Some lenses—our themes

by   |  09.04.09  |  Assignments

Here we go! This week we identified and discussed several Tolkienian themes that  seemed especially relevant to real-world issues. Now our Colloquium has been unleashed into the world to prove them!

Look everywhere you can in the world around you to identify events, experiences, or phenomena that help demonstrate the relevance and power of one or more of these themes. Then write it up, sharing something about the experience with us and explaining why it relates to the theme, identifying Tolkienian aspects. I have reproduced our list of themes below, defining them a bit—especially the ones that are more subtle or complex. And I have added a couple. Themes are also listed in the Categories pull-down menu in the sidebar. These are the lenses through which to look at the world for the next few weeks.

Remember—four posts, and for further instructions about what we’re doing, click on the Instructions button in the sidebar. Or just email me!

  • Power: always problematic, subject to corruption, never to be used to control others, yet must be deployed wisely in order to combat evil
  • Evil: sometimes internal (sin), the capacity for which seems inherent in all; sometimes external (oppressive structures and dark circumstances), which can even be totally overwhelming; sometimes a Shadow (i.e. absence or distortion of what is Good), sometimes a Power (i.e. a real Force with which to grapple)
  • Nature &. technology: Sauronic and Sarumanic manipulation (i.e. power) through easy technology tends to be destructive and exploitative; Galadrienic & Treebeardish or Hobbitesque wisdom calls for moving more in step with the rhythms of the natural world
  • A Bigger Cosmos: our lives and experiences are set against a larger backdrop of meaning; there is a larger story into which our lives fit, the major plot points of which are visible to those who would see, but whose details are impossible to determine at any one moment; a sense of the larger story can direct our steps, provide hope, and instill meaning; there are bigger Forces at work in our lives, cooperating with our own decisions and actions
  • Courage: do what is right and best, regardless of the outcome, or expected outcome; no matter how hopeless it seems, be wary of Denethoric despair or Sarumanic collusion and compromise; Samwisian “resigned cheer” is a better strategy; fight “the long defeat”
  • Tragedy & sadness: the world is a broken place, Middle-Earth has been marred, while hopefully pressing forward, the Wise understand and engage the world’s great sadnesses; a sense of exile is pervasive
  • Beauty: beauty may still exist in the broken world; it speaks of what once was and may be again; there is virtue in looking up to catch a glimpse of transcendence, the “light and high beauty” of Sam’s vision; experiences of beauty connect us to Truth
  • Wraithing Oneself: rationalizing the acceptance of Sauron’s gifts; cutting ethical corners, making moral compromises, and using power to control or eliminate others for the sake of some justifiable end; habits and patterns acquired along the way may inspire terror but erode one’s will and erases one’s humanity
  • Redemption: even those who commit great mistakes may be redeemed; light may be discovered and salvaged out of the world’s wreckage
  • Sacrifice: a person may need to give up some things so that others may keep them; surrendering one’s privileges and preferences for the sake of others may trigger auspicious outcomes that are nothing short of miraculous; fellowship forms around personal sacrifice; some quests are anti-quests
  • Individual Responsibility for the Greater Good: each is part of a larger community and must attend to the ways in which his or her own life contributes to the welfare of the whole
  • Fellowship: human relationships, love, and community are key; there is great potential in a unified community of very diverse persons; the most important things require community in order to accomplish; fellowship forms around mutual sacrifice and service
  • Exaltation of the Humble: the small and seemingly powerless may have the most to offer towards the world’s redemption; do not underestimate the “least among us”; the way to distinction is through humility and service, not the grasping and deployment of power in great ways
  • Leave-taking: we are on a journey, leaving the familiar and comfortable to encounter a strange world that is bigger and more complex than we knew; the tension between the charm and nurturing comfort of parochialism and the complex depth and insights in globalization and pluralism