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Joseph Pearce on Tolkien

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  • David Bratman
    Berni and I saw the tv hour, which if I remember this correctly is titled Tolkien s The Lord of the Rings: A Catholic Worldview. ( worldview ?) It featured
    Message 1 of 53 , Apr 9, 2011
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      Berni and I saw the tv hour, which if I remember this correctly is titled
      "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: A Catholic Worldview." ("worldview"?)

      It featured lots of shots of Pearce walking through the Alabama woods with a
      walking stick, stopping to deliver bits of narration, intercut with lots of
      Jef Murray's artwork and shots of actors playing Tolkien and Lewis sitting
      in their studies, musingly delivering lines from their letters, or, in
      Tolkien's case, LOTR and the Silmarillion, plus a long scene of the two of
      them walking through the same woods, performing a reconstructed version of
      their famous 1931 talk on myth and religion. (No mention of Dyson.) A very
      badly reconstructed version, I should say; lines sourced in Tolkien's
      writings were evident, but he's addressing them to a Lewis who's a stone
      materialist, not the actual man who loved myth and was desperately seeking a
      connection between it and primary-world religious belief. It changes the
      entire tone of Tolkien's argument.

      After having overemphasized Tolkien's responsibility for Lewis's conversion
      and equally overemphasized Tolkien's dedication to his mother's memory as
      (as he saw it) a Catholic martyr, Pearce begins to turn to the question he
      keeps promising to address, what makes LOTR a Catholic work? But no,
      without making it clear that's what he's doing, he turns to the Ainulindale
      first. (A naive viewer would be forgiven for presuming that Pearce just
      told him that that's the first chapter of LOTR.) He pounds the equation of
      Morgoth with Lucifer into the ground, and then uses folk etymology - rather
      than, like, their evil deeds - to prove Sauron, Saruman, and Wormtongue are
      Satanic too. (Sauron = sauros = lizard = snake = Satanic symbol, and
      Saruman has _the same four letters_! Apparently he means this seriously.)

      This is a disturbingly allegorical approach - a symbolism is identified by
      how it's labeled rather than by what it does - and worse yet comes when
      Pearce describes Frodo's trek up Mount Doom not as a human suffering of the
      type of Christ, but an actual allegory of the Via Dolorosa. How Sam's and
      Gollum's presence and Frodo's claiming of the Ring fit into this equation
      are not clear, but Pearce throws them in anyway. His clinching proof is
      that the quest ends on March 25, a traditional calendar date for the
      Crucifixion and also the Feast of the Annunciation, which Pearce says is a
      more important date in the Church calendar than Christmas. (Berni assures
      me this is _not_ the case, and it's clear to me what's going on: as
      Christmas is the birth of Christ and the Annunciation is the angel informing
      Mary that she's pregnant, Pearce is giving a dog-whistle to
      anti-abortionists who claim conception, not birth, is the start of life,
      even if he has to rewrite Catholic theology to do it.)

      Aside from a brief allusion to lembas as the communion wafer, there is
      _nothing_ in this program about the sacramental spirit pervading Tolkien's
      work, nor anything about its deep-rooted sense of Christian morality.
      Tolkien's favored characters do what is right, not what will bring them
      personal advantage; they hold on to their moral bearings under stress and
      confusion; and they succeed by showing Christian mercy and receiving divine
      grace. None of that is here.

      Pearce concludes by, only half-kidding, using his folk-etymology toolkit to
      equate the palantir with television, stating that the lesson of Denethor's
      failure is that we should stop watching too much television. He's
      absolutely right, and the first program we should stop watching is this one.

      Lastly, I'm sorry to have to mention this, but anyone with Pearce's level of
      speech difficulties really should think twice before narrating tv
      documentaries.
    • Darrell A. Martin
      Jason: I think your objection to Pearce, in that he did not mention Tolkien s disavowal of something he (Pearce) stated as a fact, is on target. My own focus
      Message 53 of 53 , Apr 12, 2011
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        Jason:

        I think your objection to Pearce, in that he did not mention Tolkien's
        disavowal of something he (Pearce) stated as a fact, is on target. My
        own focus -- which is why I early on changed the Subject line to remove
        Pearce -- was on whether or not Tolkien's disavowal was definitive.

        Darrell
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