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Posts Tagged ‘JRR Tolkien’

I read once that Tolkien wrote with the pessimism of the pagan poets [1].  They uphold honor in despair, dying well, the heroic quest at the cost of losing everything you love.  But I read Tolkien and see hope scribed into every chapter.  No light, whimsical child’s hope: Tolkien’s hope is not ignorance of all things capable of clouding the good.  It’s a “fool’s hope,” [2] where anyone can see that in all likelihood, if things go on as they are, the fool will be disappointed.  In Tolkien, the fools know themselves to be fools.

 

Elven-King Fingolfin’s story weighs on the side of hopelessness.  The Silmarillion describes him as “fey” [3] when he challenges Melkor himself, living up to the epic’s heroic virtues.  What hope has an elf against a Vala?  But the Vala ought to be contended, resisted, fought.  Though the high king of the Noldor (elves) finally fell, his fight was not without effect.  The Dark Lord Melkor limped forever after.

 

At first reading, it seems that Aragorn commends this sort of despairing courage when he instructs his friends, “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” [4]  But Gandalf, the wizard who knows his life-encompassing hope is foolish, lends a bit of insight early on.  Recognizing he is a fool, he embraces humility.  Do you hear it in Gandalf’s words? “Despair, or folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” [5]  He acknowledges that he may not have all the facts.  Indeed, thinking that he knew what the end would be was the prideful downfall of Denethor, who let his enemy select the facts he discovered, and so turn him to despair, and madness.  Tolkien’s works regularly discourage the assumption that we know the future.

 

He also discourages despair.  I know it doesn’t seem true.  There are some pivotal scenes driven by characters that rashly pursue death and glory.  Aragorn is accused of it when he takes the Paths of the Dead, but that perspective is refuted.  Though the way had been shut for long ages, the time had come.  Such is the way of hope.  Things go on in a certain way until the due time, and then change springs upon the world.

 

Perhaps most potent is the image of grey-eyed Dernhelm.  The warrior’s silent, calm assurance going in search of death chilled Merry.  And it awakens our empathy.  Why shouldn’t it?  Who hasn’t felt that life is going from bad to worse, and decided to rush forward to the end instead of waiting to be burned with the house?  I think maybe Tolkien intended to carry us along with this character, so that we could reach the same end.  Dernhelm was proud, seeking glory before duty, though demonstrating loyal love to King Theoden by staying close to him.  And glory was achieved.  And darkness did descend on the desperate hero.  Even as Dernhelm revealed herself as Eowyn, golden hair glittering in the storm-piercing sunrise like a figment of hope; she was cast down, poisoned, and taken for dead.  [6]

 

But now we come to it:  Tolkien’s hope is the kind that stands further and deeper than all those things – than despair and darkness and loss.  He knew about a resurrection hope, about seeds bringing forth fruit after they have fallen into the ground and died.  Maybe he knew that fruit is more glorious than merely putting an end to your enemies.  His hope embraces grief.  It accepts hard things.  Good is not determined by the outcome, but by some transcendent standard.  And this hope joyfully trusts that there is someOne good who may intervene yet.

 

For Eowyn woke, and repented her destructive ideals.  Day came again.  Darkness was not unescapable.  Faramir described the moment, “I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  … in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” [7]  So Eowyn moved and married, healed and tended gardens. [8]  Her story is a fuller exposition of the transformation the Fellowship underwent in Moria.  They lost their way and lost their guide.  They had descended black depths and awakened demons so that they lost hope.  But on the field high on the mountain slopes, “they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces.” [9]

 

[1] Hopeless Courage by Loren Rosson, III (http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/lord_of_the_rings_guest_03.htm)

[2] The Return of the King: “The Siege of Gondor” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 797)

[3] See etymology of “fey” at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fey&allowed_in_frame=0

[4] The Two Towers: “The Riders of Rohan” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 430)

[5] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Council of Elrond” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 262)

[6] The Return of the King: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 823-824)

[7] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 941)

[8] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 943-944)

[9] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 323)

 

See also, The Silmarillion: “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin” by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m so behind, reporting to you on the books I’ve been reading!  Let me catch you up.

Back in August, I read The Oath by Frank Peretti.  It is the second grown-up book I have read of his.  (Monster was a fantastic book!)  I have to say that I was disappointed.  The story started slowly, and dragged on with way too many “climaxes.”  At the end of the book the real climax was not nearly as redemptive as I hoped for.  And I think that reflects the central theme of the book that dissatisfied me: sin when it is full grown gives birth to death; men who are not redeemed are slaves to sin.  That is true enough, but there was precious little in the story about the power of God over sin, to save us from death.  What was there didn’t ring real or powerful or even theological.

The Oath centers around two vivid images of sin: a dragon growing, hungry, but hard to see and hard to fight; and a oozing sore over the heart – a sore that people want to avoid, want to deny, want to ignore, and ultimately insanely forget.

