Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot
“We, who love the gods, do not worship them. The ancients, who worshipped the gods, did not love them. Whence is this?” Thompson
An insightful investigation of the influence of Catholic mystic Francis Thompson on the worldview and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because not only the ancient pagans but modern Christians no longer love their god, this investigation reverberates with immediacy. Not that Tolkien agreed with Thompson at every step, but that Thompson may have introduced some themes and conclusions Tolkien spent his life exploring.
“We are grown older and must face the fact. The poetry of these old things remains being immortal, but no longer for us is the intoxication of both poetry and belief.” Tolkien
Fontenot’s award-winning essay is written as if to discourage readers. Eschewing simple, straight-forward wording, she tortures the reader with convoluted sentences common to academia.
“Elves are there (in Tolkien’s tales) to demonstrate the difference” between “the devices and operations of the enemy” (magic), and “those of the Elves,” and that “their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effective, more quick, more complete. And its object is Art not Power.”
Read it anyway. It’s worth the effort. Quotes from the essay may give a feel for the scope of the essay, but neither this review nor the excerpts to justice to the richness of the work.
“Absolute Nature not in our life, now yet is lifeless, but lives in the life of God: and in so far, and so far merely, as man himself lives in that life, does he come into sympathy with Nature, and Nature with him.” Thompson
“I think that … he understands his impulse to appropriate pagan stories as the impulse toward redemption. To find the good and true at the heart of paganism, in this framework, is to participate in the work of redemption and evangelium—but throughout time rather than space.” Fontenot
“All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.” Tolkien