Monday, January 19, 2015

Heaven on Middle-earth

As I was scrolling through my social media feed this weekend, I came across this little quote attributed to George R.R. Martin, of Game of Thrones fame.

I say "attributed" because, as the great Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can't trust everything you read on the internet." However, it certainly sounds like something Martin could have said, given his influences from Tolkien in his own fantasy writing. I'll admit that I've not read nearly enough of Martin's writing to know the context of this quotation. But a couple of possibilities come to mind.

At first glance, this quotation could be interpreted as a pejorative against Christianity. And perhaps it is. This is where the context of this quotation would greatly help in elucidating Martin's original intent. However, I think even on its own, it contains an important seed-grain of truth.

What do I mean? Well, think about it this way. Try turning Martin's words into a question: Can you find heaven in Middle-earth? Is there something in Tolkien's sub-created literary world which evokes the heavenly. Yes, in fact there are several that come to mind immediately: the Elves, Lothlorien, the Valar, the Istari (wizards), the Undying Lands, the Silmarillion in many parts, Rivendell, the Grey Havens, the Eagles, and of course, the Shire.

If there is one place I would visit in all of literature, Hobbiton would be my first choice. The verdant rolling hills, simple life, humble hospitality and joyous nature of the Hobbits is endearing as Tolkien's world is enduring. Out of all the glimpses of an eternal paradise in the Primary World, Tolkien's depiction of the shire in his sub-created world is the one that I think most closely gives us a glimpse of the new creation which is ours in Christ Jesus.


Martin's quote further reminded me of one of the great joys of reading the Inklings. These Christian authors produced some of the best that literature has to offer. Their imaginative work has stood the test of time, not only as excellent literary works full of adventure, fantasy, and myth, but also because they point the reader to something outside of their magical pages. I happen to think you can find heaven in Middle-earth, or in Narnia, or in the inter-galactic travels of a certain philologist. In many (though not all) works of literature we see Christianity and Scripture's teaching on the heavenly by way of glimpses, or seed-grains scattered and planted throughout the pages of great works old and new. Quite often the myth points us to the reality. So in a way Martin right, you can find heaven in Middle-earth. The added joy in Christianity is that you get both the myth and the fact, the shire and the true new creation.

And I think Bilbo would agree; his Last Song points the way.

Day is ended,
dim my eyes,
but journey long
before me lies.

Farewell, friends!
I hear the call.
The ship's beside
the stony wall.

Foam is white
and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset 
leads my way.

Foam is salt,
the wind is free;
I hear the rising
of the Sea.

Farewell, friends!
The sails are set,
the wind is east
the moorings fret.

Shadows long
before me lie,
beneath the 
ever-bending sky,

But islands lie
behind the Sun
that I shall raise
ere all is done;

Lands there are 
to west of West,
where night is quiet
and sleep is rest.

Guided by the 
Lonely Star,
beyond the utmost

I'll find the havens
fair and free,
and beaches of
the Starlit Sea.

Ship, my ship!
I seek the West,
and fields
and mountains
ever blest.

Farewell to
Middle-earth at last,
I see the Star
above your mast!

Bilbo's Last Song. J.R.R. Tolkien. Hutchison Press, Great Britain. 1990.

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