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.

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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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The Tolkien Road – Ep71 – The Lord of the Rings – B2C8 – Farewell to Lórien

Concerning “Farewell to Lórien”, Book 2, Chapter 8 of The Lord of the Rings…

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Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. On this episode, we continue through The Lord of the Rings with Book 2, Chapter 8, “Farewell to Lórien.” 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!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Where we left off – 2:45
  • How to proceed? – 10:00
  • Boromir Eyes the Ring – 17:00
  • Lembas – 23:00
  • Rope! – 30:00
  • Galadriel’s Song – 33:00
  • Concerning Fangorn and Rohan – 42:00
  • Gifts for the Fellowship – 44:45
  • Galadriel’s Second Song – 53:45
  • Gimli Wept – 55:45
  • Haiku – 1:01:00

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Other Minds and Hands: “All shall love me and despair!”

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’

LOTR Book 2, Chapter 7

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Image: “Mirror of Galadriel” by zdrava ©2014-2016

Concerning Subcreative Vision

Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves,
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined. (1)

We were wondering the other day (on the most recent episode) what the deal with the Mirrormere was. The story goes that Durin, dwarf-father, once beheld in the lake on an eastern slope of the Misty Mountains his own reflection, yet glorified, with a crown of stars. Thus, he saw a confirming sign, and the glories of Khazad-dûm would became a reality. Yet where did the vision in the lake come from? Indeed, where did the mystical properties of the lake come from? Valar? Elves? Ilúvatar himself?

In “Mythopoeia“, Tolkien concerns himself with a meditation on the latent nature of reality. It is in some ways an expansion of Tolkien’s “On Fairy-stories” idea of not so much with WHAT IS, but with WHAT IS MEANT TO BE. Modern man has surrendered to brute fact, contenting himself, at best, with the trifles truest to his basic nature. Yet in the subcreative vision, which so many suppress, he is reminded of his elvish calling, of the magic that may be. Man is capable of music, that which, in Tolkien’s world (and I’d argue in our own) underlies all of reality (yet is invisible to those who dwell only on the brute fact of things).

You look at trees and label them just so… (2)

Yes! And the birds and the elves both laugh at us, for in the tree, they behold so much more. It is the bird’s natural union with the tree that leads it to do so, but it is the elves’ wonder that causes them to laugh. For in Lothlórien, they live not only among the trees, but in them, in glorious dwellings that crown them.

The subcreative vision looks within a thing, to the essence of not only what it is, but what it might become. It is beholden to the dim reflection, the crown of stars hinted at only for the eyes open to wonder.

“What did you see?” said Pippin to Sam, but Sam was too deep in thought to answer. (3)

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Image: Lothlorien by ullakko
1 – “Mythopoeia”
2 – “Mythopoeia”
3 – LOTR 2-6

 

 

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 61 – The Lord of the Rings – B2C2 – The Council of Elrond

Concerning “The Council of Elrond”, Book 2, Chapter 2 of The Lord of the Rings…

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Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. On this episode, we continue through The Lord of the Rings with Book 2, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond.” 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!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Haiku – 4:30
  • Who’s at the Council? – 15:30
  • The Story of the Ring – 21:30
  • Boromir & Aragorn – 30:00
  • Gandalf’s Account – 37:30
  • Saurman’s Treachery – 47:00
  • What To Do With the Ring? – 58:00

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 38 – The Lord of the Rings – Bk1Ch12 – Flight to the Ford

Concerning “Flight to the Ford,” Book 1, Chapter 12 of The Lord of the Rings, wherein Strider and the hobbits deal with the aftermath of the Black Riders’ attack…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 12 of Fellowship, “Flight to the Ford”, wherein Strider and the hobbits make a last desperate dash for Rivendell.  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!

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©2013-2015 rfcunha

Topics of discussion include:

  • Tolkien Haiku (4:00)
  • What Sam saw… (16:30)
  • The mighty name of Elbereth (22:00)
  • Athelas (24:40)
  • Frodo’s regret (28:00)
  • Frodo growing ill (34:00)
  • Bilbo’s Trolls (36:45)
  • Sam’s Poem (readaloud) (44:55)
  • Glorfindel (51:00)
  • Description of Black Riders (59:30)
  • The Mighty Waters (1:07:00)
  • Favorite Passages (1:12:00)

And much more!

