Cultural versus religious influence
#1
Inspired by the many threads on JRRT's Catholicism, I wanted to explore the influence of Culture. Was life as an English academic more influential on his stories than issues of Faith.

I, for one, pictured the Hobbits as Epsicopalians. Bilbo, when first we meet him, is well to do, upper middle class, respectable, polite, unmarried in middle age, and considers colored waistcoats to be an eccentricty.

That's pretty C of E.


The "right warren" in Buckland might have been more Catholic. At least the Catholic neighborhoods I grew up in.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#2
You must remember that JRRT much disapproved of the CofE. That was the main cause of the coolness between him and CSL, that and Charles Williams.
"What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions are not beyond conjecture." - Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
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#3
Hm. Well, I think his fiction is all about culture. He seemed to be trying to extrapolate what he felt might have been the style of English literature that would have evolved from Old English literature, had there been no Norman intervention in English literary history.

I think Tolkien's idealized Englishness was complemented by his Catholic views. Perhaps there were subtle references to the Church of England. I don't know enough about those sorts of issues to have an opinion.
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#4
It's just that the Shire is so English. And really, conservative, upstanding, middle class English in tone and temperment.

Conservative England has long been suspicious of Catholicism, ever since enduring the reign of the Tudors. Even as late as the last century, the specter of Catholicism was used to stir up fears of an Irish free state. "Home Rule is Rome Rule" anyone?

It is this issue that seem so unreasonably ignored by the proponents of the huge influence of Catholicism on JRRT's writings.

I was raised Catholic, and got my degree in history, with my thesis being in Irish history, and the conservative, traditionalist class of England was always fearful and oppressive of my ancestors.

So, while his books ooze Englishness from every pore, it's pretty hard for me to reconcile any "Catholic influence" with the clear identification with nation that gave us Cromwell and the Famine. Or to be fair, at least the Diaspora by their opportunistic reaction to the Famine.

To me, this seems a fevered and desperate attempt to paint the most popular fantasy story of all times as a Christian tale, with scant basis in fact. Lewis wrote a Christian fantasy story. Tolkien was a fantasy writer who happened to be Catholic. His deliberate choices of influences were heavily biased toward pre Christian mythology.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#5
Perhaps some of the distrust that various Hobbit groups express toward each other is a nod to the conflict between Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
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#6
Michael Wrote:Perhaps some of the distrust that various Hobbit groups express toward each other is a nod to the conflict between Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

Well, if the Stoors were legally prohibited from voting or owning property valued over 20 pounds, then sure, I could buy that. Or if everytime a new mayor were elected, someone got burned. That would be a reasonable analogy to religious relations in Jolly Ol' Blighty.

Cultural influences abound in Tolkien's work. Linguistic influences most obviously, but cultural, with idealized rural England for the Shire and generally pre Christian Northern European for much of the rest of Middle Earth.

That said, I find the world of Lord of the Rings to be delightfully free of organized religion. We don't see temples, priests, commandments, or worship.

I think the burden of proof lies on those who do contend that there is Christian, and more specifically Catholic influence. If anyone can point out any, beyond basic, nigh-universal themes of Good versus Evil and self sacrifice that could be said to apply to any tale from the story of Gilgamesh through Star Wars.

As my Freshman Writing teacher once said, "Show me. Don't tell me."
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#7
Mike of Quantum Muse Wrote:Inspired by the many threads on JRRT's Catholicism, I wanted to explore the influence of Culture. Was life as an English academic more influential on his stories than issues of Faith.

I, for one, pictured the Hobbits as Epsicopalians. Bilbo, when first we meet him, is well to do, upper middle class, respectable, polite, unmarried in middle age, and considers colored waistcoats to be an eccentricty.

That's pretty C of E.


The "right warren" in Buckland might have been more Catholic. At least the Catholic neighborhoods I grew up in.

