Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Magic and The Lord of the Rings

**Note: this is a long post, but be warned that if you stop reading half-way through you are liable to not understand any of it and at most have gotten at most only half of what I meant to say.**

Many people whom I know and respect have different views concerning J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic The Lord of the Rings.  Essentially, magic is at the heart of the matter.  “How can Christians approve and love a book that, basically, portrays magic and wizards as good?”

Hearing this question from some people I admire, and having many other people I trust consider LOTR the best thing since sliced bread, (although I find bread quite good unsliced,) I set my little mind, and the writings of some very clever authors I’ve stumbled across, to work out this conundrum.  And what I found made perfect sense, although it surprised me at first.  Let’s look at it logically, shall we?
But first let's look at an appropriate and well-done wallpaper, just for fun.
First of all, the bit about Christians loving a book that portrays magic as good.  We’ll look at it from the best place: the Bible.
Let no one be found among you…who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…  (Deuteronomy 18:14)

There are a lot of verses like this in the Old Testament, but this one basically covers it.  And, just to round it out, one from the New Testament too.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft…I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Pretty clear, isn’t it?   But sometimes, as a defence for LOTR (or other popular books containing wizards) someone will say, “Okay, I know the Bible says magic is bad and all that, but the magic in LOTR isn’t bad.  It’s against the bad magic.  White magic, y’know.” 

I understand what those people are trying to get at, but I have a Bible verse for that too.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. (Isaiah 5:20)
Okay, now it looks like it’s tied up neatly and nicely.  The Lord of the Rings portrays magic as good, we shouldn’t support things that portray magic as good, so we shouldn’t support The Lord of the Rings.  All clear and logical.
Wait.... we missed one thing.  Does The Lord of the Rings portray magic as good?  This is when many anti-LOTR arguments fall apart.  You see, those who are against reading LOTR don’t read LOTR.  Profound, no?  But before I ever knew that such a controversy existed, I had read LOTR.  Many times. 
Let’s go looking through the magic in The Lord of the Rings, starting with magic and ‘the good guys.’  That can be divided into two sections: Gandalf, who was spoken of as a wizard, and the elves, particularly Galadriel.  Let’s start with the elves.
Come to think of it, I can’t remember a particular spot where Tolkein or someone who ought to know calls the power and wisdom of the elves magic.  It is spoken of as magic though, by those who don’t really understand it, like Sam and Faramir.  The elves themselves?  The best illustration of that will be a quote from Galadriel.
“And you?” she said, turning to Sam.  “For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the enemy.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)

It is clear, though, that the elves do have extraordinary wisdom and power.  Could you call that magic?  Would that correspond to the Biblical definition?  I don’t have a definition to hand, but I’ll think one up. 
Magic: gaining power from the forces of evil that perverts the natural order of things
How will that do?  If you disagree with it, tell me a better, but for now that will have to do.
Do the elves have power?  Yes.  Does it pervert the natural order of things? No.  Do they consort with the forces of evil?  Absolutely not. 
But it is clear that the elves could do things that the ordinary peoples of Middle Earth could not.  When the elves were created (I don’t have time to go into the Middle Earth creation story now, although it is fascinating) they were gifted by the creator with extraordinary wisdom.  That wisdom they used in searching out knowledge, studying nature, embroidering, carving stone, inventing scripts (different forms of writing,) making gems, and learning what Sauron was up to so that they could defeat him.  Some elves could communicate directly without using words and all elves did not die natural deaths. 
One thing we have to remember is that just because we on this earth can’t do something doesn’t mean it’s magic.  The elves’ ability to communicate specially and their immortality was a gift for them from their creator.  The knowledge of nature and how to work with it came from their desire for knowledge as they studied, just as physicists’ knowledge of nature, the laws of physics, and how to work with them, came from their desire for knowledge as they study nature.