Of all the characters, the one that stood out to me wasn’t a main character.  It was the pastor of Hyde River.  He sounds like a lot of pastors: downplaying the power of evil, giving the benefit of the doubt to the intentions of wicked men, avoiding confrontation, and dreaming of bigger ministries.  His was not the blatant rebellion against God embraced by much of the community – but he tolerated and excused the sin around him, even rebuking those few in his congregation who stood for the truth.  The pastor enabled the sin in the community, did nothing to stop the men who were hurrying to hell.  At the end of the story you see which side that puts him on.

In summary: the writing wasn’t all that good; the idea not that compelling, but there were some high points of description both of human character and of the nature of sin.

After that I dabbled in a book by Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of the Church in Asia, but it wasn’t what I hoped or expected, so I gave up half way and sent it back to the library.

This was partly because I was busy reading a novel lent to me by a friend, Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  That was a pleasant read!  Mr. Trollope confides in you, author to reader, but also uses polite denials to manipulate one into suspecting the accusation denied.  His characters are, sadly, typical of the human race.  Even his hero and heroine have their faults and foolishness.  But he begs you to love them and forgive them, just as they would treat you.  And the spell he casts worked on me.  I do love Mrs. Bold and Mr. Arabin.  From the very beginning the author painted such a picture of his characters that I was curious to see how they would perform whatever dramas and comedies he submitted them to.  I was not disappointed.

Shortly after I finished Barchester Towers, I was babysitting.  After the little boys were put to bed, I raided their father’s bookshelf, and began to read GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Unrelated to the two movies by the same name, the book is a series of mysteries solved by a genius who knows too much about the dark side of man.  He has too often seen bad men get away with their crimes.  I marvel at the commentator’s skill at weaving into story a sort of poetic metaphor of philosophy along with his critique of politics, aristocracy, and press.

In response to a friend preaching on hyper-dispensationalism, I took the time one evening to read and make notes on Galatians with a view to the theology of dispensationalism.  Though I sympathize with the concept of dispensations, I must admit that as a whole the book says nearly the opposite of the point my friend was trying to make.  My study has prepared me for our next confrontation.

While recently on vacation I began The Letters of JRR Tolkien.  So far they are not very interesting, as they mostly predate The Lord of the Rings and any correspondence with fans or critics.

A partial viewing of Peter Jackson’s Return of the King inspired me to pick up my copy of JRR Tolkien’s Trilogy again.  What delight to revisit The Fellowship of the Ring!

As always I have a huge stack of books I desire to read in the near future: a couple about AnaBaptists, one about the Great Depression, John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, Pilgrim’s Progress, Emma, Wives and Daughters, Passion and Purity, Quest for Love, From Eternity to Here, Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Flax flowers, tall and green crowned with sky-blue petals bend beneath the water falling on them, stooped double, dripping and dreary under a summer sky shrouded in grey.  Am I made for such a world where the beauty bows to necessity, where death is such a threat that the glorious sun must be cloaked, life furled?

I wish I had made these observations while on a walk, but I was driving.  My car was pulling out of my driveway to carry me to the paces just outside of where babies die.  The heart of me resisted, catching its hands on trees and fence-posts, loathe to leave them behind.  A few yards down is a rose garden, and in my mind I shrank…
Paradise.  Shadows and breezes, still and soft and just enough to shed the perfume of the roses across the little green between.  It is like an elven meadow, the little people running about their blissful business – the tallest thing they can see is the living tower of blossoms rimming their country.  No eyes can pass the borders to see the sorrow of our world, the world of mortals.  No tiny heart is troubled like mine, knowing of the suffering and wickedness and death I am about to witness.
Are elves diminutive or tall?  Those legendary immortals, acquainted with nature and delight, cut off from our world by size, by magic, or by choice?  Tolkien wrote about elves, despising the modern conception of them as petal-sized fairies, who evade human capture and notice by their slightness.  The author’s idea was of a people maybe even taller than men, living in the depths of the forests or across the leagues of the sea.  They were powerful and wise, joyful – and sorrowful.  For Tolkien’s elves could see over the roses.  They witnessed mortality and evil and the changing world, and it was a grief to them.
Mankind was in a different sort of captivity: not hemmed by fragrant visions of living loveliness.  Their world was the broken, mortal one, saturated with sorrow.  Battlements built high: temptation, pain, guilt, fear – guarded their even seeing something else.  And then they saw the stars.  Ever beautiful and untouched, glittering points in the sky spoke of a joy and purpose beyond the grueling existence through which men plodded.  Faramir tells that men burdened by mortality built high towers and communed with the stars.
They may have been wrong, seeking something forbidden, discontent with their created lot.  In the Shire lived a different sort of mortal.  They knew fear and death, so they celebrated peace and long life (and birthdays).  Life was too short to simply hoard; they gave away.  In the rural country of the Hobbits there was danger of becoming fat and complacent, gradually surrendering more and more of the fullness of life granted to mortals.  But most didn’t.  They enjoyed things: friends and family, stories, food and drink, walking, gardening.
Outside the Shire, the Hobbits proved that it was they who had built their country, and not that the simple life of relative ease had birthed their contentment.  Hobbits don’t have courage in tight spots because it is hiding deep inside them; their courage is something exercised every day.  It takes enormous strength to feast when you know the world is dark, to hope when it has been so long since anything happened to encourage you.  Complacency is not hope.  And Samwise Gamgee was not complacent.
He carried with him the willingness to seize good times.  His eyes grow large with wonder at the hidden elvish cities he visits. They’re in a gardenous land filled with herbs and wild game just his size, so he stews some rabbit. And when his quest seems hopeless, he sits on the top stair of an enemy tower and sings about the stars: those beacons of hope anchoring him to a reality he belongs to.  He can’t access it now, but it is no less sure or beautiful because it is far away.