As far as am aware there are not really any catholic neighbourhoods in England. The Roman Catholic Church of old basically ceased to exist as an entity in England when Henry VIII broke ties with the Pope. There was a brief resoration under Mary, but soon after the reformation set in. Catholicism over the following centuries was confined to a smallish group of families, many of them aristocratic, who practiced their faith in secret and even used secret signs to recognise one another. For example, in Reading where I grew up, the only RC Church prior to about the mid 19th Century was the back room of a pub. Visitors could recognise that this pub had a secret church because there were oyster shells nailed to the front of the building. The priests were sponsored and sheltered by a nearby aristocratic family. This house had and still has several priest holes (secret rooms that can only be entered through sliding panels and the like) where people could hide and one even contained a complete chapel.

Over the ages laws were relaxed and Catholics could come more into the open. The RC Church in England didn't really start growing in strength until the 19th Century, and this was only due to conversions and more importantly, Irish immigration.

So in JRRT's youth, Catholicism was still very much a minority and somewhat excentric faith to follow if you were from a middle class English family with no Irish connections. I can imagine it was something he would have to spend a lot of time justifying and this in turn would have meant that he must have known his arguments better than the average Catholic today.
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#8
Mike of Quantum Muse Wrote:To me, this seems a fevered and desperate attempt to paint the most popular fantasy story of all times as a Christian tale, with scant basis in fact. Lewis wrote a Christian fantasy story. Tolkien was a fantasy writer who happened to be Catholic. His deliberate choices of influences were heavily biased toward pre Christian mythology.

Tom Shippey, I think, addresses this issue.

Tolkien, we know, studied Beowulf at great length and provided a translation and commentary on it. I think that during his professorship he also lectured on it. Beowulf had obvious influences on and parallels to some of his own writings.

Beowulf is interesting from a religious perspective because the author of Beowulf was, or so we must infer from the poem's age, Christian, whereas the hero, Beowulf was not. We thus have a Christian author looking back in history at a pre-Christian age and writing about a pagan hero, but instilling Christian values into that hero, making him as close to being a Christian as the context will allow.

Tolkien (and indeed Lewis) were of the opinion that the Nordic religions that Christianity replaced were not wrong, but that Christianity was a more complete and accurate revelation of God's purpose. It perfected rather than displaced what was there before.

Likewise, we cannot expect Aragorn or Frodo to be Christians because clearly the historical context does not allow it. The story is set in a distance past, long before Christ was born. The heros could therefore at best be non-Christians with certain Christian leanings. The pre-Christian theology in ancient northern Europe was thus not the same as the Christian one. But it did not essentially contradict Christianity, in Tolkien's eyes. It was merely incomplete.

This idealised paganism thus choses to ignore some of the obviously non-Christian aspects such as human sacrifice. These were, however (following this train of though through) later corruptions of an earler more perfect form, akin maybe to the corruption of Christianity through Crusades etc, which nevertheless do not invalidate true Christianity.

Studying the hierarchies of the Vala, Maia etc we see parallels to the hierarchies of angels that are described in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Cathechism, with of course Eru = Yahweh being at their head. Of course one could interpret this as the Catholic Church borrowing bits from Paganism and even transmuting deities into non-canonical angels (tolerated as long as they didn't conflict with the Church's own teachings) or even saints to make it easier to convert people, and to permit feasts, the calendar etc, to continue more or less unchanged even if with new interpretations. Tolkien's interpretation of this would have been different I guess, with likenesses bewteen the old and the new being explained by the older being an incomplete revelation, which was nevertheless essentially correct. We can even see individual figures being suggested. Earendil is the most documented one. The name in Anglo Saxon, is associated with John the Baptist. But John the Baptts in Catholic tradition is associated with the planet Mercury, so we can imagine the planet Mercury in our night sky being Earendil's ship as it still makes its way through the heavens with the Silmaril attached to its mast. Of course Tolkien's Earendil was not John the Baptist any more than Frodo or Gandalf were Jesus, but they could represent a sort of archetype or foreshadowing of the same.

These are jus some random examples. There are many more.
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#9
Michael Wrote:Perhaps some of the distrust that various Hobbit groups express toward each other is a nod to the conflict between Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

Or just the way people think about one another.

