michael Straight (editor of New Republic magazine), Tolkien spoke of Gandalf as an “incarnate” being who died and came back to life. Knowing that statement would allude to the Gospel itself, he immediately qualified the connection by stating that Christ’s Incarnation “is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write”. In saying this, Tolkien only says what dozens of great Christian writers have said for centuries: the mystery of the Incarnation contains unimaginable riches, for it has brought heaven into a broken world, and brought Eternal Love close to broken human beings. Coming from one of the greatest imaginations in human history, this is a startling admission. Tolkien bows the knee to the Incarnation not only as a Christian (in its truth), but also as an artist (in its beauty and glory).

“The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history.”

In the Epilogue to his literary essay “On Fairy-stories”, Tolkien gets mystical. He transitions from addressing the nature of fantastical stories to speaking of the factual history of mankind in terms of a story. Tolkien asserts that history’s eucatastrophe (which is fancy Tolkien-speak for “happy turning point”) is the Birth of Christ. In other words, according to Tolkien, the Incarnation has changed the game. Before the coming of Christ, mankind was shrouded in existential darkness. After His coming, a new era has dawned. And that’s all based on what he says next…

“The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.”

The Incarnation is not only the turning point of human history, but it is a story itself, with its own turning point. The idea that God would become a man in order to show His love for mankind is a powerful one in and of itself. The idea that He would go so far as to suffer a gruesome death for the sake of our redemption is even more profound. And the happy turning point of that story – the Resurrection – is the reason mankind can stand up with steadfast hope in the face of evil and death. Hope – a certain hope – has dawned upon a world shrouded in darkness.

Tolkien’s point in all this is to identify the story of the Incarnation as the central story, the story from which all other stories (especially the stories of our lives) take their vitality and meaning. When we view our lives (and the whole story of mankind) in this light, it can’t help but change how we view everything.
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The Tolkien Road – Ep90 – The Lord of the Rings – B3C6 – The King of the Golden Hall – Pt2

Concerning “The King of the Golden Hall”, Book 3, Chapter 6 of The Lord of the Rings, from the strange paths of hope to the happy warriors of Rohan…


Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through Middle-earth. On this episode, we continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings with the second part of Book 3, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall.” By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Announcements, Correspondence, etc. – 3:30
  • Théoden’s Hope – 16:00
  • Gríma’s last slither – 38:00
  • Saruman’s treachery – 55:00
  • The Fate of Eorl’s House – 1:02:00
  • Ready to Ride! – 1:07:00
  • Haiku Time – 1:13:30


4 Ways Tolkien Creates a New Reality

Among the 5 Reasons Tolkien Is My Co-Pilot, the first is that Tolkien created his own world. The way he seems to create an entirely new reality through his Middle-earth works is engrossing from a reader’s perspective and staggering from a fellow artist’s perspective. This verisimilitude – the artistic approximation of reality itself – was, for Tolkien, a primary quality of good storytelling.


The idea of creating a new universe for a story is one that has really caught on since Tolkien’s time, in large part due to his influence on the post-LOTR generation of storytellers (and filmmakers!). Examples of universe-creating stories include Star Wars, Star Trek and Harry Potter, just to name a few. The Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes certainly owe him a debt of gratitude as well.

Still, in my view, Tolkien’s ability is unparalleled. Here are 4 ways Tolkien is able to create a new reality in his storytelling:

Cartography and Chronology

Tolkien’s works rely on 2 internal maps: a geographical map and a chronological map. Everything that takes place in Middle-earth happens in a place and time that shares existence with other things. When Frodo and company are in Bree, we learn later that Gandalf is simultaneously in some other real place. At the same time, there are blurry edges on the maps. These imply dozens, hundreds, even thousands of stories going on all at the same time. Have you ever wondered what it was like in the lands surrounding the Sea of Rhûn? Ever desired more detail on the decline of the kingdom of Arnor? I could list hundreds of questions like these, all stemming from the maps in the back of The Lord of the Rings.

