Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’

Read Full Post »

Jaime-Cersei-jaime-lannister-23339624-1226-816

Just for the heck of it, I’ll be both unoriginal and narcissistic and start by quoting myself (the following is from part one of this series):

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, (. . .) has nothing like [Game of Thrones‘] candid material.  But leaving that aside for the moment, let us note another key difference between the two: Tolkien drew his inspiration primarily from myth; George R.R. Martin, author of the novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, draws his inspiration primarily from history.

You may be thinking, “There you go.  Martin’s work is realistic; Tolkien — along with all you other religious crackpots — have your heads stuck in an airy-fairy world where everything is just the way you think it should be.”

As you may have guessed, I look at the distinction a little bit differently.  In order for this discussion to be fruitful, we must broaden our understanding of the term “myth”:

M. Eliade discovers in myth the structure of the reality that is inaccessible to rational and empirical investigation. Myth transforms the event into a category, and makes us capable of perceiving the transcendental reality

(. . .)

According to P. Tillich myth is a symbol, constituted by the elements of reality to present the absolute and the transcendence of being, to which the religious act tends.

H. Schlier emphasizes that the myth does not know historical facts and has no need of them, inasmuch as it describes man’s cosmic destiny, which is always identical.

(Pope John Paul II, from the notes on his address titled “The Second Account of Creation: The Subjective Definition of Man”)

So what does this have to do with sex?  Quite simply, it tells us that there is meaning in sex.  And this meaning is older than and prior to history.

Bundespräsident empfängt Papst Johannes Paul II.

It is primarily in light of Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” that I want to treat this matter.  The late Holy Father contributed to the treasury of the Catholic Church’s teaching much wisdom and insight into the nature of human sexuality, noting that sex is not only something people do, but is in fact fundamental to the definition of the human person…

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2

…which brings us right back to the beginning, to the story of Adam and Eve (see Genesis 2) — which, as John Paul II said, tells us about man’s “theological pre-history.”  We should not get too caught up in the details of this story; what we are meant to gather from it is humankind in its original perfection, made in the image and likeness of the God who is love.  Man and woman, in their physical, psychological, and spiritual complementarity, image the Trinitarian God in total self-gift, expressed in a special way through their bodies.

And there we have the original, primordial, and always valid meaning of sex and sexuality.

Original Sin

But then comes the Fall.  Adam and Eve defy the Divine command and lose Eden.  With that, they cross the threshold into history — into the drama of sin and salvation.  “History” envelops all aspects of human life, and sexuality is so fundamental that it is impossible for it not to be included.

Game-Of-Thrones-Couples-image-game-of-thrones-couples-36783350-599-400The problem with Game of Thrones is not that it is honest about the place of sex in human life.  The problem is that it confines it to the vicissitudes of history — which, in this area as in many others, does not change all that much.  With regard to sex as well as other matters, the series seems to espouse a “that’s-just-the-way-it-is” philosophy, without any reference to transcendent standards or to the inherent dignity of the human person.

The Lord of the Rings, meanwhile, has almost no reference either to sex or to romance (except for a treatment of the Aragorn-Arwen romance in one of the appendices).  And no, this is not because sex and romance are evil or unimportant.  But sexuality itself, fundamental as it is, points beyond itself to a Higher Love, to which people’s hearts may be drawn by a wide variety of experiences (see my first post on the movie Frozen for more on this).  For that, myth tends to do the job better than history.

In order to flesh this out, I’d like to apply the Theology of the Body to two of Game of Thrones‘ most beloved characters: Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.  Stay tuned.

*********************************************************************************************************************

Acknowledgements

Game of Thrones images obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia — full citations: 

  1. By Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F059404-0019 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38478464

2. “Albrecht Dürer – Adam and Eve (Prado) 2″ by Albrecht Dürer – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg#/media/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg

3. “Michelangelo Sündenfall” by Michelangelo Buonarroti – http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Fotos/Eva2.jpgTransferred from de.wikipedia to Commons by Roberta F. using CommonsHelper., 9 September 2007 (original upload date), Original uploader was Nitramtrebla at de.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

Read Full Post »

For part one, click here Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

We spoke in part one of how Jesus Christ, through His death and Resurrection, takes up the wounded “geography” of our fallen world and makes even the scars of our existence capable of leading us to the Divine.  It is indeed a new Flood, more momentous than the one braved by Noah, crashing upon the world with new life, immeasurable power, and life-giving mercy:

Send forth your spirit (…) and you renew the face of the earth. – Ps. 104:30

Beowulf But before we get into that, it might be helpful to flesh out the “old geography” a bit more with a concrete example.  One particularly fascinating manifestation of the old geography is the worldview of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, which J.R.R. Tolkien touched on in an essay on “Beowulf”:

