Friday, February 26, 2016

Tolkien Between the Wars

I have been thoroughly enjoying The Fellowship:  The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.  It looks at the literary and spiritual lives of the intellectual group, The Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

I particularly enjoyed the depiction of life between World War I and World War II, when the group members worked on individual projects and came together to read writing in progress, to drink, to have theological discussions, and to support each other.

This passage that described the life Tolkien lived just after publication of The Hobbit moved me.  It asks the question of whether or not Tolkien was happy, with a rather ordinary middle class life of family and teaching and writing.  The answer:

"On the whole, yes.  . . . The truth is that he was often depressed about his own work and the world around him, but he was also in many ways a profoundly contented man.  He loved his family, his friends, his writing, his painting; he knew their flaws, but they neither surprised nor embittered him.  His domesticity instilled a quiet stability that enabled him to navigate through life without the dramatic conversions and intellectual combativeness so characteristic of Lewis.  He found at home a refuge that rarely failed him" (p. 212).

His Catholic faith sustained him too:  he went to Mass daily.  "Yet underlying his pessimism about humanity was an indomitable hope, born, as surely as his pessimism, from his Catholic faith.  Belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, logos over chaos, bestowed upon all the oppositions in his life--scholarship and art, male friendship and marriage, high spirits and despair--a final and satisfying unity, a deep and abiding joy" (p. 213).

As I read this passage, I felt a sense of foreboding, as I know the historical events that will be rising up to meet this group.  I suspect, though, that what sustains Tolkien between the wars will sustain him during World War II.

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