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 36 – The Lord of the Rings – Bk1Ch11 – A Knife in the Dark

Concerning “A Knife in the Dark,” Book 1, Chapter 11 of The Lord of the Rings, wherein the hobbits Strider set out on the long road to Rivendell…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 11 of Fellowship, A Knife in the Dark, wherein the hobbits depart Bree with Strider, rmake their way to Weathertop, and get attacked by the Black Riders. We also discuss Strider’s telling of the tale of Tinúviel as well as the legendary Gil-galad.  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!

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©2013-2015 rfcunha

Topics of discussion include:

  • Tolkien Haiku for Book 1, Chapter 11 of LOTR (6:20)
  • Departing Bree (20:00)
  • The Journey to Weathertop (23:30)
  • Gilgalad (37:10)
  • How the Black Riders sense things (42:30)
  • The Tale of Tinúviel (46:00)
  • The Attack of the Black Riders (55:30)
  • Favorite passages (1:05:30)

And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down.

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Here’s a bonus haiku from me:

Leaving Bree; headed
Into a wilderness. The
Road leads to Mordor.
And here’s Mary Grace’s longer poem that we shared on the podcast:
Listen, young folk, and you shall hear
Of four Hobbits, a Ring, and Ilsildur’s Heir
In the Third Age, in which Sauron rose to power again
There are some in Middle-Earth who are able to say
They can recall that dangerous event and year
 
Ringwraiths rode down the gate
Into Bree where they came
Passed silently into tavern where Hobbits had stayed
They stabbed the Hobbits, with their blades, in their beds
But a trick, this time by Strider, had been laid again.
 
Strider had Hobbits hidden,
Safely hidden in his room
It was a dark night with no stars and no moon
They all fled the next day, with only one baggage pony
And fleeing Riders had found those “dead Hobbits” were phony
 
The travelers left by the Road
But cut to the woods
“A shortcut” said Strider, “It’s for your own good.”
As the hills drew near, they camped down by the night,
And Sam sang of Gil-Galad under faint starlight
 
They came upon Weathertop
And fire did light
Which the Ringwraiths’ horses perceived in the night
They came to the hill and let loose their attack
A knife through the Ring-Bearer, in the night so black
 
Strider defended them bravely
Flaming branches in hand
That sent the Black Riders scattered out through the land
And as Frodo had fallen, crying, “Githoniel! Elbereth!”
And had struck at the enemy, before consciousness he left
 
The end of this tale
Is grim, that I know
But it shows to be brave one must have stout soul
And until the next time, when I write once again
May we remain safe, until the day ends.

Concerning Tolkien’s Faith Pt 4: Incarnation as Eucatastrophe


The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. – Tolkien


For me, the last section of Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories makes the slog that is the first half quite worth it. Tolkien’s exposition of eucatastrophe, “the happy turn” in a story, is unforgettable, an idea that has been expounded in countless places by numerous writers. Eucatastrophe is Tolkienian through-and-through. Not only is it a beautiful idea, but it’s a beautiful word as well.

Man’s Destiny

Things get really wonderful when Tolkien speaks of the Birth of Christ – the Incarnation – as “the eucatastrophe of Man’s history.” Why does he say this? Tolkien was obsessed with the hopelessness and darkness of mankind’s case in the ancient world, something he probably picked up from his deep interest in mythology. In the Incarnation, man is re-directed towards his ultimate destiny as the benevolent viceroy of the cosmos, the blessed bridge between the heaven and earth.

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Incarnation of Jesus, Piero di Cosimo

The Incarnation is eucatastrophe because it is a surprise; like the appearance of the Eagles in various eucatastrophic moments of the Third Age, Christ first comes amid a desperate situation. Yes, the Jews hoped for a Messiah, but every indication is that they were looking for a great prophet and a warrior-king, one who would restore the kingdom of Israel to its Davidic pinnacle. Who would have thought that God would choose to draw so near to us as to become like us “in every way except sin,” indeed to renounce all of His rights as God in order to show us the beauty and triumph of the way of humility?

Eucatastrophe in Action

It seems that Tolkien was so intent on this idea that he worked it into The Lord of the Rings, for it is on March 25th, the traditional date of the Annunciation [1], that the One Ring is destroyed. And this is important: the One Ring is not finally destroyed by any Man, nor indeed by any hobbit, but by the invisible hand of the storyteller at work behind the scenes. Tolkien sets things up so that none of the three figures present [2] can claim credit for its destruction in the final analysis. No, the creature cannot save himself, not without divine aid, and though the great soul of the lowly hobbit is a sign of the greatness of humility itself, we see here that the hobbit is not even capable of finally putting the greatest of evils to death, of plunging the knife into its very heart.

