Introduction

 

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Introduction

The very notion of “myth” is particularly controversial when applied to the Bible. Some people believe that what the Holy Book tells us actually happened to the letter, making factual History of biblical tales and parables. Tolkien was one such creationist. However, while this analysis will take the Christian myth into account as the world-wide cultural landmark that it is, committed explanation of metaphysical matters will be avoided. This investigation aims to make the link between Tolkien’s religious beliefs and his work. Explanations about Tolkien’s mystical experience will not be ventured into since they would undoubtedly require a whole philosophical treatise and a degree of that psychoanalysis which the author himself claimed to loathe so much.

In Tolkien’s vision, myths were factual in the way that they conveyed genuine and timeless general truth about life and Man. It may be construed that his success partly relies on a glorious attempt to make that which he considered to be an essential quality of myth an inherent ingredient of his own work. In a way, his literary ethic is enough to justify the “mythic” [1] aura given by generations of readers to Tolkien’s writings. Furthermore, Christianity being such an integral part of his personality, the general truth he attempted to express in his work was bound to be tinged with religion. Nonetheless, he cordially disliked the idea of his literature being called strict Christian allegory, and although he tends to contradict himself on the matter with such works as “Leaf by Niggle” his major writings are, on the whole, not mere allegories of Christianity [br /]. Indeed, the values promoted by his characters and the boundaries of Tolkien’s imaginary world “have a right of their own”, and even if Christianity happens to shine through them, it is not their main purpose [2]. On the one hand, the writer was himself quite categorical on the subject and Tolkien commented on the Lord of the Rings that, in spite of his devout faith, he did not feel under any obligation to make his “story fit with formalized Christian theology” [3]. On the other hand, such work as that which he carried out on the translation of The Book of Jonah in The New Jerusalem Bible confirms the idea that Tolkien’s scholarly career was quite religious-centred. In fact, one of the most striking things while investigating the author’s life is the omnipresence of religion and the central place it occupies.

Therefore, the first part of this analysis will aim to demonstrate how Christianity takes root in Tolkien’s existence and how it influences his writings. In order to achieve such a goal, his life as a child and adult will be scrupulously studied through the relations he had with his loved ones. In addition, a study of the author’s circle of friends outside the family unit reveals a great deal about the sources of his inspiration and the effect religion had on his work.

The second aim of this study will be to prove that distinct features of the Bible and Christianity are at the very heart of Tolkien’s creation. To avoid sole reliance on The Lord of the Rings, a close scrutiny of The Silmarillion will be necessary to prove that the whole cosmogony of Arda significantly mirrors a recognisable Christian treatment of concepts such as evil, divine providence and death. Tolkien’s treatment of these great traditional themes deserves its fair share of analysis since it is extremely representative of his faith in the Christian myth.

Finally, in the third part of this work, I will narrow the study down to Tolkien’s most acclaimed piece of writing, The Lord of the Rings. Various characters and symbolisms combine to give this book a definite Christian feel. Moreover, its tone and the values it promotes always convey a more or less obvious sense of Christianity.

My argument then, will first concentrate on the relationship between the author and his writings before focusing on the basis of Middle-earth’s cosmic order and Tolkien’s famous masterpiece. Such a plan will allow me to narrow the focus of this work in each new part thanks to the findings of the previous one, which will permit a more effective description of the relationship that exists between Tolkien’s writings and the Christian myth.

[1Tom SHIPPEY, J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century, London : Harper Collins Publishers, 2000, p. 179.

[br /Ibid., p. 161.

[2Richard PURTILL, Lord of the Elves and Eldils, Grand Rapids (Michigan) : Zonderwan Publishing House, 1974, p.87.

[3Humphrey CARPENTER, ed., The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, London : George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1981, p.355.

   

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