Above all shadows rides the Sun



And Stars for ever dwell:



I will not say the Day is done,

Nor bid the Stars farewell.

So in the hobbits we have the same spirit as the elves seeing over their flower-hedge, but in reverse.  The elves looked out and what they saw brought grief in – something they would not shrink from, but took and blended with their joy.  And the hobbits looked out and what they saw brought hope, but they took it and blended it with their weariness.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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JRR Tolkien reported that he discovered his stories and the world of Middle Earth.  Bilbo’s complaint that Gandalf took him home from the Lonely Mountain by much too direct a route is perhaps a testimony of Tolkien’s own experience with the Hobbit and subsequently the Lord of the Rings.  Even though the legends of the elves were sprawling through Tolkien’s imagination long before either the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings were published, we know that Lothlorien and Fangorn – and the stories swirling and marching out of them (respectively) – were unexpected developments that Tolkien met as he traveled with Frodo and his companions to the War of the Ring.

To many people, Tolkien’s description of his sub-creation is merely a metaphor for the creative process.  An idea wasn’t in mind before and then unfolds faster than we can write it or say it aloud, as though the whole were in existence before we thought of it.  But for Tolkien, there was more literal (and literary) truth to discovering his characters and stories than I would have guessed.  Especially in the Lord of the Rings, peoples and places were dynamically inspired by meditations on words.

The lore-master of Middle Earth discovered that fantastic age in the associations and nuances of English.  English being only the top level.  He didn’t just borrow an archaic term to sound old or fantastic (as so many pretentious fantasy-novelists do today).  Involved in the study was a lot of Old English, Old Norse, Germanic and even Celtic derivations.  Tolkien hoarded word-mathoms, specimens of language passed around and hidden in old literature, buried in place-names.  Believing that language bore record of a people with creativity, wisdom, and art worth recovering, Tolkien studied and meditated on this vocabulary.  Meanings all-but-forgotten, he restored them, often telling a story in which multiple definitions took living form.  Or if the meaning really was entirely lost, like the purposes of some mathoms, Tolkien upcycled them, making all new but deeply appropriate uses of obscure terms.

One of the easiest examples may be Ent.  In Tolkien’s mythology, Ents are shepherds of the trees, ancient forest-keepers.  They do many things, but most importantly they bring down the corrupted wizard, Saruman, by destroying his stone city, Isengard.  Ent comes from an old English word from which we also get the word “giant.”  The word is also associated with trolls, the large stone-people.  Giants in old mythology were credited with writing the pre-historic epics and constructing the marvelous architecture known to the medieval people only as mysterious ruins.  Tolkien pulled all of these things together in the character and origin of the Ents, and in their stone-dominating assault on Isengard.

Perhaps Lord of the Rings was so successful because Tolkien tapped our own imaginations, our nightmares and our memories, our own ways of talking about those things.  We feel that Middle Earth is part of us because it came from the same places we did.  The Hobbit was nursery-fable, not entirely devoid of the word study that made Tolkien’s other work great, but mostly a hodge-podge of mythology and adventure.  The Silmarillion studied not only the English words and Germanic epics at the root of English and American imagination, but also delved into Greek myths, and more obscure stories (like the Finnish Kaelevala).  The Elvish languages have more to do with Celtic.  All those sources were more remote than the wights and wargs and farthings and elves that resonate with the first audience of Lord of the Rings, the English.

Enormous creativity is required to make stories – especially as complex as Lord of the Rings – out of word definitions and roots.  But it also takes genius to hold so many facts and references in mind at once, seeing comparison and contrast, projecting backwards, remembering how the ancient form of the word was used in some obscure poem.  Thomas A. Shippey’s biography of Tolkien first alerted me to this aspect of his work some years ago, but The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary goes much farther.  A word can be a poem or a story or a mythology or just a really-neat sound.  Tolkien delighted in and brought out all of these.