(…) [H]e who wrote (…) ‘heroes under heaven’, or ‘mighty men upon earth’, (…) [was] thinking of eormengrund, the great earth, ringed with garsecg, the shoreless sea, beneath the sky’s inaccessible roof; whereon, as in a little circle of light about their halls, men with courage as their stay went forward to that battle with the hostile world and the offspring of the dark which ends for all, even the kings and champions, in defeat. – “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

This is just one example, but you get the idea.  Some variation of this ambiguous outlook on life has been present throughout all ages, and survives in more “modern” forms today. Until Christ returns to restore all things, there continues to be hardship, turmoil, suffering, darkness, and even death in the world.  But the whole of creation has in a sense been “baptized” by Christ’s saving work, so that the darkness of a world “ringed with the shoreless sea” and haunted by “the offspring of the dark” — in short, the mystery of evil (both moral and physical) — becomes taken up into and transformed by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified by Velazquez“Cristo crucificado” by Diego Velázquez – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg

The Cross is very important to the understanding of Christianity — not because it is a gloomy or sadomasochistic religion…far from it; rather, because neither does it lean towards the opposite extreme of “Pollyanna-ism.”  The Christian teaching on heaven, redemption, and the victory of good over evil no more minimizes or negates the very real sufferings of the world than the Resurrection of Christ negates the horror of the suffering inflicted on Him.  But Our Lord has joined Himself to our suffering, and has thus given it a whole new meaning. He has done this as a sign of His infinite love for us, and in invitation to fellowship with Him.  This is how He will ultimately heal us, rather than by orchestrating our deliverance at a safe distance. Pieta

“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cut out black” by Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) – Image:Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

What we have now is what I would call Pietá spirituality.  Instead of seeing darkness, we can look at the world and see the scourged body of Christ in the arms of His mother, blood and water pouring out of His sacred side as a “fountain of mercy for the whole world” (to quote a Divine Mercy prayer).  As one person, I cannot solve all the evils of the world.  But if in my immediate situation I can minister to my Lord even a little bit, tending to those of His Wounds that I can see in my fellow human beings (or elsewhere), then perhaps I am not doing too badly. One more post — stay tuned.

Images from Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

Letters of TolkienA Jesuit priest with whom “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien had been friends noted, in a letter to the latter, a certain resemblance between the Lady Galadriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Tolkien responded by calling the Virgin Mary — “Our Lady,” as he put it — the standard or source (I forget which) of all of his conceptions of beauty, “great and small.”

Our Lady of LoretoThis was in my mind during my recent discovery (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) one of the Church’s most time-honored Marian litanies: The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a.k.a. the Litany of Loreto, of which Tolkien was quite fond.  Here’s a snippet:

Virgin most prudent, (pray for us)
Virgin most venerable, (pray for us)
Virgin most renowned, (pray for us)
Virgin most powerful, (pray for us)
Virgin most merciful, (pray for us)
Virgin most faithful, (pray for us)
Mirror of justice, (pray for us)
Seat of wisdom, (pray for us)
Cause of our joy, (pray for us)
Spiritual vessel, (pray for us)
Vessel of honor, (pray for us)
Singular vessel of devotion, (pray for us)
Mystical rose,
pray for us (…)

– From “Our Catholic Prayers” (see link below)

Anyone interested in praying — or at least reading — the entire litany can find it here.

Book image from http://www.amazon.com; depiction of the Virgin Mary from Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

St JosephI wipe noses for a living.

Let me expand on that: My job includes direct care for people with various disabilities, some of which entail the inability to move one’s extremities (hence the need to wipe people’s noses for them when necessary).  I have jokingly said that I feel ready to be a dad after handling this and similar duties at work.

Which brings me to St. Joseph, the guardian and “acting father” of the Word incarnate.  He is in many ways an archetypal father figure, as well as a model of true manliness.

First of all, let me test your Bible knowledge.  Take a minute and see if you can recall St. Joseph’s most famous words, as quoted in the Bible.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Can’t think of anything?  Not surprising — St. Joseph never says one word in any of the Gospels.

The Scriptural witness to St. Joseph’s silence speaks to us of his fatherly humility before the great Mystery entrusted to his care.  Think about it: He was the only sinner in a home that he shared with the God-Man Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Virgin Mary.  And yet, in the designs of Divine Providence, he was given charge of the Holy Family.  His was the responsibility to provide for the Holy Family’s material needs, to lead them in the observance of the Law, to teach the Child Jesus everything he would need to know as a man of Israel, etc.

