From Thought through Love till Reality 3
This essay is under the title of the subject of the recently held first round of an Essay Competition held at the TolkienForum, the Guild of Tolkienology.
Yet, it gives a different perspective of the topic.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien , together with some schoolfriends, met in the Barrows Stores Tea Room to discuss their literary passions. The called themselves the Tea Club, Barrovian Society. During this time a thought, a vision even, arose among them; to realise a mythology for England. How different would that mythology have been if things had then gone differently than they did?
The friends were all enlisted in the British Army to fight in the worst battlefield of the First World War. From the trenches of the Somme, young Tolkien saw terrible carnage and desolation where once had been the beautiful, peaceful French countryside. A muddy, blasted wasteland he left when invalided back to England; to find that, apart from himself, only one of the TCBSs had survived the War. The thought that gave birth to Middle-earth would be darker now, stained by the blood of war.
Imagine the view from the train on his return to England. No longer the desecration of the Somme, but the rolling downs of England, still green and beautiful with cattle grazing and birds singing. Realising he loved this land, JRR Tolkien began to put pen to paper and craft the story of a world. And what a story! Its creation was marred by darkness and discord from its very inception. The Valar’s joy at the waking of the firstborn, the Elves, was soon marred as the whispered lies of Melkor sowed mistrust, causing the Elves to doubt the goodness of the Valar, misinterpreting their counsel and deeds. This culminated in great evil deeds at the hands of the Elves, deeds ever inspired by Melkor. Yet even so, whenever evil raised its monstrous head, even though it seemed unassailable, the good would find a way through and a remnant would survive.
Tolkien’s love for God and for his land shone against the darkness of the First World War as gold shines amidst a dark setting. But his love was not only for the rolling countryside of England. In his youth, and for the sake of his studies, he was forcibly kept apart from the girl he loved; yet the embers of his love were not quenched. He eventually met again and married the woman he loved, shortly before being enlisted in the British Army. This must have left JRRT with a deep conviction that, despite all barriers put in its way, true love will prevail. It was not for nothing that he had the names of Beren and Luthien inscribed on his and his wife’s tombs. Did the seeming injustice of Tolkien’s separation from Edith Bratt leave a mark on him that had to come out in his stories? Love and separation seem to have been covered from every angle: force, bewitchment, negligence, tempest, and even wandering off and getting lost! They are all there in the tales of Beleriand.
And then we have Sauron! Taught at the hands of the good and great, his pride and lust for greater power made him align himself to the Evil Melkor.
As if the the evils of the First World War – The War to End All Wars – was not enough, the allies sucked Germany dry for war reparations left its people bankrupt and humiliated. By 1933 a new ‘saviour’ began to gain ascendance, and Germany, enthused with new hope, began to build the machines of war while the rest of Europe slept (After all, had they not just had The War to End All Wars?). What fuel there was for the next great phase in Tolkien’s mythology: “The Lord of the Rings” in the dark schemes of that German Chancellor (I will not name him here!).
So, that’s all past now. Middle Earth was saved; our 20th century earth was saved, was it not? I often think about the Hobbits – If they had been real, they wouldn’t be by now. Soon, like Egypt after Joseph, a king would have come who remembered them not, and they would be trampled, dispersed and forgotten. Can we really say that that which was worth fighting for, and which was saved, still exists? What about what our fathers fought for in the 20th Century Wars? Evil, like weeds will, once sown, always be there. The lies of the Enemy still colour the world. Cruel reality never really shows its face; it whispers in our ears just as Melkor whispered into the ears of the firstborn. Do we trust the words of our leaders any more than the words of those our leaders tell us are our enemies? The creation stories of the Bible and of Middle Earth both begin with whispered lies: “Did God really say….?” And when the doubt is entertained it comes again, whispering the half lie first, so we are lulled to sleep. Then, with our minds lolling in their hammocks, we are all the more ready to swallow the full lie later on. And so it continues, and real peace eludes us. We will not learn to live in peace unless we learn (All of us!) whose whispers we can trust. But even Sauron seemed fair and reasonable at the first, did he not?