Visual Description

The maps of Middle-earth may give us a high level view of the look and feel of things, but the detailed verbal descriptions give us the impression of real landscapes that the maps can only hint at. Although it can be easy for a writer to “get on with it” by glossing over detailed descriptions of lands, Tolkien isn’t so hasty. His ”verbal visuals” of the Old Forest, the Barrow-Downs, Emyn Muil, Rohan, Fangorn, and other Middle-earth lands can, if we take the time to close our eyes and imagine them, leave us feeling like we’ve actually stepped foot inside them.

Internal Mythology

As familiar as I am with the story of Beren and Lúthien (ahem), it’s weird to think that once upon a time, all a Tolkien fan could know about that story was the little bit of poetry Aragorn recites in Fellowship of the Ring. That little bit, however, is enough to make us want to know more. And there are dozens of stories of a similar sort when it comes to Middle-earth. Just consider the stories of the Second Age alone! We know a bit about these from various sources, but when it all comes down to it, there are some 20 generations (3000+ years) of Númenor that we have to leave up to the imagination. There is a vastness implied there, a certain historicity. When you add in the stories of the Valar and of Valinor, there is a wonder and a depth that just doesn’t seem to end.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I’ve seen many stories I otherwise enjoyed flop at the end because they “put a bow on it.” In other words, they try to wrap it up nice and tidy. For as much as Tolkien likes to “dive in” to back stories, he never exhausts the mystery by giving a complete or final word explanation. I was reminded of this when discussing “The White Rider” recently, where Gandalf, in describing his battle with Durin’s Bane, speaks of the places far below the surface of Middle-earth, where “the world is gnawed by nameless things.” Similarly, Tolkien never gives us a full and detailed explanation of Tom Bombadil’s identity, calling him only “Master.” Enigmas and mysteries like this abound in Middle-earth, and Tolkien wisely leaves them as such, knowing that to attempt a full explanation would only rob them of their narrative power.

These are only a few of the ways Tolkien works his literary magic. If you can think of other ways, please post them in the comments below.

The Tolkien Road – Ep89 – The Lord of the Rings – B3C6 – The King of the Golden Hall – Pt1

Concerning “The King of the Golden Hall”, Book 3, Chapter 6 of The Lord of the Rings, from distant views of Edoras to Théoden’s throneroom…


Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through Middle-earth. On this episode, we continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings with the first part of Book 3, Chapter 6, “The King of the Golden Hall.” By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Announcements, Correspondence, etc. – 1:00
  • A distant view of Edoras – 26:00
  • “Where now the horse and the rider?” – 31:30
  • Unfriendly greetings – 39:00
  • Háma the Doorwarden – 43:30
  • Théoden & Wormtongue – 55:30
  • Gandalf the Great – 1:03:00
  • Éowyn in brief – 1:10:00
  • “Dark have been my dreams of late…” – 1:14:00
  • Haiku Time – 1:16:00

Mary Grace’s poem…

Legolas! What do your elf-eyes see?
I see green valleys and bold blond riders
Who ride like the wind and in their eyes is fire
A stream trickles down from the mountain of snow
A golden palace! It is there we must go.
Legolas! What do your elf-eyes see?
I see smoke rising from battles afar
Which black like the night covers the stars
Veils all hope and slackens those standing tall
I see war in Rohan, destruction upon all.


5 Marian Figures of Middle-earth

Today (December 8th) is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic teaching that, in preparing her to be the mother of Jesus, God gave Mary a singular grace that preserved her from Original Sin. As a Catholic, Tolkien was highly influenced by Mary. In fact, he once referred to Mary as the one “upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded” (Letters 172).

Since the feast of the Immaculate Conception is, in effect, the feast of the creation of Mary, I thought it would be cool to consider the Marian aspects of five of Tolkien’s Middle-earth characters. A disclaimer: I am not claiming that these characters are supposed to be representations or allegorical depictions of Mary, but simply highlighting certain resemblances.

