Here is a smart, personal, and bookish Inklings-related piece by my friend, Laura Schmidt. Laura has served as Archivist at the Wade Center in Wheaton, IL, since 2005. She is a deep lover of Tolkien’s works and as an archivist, she has helped countless scholars and writers make connections between the authors they love and the questions in their hearts. “The Wounds That Never Heal” makes a good meditation for Good Friday–and, in our hope of ultimate healing, a thought that welcomes Easter.
Image: CHUTTERSNAP, https://unsplash.com/photos/Odc4dcsjUBw
Stories hold a special ability to deeply impact their readers. Those who enjoy reading imaginative fiction like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings by the Wade Center’s authors already know the truth of that statement. From the page to the screen, from the parables Jesus used for the spiritual benefit of his audiences to the trials of two small hobbits struggling up the slopes of Mount Doom, stories engage the heart in ways that other forms of expression cannot accomplish. We yearn for that kind of engagement and feel nourished once we find it, like taking a breath of fresh spring air or a drink of water after a long thirst.
J.R.R. Tolkien calls this nourishment “recovery” in his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” explaining that stories can help us see life afresh and reawaken or illuminate spiritual truths:
“Recovery (which includes return and renewal…
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Just a heads up: There is a typo in the introduction of your repost. You have the article as “Wounds That Never Hear”. Thanks, Pilgrim, I always enjoy your posts.
On Fri, Apr 2, 2021 at 9:18 AM A Pilgrim in Narnia wrote:
> Brenton Dickieson posted: “Here is a smart, personal, and bookish > Inklings-related piece by my friend, Laura Schmidt. Laura has served as > Archivist at the Wade Center in Wheaton, IL, since 2005. She is a deep > lover of Tolkien’s works and as an archivist, she has helped countless sc” >
Frodo’s wounds are comparable to the wounded heel of Ransom — injured by the fallen, once human, Unman during the desperate battle on Perelandra to defend the first woman — C.S. Lewis’s philologist hero of the three adult science fiction novels.
For Lewis, steeped in Medieval literature, and its earlier world, Ransom’s wound was the wound of the legendary Arthurian Fisher King, in the Wasteland, a person of deep mythological importance, as T.S. Eliot knew, and Jessie Weston, James Frazer (“The Golden Bough”), and others.
For Tolkien it was not a Medieval or more ancient mythological wound but a Christlike wound.
This is a perceptive comment, John. I made that precise connection of the Fisher King and Christ image in an article a few years back in “The Inklings and King Arthur”–though I didn’t play out the way others connect it.
I wonder though, “For Tolkien it was not a Medieval or more ancient mythological wound but a Christlike wound.” Is that making a distinction that Tolkien himself would refuse to make? I argued in my chapter that to split things out like this isn’t organic to Lewis and Tolkien’s work, as if it need be one thing or another.
Excellent, Brenton. What I had in mind is the different way Lewis and Tolkien responded to pagan mythology. Lewis seemed to take it as being part-truths that reflect (Christian) truths. Tolkien took pagan mythology (especially Norse) as a culture, with no religious reflections or implications.
Moreover, Tolkien was always scrupulously respecting his (Catholic) faith while writing things (such as Gandalf’s apparent resurrection, after the battle with the balrog in the Mines of Moria, with Gandalf the Grey returning as Gandalf the White — pardon my UK/Australian spelling of “Grey” which is almost certainly silently Americanised as “Gray”).
Within Tolkien’s Catholic faith, it is likely that he would regard Frodo’s wounds as comparable to the bleeding wounds — stigmata — experienced miraculously by saints such as Saint Francis. NOT Christ’s wounds, but Christ-like wounds.
By contrast, Lewis would (probably) have considered the Fisher King’s wound (caused by Balin’s Dolorous Stroke, in some post-pagan versions of the Arthur material, misusing the lance the Roman soldier, Longinus, used to pierce the side of Jesus hanging on the cross) as, in origin, a pagan anticipation of Christ’s wounds.
We get clear indications of Tolkien’s attitude to HOW to use pagan mythology (or NOT use it) in his known criticisms of the way Lewis used naiads and dryads and river gods (etc.) alongside giants and efreets and other pagan spirits in “Narnia”.
Lewis was less scrupulous (I am not speaking critically, either way) because he was more inclusive, culturally, and beyond. Roman Catholics were far more tightly constrained by the extra details of papal and other dogma. Moreover, Lewis also came from a richly informed Classical education and a career in philosophy, and had been an active atheist before his reconversion.
But I am probably going around in the same circle, and your response would be the same.
The image of wounds is a good illustration of a distinction you are making and helps me think it through. Lewis said that Ransom was a “Christ figure” not just because he echoed Christ (the wounded heal most obviously, but also the redemption of the planet), but also because he is a Christ figure in the way that all Christians are: enacting the self-sacrificial act of the cross in our everyday lives. I would think that a mystical view of things like this–which is also practical–the Paschal Myster, the Imitatio Christi, would also resonate with Tolkien. But I never remember JRRT talking like that.
Mythology ancient (before the cross) and contemporary (our stories) pre-enacts and re-enacts the cross, the passion. For Lewis, I think that is essentially the same because they all are rhyming with something essential in the universe–Lewis uses the word “collorary of being” somewhere. So to distinguish Pagan or Christian or post-Christian “Christ-myth” is really a matter of historical nicity, but no real difference. Linguistically, historically, socially they are different, but all Christ-myths enact Christ–even if the cross event in Jerusalem had not yet happened.
Would Catholic Tolkien have viewed it differently.
Thanks, Brenton! Happy Easter to you, friend! 🙂
Oh, it’s a great piece Laura! Thank you.
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