For more information, look to the Letters of JRR Tolkien and the History of Middle Earth (a series of books containing early manuscripts of Middle Earth stories and also containing glossaries and word-explanations for the languages of middle earth).  I highly recommend that you pick up The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner.  It contains over a hundred studies of words either invented or revived by JRR Tolkien or associated with him and his work.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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If you ever get that craving to find treasure, just for the thrill of finding, get into words.  Open a dictionary, read the definition that catches your eye first, and ask yourself questions.  What did that one word mean in the definition?  What are the root words, and where are they from?  How is that word related to other words that sound or are spelled similarly but whose definitions you never before associated?  Is there a list of synonyms?  How are they similar to the first word?  What variations do they put on it?

If you get really interested in the hunt, pick up a book about interesting words.  There are many of them.  I have been a fan of JRR Tolkien for years, and his books contain many interesting words.  In one reading of Lord of the Rings, I kept a list.  Even if the words were familiar, I listed ones that sounded good, or that had an intriguing spelling – words that stood out.  Then I started looking up their definitions and etymologies.  There is a book I’m reading now, Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary.  Over half of the book is word studies.

You can learn interesting things, like the history of “ent.”  It comes from old Germanic and Norse words for giants.  In those ancient days when the word was in common use, the writers attributed still older ruined cities and half-remembered mythologies to “ents.”

Or you can start wondering about words.  How is dwarf related to orcs and ogres?  To rocks?  Especially in mythology, and very intentionally in Tolkien’s myths, relations between words reflect relations between the objects they describe.  If the word “dwarf” derives from a word for “rock,” then maybe dwarves themselves come from rocks.

EVEN if you are wrong (as I often am) you’ve started your imagination on a great story.  And along the way, you’ve undoubtedly found some absorbing treasures of words and history.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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They loved to fight, valiant horsemen with swords and horns and arrows.  But did they fight for her?  Sitting home, left behind to wait on a king who no longer thought of anyone or anything but darkness, watched by lustful eyes fueled in all his deceit by his selfishness – what good was it for strong men to fight if their homes crumbled in their absence?  Would this be her whole life, waiting for people to die, watching decay and singing of dirges?  How could a shieldmaiden ward off the subtly corrupting whispers that truly threatened her kingdom?  An enemy manifest, however terrible, is easier to defy than ghosts in the shadows.  And she yearned, for morning and for restoration and for love. 

A brother she had, whom she loved.  A king she had, like a father to her.  A people she had, who would follow her.  They that went with the puissant soldier on the paths of the dead went because they would not be parted from him.  She stood alone weeping as she watched him go, but he from whom she could not be parted was her uncle.  Where will wanted not, her way opened.  Disregarding formation, she rode close to him.  In the battle she learned that what she wanted more than death, more than glory, was to preserve the beloved lives of her friends.  Alone she stood, facing death, shielding self and kindred from his icy blows. 

And then she wasn’t alone.  Her little companion, brought out of sympathy, stood up and began a change in the woman.  Valiantly, for no other reason than that the desperate woman should not die alone, he reached up to stab at death.  Together they brought him down.  Together these two unlikely heroes suffered, both sleeping in the triage houses in the city.  More came, not for glory or to make whole again their human weapons.  The healers came to restore the broken, to call back the fevered wanderers. 

She woke in the middle of a journey.  No healer had she been; her hand ungentle, left to fight its own battles.  And here at last beside her, appointed also to stay at home, stood a man who could outmatch any of the revered men of valor she had known.  Yet he spoke not of the love of fighting, but of love for that he defended.  He did not love being a ruler, but loved that which he stewarded.  His own glory meant nothing, but he wanted to do what was wise and brave and therefore praiseworthy.  He would forfeit his life to keep an oath. 

Her reflection stood before her, cast in new light.  She also fought, stewarded, took pity, and offered her life.  Now she saw what it was for, and it went deeper than opposing the things she feared and hated.  As the days passed, the man grew to love her.  No more did she miss someone to stand for her, to speak for her, to plan for what pleased her.  He was there.  And her heart changed, or else at last she understood it: to be a shieldmaiden no more, but to be a healer and lover of all things that grow.  Turned from the dark battle and dirges to the life that had been crumbling, she found peace and love and bliss. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Marriage is like dancing with no music.  There is still an art, and still the beauty; there is also that dimension of more going on that you have in dancing.  But instead of the music being enough to give a girl an idea of where life is going, there is none; she must simply follow.  Give and take, go and come.  Trust.  Responsibility.  Cry for help.  Confidence.  Smile her delight.  Swing out, spin in.  Submit.  Dance. 
 
The hobbits watch in dreamlike fixation as a woman beautiful beyond their experience weaves her way around the table, in and out of the kitchen, gracefully dodging a man equally unique to the hobbits: big, clumpy, capering and energetic.  Styles so different, the two manage to make a fascinating dance of contrast and complement. How do they make it work?  What force prevents collision? 
 
