Tuesday, March 27, 2007

March 25th and J.R.R. Tolkien

Stratford Caldecott:

The Ring:

“The person who places himself within the golden circle of the Ring seeks not to be seen, and thereby to have power over others. Through the magic power of the Ring we escape the limitations of matter to enter the world of spiritual forces, but in the very act of doing so we become horribly visible to the forces of evil. In fact the Ring is partly a symbol of the sin of pride. It draws us towards the Dark Lord by tempting us to become like him. Its circular shape is an image of the will closed in upon itself. Its empty center suggests the void into which we thrust ourselves by using the Ring. Becoming invisible also means becoming untouchable by light; and since it is only light that allows us to be seen by others, wearing the Ring also cuts us off from human contact and relationship: it takes us, ultimately, into a world where we are alone with the Eye. In that world of evil there is no room for two wills: the wearer is either absorbed and destroyed, or he defeats Sauron and becomes another Dark Lord himself.”[1]

March 25, Annunciation and Incarnation of God:

In the “Lord of the Rings,” the Ring is destroyed on March 25. “This is mentioned in passing by Gandalf in a conversation with Sam, and its importance is reinforced by its being also the birth-date of Sam and Rosie’s first child, ‘a date that Sam noted.’ In the ‘Catholic’ word, 25th March is the Feast of the Annunciation: which is to say the moment of the Incarnation, when Eru indeed did at last take flesh in Mary’s womb. It was also accounted by many early Christian writers the date of the Crucifixion, and for many centuries it was this that was New Year’s Day in England, just as it would be in Gondor during the reign of King Elessar, after the fall of Arad-Dur.”[2]

The Destruction of the Ring:

“Why was it so appropriately destroyed or ‘unmade’ on 25th March? It is called the Ring of Power, and it is designed to rule the other rings that were made and through them the world. Yet it makes the wearer invisible to normal sight. What is the connection that Tolkien is hinting at here between the lust for power and the ability to become invisible?”[3]

March 25 represents Our Lady’s “Yes” to the invitation to obey the will of God for the Incarnation. The incarnation of God is the death of sin, and of death. The Ring “represents the essence of sin, going right back to the sin of Adam, which … led him to try to become invisible by hiding from God in the forest of Eden. The reason the Ring’s destruction is linked in Tolkien’s chronology to the Annunciation is simply that Mary’s ‘yes’ to God’s will, when it was expressed to her by the Angel, is the exact reversal of the creature’s will to usurp power for itself. This was the moment in which Christ was conceived, and so it is the moment when the true King enters the world. If we see ti also as the date of the crucifixion, then it becomes even more appropriate, for this was the day of the Devil’s overthrow, when Death was cast down from his throne by the sacrifice of Christ.

“If the Ring represents Sin, then we would expect that its destruction would be impossible without the help of divine grace, and that is indeed what we find in “The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien’s Christian genius therefore reveals itself in a final twist of the plot. On the very brink of success, his free will having taken him as far as it can, Frodo renounces the Quest and claims the Ring for his own. His ability to cast it away has been eroded by the task of bearing it to Mount Doom. His very assertion of ownership over the Ring signifies the loss of his self-possession, and the words he uses betray this: he says, ‘I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine.’ Note that he does not say, ‘I choose… I do,’ but rather ‘I do not choose… I will not do.’ Frodo is, of course, saved by an apparent accident, for Gollum bites the Ring from his finger and falls into the Fire. This is in fact the consequence of Frodo’s earlier (and freer) decision to spare Gollum’s life. ‘But at this point,’ Tolkien writes in the Letters, the “salvation” of the world and Frodo’s own “salvation” is achieved by his previous pity and forgiveness of injury.’ Thus in the end it is not Frodo who saves Middle Earth at all, nor Gollum. It can only be God himself, working through the love and freedom of his creatures. The scene is a triumph of Providence over Fate, but also a triumph of Mercy, in which free will, supported by grace, is fully vindicated.”

[1] Stratford Caldecott, “The Horns of Hope: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Heroism of Hobbits,” A Hidden Presence, The Catholic Imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien The Chesterton Press (Seton Hall University) 16.
[2] Ibid. 15.
[3] Ibid. 15.
[4] Ibid 16-17.

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