Saint_Joseph_with_the_Infant_Jesus_by_Guido_Reni,_c_1635Given the paucity of material regarding this great man in the Scriptures, we cannot say very much about him for sure.  But a very prominent and likely theory is that he was an older man, one who had lived a relatively long time and reached a particular level of righteousness (there was a name for such men in ancient Israel, but it escapes me).  It was for this reason that he could take the young virgin Mary (who was very likely a consecrated virgin…but that is the subject of a whole other post) as his wife.  Unlike most of us, he had been purified by God to such an extent that he could admire a woman’s beauty without feeling any lust, could have charge over a very young woman and her child without wanting to exercise authoritarian dominance over them, etc.

I would say that if the Blesséd Virgin Mary shows forth her Queenship in her role as the Mother of Jesus, St. Joseph shows us true kingship in his role of fatherhood.  Indeed, parenthood is the most sublime, significant, and impacting form of leadership and authority in human life.  All other authority derives from, rests on, and is in a certain sense ordered toward that.

I am reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Return of the King,” in which the coming of Aragorn is foretold in this way:

The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known (V.viii).

And that brings me back to my nose-wiping reference.  I truly hope this is not in any way sacrilegious — if it is, someone please let me know, and it will be promptly removed.  But given that Jesus Christ was like us in all things but sin, I cannot help but wonder if, as a child, He would have needed his nose wiped from time to time.  True, it is more common (and, I would say, more natural) for the mother to be the one handling the blowing of noses, the bandaging of wounds, the kissing of bruises, the assuaging of natural human woes, etc.  But surely, attending to the Child Jesus in this way must not have been foreign to St. Joseph, nor do I think it is foreign to any dad reading this right now.

St_Joseph_Young_Man

Finally, all leadership and authority has its ultimate source and verification in God, Who relates to us as a Father (not because He is male, since God has no gender…but Fatherhood is the most fitting way to describe His relation to us in His transcendence).  So the fatherly form of parenthood and its role in Jesus’ earthly life should not be ignored.  Each and every father should approach his family in the spirit of St. Joseph — that is, in humility before the sublime gifts that God has entrusted to him…the gifts that are nothing less than immortal souls entrusted to his providence, protection, and leadership.

First and foremost, he has to realize this: It is not about him.  True fatherhood consists in the total gift of oneself, loving one’s wife as Christ loves His Church and loving his children as God the Father — Who holds back nothing of Himself, even to the sacrifice of His own Son (John 3:16) — loves His children.  And a father with true humility of this sort will not be afraid to get into the mess of dirty diapers, runny noses, and other such business.

St. Joseph, patron of nose-blowing men, pray for us!

Images from Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

 

Noah2014Poster

Note: If you are interested in reading part one, click here

In his great book — which I have referenced before, and which I highly encourage people to read — “Love is Stronger Than Death,” Peter Kreeft makes the following observation about modern man’s scientific/technological dream:

The (immortality) Pill will be the fulfillment of one of our deepest and darkest dreams, the Oedipus complex.  Now we will be able to kill our father (God), and marry our mother (earth).  For without death, and with an earthly technological paradise (. . .) (w)e can now return with our phallic power of technology into our birth canal.”

Neither I nor Kreeft are suggesting that modern technology is bad.  But our technological pride and idolatry of “progress” has led to a certain rape of nature.

Original Sin

What we tend to forget, however, is that this is merely one manifestation of a phenomenon that has been going on since the beginning of human history.  When the first human beings defied God and thus fell from grace, they brought a curse upon the earth.

The harmony in which (our first parents) had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”.  (CCC 400 — bold added)

The Bible is very clear that humankind has dominion over the earth.  But this is not, was never, and never will be a dominion of selfish use.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

Animals (. . .) plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.

(CCC 2415-2417 — bold added)

Ray WinstoneDarren Aronofsky, co-writer/director of “Noah,” gives us a key example of the opposite impulse — the one given rise to by the Fall of Adam and Eve — in Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).  At one point, we see him grabbing a live animal and biting off its head; he defends his action by saying that God put mankind at the top of creation, and therefore all other creatures on this earth serve man.

The implication is that as masters, we can do whatever we want with the rest of creation, no matter the cost to it.

Noah_Steward

But again, this is not the Divine directive.  The true nature of man’s dominion over the earth is more clearly reflected in the lives of Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly).  Their family takes on the role of stewards, or caretakers, of God’s creation.  They use only what they need, and they devote themselves to tending the earth and its creatures as they would the Garden of Eden.

Why am I talking about all of this?  Believe it or not, it’s not because today is Earth Day.  The timing of this post is fitting, but purely coincidental (at least as far as my intentions go; I can’t say that God did not, in His providence, have something to do with it).  Many Christians took issue with “Noah,” labeling it vegan propaganda and a mistreatment of God’s Word by imposing modern environmentalist ideas onto it.