Tom Bombadil sang about his lady when he thought no one was listening, and when he knew they were following, straining for his every word.  He praised her as beautiful and trusted her to be ready with hospitality.  Brave and free, each with few friends, the couple shared life and interests with each other.  Perhaps many nights were spent crafting a tale to spell his lady.  He gave her gifts and she did the washing.  They each remained who they had been before they met, but they sacrificed things and changed also, making a brand new life together.  When the hobbits asked Goldberry about her husband, she spoke with quiet respect, “He is the master.”  Perhaps there is no satisfying explanation of Tom Bombadil because he was a man who needed to be known rather than described.  There are no memorized steps of the dance with him.  Their house is full of the comforts of community: ready beds, generous tables, and long conversation by the fire.  Goldberry and Tom knew the value of relationship. 
 
Main characters in Lord of the Rings are unmarried.  Nine companions, the fellowship of the Ring, had the freedom to risk their lives and tramp across the world because they were not married.  A man or two was moving towards marriage, dreaming of the woman he’d left behind.  Tolkien was a real romantic, the kind who understood the pull of adventure and of chivalry, as well as of courting and of marriage.  This last is not too common in literature, that real married couples would be glimpsed in story and lifted up for their simple virtue and hard submission.  Immensely happy in marriage to Edith himself, this author did not shy away from representing marriage in his stories. 
 
Another example is found in The Fellowship of the Ring before the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil.  Still in the Shire, they meet a hobbit couple, the honored Mrs. Maggot and her intimidating husband, Farmer Maggot.  It’s a dreadful name to inherit, let alone acquire, so Mrs. Maggot must have loved her husband, and made the most of it.  She too embodied hospitality.  Spin in.  Feeding a large working farm and family of sons and daughters, she didn’t mind at all to include three hungry strangers at her table, presenting them with heaping helpings of farm fare, mushrooms, and good homebrew.  Farmer Maggot was a good provider, a defender of his property – maybe less because of what it grew than of whom it harbored.  And when in the service of doing what was right he risked his own safety for newfound friends – this round hobbit reminiscent of the American rednecks – his wife stood at the door and cried out for her husband to be careful.  Swing out.  This isn’t just something people say.  Do you see women encouraging their husbands to do the right thing even though it is dangerous?  Do you hear people in unhappy marriages nervous about the other’s safety?  No, it comes from a heart of love, natural – yes, and common but only because the simple heart of marriage is common.  Isn’t that how it should be? 
 
There are other examples, men and women whose wedded bliss was interrupted by wars, disease, or accident.  Take Frodo’s parents.  Rumors ran wild that Drogo didn’t get along with his wife, and that she thought his girth was too large even for a hobbit.  They died together, though, out boating – and as far as the Gaffer was concerned, that was their only crime.  It left Frodo to the wildness of youth, an orphaned rascal living with an extended family too big to take good care of him and to teach him responsibility.  This again was the implication given by the sturdy gardener, who had carefully raised his own son under his eye and apprenticeship.  What an unlikely beginning for the Ringbearer, whose sense of responsibility called him into the darkness, surrendering forever the possibility of home!
 
Elrond’s marriage does not appear to have been happy.  His wife early (well, thousands of years into their relationship) grew weary of their home and left.  Why didn’t she stay for him?  Why didn’t he go with her?  Should he have gone, the Halfelven whose work was so large in preserving the Middle Earth for which his father had risked much more than happiness and comfort?  Should she have stayed, enduring without music, just for the following?
 
Many characters seem to have lost their mothers or fathers early, including Samwise, Frodo, Aragorn, Boromir & Faramir, and Eowyn & Eomer.  It was a hard time, and even marriage did not guard against sorrow and loss.  This is evidence that Tolkien’s ideal of marriage was not unrelated to the real world in which he moved.  His stories exemplify love and commitment in the midst of the hard times to which we can relate. 
 
Another splendid example of the exertions of marital love and the roles each person takes is the marriage of Earendil and Elwing.  Earendil, on behalf of his people, sought to reach the undying lands and plead for the help of the Valar.  He was lost at sea, hopeless, when his elven wife flew to him in the form of a white bird with a silmaril at her breast, and, lighting the way to Valinor, saved her husband and delivered his mission from doom.  He initiated risk, and she accepted the separation and the danger.  In this story the husband led the way on a mission to save the world (as all husbands should), and she supported him with strength of her own and encouragement.  I believe the story goes that the couple now above Middle Earth sails till time ends, in the heavens, her silmaril doomed to light the way for all men as the evening star. 
 
Many people in Tolkien’s tales are related to Luthien and Beren, who stole that silmaril from the crown of Morgoth.  Luthien was the daughter of Thingol (a high elf, one of the first to see Valinor) and Melian (a Maia).  Their marriage is another inspiration.  King Thingol loved Melian and worked his whole life to make her happy.  But he also respected his bride and took her advice.  This position Melian wielded to moderate her husband’s temper, thereby making him the best man, father, and king that he could be.  Ruling together, they preserved and protected a kingdom of peace, beauty, and, until fate started to unravel the spell of protection Melian had woven around Doriath, of justice. 
 
