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.