I hope, however, that I have demonstrated the film’s portrayal of concern for creation to be, in fact, perfectly Biblical and authentically Christian.

If not…

Jrrt_lotr_cover_design …take a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”…

Chronicles of Narnia…or at C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Tolkien and Lewis were both deeply Christian and very much immersed in the Biblical worldview.  They saw the connection we have been exploring very clearly, and it comes across powerfully in their work.

Let’s end with a bottom line that goes back to the Kreeft quote: Sin is about making ourselves God; when we make ourselves God, we become selfish and domineering; when we become selfish and domineering, our fellow human beings and the world entrusted to our care suffer.

I do have a little bit more to say about this subject in relation to the movie “Noah.”  But in the interest of a certain kind of “stewardship” over my readers’ eyes and patience, I’ll wait ’till next time.

All “Noah” images other than film poster obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

Game_of_Thrones_title_card

I do find “Game of Thrones” enjoyable.  I find the characters, the world, and the story intriguing…if more than a little ambiguous.  Many people compare the show to “The Lord of the Rings,” some with attention to how its underlying worldview differs.  I want to take a look at that in this post.

The interesting thing about medieval fantasy is the time period that inspires the genre — and even more, the setting that inspires its settings: Northwestern Europe — especially Great Britain, which seems to be the prototypical setting.

England has a fascinating literary history.  The stories bound up with its ancestral traditions were, of course, passed on orally at first.  And when they began to be written down, they were given their Christian interpretations in translation.  Not only were the scribes immortalizing the great myths by committing them to the scrolls, they were drawing out what they perceived to be the “seeds of the Word” in these myths.

Tolkien_1916Now we turn to J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature.  Between his love for the lore and history of his country, his interest in how language is shaped by and shapes people’s lives and cultures, his tragic experiences as a child and as a young man, and his discovery of hope and solace in the faith given to him by the priests who cared for him as an orphan, he came to find a unique way of presenting Christianity to the modern world…not in a preachy or didactic way, but as something that speaks to the deepest heart, deepest hurts, deepest hopes and desires of mankind.

Hence, we have Middle-Earth and “The Lord of the Rings.”

George_R._R._Martin_signingLet’s admit that Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” is a little bit different.  On the surface, it does strike one as a “re-paganization” of fantasy.  We find ourselves in a world of many gods; and whenever a “true God” is proposed, this is usually regarded with great suspicion.

But I almost wonder if it is more of a postmodern fantasy.  Not that it necessarily adheres to the tenets of postmodernism, but it gives us a world that is deeply unsure of itself and groping for answers, albeit within a setting that reflects the genre’s pre-Christian roots.

Okay.  All that said, I can delve more deeply into “Game of Thrones.”

robb_stark_02The more I watch the HBO series, the more convinced I am (though I have felt this way from the start) that “Game of Thrones” does not celebrate spectacles of violence, savage lust, scheming, or betrayal.  The show can be difficult to watch at times, because our characters are living in a world rife with the brutality of old Europe and in which loyalty is fragile, people seek their own ends above all else, nearly no one can be trusted (at least not for sure), and there are almost no friends.

The Starks maintain a code of honor and goodness, but their family would seem to be an island amidst a great flood of divided loyalties.  Our friends in Westeros live in a dark and hard world, and no goodhearted person could be unaffected by that.

But there are here and there what I would like to call “moments of light,” shining intermittently and fleetingly like sunlight through passing storm clouds….

Tyrion_Shae

…whether it is Tyrion Lannister’s growing love for the prostitute Shae…

Tywin-and-Arya…Tywin Lannister’s father-daughter-like bonding with Arya Stark…

Cersei…Queen Cersei’s tender love for her children and regret over the grief her son Joffrey is causing everyone…

Tyrion-Lannister…Tyrion’s almost-effort to comfort her (or the “moment they almost have”)…

Stannis Baratheon…or Stannis Baratheon’s regret over killing his younger brother, who had been his opponent in the war for the Iron Throne.

Overall, I would say this: Good fiction, at its best, shows how the goodness of the human spirit can triumph even in the face of great obstacles, while at the same time not glossing over the ambiguity in human nature.  If we’re going to compare Tolkien and Martin, it seems we could say that “The Lord of the Rings” is more concerned with the former, and “Game of Thrones” with the latter.

Where there is life, there is hope, and the good always has a way, at least, of peaking its head in.  And I think we see that in Westeros.  So while it may not exactly resemble Tolkien’s vision of the Light of Faith illuminating the myths of men, it does give us shafts of golden dawn light illuminating the dark forest.

Top three images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »