A version of this text was presented as the lecture for Creation Day, Holmlia Church, 2019-06-19.
[Introduction: Excerpts from The Ainulindalë accompagnied by folk music improvisation on organ and violin]
Some of you may know that I’m a Tolkien enthusiast. I give away Tolkien books on my own birthday. Sometimes I feel like going door-to-door with The Lord of the Rings and its gospel; *Ding* *dong* Goood Morning! Did you know that Tolkien’s books may change your life? (What is that? Yes, Good Morning in all meanings of that expression, thank you). Now, as I can present this before you here in church, I probably won’t have to.
For many, the language professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien only means his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some have even not read any of his books, but may have seen films with strange wizards, orcs, elves, and a good deal of fighting. But this is Creation Day, so in this small lecture there will be less orcs, Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Ring. Instead I will talk a bit about Tolkien’s thoughts on God as the Creator, his Creation, and Men, as God’s sub-creators.
In the introduction, we heard lines from Tolkien’s creation myth, the Ainulindalë, that is, The Music of the Ainur: God gives the Ainur, that is, his angels, a theme to improvise over. Then he lets the song unfold, and when the song is finished, he shows them what they have sung. He says: Ëa! Let this world be! And the song is the World. When the song is sung, its life is the history of the World unfolding. Isn’t that just incredibly beautiful?
The Ainur enjoys the high mountains and the deep valleys, and the sea, and the elves, and the trees, and the flowers, and the animals they have sung about. But in the middle of the harmonies, Melkor’s dissonance is heard. The mightiest of the angels sets his own thoughs above God’s thoughs, and wants to rule, and in pride, fill the void with subjects under his dominion. But what first sounds like destroying God’s theme, is itself taken up in the song, and makes it even more fulfilled.
In the motion of the sea, the song is most clearly heard. Now further in the Ainulindalë, we hear how Melkor in his rebellion makes extreme cold, freezing the water, and uncontrolled heat, boiling it to steam. But in the midst of the freezing cold, we get beautiful snowflakes, and from the heat and steam, there are clouds and life-giving rain. Tolkien shows us that even when the Creation is challenged by evil, God can always turn the evil to something good in the end. God doesn’t want evil to happen, but when it happens, hope is always there. And when Time comes to its end, and the final chord is sung, we may see that hope and faith in the middle of evil, gave the most beautiful music played in God’s honor.
Those reading Tolkien’s books will soon observe his joy of nature. The books are swarming of life. There are bushes and flowers and trees of all kinds, and everything has value; from pipe weed to oak trees. There are insects and foxes, eagles and ravens, bears and elephants, and even the simplest flower may be important and save lives. Tolkien loved the landscape were he grew up, with meadows, woods, small rivers, hills, and the other crossroads with an inn with good beer. But he also loved the snow in the high mountains, the mighty large rivers, the deep cloven valleys, the sun in the sky, the stars of Elbereth, thunder claps and storm over mountains, and the wind of the sea. There is a lot of God’s creation wihin Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Tolkien criticize those who says that fairy-tales and fantastic stories are just escapism, and have nothing to do with reality. In one of his most known lectures, he turns this upside-down: In a World of evil, somebody wants to tell that there is Light in the darkness and make stories of Hope. What is wrong with that? And Escaping means getting from prison to freedom. That is a Good Thing!
Tolkien says that one of the most important features of a fairy-tale, is to experience anew the small and large wonders of the World. When in The Lord of the Rings we read about Frodo coming to the elven wood Lothlórien; For the first time in his life, he realizes what a Tree really is. He feels the bark, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. They are full of color and smell and sound and Life. The Ents, the sheperds of the Trees, that watches over the woods of Fangorn Forest, sing and talk to their trees, and mourns them when they die. Trees are so much more than something that’s just there. Go and watch and smell and enjoy the life of the trees in the grove you pass on the way to work every day.
Aragorn and his rangers have watched over Hobbiton and Bree, and held evil forces away, without the people living there knowing about this. When you get to live in freedom and peace, remember in thankfulness who built the peace, and who is watching over it. After reading about the faithful friendship between Sam and Frodo, find again the joy in the relations to your friends. When the story about Aragorn and Arwen’s long awaited marriage is told, or Faramir’s spontanous proposal to Eowyn, or Rose and Sam’s happy wedding, renew the joy of your partner, and delight in your choice. Fantasy and fairy-stories gives us the opportunity to recovery, to find again the fantastic from the domestic.
Man is special in God’s creation. Tolkien meant that God has put a spark of his creating power within us, making us more than animals. In telling myth and stories, we make new things that weren’t there before. We are sub-creators.
When we make new stories, or tell or retell myths, they are of course not the Truth. But as the light is spread through a prism making a spectrum of colors, our stories are created from the True Light. Thus, Myth and stories may show us a glimpse of the Truth. This is good, and not only because they come of God’s true Light. When light is broken into colors, they are no longer perfect white: Some becomes red, some blue, some yellow, some violet. But in this spectrum of colors, something new has been created, that earlier was not. And it has value in itself.
Unfortunately, we can not all write like Tolkien. There are those that try, and you get … things … like Game of Thrones and other garbage. But when we use our talents, we are sub-creators too. If that is being a priest, or taking pictures, or making music, or doing accounting, or sports, or teaching, or baking, or programming, or carpentry; That is fullfilment of the potential of God’s light through us. With all our strange shapes and colors, we bring fourth a richness that would not exist without us. And though our sub-creation is not perfect, it still has its source in God’s unbroken bright light.