Tolkien’s mature worldview

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought. -JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is my favorite piece of fiction. It describes a world so vibrant and whole that it is astounding that it came from the mind of one man. Apparently it was derived from its language. I don’t claim to understand it, but I am in awe.

What intrigues me most about LOTR, other than its tremendous story and “tips of the hat” to Byzantium, is its genuinely mature worldview. Middle Earth is a world inhabited by conflicted characters facing ascendant evil. Often an air of defeat and doom hangs over it. This is occasionally relieved by sometimes stunning victories. Mordor is evil, but even Middle Earth’s heroes are tempted, conflicted, wavering, and even overcome by darkness. Some of its most virtuous characters — Gandalf, Galadriel — are supremely suspicious of wielding power. They do not trust themselves with the Ring (the subject of power in Middle Earth is fascinating). Sometimes the Fellowship fails miserably. Frodo fails at the greatest moment of his worldly glory. However, a silent One works behind it all, often using the unimportant things of the world. The creation is blessed by the small and seemingly insignificant. These blessings come as unexpected, unrecognized surprises. The darkness is wounded as it seems ready to triumph completely. A small band that has not bent the knee to Sauron triumphs.

It doesn’t seem as if all these things are there purposely. You don’t really notice it just by reading the story. There are no tendentious attempts to pound it home. It’s be there because that’s just the way it is in Middle Earth.

That’s the way it is for us, too. The moon surprises us one night and we never quite forget how it looked. Someone says something at a grocery and we are never quite the same. A book someone gave us long ago suddenly is ready to speak to us. When I look at things that have changed my life, I always get the sense that I’ve stumbled over them while heading elsewhere.

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. -Westminster Confession, Chapter 5

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