Thus, we can see how fitting it is that Eagles are frequent instruments of eucatastrophe, for they represent the power and will of Manwë, the greatest of the angelic Valar. Their coming from the clouds is as the descent of a supernatural power.

Ask any Christian you know that has spent time dwelling upon it: the Incarnation is magical as a fairy-tale, and all the more so because we believe it to be as true as the fall of Rome. It is the wondrous event at the heart of everything, and yes, we mean everything. It is a thing wonderful to behold and to ponder. I get all misty-eyed when I think about it, and for good reason, for in it, we glimpse the mysterious ways of God Himself, saving and surprising us despite ourselves, drawing us ever closer to the deepness of a love vast as the cosmos.


FOOTNOTES

1 – Subtract 9 months from December 25th and what do you get? More here.

2 – Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. While Gollum is ultimately responsible on an operative level of destroying the One Ring, he certainly does not will its destruction.

 

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 33 – The Lord of the Rings – B1Ch10 – Strider

Concerning “Strider”, Book 1, Chapter 10 of The Lord of the Rings, wherein we learn more about the mysterious Ranger…
©2013-2015 rfcunha

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 10 of Fellowship, “Strider”, wherein we learn more about the mysterious Ranger, receive Gandalf’s letter, and find out about Merry’s run in with the Black Riders. We also discuss the wonderful “All that glitters is not gold” poem. 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!

Topics of discussion include (with approximate start time in):

  • Tolkien Haiku for Book 1, Chapter 10 (~3:00)
  • “Behind the Haiku” by Greta (~9:45)
  • Guest Haiku (~13:45)
  • Greta’s favorite passage (~16:45)
  • John’s favorite passage (~30:20)
  • Gandalf’s Letter (~32:30)
  • Gandalf’s whereabouts (~36:15)
  • Merry’s return (~39:15)
  • The good will of Butterbur and Nob (~44:30)

And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down.

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Haiku submitted but not read on air…

Josh Sosa

Barlinman the fool
yet an honest fool mind you
fears the Pilgrim’s wrath

 

Feel free to add your own haiku for this chapter in the comments below. Keep ’em coming everyone!

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 28 – The Lord of the Rings – B1C6 – The Old Forest

Concerning “The Old Forest”, Book 1, Chapter 6 of The Lord of the Ringsin which Frodo and company enter the perilous realm beyond the borders of Buckland…
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On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings with Book 1, Chapter 6 of Fellowship, “The Old Forest, in which Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin set out on their journey through the Old Forest and encounter a far more dangerous road than they expected. Chapter 6 also introduces the mysterious Tom Bombadil, one of Tolkien’s most enigmatic figures. There’s a lot to talk about, including:

  • Who is Old Man Willow?
  • Why does the Old Forest seem alive?
  • The beauty of the word “Withywindle”
  • Our favorite passages from this chapter
  • The location of Tom Bombadil’s house
  • And much more!

By the way, to see the Tolkien haiku(s) that didn’t make it onto the podcast, scroll down. And here’s the Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Fonstad that we mentioned on air, as well as the wonderful book on Tolkien’s art by Wayne Hammond and Cristina Scull.

I hope you enjoy our conversation. And of course, if you haven’t already, please leave us a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of The Tolkien Road. Enjoy the show!

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Haiku submitted but not read on air…

Josh Sosa:

Slowly creep the roots
Windless forest sways all ways
lo Old Man Willow!

Mary Grace:

Hobbits leave the Shire
The Old Forest leads to Bree
Unknown awaits them

Frodo has the Ring
But Merry leads them onward
Frodo insists so

John:

What ancient anger
Brings the forest to swallow
Hobbits whole and live?

Does the Forest live?
The Withywindle winds through,
The blood in its heart.

Greta:

Entering a spell
Only Sam suspects foul play
A hero again

A tree whisperer
Singing, carrying lilies,
Saving hobbits. Weird.

And here’s the wonderful short ballad-form poem submitted by Trevor the Computational Linguist:

They ride into the forest bleak
Beneath forboding leaves.
Behind the tree-trunks dark things peek,
And winding paths they weave.
The Withywindle bubbles quick
Along it’s Southward track
The Willow stands and plays his trick:
A murderous attack.
Old Bombadil did hap’ thereon,
The tree his voice would heed,
And still the road goes ever on,
Now, from the darkness freed.

Keep ’em coming everyone!