Nowadays its considered normal that people travel about and leave the town where they were born. Until not long ago this was more a rarity and most people weren't able to imagine living anywhere but their own place.

From my childhood I remember the old country folks talking much like some of the Hobbits, such as Farmer Maggot, about people from not too far away. I remember once attending a civic meeting where the speaker had praised the "South" a bit too much, and as the audience were obviously uncomfortable with that, he tried to make amends by saying he thought we (in Reading) were also part of the "South". That caused a minor uproar. The South coast is maybe 60 miles away.

There was also a guy in my class at school who got made fun of sometimes because he spoke with a Newbury accent, a place that was maybe 20 or 30 miles away.

I don't think this would happen today, but similar things still go on to some extent among football supporters for example. Consider the animosity between Newcastle and Sunderland. Two towns that are maybe 30 miles apart and their accents and manners and practically indistuingishable to outsiders (to Home County folks like me they are anyway), yet who are full of all sorts of anmosity for one another, even when the issue isn't football although it is most obvious then.
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#10
Some of the Christian elements that can be found in The Lord of the Rings are Tolkien's use of angelic beings, references to God, and Gandalf's reprimand of Denethor for wanting to die in the fashion of a "heathen" king.

Much of the explanation is, of course, offered in Tolkien's correspondence and notes.
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#11
Michael Wrote:Some of the Christian elements that can be found in The Lord of the Rings are Tolkien's use of angelic beings,

Hardly unique to Christianity.

Appearance of "heavenly" beings or divine messengers is common in many pagan stories.

And what beings, exactly? The Maiar?

Michael Wrote:references to God,

What? Where? In LOTR?

I've read the book a lot, and never saw a clear reference to "God" as in a single, divine creator.

Maybe I'm slow, but if you could actually point one out, that would help. When first I read LOTR, I assume Feanor was a god, from a comment Gandalf made.

And, no offense to Shadowfax, but the John the Baptist/ Earendil connection seems a bit of a reach. A number of names, including Gandalf, appear in Norse sagas, but nobody is trying to connect Thorin to any similarly named, hammer wielding thunder gods.


Michael Wrote:and Gandalf's reprimand of Denethor for wanting to die in the fashion of a "heathen" king.

I will admit, the use of "heathen" is odd, but in context (being a pre-christain world, it's hard to not be a heathen) it seemed to me to refer to a barbaric, unenlightened king, as opposed to a civilized ruler of Gondor.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#12
Mike of Quantum Muse Wrote:I will admit, the use of "heathen" is odd, but in context (being a pre-christain world, it's hard to not be a heathen) it seemed to me to refer to a barbaric, unenlightened king, as opposed to a civilized ruler of Gondor.

I understood that Heathen, in contrast to Pagan, is a derogatory term. So I suppose you can be Pagan without being Heathen? A good Pagan king would not have set fire to himself, but would rather have died defending his city. i.e. to reformulate my previosu argument, according to Tolkien, "good Pagsnism" foreshadowded Christian values.
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#13
Mike of Quantum Muse Wrote:And, no offense to Shadowfax, but the John the Baptist/ Earendil connection seems a bit of a reach. A number of names, including Gandalf, appear in Norse sagas, but nobody is trying to connect Thorin to any similarly named, hammer wielding thunder gods.

You're forgetting that Tolkien was a philologist and knew his Nordic background mateial very well. No name was an accident with him. So I would be inclined to say, yes, there is a connection - however remote - between Mr Oakenshield and a certain hammer-wielding thunder god.

And as for the John the Baptist, parallel, this is more tha just a coincidence in names. Earendil was a star in middle-earth just as much as Mercury is a star, or at least was condidered a star before the dawn of advanced scientifically-guided Astronomy. With all respect, but you might as well say that there is insufficient evidence to connect the moon of middle-earth with our moon.
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#14
shadowfax Wrote:I understood that Heathen, in contrast to Pagan, is a derogatory term. So I suppose you can be Pagan without being Heathen? A good Pagan king would not have set fire to himself, but would rather have died defending his city. i.e. to reformulate my previosu argument, according to Tolkien, "good Pagsnism" foreshadowded Christian values.


