Sunday, 6 November 2016

How do Tolkien scholars so thoroughly insulate themselves from Tolkien's wisdom?

With the notable and noble exception of Tom Shippey, and the primarily Catholic strand of (valid but secondary source) Tolkien scholarship as exemplified by Joseph Pearce; pretty much all of the heavy-hitting, primary Tolkien scholarship of the best quality is the work of academics whose world view is the usual, bog-standard, off-the-peg, silly, shallow and brainless mainstream modern academic left-liberal political correctness.

In one sense this is just as would be expected, given that the educational establishment is a major source of the most extreme and foolish brand of Leftist lunacy - and in that respect Tolkien scholars are merely 'of their time and place'.

In another sense, it must mean that the deepest level of Tolkien's writing is going over their heads, or passing them by - since Tolkien is the single most articulate and influential exponent of a world view which stands in the most complete imaginable opposition to that of the modern academy: a world view which indeed regards the ethical, aesthetic and metaphysical views of Leftism as not just mistaken, but profoundly evil.

How is it that so many people can spend so much time immersed in Tolkien's work, and from a sympathetic perspective, and produce such excellent scholarship - and yet remain personally (apparently) utterly untouched by his most heartfelt convictions?

I suppose I know the answer to this question - because I know it from my own experience as an atheistic, politically radical and modernist Tolkien lover for some 35 years before the scales fell from my eyes and I became a Christian, and then abandoned the materialist nihilism of modern life.

And I also know from experience that I was indeed missing a great deal of the deepest quality of Tolkien's work and thought; by failing to acknowledge Tolkien's refutation of my secular-Left world view.

And that, eventually, it was my taking seriously my intuitions and hopes about Tolkien's long influence (an unbroken 'golden thread' woven through the superficialities of my living) that was a large factor in leading to my Christian conversion and final abandonment of the appalling, shallow, dumb and wicked ideology of the modern academic and literary world.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm 'up' on the range of Tolkien scholarship enough to have a sense of this, or test it, but it is a very interesting matter. And, looking at that 1968 BBC "In Their Own Words British Authors" Tolkien episode ('out there' variously in The Usual Places)one finds it likely there's a strong strand of that going on for at least a half-century! Screwtape's words in Letter 27 spring to mind, as offering a parallel: "The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true."

I suppose one can best go on accenting "the deepest quality" - as not merely authorial opinion but (apparent) insight into 'the One Reality of Elves and Men' (to quote "On Fairy-stories" from memory) - while hoping that the sort of secret leavening you experienced (which reminds me of Lewis on his experience of MacDonald) may be going on in others.

Tolkien's Secondary World has that in common with the Primary World - one can fail to see, or resist seeing and misconstrue - the 'pointing' that is there to see.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Yes, I would hope for a secret leavening, but my impression is that the crudity and foolishness of political correctness among some major Tolkien scholars is worsening, in line with the mainstream culture - rather than the hoped-for opposite.

Nilrik said...

A blog named "The Flame Imperishable" by Jonathan McIntosh has the most profound insights into Tolkien theology that I have come across so far, with a multitude of highly interesting and well written articles.