Tag Archive | J.R.R. Tolkien

A Century Ago: Contemplation on Veterans I Have Known, and on the End of the Great War

My father, Albert Jackson (Jack) McCarn, Sr., in Cerignola, Italy, in 1945 during World War II.

My great-grandfather, Josiah Easley McCarn, a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War.

The year of my birth marked the centennial of the great American Civil War. At that time, the “late unpleasantness,” as some Southerners called it, was barely removed from the realm of living memory. The last Union and Confederate veterans had passed away only a few years earlier, but their collective experience and their impact on my Southern world lived on – and continues to live on to this day.

It is on this day, November 11, 2018, that our human journey through time passes another centennial: the one hundredth year since the end of the Great War. As with the centennial of the Civil War, World War I is barely beyond living memory. The last American veteran, Frank Woodruff Buckles, died in 2011. I recall an exhibit featuring him and a handful of other World War I veterans in the Pentagon. Mr. Buckles participated in the ceremony dedicating that exhibit in 2008. Sadly, although I was working in the Pentagon at the time, I missed that event. It’s a pity; now that I am an old soldier, I cherish opportunities to honor those who have gone before me.

My father-in-law, Chaplain (Col) (Ret) Raymond E. Barry, veteran of the Cold War and Vietnam.

Tomorrow I will join my family in doing just that. How fitting that, on the day America officially celebrates the centennial of Veteran’s Day, we gather at church to pay our respects to my father-in-law, Chaplain (Colonel) Retired) Raymond Barry. He left us just a few days ago after a long and fruitful life. Being the only other military person in this branch of the family, it was my honor to write his obituary. The experience taught me much about him. People don’t think much about Chaplains when they think of soldiers, but without our Chaplains, we soldiers would not do our duty half so well. Theirs is truly a thankless task. They bear some of the heaviest burdens, but few recognize it. Doctors and nurses deal with the visible consequences of combat, but Chaplains deal with the invisible consequences – not only of combat, but of the daily grind of life for the soldier and his or her family. Life is hard enough as it is, but soldiers have the added burden of service to an often ungrateful nation. It is a service that takes them frequently to the most undesirable and dangerous places, where they must do the most difficult of tasks that may or may not solve the problems they are sent to address. Who can fix Somalia, or Afghanistan, or Iraq? Thus, we soldiers endure the worst, often only to see the temporary solutions we have bought at such a dear price come unraveled before we have had time properly to process our ordeals.

Properly processing, by the way, means doing so with the loved ones from whom we have been so long – and so often – separated. They, too, suffer while we are away. During my last tour in Iraq, my greatest pain came not in what I endured in the combat zone called Baghdad, but in the grievous hurt inflicted on those at home. My family and the families of many of my comrades had to deal with death, injury, assault, sickness, and more while we were away and unable to protect or help them. Does anyone think of that when they think of veterans? Probably not.

Which is why we need Chaplains. That’s what my father-in-law did. He was a pastor in uniform for 30 years, serving on three continents through most of the Cold War, and a hard year in the hot war called Vietnam. One might not be surprised to learn that he prayed for and with soldiers about to leave this world in the midst of combat. They died in his arms, and he wept for them. At other times, they died in peacetime, and he stayed by them in the hospital to pray for and weep with their loved ones. That is the kind of service no one saw, but the kind that produces good fruit that impacts generations. And that is why we honor Ray Barry, now and always.

Two World War I veterans who continue to influence me through their writings: J.R.R. Tolkien (left) and C.S. Lewis (right).

We honor all veterans on this day, but in particular I hold in my heart those who gave so much a century ago. The course of nations and of peoples was established in that war to end all wars. As a historian, I can explain how World War I shaped the current global system and continues to define the way nations relate to one another. Yet instead of a history lecture, let me offer some personal examples of how the Great War shaped my life. Two British veterans of that war became my favorite authors. Through their collective works, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien helped me see the world. I still filter much through a Tolkienesque lens and draw considerable inspiration and wisdom from the observations of Professor Lewis. Could either of them have been mentors to three generations without their combat experience in France? I think not. They would have been honorable men and respected scholars, but had they not endured that horrid crucible, would Lewis ever have embarked on the intellectual faith journey that brought him to the cross of Jesus Christ? Would Tolkien have been able to synthesize the totality of human experience in the mythical epics that bear his name? And without those influences, where would I be? Where would you be?

