The Christian as Author Exemplified: Tolkien and the Rebellion of Melkor
Posted by Brian
Well, last week I apparently was only semi-successful in communicating what I was looking for when I asked for examples of what a Christian author might look like according to the lines of the discussion we’ve been having here. What I was looking for were examples where the Christian worldview has naturally arisen in someone’s work and produced superior results.* I’m hoping that as we go along, we can learn and be inspired by the methods of others. When we see how people have done it before us (and gotten it very right), we will hopefully get a better idea of how to do it ourselves.
So, here’s my attempt to show you what I mean: One man who stands head and shoulders above others in this department is, of course, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Many people tend to forget that Tolkien is himself a tremendous example of a Christian who used his worldview intelligently and intentionally to influence his writing (with brilliant results). After all, in the Lord of the Rings we see no particular religious “flags”–the characters don’t go to church on a regular basis, they don’t have salvation experiences, the Bible itself isn’t directly referenced, and Christ doesn’t even put in a cameo appearance. The books are most definitely not an allegory for anything or anyone in particular (that was something Tolkien was most insistent about). They are simply good stories, and they can be read and loved by non-Christians and Christians alike. That has led some overly zealous representatives of the modern cult of “Christian Bookstore Fiction” (my terminology) to declare the Lord of the Rings completely pagan. Some non-Christians commit the same error by declaring them free from religious taint–meaning that what is there is subtle enough for people to pretend to ignore it.
Such shallow understandings of Tolkien are lamentable. Tolkien was a Christian and an author in the very best, deepest sense of the terms. He used his faith and the understanding of the world and human nature it gave him to construct vast tapestries of vivid, fantastic, and yet graspable detail. His faith shaped much of what became Middle Earth, and the truths that resonated through that faith are part of what makes Middle Earth so real for those of us who journey there regularly. His legendarium feels real because, in fact, there are aspects of it that are real and they strike us on a fundamental level.**
I intend to look at a number of examples from Tolkien (and others) that exemplify my basic point over the course of the coming weeks. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Tolkien must necessarily be copied, but the simple fact is that he did it very well, and I would argue that the world–not to mention the church–needs more people like him, not fewer.
Since this week I had to give a substantial preamble, I’d like to draw our attention to a short point: The Fall of Melkor during the Music of the Ainur. Eru (God, in effect) is creating the world of Arda (Earth) through music, and his angels, the Ainur, are singing the themes that bring the world into existence. The most powerful of them, Melkor, begins to weave his own themes into the music, attempting to create original music himself rather than be subject to Eru’s theme. In doing so, he subverts other Ainur with weaker wills to his own devices. Each time he begins an “original,” intentionally dissonant theme, however, his compositions are incorporated flawlessly into Eru’s greater music, and are in fact nothing more than a deepening of Eru’s theme rather than something new and contrary.***
At his most basic, Melkor is jealous of Eru, and wishes to exalt himself and his subversions into the places rightfully held by God and His creations. This quest to “be like God” (sound familiar, Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve?) is what leads to the events of the Quenta Silmarillion and, indeed, to evil, pain, and suffering far beyond it. The comparison to Lucifer, a very powerful angel who rebels against God for what amounts to the very same reasons, should be obvious.
Eventually, Melkor (by then known as Morgoth) is overthrown by the Valar and cast into darkness. Sauron, his chief acolyte, repents briefly, but then returns to Middle Earth to take up the mantle of his Dark Lord. Sauron himself is finally defeated in the War of the Ring.
Of course, Melkor is neither an allegory for the devil, nor is he an analogy. Therefore, while we can’t expect the details to line up perfectly, the source of Tolkien’s inspiration is clear: Melkor is inspired by Tolkien’s understanding of his Christian faith. I would argue that it is the depth of reality that such an inspiration gave Tolkien that makes Melkor so real to us–we understand him because we feel the same sense of rebellion lurking inside our own souls. More on this later.
Any thoughts or other examples? Please feel free to put them in the comments.
Next Week: Some thoughts on pigeon-holing….
*What I’m not looking for is a list of specific items that we tack on ex post facto in order to transform something essentially secular into something suddenly “Christian.” We’ve beaten that dead horse into a fine crimson mist on the pavement.
**I think that gives thinking Christians who read Tolkien another layer of meaning and understanding to wrestle with about which non-Christians often know nothing whatsoever. I’m not saying that non-Christians are necessarily inferior readers–the themes that Tolkien hits on are universal to the experience of humankind–but intelligent Christians are better tuned to Tolkien’s mindset, and therefore more likely to pick up on nuance.
***This story is told in the opening pages of The Silmarillion.
Other Posts in the Christian as Author Series
- The Cesspool Of Christian Fiction
- What? Me Christian?
- A Holistic Approach
- “Good Fiction” or “Good Christian Fiction?”
- Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers
- What does it look like?
About BrianI am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!
Posted on September 8, 2011, in Authors, Books, Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Children's Literature, Christianity, Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literary Criticism, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia, Theology, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged C. S. Lewis, Christian fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien, Melkor, Morgoth, The Christian as Author. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.