I decided to pick up an old favorite again, Lord of the Rings. I've not read it since before the first film came out, so I'm definitely due a reread. Approaching the books now in my late 30's, I realize that these books will grow and change as I grow older. When you're 12 reading these books, they are primarily amazing stories with exciting and heart pounding adventures. As you grow older, however, you begin to see deeper. They are allegories for our lives, and in some ways make our lives seem more real than they seem to be in our day to day lives.
Lewis talked about the "inconsolable longing," that the beautiful things in this world "are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
This is what Tolkien is about for me. His writing makes alive that which the world hints at: a far-off country, and they are a reminder as Lewis says in Till We Have Faces that "the sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing...to find the place where all the beauty came from."
Tolkien and Lewis make Beauty real for me in ways that daily life rarely does, though when the beauty of God's love hits our lives in the personage of our friends and family, that is when we see it most clearly.
There is joy in this world, and Tolkien helps me find it. And in the midst of the difficulties of this world, his and others' writing are reminders that we are not made for this place, that we are sojourners, and that at the end of our days, we will find our home in "the West."
As we slog on in our daily lives, we're like Frodo and his seemingly impossible quest. This passage I think sums up our lives pretty well:
‘I am not made for perilous quests! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’
‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf. ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’
‘But I have so little of any of these things!’
‘And now,’ said the wizard, turning back to Frodo, ‘the decision lies with you. But I will always help you.’ He laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. ‘I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear.’
Our lives here on earth are filled with adventure, more thrilling than any tale ever told. As awe-inspiring as the LOTR is, our quest following God is much more thrilling and exciting, but we fail to see it in the dailyness of living. But Tolkien helps me see it as it really is. His fiction makes the truth of my life more true.
We have choices to make as to who will inspire us, who we will desire to emulate. I've picked a side, and I gladly plod along life's difficult journey with Lewis, Tolkien, Thomas More, Becket, Aquinas, Chesterton, Elliot, Merton, and Augustine and all the other great men and women of the Christian faith. I long for Heaven, and Tolkien and Lewis make that longing palpably real for me.
I have been thinking that one chapter in my book will be about the power of story to inspire us in life's difficult paths. I really believe that without Lewis and Tolkiens' influence in my life, I may have taken a much longer journey home to God, and I don't say that lightly. Their writing gave me hope where none could be found, and for that, I will be eternally grateful and look forward to that glorious day when I can thank them in person--preferably over a pint at the Bird and Baby.
P.S. For the record, I'd like this song played at my funeral.