Thingol and Melian’s marriage is somewhat reminiscent of Celeborn and Galadriel, both strong and wise, with strong claims to the leadership of their people.  Yet they ruled peacefully side by side, together attending councils of the wise.  Again they both offer hospitality, but are cautious to protect their country against harm, for love both of land and of friends inside.  All the wives in Tolkien are beautiful, and all the husbands are valiant.  But not all the men are wise, nor are all women hospitable.  Celeborn and Galadriel represent together the best of Tolkien’s ideal.  They are happy and sad, serious and celebratory.  They are wise and strong, beautiful and kind.  People love them and follow them, not only in war, but also in peace.  Memory is important, and yet there is always curiosity to meet new things.  And so it ought to be in marriage.  Such I believe was Tolkien’s experience. 
 
My favorite marriage in Tolkien is one that hadn’t yet taken place.  Eowyn was independent; she was not free – not because she was a woman at home, but because she wanted things impossible for her to have.  Faramir pushed, and she took a small step away.  He pulled and she came close.  Before she knew what was happening, the simple steps were increasing in difficulty until she cried out, “My hand is ungentle!”  The princess grew frightened in the face of love and submission, though she had stood proud as the shieldmaiden of her king even against an enemy as terrible as the Lord of the Nazgul.  She cried out to one who seemed to know what he was doing, who was leading her into a place where she was less confident, where her only choice was to follow.  And the crying out was trust.  Her heart changed, or at last she understood it.  She chose freedom, stepped willingly away from her independence, and chose to love, like her partner, to see things grow well.  “Then I will wed with the White Lady,” he laughed.  She smiled her delight, and on the wall of the city their hands met and clasped, and they faced darkness and light together. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn 

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I believe that congressmen, who are involved in ratifying treaties of the United States and charged with representing our country, should know history and diplomacy.  This is their job.  I hate needing to remind politicians of their job.  Nevertheless, I press on.  This is not to say that the situation in Georgia is our fault.  We did agree to admit Georgia as our ally, which Russia does not like (they being a selfish political power hoping to re-aquire the land of Georgia). 

 

Rather than the most recent war in Iraq, perhaps a better illustration of the need to proceed with wisdom in Georgia would be the conflict between Afghanistan and Russia, in which the US armed the Taliban in order to defeat the Soviets.  Certainly neither party needed us to be helping them.  However, Georgia has been advancing toward a democratic, “westernized” government and culture, despite serious economic and military opposition from its closest most powerful neighbor.  The US, because of the fundamental beliefs that make us a democracy: “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”, believes that these rights apply to all people, and wishes to aid the sovereign governments who share our concern to promote liberty in their own countries.  It is also strategic for us to have allies like Georgia, the Ukraine, and Poland, whence we can maintain vigil over the growing threat of Russia’s imperialism. 

 

Another good example would be World War II, which could actually have been prevented as a world war if the other superpowers in the world had stood against Hitler when he took over Austria and Czechoslavakia, citing similar reasons as Putin’s Russia now claims.  Because Hitler was undeterred in his conquest, he gained confidence and military positional advantage by which he launched his near-complete takeover of Europe.  Too much appeasement, and too many empty threats, are what allow world wars to come to fruition. 

 

Thus, the United States was acting in this prudent manner of putting out a spark rather than a raging forest fire, when we “preemptively” struck Iraq.  A little history (which it is good to know, before you judge a situation):  In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to add its natural resources to the larger, but economically depleted, Iraq.  The US and a UN-supported coalition defended Kuwait.  Iraq was forced to surrender, on very favorable terms considering the nature of war.  They submitted at the time to the UN as enforcers of these terms.  When after several years Sadaam Hussein began to put his toe across the line, and found himself unchecked, he gained confidence and gradually became more and more blatant in disregarding the terms of his surrender over a decade prior.  As it became evident that he was committing atrocities and defying the UN resolutions (an act by all accounts punishable if the UN meant anything); harboring and aiding the professed terror-wielding enemies of the US and her allies; and moving towards if not already possessing the means of restarting his quest for more money and power at the cost of human lives at home and abroad, the US led the way in collecting the Coalition of the Willing and specific UN resolutions in order to redress the transgressions Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq made against international post-Gulf War agreements. 

 

The resulting war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, was so shocking and awe-ful to Sadaam that the real fighting was over in a few days.  What has taken so long in Iraq was the establishment of a democracy among a people used to oppression.  The South needed to be reconstructed, and the freed slaves equipped for life and industry after the Civil War in the United States.  Georgia needed the support and example of democracies to build its government on the true, God-fearing principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  In the case of Georgia, they have met insurgent opposition to democratic government, and have endured opposition sponsored by neighbors with ulterior motives – all very reminiscent of the situation in Iraq where Iran continued to supply and train the insurgency.  Interestingly, Putin and Ahmadinejad are themselves allies, who have no doubt consulted on tactics. 

