On Thursday last I had the privilege of speaking at the most recent “Theology on Tap”–an evening that has never failed to disappoint in the past (see some background here).
I spoke about “How Hobbits Save the World,” suggesting that there is a hidden, subversive quality to Tolkien’s work that has profound implications for faith, life, culture, and politics. I’ll be talking about how that quality works itself out in other authors like C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and J.K. Rowling–and to what extend other authors offer an “anti-Hobbit” vision.
In essence, I suggest there is a “Theology of the Small” in some of the most transformative fantasy literature of the 20th century.
They recorded the talk, including questions, and I’m pleased to share it with you. Feel free to share it with others, and I appreciate your comments.
I believe in open access scholarship. Because of this, since 2011 I have made A Pilgrim in Narnia free with nearly 1,000 posts on faith, fiction, and fantasy. Please consider sharing my work so others can enjoy it.
“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing.
This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box.
Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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I have just paused the talk about 30 minutes in so that I can think about it. I think I caught a reference to Shrek in what you said and I would like to offer these thoughts hoping that you will offer a response.
Might we offer William Steig’s original story and the movie franchise as a classic post-modern myth. (I told my daughter off for using “post-modern” as a lazy catch all phrase in an essay recently. I am glad to say that her next draught was as excellent as her first was flabby That makes me nervous but here goes!) I will take Lyotard’s statement that post-modernity is a discourse of disappointment. In that regard we have power (Lord Farquhart) as an elaborate conjuring trick, an illusion, and our hero is an ogre accompanied by a garrulous donkey and eventually, a dragon. Thus every way in which power and beauty (a concept predicated upon power and the right to possess) have been presented are subverted in the story.
Eventually a kingdom is restored but although Shrek and Fiona play a crucial role it is through Justin Timberlake’s Arthur that Prince “Charming” is finally defeated. Shrek and Fiona gratefully withdraw from the public to the domestic.
I guess my question is, is the Shrek story informed by the myth making of Tolkien and Lewis to which you refer? Subsequent to that question is this, is the ironical subversion of power in the Shrek story, a subversion that pokes fun at the very idea of power, also informed by Tolkien and Lewis or do the Inklings show us power redeemed?
Now I look forward to the next part of the talk!
Recently the first episode of the Hobbits came by on TV and I watched it now in a different way, thinking of what you said in your pub talk about the role of the hero being so different from the classical role model like Heracles; like what Gandalf said to lady Galadriel about choosing Bilbo – the weak defeating the mighty, instead of Saruman’s view of only the mighty being able to keep evil in check (very Biblical with Christ defeating evil, when at His weakest on the cross).
Which doesn’t mean I now like the film version of the book better; haven’t even watched the 3rd episode.
I’ll have to rewatch the films–and the LOTR films–it is a good tip.
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Brenton, thanks for posting this. I enjoyed and profited from the lecture – though I spent 45 minutes listening when I should have been working! You’ve reminded me of Zechariah’s question: “Who has despised the day of small things?” I also thought of Richard Rohr, who said that Peter Jackson completely missed the point by dominating the movies with mighty warriors and ferocious battle scenes.
At the beginning of the lecture, you rhetorically asked who the hero of LOTR is, and answered “Frodo” but in the question segment mentioned that whereas Frodo failed on Mt. Doom, Sam succeeded. Just thought I’d mention once reading in a book on the theology of The Lord of the Rings (you may know it) in which Tolkien is quoted as saying that he considered Sam to be the hero of the novel.
Thanks again. – Shayne
Thanks Shayne, you are right. It is one of the elegant complexities of LOTR that the Christ figure is not able to go to the cross, that Frodo fails and needs both a friend and an enemy to help him in the end. I used “hero” too loosely–for there are many heroes of many levels. Well spotted.
I don’t the book you mean, but I suspect the quote is right!
Thanks, Brention, for your gracious response. I hesitated to even mention what Tolkien said about Sam because Frodo is of course the protagonist and chief hero.Just thought it an interesting insight into Tolkien himself.
It’s great to see your obvious love and joy for your subject – it’s contagious! Best to you. – Shayne
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