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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pale horse sailor – “Vingilot”


Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.


I once dreamed of playing in a band: of making records, of touring, of creating something I could be proud of and that others would love. However, I gave up on that dream a long time ago, and I never really thought of myself as a songwriter. That was something others did. I was a spectator, or, at best, just the bass player.

However, a few years ago, inspired by Tolkien’s idea of subcreation, I picked up a guitar and started playing again for the first time in ages. This time around, the songs seemed to pour out of me. Before long, I was starting to think of my songwriting as something I could actually share with others. “Vingilot” (below) is the first-fruits of that work.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/track=3228924795/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

I have so much more to tell you, but I don’t want to say too much, at least not yet. The music should speak for itself, so I hope you’ll check out “vingilot”. It’s an instrumental; I’d even call it a musical manifesto with no words (er, Tolk-Rock?). Lyrics will come later, but I think “vingilot” speaks for itself.

I hope you’ll dig it, and let me know if you do (comment, share, email, buy/donate, etc). More to follow very soon.

pale-horse-sailor-vingilot

The Tolkien Road – Ep77 – Akallabêth Pt2

Continuing with “Akallabêth”, the chronicle of Númenór’s downfall…

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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 conclude our look at “Akallabêth”, or “The Downfallen”, the story of Númenór’s rise and fall in the Second Age. 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
  • Note from a Listener: more March 25th connections (2:30)
  • Sauron’s Assault Upon Nimloth the Fair (10:00)
  • The Worship of Melkor (13:00)
  • Ar-Pharazôn’s Unholy Crusade (29:30)
  • Amandil Goes West/Elendil Goes East (33:00)
  • Gathering Clouds (36:30)
  • The Assault Upon Aman (39:00)
  • The Great Chasm (41:00)
  • Elendil’s Escape & Sauron’s Fate (44:30)
  • Haiku (46:00)

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Lectio Tolkiena: Why Should We Not Envy the Valar?

And the Númenóreans answered: ‘Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the Earth and would not lose it.’

– “Akallabêth”

Though short in comparison with the entirety of The Silmarillion, “Akallabêth” is a marvel for many reasons. One thing I find particularly fascinating about it is the establishment of the Númenórean religion, which is probably the most straightforward example of religion in all of Tolkien’s works.

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Light of Silmarils © elegaer 2009-2016
Things start off well for the Númenóreans, the “elf-friends”, but as age and well-being increase, so too does their dissatisfaction with their lot in life. After all, they must “trust” that death is not the end of their story, though it rightly seems that it is a “blind” sort of trust, because none really bear witness to what may await them. They are told to keep faith, but it seems that they would respond “What faith have we to keep?”

The parallels of Akallabêth with our own time are manifold and staggering, each instance demonstrating the sort of insight Tolkien had into the human spirit. We sense that we are made for the eternal, though we have lost touch with it, and have trouble glimpsing it. Tolkien, of course, knew the Christian message of eternal life and the renewal of the cosmos, and realized the great advantage that it gives to post-Resurrection mankind. Thus, even as his fictional sea-kings slowly slide into despair, we hear far more pity in his telling than contempt.

Tolkien Artist-of-the-Month, September 2016: elegaer

“The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”

My Tolkien artist of the month for September 2016 is elegaer, who may or may not exist. The thing is, I’ve tried to contact them in every way I can think of about using some of their art for a forthcoming project, but it’s been radio silence. The other thing is that they don’t appear to have posted new art in a few years. So I pray, elegaer, that wherever you are, you are OK! OK? If you are, and you’re reading this, then please contact me.

Anyway, I found elegaer because of this beauty:

Vingilot
And it would appear that heraldry is elegaer‘s thing, for here’s another piece:
devices-designs-noldor-elegaer
Devices and Designs: Noldor
You really need to do yourself a favor and check out the whole gallery of elegaer‘s works, they are all wonderfully detailed and brilliant. And if you do, leave elegaer a comment and tell them I said “Wuzzup! We need to talk…”

I’m happy to be displaying elegaer’s works here all month. You should be too! So check in reguarly.

rysowAnia, Tolkien-Artist-of-the-Month: “Laughter Is Stilled”

“The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”

rysowAnia is my Tolkien Artist of the Month. Last week, I considered “Two Trees of Valinor“, her depiction of Yavanna among her two most magnificent creations, Laurelin and Telperion. This week, I consider “Laughter is stilled“, which depicts a young Túrin in agonizing sorrow.
Looking through rysowAnia’s gallery I’ve glanced this image dozens of times without really seeing it. For the longest time, I didn’t even realize it was a “Tolkien” image, and actually assumed it was simply a perceptive image of a child using a pillow to keep from bursting out loud with laughter. Boy was I wrong!

No, this is not some generic and sentimental “childhood” image, but a depiction of heartbreaking grief and tragedy. The subject is a young Túrin, shortly after the death of his sister Lalaith (“laughter”). One can only imagine the pain and rage the pillow muffles, what tears it absorbs. This is a picture of sorrow at its most extreme, and humanizes the burden Túrin must have carried into the ever-increasing tragedies of his life. This kind of event damages a person, perhaps even breaks them. And Túrin, it would seem, really had no one to put him back together again.

I was fooled because you just don’t see these types of images with Tolkien’s work, but the story of Túrin is unusual in that regard anyway. It is perhaps the most human story of the first age, entwined as it is with inescapable sorrow and grief. With all of the tragedies in our own twisted world, it often seems triumphant that we can even find the the emotional and spiritual room to laugh. It’s a necessary thing, a sort of spiritual immune system, to grasp laughter and humor, a means of lightening the heart, but for Túrin, it’s as if the laughter of life had been completely destroyed with the death of his dear Lalaith. Perceptive work here indeed.

Next week I’ll begin featuring a new Tolkien Artist-of-the-Month. Until then, please go check out more of rysowAnia’s work, and leave her comments on the pieces you enjoy!

rysowAnia, Tolkien-Artist-of-the-Month: “Two Trees of Valinor”

“The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”

rysowAnia is my Tolkien Artist of the Month. Last week, I considered “Looking into the Stone“, her depiction of Denethor under the spell of his precious Palantír. This week, I consider “Two Trees of Valinor“, which depicts Yavanna among her two most magnificent creations, Laurelin and Telperion.
I really love rysowAnia’s impressionistic style when it comes to the Valar and the things of their mythology. The thing is, the Two Trees are not depicted here in terms of Tolkien’s own description, at least not in a realist sort of manner. Instead, we see their difference in terms of their shape, and in a way, they even seem each to foreshadow one of the two races of the Children of Ilúvatar. Silver Telperion, with his long, falling and fading light, seems a visual depiction of the Elves. Golden Laurelin, with her small, fruitful clusters of flame, reflects the brief burst of life that is the race of Men.

Furthermore, the impressionistic nature of the work causes them to blend into one another in branch and root, with both emanating at the root from Yavanna herself. They are an outpouring of her nature, a blending of her very being with the Earth, and she sings to them in order to nourish them. There are surely more literal interpretations of the Trees, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a visual depiction that gets closer to their spiritual heart.

Tune in next week when I’ll feature another one of rysowAnia’s pieces. In the meantime, hop on over to her DeviantArt gallery and check out the rest of her work.

Concerning Ainulindalë: The Second Theme

Even as Eru smiles, he lifts up his left hand and a new theme emerges amid the storm. What do we make of this new theme? Is it a mere reaction to Melkor’s work, or is it a theme altogether distinct from the first? We are told it is “like and yet unlike” the former theme and that it “gathered power and had new beauty.” Coming as it does amidst Melkor’s cacophony, it would need to be powerful enough to emerge through that noise, the same noise that seemed to drown Ilúvatar’s first theme.
ainulindäle - evan palmerAs for it being “like and yet unlike” the former theme, we are not told in what way this is. Most of us probably recognize this sensation when it comes to hearing music. An artist may produce a song using a melody or riff, and then change something about it later so that it sounds the same yet, at the same time, seems altogether new. One can see this operative in James Horner’s music for The Fellowship of the Ring. Even in a short piece like “Concerning Hobbits,” the initial theme opens, and then is changed, almost transfigured, by a shift in rhythm and instrumentation. And then, further down the line, a brief twinge of sadness, a minor key, interrupts the flow and something even newer emerges.

Though it would seem that Ilúvatar has produced something capable of withstanding Melkor’s assault of noise, Melkor is not finished yet. Even as the second theme emerges from the sea of sound, Melkor’s discord arises with a vengeance and an even greater war of noise results, a noise so great that many of the Ainur simply cease their playing altogether. “Who’s in charge here?” they must be wondering.

It would seem, according to the text, that Melkor is: “Melkor had the mastery.” Melkor, created by Ilúvatar, seems to be winning in what has gone from a beautiful harmonious music to a war of noise. Yet as we might expect, Ilúvatar is not finished yet…
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Image: from “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ainulindalë” by Evan Palmer

Concerning Ungoliant’s Fate

“Ungoliant is a nightmare, a hellish vision of self-absorption worthy of Dante. For all that she devours, for all that she poisons, for all that she ruins, she is absorbed by her own hunger and need, at once desiring light but hating it all the same. Tolkien gives us little to go off of with regard to Ungoliant. We do not really know how she took this form, from what estate she fell, only that she was likely corrupted at some time past by Melkor. The same is true of her fate; all we know is that she forsakes Melkor again, and that “some have said that she ended . . . when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last” (81). In Dante’s terms, if Melkor belongs among the wrathful, then Ungoliant has been fixed into the permanent state of the gluttonous, who love sensual pleasure yet hate it all the same.”

from Tolkien’s Requiem – Concerning Beren and Lúthien

Tolkiens-Requiem

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 59 – Our Silmarillion Top 5’s

Concerning our top 5 things from The Silmarillion…

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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, having completed The Silmarillion with 29 episodes, we round it off to 30 by taking a victory lap, wherein we discuss our Top 5 things about The Silmarillion as a whole. We also discuss where the Tolkien Road should go next. And yes, we’d love to hear from you about your Top 5 Silmarillion things too. Send us an email or leave a comment at TrueMyths! 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

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

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