 

Georgia, a sovereign nation, has the right to use force to suppress violent uprisings in its land.  That is what governments do.  If the government is being oppressive and abusive, that is another story, but then one wonders why most of Georgia is NOT in revolt.  (See Declaration of Independence).  I find it sad that Americans seem willing to accept ethnic differences as explanations for conflict and wanting one’s own country divided according to race all the while recognizing the great fact (which has been largely successful in its American implementation) that race has nothing to do with the value of a human life, with relationships, or with the principles of government by the people for the people.  Being of a different ethnicity than a portion of your country is no reason either to revolt against your government or to oppress your people.

 

When America broke away from the Crown, it was not a matter of race or even of disapproval of the laws so much as it was outcry against the king’s making rules and breaking them.  The charters by which America was colonized gave specific rights and powers to the colonists, which the king then usurped.  Since the Magna Carta, England had recognized that the king was not himself above the law, and Americans expected the present king to honor that.  However, when he did not, they declared their independence.  Unlike the implications some have made, the king did not immediately recognize his fault and repent, but invaded their land with violence.  By the providence of God, America was able to defeat the armies of the tyrant king, winning independence and teaching England a lesson on human rights and the nature of government that the Crown has yet to forget.  America is free not because of the benevolence of England, but because England surrendered their object in the colonies. 

 

My letters were addressed to my congressmen because, as the Constitution of the United States presently stands, they are my representatives to the world.  World leaders are not my concern beyond my own country.  I am not a globalist.  America is my nation, and her leaders are my focus. 

 

My position maintains that we were not so utterly wrong in Iraq or in Afghanistan as is popularly argued.  Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found, and there is some evidence that more may have been shipped to likeminded countries.  Good has been accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan.  No further terrorist attacks have been perpetrated on America.  Lives have been lost, tragically, but most American lives were willingly laid on the line in service of country.  Alongside wars of history, the human toll has been remarkably small.  Peace reigns over the Middle East more than ever.  There is still violence, but there is violence in New York City, in San Francisco, and in my city, Denver.  To quote Tolkien, “It takes but one foe to breed a war…” 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I must say, much as I am a fan of literature, that I never liked Shakespeare.  My taste, whatever else may be said about it, does not like to be dictated.  Which men chose the classics and left better books behind?  Must Dickens be praised and Burnett read everywhere while every little author with soaring words is neglected?  What is to be praised in Dickens?  And above all, why do we give to children what is supposed to be fine and profound literature? 

 

Shakespeare’s poetry does not rhyme, and its meaning is not always evident.  To me sometimes it sounds forced.  And his plays do not interest me.  Literature class forced Romeo and Juliet upon me, and in respect for a friend I read Tweflth Night.  So I don’t have a lot of exposure to his plays, and I have never seen them acted.  If I had, their interpretation might have more hold on my heart.  Most of all I find that Shakespeare is overrated. 

 

Perhaps, however, he is under-read.  The one thing that tempts me to scorn my own opinion of Shakespeare is that whenever a true fan of his work, someone who has invested the thought to understand his themes, has described to me a play or a couplet, I have enjoyed the metaphor.  The Danish prince on Prince and Me aids the American farmgirl in her literature class by directing her penetration of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  My immediate reaction is that any poetry that requires so much thinking is not romantic, though it masquerades as such.  Maybe the metaphors were more common, or the objects of comparison an everyday thought.  But I must praise the ability to say more with words than the words themselves, to do something with choice of words and order, rhythm and association, pattern and emphasis that has, even to those unaware, layers of influence and meaning.  My friend who convinced me to read Twelfth Night explained the statement Merchant of Venice is on Jewish philosophy.  I greatly enjoyed that.  When Chesterton critiques A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I feel let in on the secret.  And occasionally when I catch radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewing David Allen White, a literature lecturer, about a piece of Shakespeare, I am delighted by the events and ideas Shakespeare addressed.  How he did it from a cottage in the country I’ll never know. 

 

Dickens always ought to be musical.  Because Jo March and her sisters liked him, I always felt guilty for despising his work.  I wanted story, and Dickens talked about issues, the dark, depressing issues of London which one hopes have been reformed since his creative efforts to address them.  I feel very much as though I was being told what to do, a list of morals told in story form.  Again, whoever makes the selections for literature books is sadly out of touch with students.  I read a shadowy scene of Pip visits Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and found myself very bored.  If Oliver had not been set to music, I would have been turned off by the immorality and violence of the tale.  But don’t you see that to make it musical, someone had to understand the story and love it enough to adorn it for the world to enjoy?  A radio interview and Chesterton again are responsible for the majority of the interest I have in Charles Dickens.  The former described the magic of the words the classic author used, how each word added to the tone of the novel. 

