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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Lectio Tolkiena: Recovered Seeing and Hoarding

I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’ – as things apart from ourselves.

On Fairy-stories

I’ve written about this quote before, and it continues, in my mind, to be one of Tolkien’s key philosophical statements, a magical little manifesto of sorts. Whereas the literary world has been generally obsessed with “realism” for around 150 years or so, Tolkien takes the modernist idea of the “real” – meaning the thing just as it is in a materialist sense – and transforms it into something new.

“The Light of the Silmarils” © elegaer 2007-2016

“As we are meant to see them” – of course, this begs the question: “Meant by whom or what?” It’s an obviously supernatural statement, for it implies an intelligibility that stands outside of nature, a will to communicate something to us.

Our problem is that we are all taught to be good “realists”. Tolkien’s response to this is almost Chestertonian: “The real is not what you think it is.” The modernist mind tends to assess the “real” as being that which is right in front of me. It’s a way of taking things at “face value”, and thus, as Tolkien says, “appropriating” or “hoarding” them into our other piles of junk, facts conquered and tucked away.

But seeing things as they are meant to be seen – this requires not hoarding, but wonder leading to contemplation, a belief that it’s not just an empty bundle of atoms with some energy thrown in, but a gift imbued with intelligibility, a sacrament of sorts drawing us toward a greater reality.

When we see this way, it becomes harder to simply tuck things away as if we know everything about them. We are liberated from the grave danger of possession and greed, and thus free to understand that things as they are right now, at this moment, are not as they will always be. Indeed, the thing is given to call us to a hopeful realization of the greater, invisible reality.

That beautiful piece of Tolkien-inspired artwork you see above is from elegaer, my Tolkien Artist-of-the-Month for September 2016. Of course you love it, because it’s awesome, so go check out the rest of their work!

Talking Tolkien Podcast – Ep. 11 – Leaf By Niggle – Pt 2 – The Story

He could not get rid of his kind heart. ‘I wish I was more strong- minded’ he sometimes said to himself, meaning that he wished other people’s troubles did not make him feel uncomfortable. But for a long time he was not seriously perturbed. ‘At any rate, I shall get this one picture done, my real picture, before I have to go on that wretched journey,’ he used to say. Yet he was beginning to see that he could not put off his start indefinitely. The picture would have to stop just growing and get finished. (257)

©2013-2015 rfcunha

“Leaf By Niggle” is my favorite non-Middle-earth work of Tolkien’s. It’s a beautiful short story, readable in one sitting, and contains no trace of elves, hobbits, or dragons. However, it is completely Tolkienian, and is perhaps one of the clearest views into Tolkien’s philosophical outlook available to us. I will just say this: “Leaf By Niggle” changed my perspective on life and drove me to invest more in my creative desires. Continue reading “Talking Tolkien Podcast – Ep. 11 – Leaf By Niggle – Pt 2 – The Story”

Talking Tolkien Podcast – Ep. 10 – Leaf By Niggle – Pt 1 – Introduction

[“Leaf By Niggle”] arose from my own pre-occupation with The Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be ‘not at all.’ (257)

©2013-2015 rfcunha

“Leaf By Niggle” is my favorite non-Middle-earth work of Tolkien’s. It’s a beautiful short story, readable in one sitting, and contains no traces of elves, hobbits, or dragons. However, it is completely Tolkienian, and is perhaps one of the clearest views into Tolkien’s philosophical outlook available to us. I will just say this: “Leaf By Niggle” changed my perspective on life and drove me to invest more in my creative desires. Continue reading “Talking Tolkien Podcast – Ep. 10 – Leaf By Niggle – Pt 1 – Introduction”

Tolkien’s Letters – 113: An Apology to C.S. Lewis

Do me the great generosity of making me a present of the pains I have caused, so that I may share in the good you have put them to. (127)

I love Tolkien’s letters almost as much as his Middle-earth works. In fact, it is probably his letters more than anything that have inspired the creation of this site, for in them I find a dragon’s hoard of wisdom and insight. This is the first post in a series on Tolkien’s letters, in which I will explore the best of the bunch, and gleam whatever insights and quotable snippets I can find.

My daily devotional.

If there is anyone who has influenced and inspired me as much as Tolkien, it would be C.S. Lewis. In fact, I had been into Lewis’ works for years before I ever really discovered his buddy Tolkien. It’s a pleasure then to read correspondence between the two, and so the first of Tolkien’s letters that I’ll be exploring is a letter he wrote to C.S. Lewis in 1948. It is Letter #113 in the book. Continue reading “Tolkien’s Letters – 113: An Apology to C.S. Lewis”

Leaf By Niggle – Tolkien’s Purgatorial Story

“They both laughed. Laughed – the Mountains rang with it!” (118)

“Leaf By Niggle” is, in my opinion, the greatest secret in Tolkien’s back catalog (you can find it in Tree and Leaf). It is a short tale, yet characteristically of Tolkien, it is dense with wisdom. I have to admit that it is one of those stories that can almost always reduce me to tears of joy, for the picture it paints of true happiness, of true blessedness, goes far beyond what a simple explanation of its themes could do. Yet I hope, all the same, to give a brief synopsis of it, in the hope that you will read it!

©2014 ejbeachy

By the way, for those of you who want to go deeper, we discuss “Leaf By Niggle” over two episodes of our Tolkien podcast. Check them out (pt 1 | pt 2). 

Continue reading “Leaf By Niggle – Tolkien’s Purgatorial Story”