That's pretty much what I said when I said that "heathen" seemed to refer to "barbaric" rather than pagan.

Since Middle Earth doesn't have Christians, what with not having, oh, I dunno, Christ, it's hard to see Gandalf chiding Denethor not to act like a non-Christian.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#15
Off the top of my head, many of the Bible refs to "heathen" are OT, i.e. preChristian. The OT standard of comparison, post-Moses, is Iron Age Temple Levitical Judaism.

The Third Age is undeniably pre-Mosaic; the ethic and conception of God invoked would have to be Noachic if not antediluvian Adamic. It seems closer to 'natural religion,' especially given the dearth of episcopacy or liturgy. Its treatment of religious faith makes sense IMO given the Arda Cycle is set in a 'lost' preMosaic era when older races and celestial beings, exalted and fallen, still walked the earth, & organized religious cults have bad connotations, yet the era of Arda is intended to be 'our' past presuming the Christian scriptures are true.

Added: Therefore, IMO, in LotR "heathen" refers to peoples & cultures who did not recognize Eru as Creator God, or reverence the Valar as His Servants in Arda; and more specifically instead followed & worshipped some fallen spirit such as Melkor &/or Sauron.

It seems to me that a lot of varied cultural grist found its way into JRRT's mill. I think one of his themes are that "Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing" among one long-term-viable group or nation of people but something entirely different among others. Furthermore, people are people, in all ages & all places, so long as there have been humane rational moral free agents, with much the same motivations & possibilities.

He explained himself that the ennoblement of the humble was a theme that moved him personally, and that his tales include the stories of both the "high" nobility and the "low" ordinary common folk because one cannot satisfactorily exist without the other.
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#16
Sam's use of "'Lor bless you" when he is caught lurking by Gandalf is one reference to God in The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, the Appendices make it pretty clear that The One is not an angel, whereas the Istari are certainly not Elves.

The fact that angels appear in non-Christian literature doesn't disqualify Tolkien's angelic beings from being Christian references -- he clearly stated that is what they were.
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#17
Confusedo: It could have been trying to christianize or catholize old pagan myths. LEwis was trying to spread the gospel with Narnia and to discuss God's nature. Though the God the lotr of the rings isn't the same god as the christian god ..
Don't insult the precious, my precious!:book:
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#18
badlands Wrote:Confusedo: It could have been trying to christianize or catholize old pagan myths. LEwis was trying to spread the gospel with Narnia and to discuss God's nature.

I don't think it was anything so overt. One of JRRT's criticisms of Lewis was the naked allegory in the Narnia series. I think Tolkien's upbringing influenced his writing, and may have imparted a moral feel consistent with his Catholicism, but I don't think he set out to "Christianize" pagan mythology.

He may be argued to have viewed that mythology through Christian eyes, but I don't think there is any overt agenda, as with Lewis.

badlands Wrote:Though the God the lotr of the rings isn't the same god as the christian god ..

I rather think it is.

Although in a Utopian setting free of temples or clergy or proselytizers knocking on your door.
Wrestling Darwin on a daily basis.

"Question boldly even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson
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#19
Mike of Quantum Muse Wrote:I rather think it is.

Although in a Utopian setting free of temples or clergy or proselytizers knocking on your door.
I totally agree with Mike, here. Eru= Iluvatar= God the Father. JRRT specifically sted it in the Letters.
"What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions are not beyond conjecture." - Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici
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#20
Yep. I'm with the last two on this one, badlands.

And Narnia isn't allegory either. Allegorical is cardboard cutouts substituted for an idea. Narnia is SYMBOLIC LITERATURE. Lewis knew allegory (THE ALLEGORY OF LOVE) inside and out.

THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS is allegory. Read it and see the difference.
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"Aslan is not a tame lion. Safe?
No, he's not safe, but he's good."
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