The Death of the World

‘They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulchre and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and it that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies ad philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.’ (G.K. Chesteron, ‘The Everlasting Man’, pp.212-213)

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Some Old Tolkien Material

Here are some reflections on J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’ I made when I was younger – not bad, if I do say so myself!

Central elements of the mythology include: Beren and Luthien, Hurin and his children, Earandil and his interceding on behalf of men, and Feanor and his war on Morgoth. there are more, but I’d say those are the key pillars to this mythology.

Of those, I think the most important to the mythology as a whole are Hurin and Earandil. Neither are entirely original in conception, but they are both incredibly important, moreso than any of the other of the stories Tolkien wove. wove into his mythology. Hurins story, called the Narn i Chin Hurin, in my opinion, is the entire Tolkien mythology in a nutshell. while based primarily in Finnish and Greek mythologies, especially the tradgedies, it’s a powerful story that sets the tone for the entire Middle-Earth legendarium.

The key points of the Narn are (a) Hurins imprisonment by Morgoth (b) the curse laid on Hurin and all his family and (c) Turins life lived under said curse. Hurin attempts to out-debate Morgoth, and failing, has a curse laid on him. This isn’t a normal curse though; if you look at the nature of Morgoth you’ll see its much more. The music of the Ainur was the fabric of creation, and since Melkor wove his own themes of pride and evil into it, evil is therefore ingrained into Arda by the doing of Morgoth. So Morgoth isn’t just predicting bad luck, he’s quite literally bending evil itself to work on Hurin and his children.

That’s the basic reason Turin is beset by bad fortune, death, sadness, etc. wherever he goes; because the evil in the fabric of creation, put into place by Morgoth is bending against him. There’s no escaping it for Turin, and any victories he does achieve turn out to be fruitless in the end. even his marriage is torn apart in a rather Odepian way, his bride being his sister, whose memory was lost from the spell of the great dragon Glaruraung. she kills herself, and Turin follows soon after. the point of all this being, Morgoth is not boasting when he says to Hurin how great his power is, and how his thought and will will go with Hurin and all his children all the days of his life.

the story as a whole, as i said above sets the tone for the vast majority of Tolkiens middle-earth mythology: long struggles, glorious defeats and victories at a great price.

The second most important tale in the mythology, at least in my mind is Earendil.

Earendil sailed into the west to valinor in order to get the Valar to help Elves and Men in the siege of Angband, morgoths stronghold. he was able to find Valinor by the power of the Silmaril on his brow. he enters valinor and procures the aid of the Valar, who come to middle-earth in force and defeat Morgoth in battle once and for all and exile him into the outer void, beyond time and space. in doing so, Beleriand is sunk below the sea. Earendil, having been to Valar, which no mortal had been to before, was then given choice to either remain a mortal man or become an elf. he and his wife both choose to be counted among the elves, and earendil then takes his ship and sails into the starless void with the Silmaril on his brow still; and becomes the star Earandil, which is seen in middle-earth for the rest of its days.

This tale is improtant, at least to my mind, because it establishes the power of hope and grace, even when it seems that all is failed. Earendil goes to the Valar because he rightly perceives that Morgoth cannot be overthrown by force of arms alone, and ” delivered the errand of the Two Kindreds. Pardon he asked for the Noldor and pity for their great sorrows, and mercy upon Men and Elves and succor in their need. And his prayer was granted”

Even though the elves had spit in the face of the Valar, defied their will and marched off to a 450+ year war in which countless people were killed, even though they attacked their own kind and stole their ships to get across the ocean, though they betrayed each other in the zeal for the Silmarils, despite all that and much much more, one simple prayer was enough to change the minds of the Valar and cause them to overthrow Morgoth.

Thus, Angband is broken(though not completely destroyed) and Morgoth banished beyond the door of Night, and a permanent guard is set on the walls of Night. but since evil did not simply come from Morgoth but was woven into the very fabric of creation itself, evil endured, and will continue to endure until the end of time, which leads into a rather big point in the whole mythology: the resistance to evil by good, even in the face of defeat.

Those are the two tales that i would say for the cornerstone of the Tolkien mythology. now on to the reason the Silmarillion is named the Silmarioion: the silmarils.

Feanor was the greatest artist/craftsmen to ever live. his power was immense, not only in art/making things but in speech as well. his will was indomitable, and he could not be made to change his path by force or counsel. such was his power of speech that he roused the vast majority of the Noldor to war in a speech given over the course of an entire day, the War of the Jewels. Feanor is a key character in the story, not only for his own sake, but also because of the seven sons he had. when he went to war to reclaim his jewels, his sons swore along with him to get back the jewels at any cost, no matter what. this oath would have devastating consequences and also cause the first kinslaying, the killing of elf by elf.

On Art

What is the role of art in the Christian life?

Taking a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis angle, I would say that one large part would be that we create as part of our having been fashioned in the image of a creator God. Creating is part of what we do, part of what makes us human – specifically, creating stories and myths. For Tolkien and Lewis, our creation of stories and myths points to our innate longing for God – Lewis points this out in his essay ‘Is Theology Poetry’ when he’s discussing the many other divine stories that exist in other cultures.

If Lewis/Tolkien are right, and I believe they are, then creating stories is a profound part of our being – a part of our being that comes as a result of being fashioned in the image of a Creator.

‘We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall.’

― J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy-Stories’

 

‘Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion. For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies;even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

This ”joy” which I have selected as the mark of the true fairy-story (or romance), or as the seal upon it, merits more consideration. Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of
the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know. (J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ pp. 144-145, 155-157)