John Shea confessed his Doctor Who fandom, so I’ll meet him and match him geek-for-geek with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it and reread it many times over the years. No doubt some people will roll their eyes at that, dismissing the elves-and-wizards genre as mere adolescent escapism. That’s fine; people have been calling The Lord of the Rings “juvenile trash” since it was first published (though others disagreed equally early). But Tolkien was after something more significant than the vampires and werewolves and the next tween movie sensation. His imagination was deeply Catholic, and he understood his writing not as escapism, but as an act of what he called “sub-creation,” itself an act of praise for the one Creator.
I’ve been thinking about this recently while following a blogger who describes himself as a “vegan cyclist, Internet community nerd, atheist bookworm, high-five purveyor” on his first-ever reading of The Lord of the Rings. Besides being impressed that Mark has managed to preserve himself from being spoiled about the details of the story (really? where was he when the movies came out?), I’ve enjoyed the chance to re-experience, through Mark’s eyes, the thrill of encountering Tolkien’s world for the first time, by seeing him fall in love with the details, characters, and twists in the plot. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for him to find out (spoiler alert) what had happened to Gandalf.
I have no idea whether or not this “atheist bookworm” knows how deeply Catholic Tolkien’s imagination is, and I don’t know how he would respond if he found out. What I do know is that I’m very grateful for the opportunity for this Jesuit geek to enjoy going “there and back again” (in the Ignatian sense, as Peter Folan explains here about the Superbowl) in a book that’s helped form my vision of God in all things.
Fair warning: Mark Reads uses rather “energetic” language to describe how excited he gets about the book – thus the external links.