Garland McCarn with his three children. From left to right, Joe Earl McCarn, Alice Belle McCarn Moore, Garland McCarn, Albert Jackson McCarn, Sr.

Then there is my grandfather, Garland Victor “Bill” McCarn. I knew him as a kind elderly man who rarely left his apartment, but who always appreciated seeing his grandsons. A stroke took him from us when I was but six years old. It was not until some time later when my father explained to me about his service in the Great War. Daddy Mack, as we knew him, did not see combat, and with the hindsight of a lifetime I consider that a blessing for him. Yet he did see France in 1918. At the age of 30, when he was establishing a clerical career and settling down with a wife and infant son, his nation called on him to don the uniform and depart for a distant shore. He learned the skills of a combat engineer, employing those to good effect in the first half of 1919 to repair war-ravaged France. To my knowledge, after his return home in May of that year, he never went overseas again. Even so, he knew what to expect when his children served in Europe during the next war. He told my father, Jack, that he wished he could go in his place. I do not know what he told his daughter, Alice, but as a father of daughters myself, I surmise his heart broke even more grievously than when he said farewell to his son.

My grandfather, Garland Victor McCarn, was drafted in 1918, soon after the birth of his oldest child, my uncle Joe Earl.

I surmise as well that he remembered his own wartime service as a watershed event of his life. He was never the same afterward. I do not know what Daddy Mack was like before the war; my father was born several years after he had put off the uniform. The experience no doubt hardened him, but nothing could prepare him for the loss of his beloved wife, Ammie Clyde Latimer McCarn. She died of pneumonia just two years after my father was born. It unhinged Daddy Mack. His life had taken two serious turns in less than a decade, and even before he was able to adjust to the new normal, the Great Depression arrived to take away all he had worked to achieve for his diminished family. The story is long and sad, and it seems that the grace of God, shown in the form of many kind and caring hands and faces of many colors, carried him and his children through the hard years ahead. In all that brokenness, Garland still succeeded in helping my father become the man he was, and through him, to help me become the man I am.

What did he think of his World War I service? The only answer I have is in a book he left behind. When I first saw it, the book was charred and damaged from a fire that had engulfed many of his belongings. Years later, I took possession of that book and had it rebound. It sits on my bookshelf today, a fond legacy of my grandfather that he purchased in the midst of the Great Depression. It must have been very important to him to make what others might deem a frivolous expense in times when the little money he had should have gone toward more pressing needs. The work is called Forward-March! The Photographic Record of America in the World War and the Post War Social Upheaval, published in two volumes by Disabled American Veterans in 1934. Some years ago, I discovered that this work had been republished online. My grandfather probably owned both volumes, but only the second survived the fire. Nevertheless, that single volume was enough for a small boy enthralled with the stories of a bygone era. As I paged through its contents, it never occurred to me that, many years later, the same DAV would help me make the transition to civilian life upon my retirement from the Army. All I knew at the time was that the pictures told stories of soldiers long ago, and of a world enduring a cataclysmic transformation.

My grandfather was part of that. One hundred years ago, in Brest, France, he breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that he would be returning safely home. I can think of no better way to honor him than to share some of the photos from Forward March! that captured my childhood imagination. Consider this a tribute to all veterans of all wars, regardless of the uniform they wore. We might have been adversaries in days gone by, but nothing changes the fact that we are all human.

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

These images were downloaded from the online edition of Forward-March! The Photographic Record of America in the World War and the Post War Social Upheaval. The captions are as they appear in the original work published in the 1930s.

MARS RULES THE NIGHT. September 25, 1918— 10:59 P.M. All quiet. 11 P.M. Four thousand guns—standing hub to hub—open the world’s greatest artillery bombardment. The earth trembles for miles. The fierce, roaring, barking, vibrant thunder grows in intensity. The sky slobbers a ghastly red. Huge hills literally topple over and those who lived therein, live no more. 5:30 A.M. The Rolling Barrage. Seventy-three tanks tear holes in the barbed wire already wrecked by the artillery. The infantry, with a rifle strength of 108,000, jumps off. In the tense darkness, they crawl among the dead and the dying. Shells are whistling and bursting. Machine guns are spitting. It is a test for any man. Five hundred planes overhead keep back the enemy airmen and assist the infantry. The gates of hell seem to have opened.

Our batteries barked like savage dogs. The havoc wrought beyond the embankment is beyond description. It can be likened to nothing that ever happened before or that has happened since. Lightning, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, typhoons, all combined, could not produce such complete, widespread devastation.

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP, BUDDY Members of Company E, 131st Infantry, 33rd Division, Captain Herman H. Weimer commanding, in front line trench prepared for anything. From this trench can be seen the Valley of the Meuse where more than 70,000 men are buried.

COLORED SOLDIERS DISTINGUISH THEMSELVES The 369th Infantry, 93rd Division, awaiting a counter-attack in the Argonne. This outfit distinguished itself in the Champagne-Marne operation, July 15, 1918, as well as in the Argonne. The Division’s casualties were 3,927.

THE RAINBOW IN THE ARGONNE Stokes mortar being fired by men of 165th Inf., 42nd (Rainbow) Div., who, after relieving the 1st on nights of Oct. 11-12, captured Hill 288, Hill 242, and Cote de Chatillon on the 15th. They were at the front again Nov. 5.

ALTERED PERSONALITIES No one who passed through one of these was ever the same again—physically or mentally. This is the 308th Field Hospital, 77th Division, receiving and dressing the wounded, La Chalade, in the Argonne Forest, September 28, 1918.

THE RESCUE Something out beyond the wire! Yankee eyes peer under tin hats, watch for motion between spouting geysers of the morning strafe! Steady—steady—a dog’s bark rings out—the scarlet emblem of the Red Cross on his side. And a Yankee Sergeant goes over as machine gun bullets whistle. A hasty bandage about the dog’s wound—a rescue!

THE ACE OF ACES Maj. E. V. Rickenbacker, Commander, 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron, who shot down 26 enemy planes, his unit 69, the best records of the A.E.F. He was awarded Congressional Medal of Honor, Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre.

“CALAMITY JANE” AND HER CREW This gun, serial No. 3125, 11th F. A., 6th Div., fired the last shot of the war for the Allies, in the bois de le Haie, on the Laneuville-sur-Meuse, Beauclair Road, France. It is rumored that the gunners’ watches were slow.

FORCED SMILES “Fini la guerre! It is the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, and the greatest war in history is over. Men of the 64th Inf., 7th Div., have just received the news of the Armistice.” So reads the story of this picture.

“OUR FATHER, WE THANK THEE” At altar of Jeanne d’Arc, an American and French soldier give thanks that the war is over and that they still live.

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The Dilemma of the Ger, Part 3: Dealing with the Kinslaying

This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews.  It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger.

Dealing with the Kinslaying

Albert J. McCarn
April 16,2017

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë, by Ted Nasmith. Used by permission.

A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world.  Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire.  Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor.  The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.

The Noldor had justification for their actions.  Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor.  Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer.  Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat.  At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar.  When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.

This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works.  Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history.  Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion.  Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.

In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works.  Yet there is one missing detail:  he never tells us what happens when the exiles return.  It is a significant omission.  We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged.  At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships.  The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying.  As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.”  If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.

What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know.  We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them.  Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.

Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph).  Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.

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Does Israel Have a Distinct Place in the Age to Come? – Dan Juster

The multitude of people who have influenced my spiritual views (and worldview in general) include many who would not appreciate being in the same company with one another. Some of them are pictured here. Top row (L-R): Dr. Edgar Arendall (Southern Baptist); Pastor Mark Biltz (Non-Jewish Messianic); Rabbi David Fohrman (Orthodox Jewish); Dr. Dan Juster (Messianic Jewish). Second Row (L-R); Monte Judah (Hebrew Roots/Two House); C.S. Lewis (Anglican); J.K. McKee (Non-Jewish Messianic); D.L. Moody (Evangelical Christian). Third Row (L-R): Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox Jewish); Dr. Francis Schaeffer (Evangelical Christian); Dr. R.C. Sproul (Presbyterian); J.R.R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic).

The multitude of people who have influenced my spiritual views (and worldview in general) include many who would not appreciate being in the same company with one another. Some of them are pictured here. Top row (L-R): Dr. Edgar Arendall (Southern Baptist); Pastor Mark Biltz (Non-Jewish Messianic); Rabbi David Fohrman (Orthodox Jewish); Dr. Dan Juster (Messianic Jewish). Second Row (L-R); Monte Judah (Hebrew Roots/Two House); C.S. Lewis (Anglican); J.K. McKee (Non-Jewish Messianic); D.L. Moody (Evangelical Christian). Third Row (L-R): Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox Jewish); Dr. Francis Schaeffer (Evangelical Christian); Dr. R.C. Sproul (Presbyterian); J.R.R. Tolkien (Roman Catholic).

A continuous source of amazement for me is the fact that many of the men and women who have contributed substantially to my spiritual growth most likely would not be comfortable sitting in the same room with one another.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise.  Inspiration for my life has come from Baptist Christians, Presbyterian Christians, Anglican Christians, Catholic Christians, Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians, Messianic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Reformed Jews, and Hebrew Roots Torah teachers of many different streams.  It is amazing what these people have in common.  It is more amazing what divides them, and how senseless that division is in the long run.

What fellowship, for example, does D.L. Moody have with R.C. Sproul?  That is a question most readers could not answer, not having a clue who either of those esteemed gentlemen are.  Had they been contemporaries, however, the simple tenets of Moody’s evangelism (“Ruined by the Fall, Redeemed by the Blood, and Regenerated by the Spirit”) would clash with Sproul’s elaborate Reformed reasoning. 

We might say similar things of many, many others – even of the two authors who have had the greatest influence on my life.  It just so happens that they were contemporaries, serving as professors in related fields at prestigious English universities.  It is no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien was instrumental in bringing C.S. Lewis out of atheism and into a relationship with Jesus Christ (Yeshua the Messiah).  Yet Tolkien was disappointed that he could get Lewis no closer to what he considered true Christianity (Roman Catholicism) than the Anglican Church.  And yet the two remained friends and colleagues, greatly influencing each others’ literary and other works.

This begs the question:  If Tolkien and Lewis could get along, why is it that Hebrew Roots believers have trouble getting along with one another?  Or why is it that traditional Christians and Messianic believers of all stripes find it easier to condemn one another rather than support and pray for one another?  Or why do Christians and Jews have such difficulty accepting one another as part of the same covenant people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  It seems that our divisions are doing more work for the enemy of our souls than the good we hope we are doing for the Kingdom of our God.

In the interest of helping to correct this tendency, I am pleased to share an article recently published by Messianic Jewish leader Daniel C. Juster.  Much of my understanding of the Hebrew Roots (or Jewish Roots, as he would say) comes from Dan Juster.  I have been blessed to sit under his teaching and to be discipled by this writings.

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Why Did Tolkien Care About the Jews? | PJ Media

The headstone at the Tolkiens' grave in Oxford, England.

The headstone at the Tolkiens’ grave in Oxford, England.

Somewhere in my boxes full of old photographs there is a picture I took in 1986 while on a pilgrimage to Oxford, England.  The purpose of that trip to England was not to visit Oxford, but to attend a conference with one of my oldest friends (who probably would prefer to remain anonymous).  I was stationed in Germany at the time, and he was in need of a vacation, so we met in England to join other friends at a Christian conference.  When it was over the opportunity arose to see Oxford.  Since we had met two very charming British girls at the conference, and since they shared some of my enthusiasm for Tolkien, they joined us on this journey.

Ah, Tolkien.  He was the attraction to Oxford.  J.R.R. Tolkien’s works have captured my attention since I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at age 11.  Of the handful of authors who shaped my worldview, he and C.S. Lewis share the top position.  It was his grave I particularly wanted to see, after enjoying a pint in his honor at The Eagle and Child, the pub where he, Lewis, and others shared their literary ideas.  The old photograph lost somewhere in the boxes is the one I took of his grave.  One day I will dig it out and put it in an album of good memories.

Tolkien left us far more than good memories, of course.  He has made a lasting impact for good on four generations of English-speaking youth.  That impact shows no sign of slowing – provided youth of the present and future read him, that is.  Watching the cinematic adaptations of his works is not enough.  The depth of Tolkien is not in the action sequences of Elves fighting Orcs and Dwarves hunting dragons, but in the way he weaves the essence of humanity into his stories.  I view this as a gift from the Almighty. 

My guess is that David Goldman would agree.  In this article reposted from PJ Media, he investigates what appears to be a major motivation for Tolkien:  neutralizing the anti-Semitic messages of German composer Richard Wagner.  Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Nazism knows the high place of Wagner in Adolf Hitler’s esteem.  It should be no surprise that Wagner, like Hitler, despised Jews.  Tolkien did not despise Jews; he despised those who twisted our historical and literary inheritance into something evil to justify the eradication of that which is good.  That is what Goldman relates as he presents the back story of a masterful author’s life work.

Why is this important?  The literary-minded understand.  Words, music, and images capture the soul and shape the mind.  Regarding Tolkien and Wagner, Goldman sums up the point this way:

Wagner’s legacy remains baleful.  Fortunately, many more people know Tolkien than know Wagner, and we may pronounce Tolkien’s project a success.  Unfortunately, Wagner’s hold on the cultural elite remains strong, and influences modern culture in ways of which the popular audience is unaware.  

How did he arrive at this conclusion?  Read on and find out.

And thanks very much to my anonymous old friend, who not only accompanied me on that Oxford pilgrimage long ago, but brought this piece to my attention.

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Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

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Fox Byte 5775 #36: Beha’alotcha (In Your Going Up)

בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by  Danacea on Flickr.com via via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by Danacea on Flickr.com via Wikimedia Commons)

In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:

I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist.  As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through.  (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)

Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature.  The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality.  Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization.  Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable.  Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant.  In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals.  Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature:  a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser.  He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land.  He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way.  Each victory comes at a cost.  Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.

We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world.  After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:

The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end.  His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power.  Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion.  Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.

Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #35: Nasso (Elevate)

נָשֹׂא

Although visually stunning, Peter Jackson's depiction of the army of the dead oathbreakers in his film version of The Return of the King did not reach the depth of Tolkien's account regarding the sacredness of oaths or vows and the dire consequences of breaking them.  (Photo:  "Army of the dead", via Wikipedia)

Although visually stunning, Peter Jackson’s depiction of the army of the dead oathbreakers in his film version of The Return of the King did not reach the depth of Tolkien’s account regarding the sacredness of oaths or vows and the dire consequences of breaking them. (Photo: “Army of the dead”, via Wikipedia)

This post-modern generation of the industrialized West has lost sight of the power of the Oath.  That is why there is so little understanding of the covenant terminology which establishes the context of humanity’s relationship with our Creator.  An oath sworn in good faith is something far more powerful than a legal procedure.  It is a spiritual transaction which makes an indelible mark on the parties who take part in it.  That is why one’s conscience is troubled when even the least significant promises are broken.  Something as simple as committing to be at a certain place at a specified time is a type of oath or covenant.  Failing to keep that promise fosters disappointment, anger, and bitterness in the heart of the one who is expecting the appointment to be kept.  Hopefully the one who broke the promise will make amends and resolve to keep such commitments in the future.  However, if the promise-breaker develops a habit of showing up late, or not showing up at all, then eventually his or her conscience will no longer serve as a reminder about the transgression.  And then the promise-breaker becomes something worse:  an untrustworthy person.

If this is the case with something as simple as a promise to be on time, what can we say about more serious promises?  There is an illustration which may help.  J.R.R. Tolkien delved deeply into the subject of oaths and covenants in his epic works about Middle Earth.  Perhaps his most memorable account is the oath made by the Men of the Mountains to fight against Sauron, an oath they did not keep.  In The Return of the King, Aragorn explains the circumstances of this broken oath:

But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfill it.  For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Nümenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor.  But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not:  for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.

Then Isildur said to their king, “Thou shalt be the last king.  And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk:  to rest never until your oath is fulfilled.  For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end.”

In Tolkien’s novel, Aragorn leads his companions to the realm of these dead oathbreakers, and as Isildur’s heir calls them to fulfil their oath by following him into battle against Sauron’s armies.  They answer the call, and upon winning the victory are released at last to depart in the peaceful sleep of death.

In Tolkien’s story the oathbreakers are redeemed by the descendant of the king whom they had betrayed.  Their answer to his call brings an end to the curse and the blessed peace they have sought through the ages.  As is so often the case with Tolkien, he illustrates a profound principle first explained in the Scripture.  Yet what we learn from Moses differs from Tolkien in one critical point:  redemption from the curse of broken oaths, or vows, results not the peace of death, but in the promise of life.

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Fox Byte 5775: Pesach (Passover)

פֶּסַח

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Tolkien in 1972, in his study at Merton Street (from J. R. R. Tolkien. A Biography by H. Carpenter; accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth.  Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings

Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended.  Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy.  A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels.  It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny.  In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth.  The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion.  In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain.  And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.

Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles.  Life is cyclical, not linear.  What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again.  Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world.  And it is quite biblical.  As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:

That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #13: Shemot (Names)

שְׁמוֹת

Map of the realms of Middle Earth.  Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor.  Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador.  (Source:  The HD Wall)

Map of the realms of Middle Earth. Tolkien fans are familiar with the kingdom of Gondor, in the south opposite Mordor. Less familiar, but no less important, is the kingdom of Arnor, which at one time incorporated most of the region of Eriador. (Source: The HD Wall)

No one remembers the kings of Arnor.  Why should they?  After all, they existed only in the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Yet if they had never existed there, the world would never have become acquainted with Aragorn, or with the Hobbits who helped him reestablish his kingdom.  The great drama of Middle Earth is now etched in popular culture thanks to the cinematic artistry of Peter Jackson.  It is a great credit to Jackson and his team that they drew from the deep wells of Tolkien’s works to portray the indispensable back-story of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but that story probably escaped the notice of most of the audience.

In Tolkien’s world, the noblest people among the Men of Middle Earth were the Númenóreans, a people whose kingdom in the midst of the sea was destroyed by a great flood like that which inundated the legendary Atlantis.  Under the leadership of Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion, the survivors of Númenor established a new kingdom in the western part of Middle Earth.  Elendil divided his realm, placing Anárion on the throne of the Southern Kingdom of Gondor, and retaining for himself the title of High King as he ruled over the Northern Kingdom, Arnor.  When Elendil died, Isildur took his place as High King, ruling from Arnor.  Over time Arnor declined and failed, but the line of Isildur continued through the Dúnedain, or Men of the West, a diminished and scattered people known more popularly as Rangers.  Gondor continued on in great strength, but the line of kings descended from Anárion ceased when the last king, Eärnur, died childless.  Tolkien thus created a great irony in his literary world:  a king with no kingdom, and a kingdom with no king.

This is the setting for The Lord of the Rings.  Those who have seen the movies know that Aragorn the Ranger eventually became king of Gondor, but few realize that his coronation was the culmination of the long-awaited rebirth of the Númenorean realm and reunification of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.  Those events could never have happened if the Dúnedain had ceased to exist.  According to Tolkien’s work, they remained few in number after the destruction of Arnor, but their vigilant watch ensured a measure of peace in the lands of the North.  Although all but forgotten by the people of Gondor, the Dúnedain worked quietly behind the scenes to strengthen the Southern Kingdom’s stand against the growing evil of Sauron.  Then, when all hope seemed lost, the heir of Elendil appeared in the greatest hour of need, bringing new life to long-dead hopes and dreams.

A major component of Tolkien’s works is identity:  as long as the Dúnedain and the people of Gondor remember who they are, no enemy can defeat them.  They may be overwhelmed and diminished, but a remnant will remain and will in time prosper anew.  And whether Professor Tolkien realized it or not, his literary works depict something very real in the works of God:  the identity, redemption, and restoration of all Israel.

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Fox Byte 5775 #5: Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah)

חַיֵּי שָׂרָה

By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor.  The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien.  (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings:  The Two Towers.  Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

By remaining faithful to the true king, Faramir son of Denethor completed the centuries-long task of the Stewards of Gondor. The king rewarded him with the title Prince of Ithilien. (David Wenham as Faramir in the 2002 New Line Cinema production of The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Accessed on lotr.wikia.com)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s works had secured for him a lasting place among the giants of English literature long before Peter Jackson ever brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen.  Middle Earth, with its Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Wizards, serves as the backdrop for a profound tale about our humanness – what it means, and what we would like it to mean.  We would like to see ourselves, for example, as high and noble, like the Elves or the Men of Gondor.  Tolkien expresses this nobility in many subplots, not the least being the saga of the Stewards of Gondor.  We learn about them from Faramir, son of Denethor, the current Steward:

We of my house are not of the line of [King] Elendil, though the blood of Númenor is in us.  For we reckon back our line to Mardil, the good steward, who ruled in the king’s stead when he went away to war.  And that was King Eärnur, last of the line of Anárion, and childless, and he came never back.  And the stewards have governed the city since that day, though it was many generations of Men ago.  (The Two Towers, Book IV, “The Window On the West”)

Faramir relates how his older brother, Boromir, could not understand why his father had not claimed the throne.  He had asked, “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?”  To this his father replied, “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty . . . In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”

It is here that we must question Tolkien’s grasp on reality.  He describes a degree of nobility and selfless honor that transcends generations.  It is remarkable for one person to lay aside his or her own interests to guard a place of higher power, wealth, and prestige for someone else.  How could such selflessness be passed down from one generation to the next, knowing that at some point the supreme authority would have to be handed over to someone else?

And yet that is exactly what our God expects His people to do.

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