 

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote to Dickens, and shared his concern for their country’s social issues.  Through her stories I feel as though I receive commentary on Dickens, both a defense and a rebuttal of his work.  Her novels are more realistic, more on the border of the issues to enable her readers, themselves well outside the slums, to look in at a window, gently led like Mr. Scrooge by the ghost to look at the needs of others.  Her heroes have compassion held as an example to the readers.  They learn and love just like the rest of us.  Even her villains are not completely bad.  Each has a story that, while it cannot justify their rebellion, is a justification for kindness shown to them. 

 

To move my heart a story must be near enough my own experience.  Few people today have family feuds preventing childhood romance.  No one I know was beaten in an orphanage.  Maybe in some parts of the world or my city these things are the case, but my life is without them.  Jane Austen appeals to me because she writes about families with normal problems and interests.  Tolkien intrigues me because, though he sets it in a fantastic world of elves, goblins, and dragons, his epic deals with the basic cases of right and wrong, sacrifice and friendship, and the choices everyday to turn back.  More grown up than when I took literature class, I appreciate biographies for mapping the way individuals of the past navigated the questions of life.  New genres are opening to me; maybe soon I will love the classics on my own. 

 

Last summer I hosted a literature party in which each girl or lady was invited to bring a passage from her favorite children’s book.  There was Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Little House on the Prairie, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Alexander, and more.  I liked best loving those books through the eyes of my friends, to have them share with me what is so relevant or poetic or sentimental about the stories. 

 

So many people talk about classic authors.  I wonder if they do not derive some of their potency and meaning from being a matter of commentary and interpretation.  Is Shakespeare truly better when discussed?  Dickens wrote for the very purpose of stirring thought and inspiring movement in his society.  And what writer does not write to be read and to matter? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Apparently one of my favorite pet hobbies is worse than unpopular.  It’s irrelevant to the world around me.  I love to study words.  Their roots and history, and how they got from start to present, are fascinating to me.  When I find the etymology of a word, I feel like that word is full of color and life and intense meaning that before was cloudy and uncertain.  When I write I want the best word not only to say exactly what I mean, but with the tone and connotations I intend.  Etymology helps me do that (I hope). 

In any case, being a linguist helped JRR Tolkien.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens also employed word selection to aid their plots and descriptions.  The more I improve my vocabulary, the more I appreciate classic authors and their works.  I marvel at the subconscious effect their word choice had on me before I understood.  Their literature comes alive when I really know what their language indicates. 

But today, in an increasingly post-modern, non-absolutist, highly individual world, adhering to one definition for a word is less feasible than adhering to one faith in one truth about one reality.  And this makes debate completely useless.  This makes computerized discernment and classification impossible.  In other words, we can no longer test someone’s words to see what they believe.  Either they sound heretical, but were really just trying to use hip lingo and got sloppy, or they sound orthodox and mean something mystical.  In both cases knowledge of what the words inherently mean, and are supposed to still mean, is no help at all.  In fact, it’s confusing. 

So what we need instead of the computerized classification or test such as evangelicals gave to presidential candidates last century (asking them whether they were born-again; how long do you think it took for the candidates to catch on and learn to say the right thing?  They’re politicians!), is real discernment.  People who have studied truth need to test all things, but not with clichés.  They need to pray for God to guide them with His eyes.  They need to be Samuel, who so leaned on God’s insight, who yielded to God’s vision of man’s heart instead of human sight of the outward appearance. 

There is a spiritual gift, like teaching, like giving, like service, and like compassion.  Through the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, those who have called on the name of the Lord and are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit and led by Him into all truth need to examine the words of men and discern spirits.  After studying the gift of discernment, I think there are several reasons Paul calls it “discerning of spirits.”  This analysis provides another reason: in a postmodern culture that defies definitions, discerning words is basically useless.  We need to discern (discover, classify, penetrate, understand, identify as true or false) where a speaker is coming from, and what they really mean. 

The other reasons I have considered are: 1.  Discernment is spiritual.  It has to do with the spirit-world, and can often involve identifying demonic activity or influence.  2.  Discernment of a spirit can be of a message, due to the Greek word (pneuma)’s double meaning of breath and spirit.  3.  Discernment might have to do with insight into the spiritual needs of an individual.  Beyond whether an individual is right or wrong, where are they weak and where are they strong?  What is the spiritual reality going on in their life, behind the service and the teaching or the sin and the doubt? 

I believe God gifts members of His body as needed to see all these things, and I believe there is an incredible need in the Church today for those who can identify the spiritual truth of a situation, message, or person.  These people, using their gifts, are an incredible contribution to the community and cooperation of believers.  They are indispensable in edification.  And in a world where there are many books, many teachers, and much mesmerizing media, the Church needs to seek God’s direction and discretion as they choose their courses of ministry and belief. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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