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Posts Tagged ‘The Lord of the Rings’

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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