Nienna by rysowAnia ©2010-2016
Nienna by rysowAnia ©2010-2016

Varda, Queen of the Stars

Varda (aka Elbereth) is the Valar known to the Elves as Queen of the Stars. When Sam is under assault by Shelob, he recalls the words of one such Elvish hymn (“Gilthoniel A Elbereth!”), and singing out to Varda, causes the phial of Galadriel to suddenly take light and blind the giant spider. With this, he gains victory against all odds. Sam’s invocation of Varda recalls the invocation of Mary by countless Christians over the centuries in the face of grave danger, and Varda’s title “Queen of the Stars” resembles the image in Revelation of the woman crowned with 12 stars, as well as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Nienna, Valier of Mercy

Like Varda, Nienna is one of the Valar, and she is known for her tears. Whenever some great tragedy occurs, Nienna often arrives to wash things with her weeping, and her tears bear powerful witness to the sufferings of others and plead their cause. It is interesting to note that Gandalf was a disciple of hers, and it is said that of her he learned pity and patience, which would serve him well on his mission to defeat Sauron. Like Nienna, one of Mary’s titles is “Queen of Sorrows” because of the prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart, and for her helpless presence at the death of her only son.


Also known as Tinúviel, she is the elf-maiden who falls in love with Beren and accompanies him on his great quest to retrieve one of the sacred Silmarils from the clutches of the evil Lord Morgoth. Although the quest belongs to Beren, it is interesting how Lúthien is repeatedly the one saving Beren from danger and captivity. Lúthien recalls Mary in that, though she is not all powerful or even divine, she nevertheless seems to have some divine favor bestowed upon her that she uses for the protection of those she loves. In this, Lúthien recalls devotion to Mary through the Rosary, which some saints have called “the weapon.” (For more on Lúthien, see my book Tolkien’s Requiem.)


Galadriel is one of Tolkien’s most complex figures, and he himself admitted that there was a certain resemblance between her and Mary. However, as a good Catholic, he drew the line in noting that while Mary was sinless, Galadriel was not. In bestowing useful gifts (such as the aforementioned phial) on the members of the Fellowship as they were heading out of Lothlórien, she resembles Mary under the title “Mother of Graces” as she bestows heavenly gifts upon those in great need. For a lot more on Galadriel, listen to the episode “Concerning Galadriel” on The Tolkien Road Podcast.


A Marian figure need not be a female. In fact, Frodo is perhaps the most Marian of all of Tolkien’s characters because of his simple “Yes” at the moment it most mattered. Like Mary at the Annunciation, when faced with the prospect of a task seemingly beyond his stature and capability, Frodo proved himself to have a greater heart than any of the great ones gathered around him. By humbly abandoning himself to providence, regardless of the pain and suffering that lay ahead, it is Frodo that crushes the head of Sauron, much like Mary, as the New Eve, crushed the head of the Serpent.

Have you noticed any other Marian allusions in Tolkien’s works? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep88 – The Lord of the Rings – B3C5 – The White Rider – Pt2

Concerning “The White Rider”, Book 3, Chapter 5 of The Lord of the Rings, from Gandalf’s demonslaying to Galadriel’s tidings…


Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through Middle-earth. On this episode, we continue our journey through The Lord of the Rings with the second part of Book 3, Chapter 5, “The White Rider.” By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Announcements, Correspondence, etc. – 1:00
  • Concerning Boromir – 23:30
  • Saruman and the Ring – 27:30
  • Treebeard and the Ents – 35:00
  • War Is Upon Us – 46:30
  • Gandalf vs. the Balrog – 51:00
  • Galadriel’s Tidings – 1:00:00
  • Shadowfax – 1:04:00
  • Haiku Time – 1:11:30


5 Reasons Tolkien Is My Co-Pilot

I’m not sure where the slogan originated, but “[Fill in the blank] is my co-pilot” was a pretty common bumper sticker when I was a kid. In fact, I think the original saying may have been “God is my co-pilot”, but with all due respect to the transcendent ground of all Being itself (Who really deserves just a little more credit than simply being your personal co-pilot anyway), here are 5 reasons I’m so enamored of Tolkien, and proudly call him my co-pilot.


1. He Made His Own World

This is pretty much a no-brainer. Tolkien not only created what many have called the greatest book of the 20th Century (as well as one of the greatest children’s novels), but he was so bent on verisimilitude (aka the literary approximation of reality) in his works that he created a whole separate world with its own history (what he called a “secondary world”). I like to get “lost” in the books I read, and there’s no better place to get lost than in Middle-earth.

2. He Was True to Himself

I’m a person who is totally driven to create and to get stuff done. I keep insane “to do” lists just so I don’t lose track of everything I’ve got going on in my life. On occasion, I’ve put a little too much pressure on myself to get things done, but then I realize that Tolkien didn’t publish The Hobbit until he was in his mid-40’s and didn’t publish The Lord of the Rings until he was in his early 60’s. I find it consoling that he didn’t get around to publishing his magnum opus until he was nearing retirement age! Heck, his true life’s work, The Silmarillion, didn’t see the light of day until 4 years after his death! Furthermore, he took his time in his creative efforts, and focused more on the story he wanted to tell rather than on the things that others expected of him. While other writers may have seen more works published, Tolkien stayed true to his imagination, and the reward wasn’t success – it was true greatness and timelessness.

3. He Elevated the Creative Impulse to a Spiritual Level

The world likes to tell us that creative stuff is merely for entertainment and pleasure, a trifling matter. What’s really important, the world says, is taking care of business, of stacking up the bills and being responsible. To the world, Tolkien said: “Get your priorities straight.” In his philosophy of “subcreation”, he elevated the creative drive to the spiritual level. For Tolkien, one of the most noble and spiritual tasks we can undertake is the drive to create what we feel called to create. In “Mythopoeia”, he even went so far as to imply that our creative impulses are often inspired from without, glimpses of a greater reality that we are called to fulfill. So the next time someone makes you feel less important or inferior because you’re a “creative” type, rest assured that our creativity is one of the marks of the divine in us, and keep (sub)creating like a boss!

4. He Gives Me Hope

In many ways, Tolkien lived a hard life, especially early on, losing both of his parents by the time he was in his early teens. At the same time, most of his characters have to walk incredibly difficult roads through his stories. Yet somehow, through all of the darkness of his life and of his stories, there’s always a powerful ray of glimmering light that shines through. Is there any more powerful scene than Sam at the pass of Cirith Ungol, fending off the monstrous Shelob with the unexpected supernatural aid that he receives? Tolkien’s works have taught me to hope, even when things seem utterly hopeless, because you never know where help is going to come from. Tolkien even had a word for his theory of hope: “Eucatastrophe”. Simply put, it’s the idea that just when things seem their darkest, some great and unexpected reason for hope will come about.

5. His Works Are A Never-Ending Source of Life-Giving Wisdom

I believe we humans are spiritual beings with the desire of eternity on our souls. From The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion to Leaf By Niggle to his Letters (and the list goes on), there just doesn’t seem to be an end to the treasures of wisdom and insight that Tolkien gave the world in his 81 years on this side of the heavenly sea. I sometimes think of Tolkien not only as one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, but also as one of its greatest philosophers (and maybe even theologians). His works never fail me; I can always go to them to renew my sense of direction in life.

Tolkien gave us so much more than just dwarves, dragons, and a never-ending source of cosplay inspiration. Ultimately, his body of work presents an entirely unique vision of reality and of humanity itself.

Do you consider Tolkien “your co-pilot”? If so, I’d love to hear your reasons in the comments below.

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