Now that we’re finished with the elves, let’s go to our next problem: Gandalf.  The wizard.   For the life of me (and I did spend a long time looking,) I can’t remember any passage in LOTR where what Gandalf does is actually called magic.   (And what’s more, nothing that he does fits the definition of magic I gave above.)
But, you might say, “Gandalf is a wizard!  When anybody says wizard, they mean a magician, right?”
But Gandalf is not that kind of wizard.  Really, I can’t see why Tolkien used that word at all, although the reason is probably that it first appeared in The Hobbit, a children’s story where he didn’t have space to go into detail about what Gandalf actually was.  So what was he? 
He was actually one of the Istari.  As a matter of fact, if you look up “wizards” in The Complete Guide to Middle Earth, all that they say is “The Istari” and send you to go look that up.  (Before we go any farther, you should note that long before Tolkien wrote LOTR, he made up an incredibly complex world with a creation story, myths, languages, and history.  He set LOTR in this world, but you have to go to his other works to see Middle Earth and the peoples in it fully explained.)  I don’t have a quotation ready to hand from one of his writings that’ll prove everything I want to say, but to show I’m not making this stuff up, here’s what Robert Foster has to say about the Istari in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth.
ISTARI: Five (or more) beings sent to Middle-earth by the Valar about TA 1000 to unite and counsel the Free Peoples in their struggles against Sauron.  They were forbidden to dominate the peoples of Middle-earth or to match Sauron’s power with power.  When Saruman, the greatest of the Wizards, disobeyed this injunction, he was cast from the order and banished from Valinor… Called Wizards in Westron.

(Just so you know, Westron was the “Common speech” of most of the peoples in Middle-earth, as distinct from, say Valinorean, which was the language of the Valar.  And if you want to know what the Valar were, they were created beings sent into the world by the creator, as guardians or whatnot.  The “wizards” themselves were lesser Valar of a sort.  I suppose the closest real thing I could compare them to would be angels.)
“That’s all fine,” you might think, “but Maria got off track when she started talking about Istari and the Valar.  Gandalf does have magic powers.  He can make spells to open doors.”
Aha!  Gandalf can open doors?  Yes, and close them too. :D  I won’t go back to my whole definition of magic or explain his ability to make doors open by saying that his abilities were given to him by the creator.  Instead I’ll go to something I mentioned when I was talking about the Elves. 
Gandalf was in Middle-earth for many (hundreds? Thousands?) of years.  During these years, what did he do?  LOTR in several places speaks about him having ‘studied’ a lot.  It’s telling that when Gandalf wants to know if Bilbo’s ring is the One Ring, he goes off and looks up things.  He looks for things.  He studies history.  He thinks.  He finds Gollum and gets the story from him.  He does not go, “Abracadabra, show me where the One Ring is and what it’s like.”
But back to Gandalf who's able to open doors.  To go through the door to the Mines of Moria, the password had to be spoken. Then the door would open.  Gandalf thinks up a whole bunch of possible passwords and shouts them at the door in the hopes that it would open.  Was this magic?  I don’t think so.  Gandalf says he once knew all the spells in the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs that was ever used for opening a door.  He learned this through is long study of the peoples of Middle-earth and his friendship with the Elves.  But I don’t think that door-opened-by-a-password-spell was magic.  Tolkien’s mythical world is not our world.  It worked differently.  They could have had different laws of physics.  Opening that kind of door could be done by anyone, not just someone who knew magic or had special abilities.  This ‘magical door’ was natural, made by the ‘scientists’ of Middle-earth who had studied the laws of physics.  And really, if you get past the fact that it seems like magic, that door isn’t that extraordinary after all.  Here in this earth we have a lot of improbable inventions: computers, remote controls, yes, even doors that open with a password.  That door that Gandalf opened in the mines of Moria was no different.  I might even go so far as to say that perhaps the vibrations made when the word “Mellon” (the actual password) was said, triggered some kind of mechanism inside the door that caused it to open.  Perhaps it did something to the electrons in the door and they all went crazy, pulling themselves away from their ordinary position and getting as close as possible to the person that said “Mellon” thus opening the door.  But I know little enough of the laws of physics in our own world and nothing of them in Middle Earth, so I am rapidly becoming nonsensical.
“Okay, okay,” you might think.  “Maria’s excusing Gandalf, but what about Saruman?  He puts a spell on King Theoden.” 

Yes, he does, and no, I don’t want to excuse him.  True, he was one of the Istari, but, as Gandalf (or Elrond, I can’t remember which) said of him “he studied too long and too deeply the arts of the Enemy” until he began to use them himself.  He allied himself with Sauron (who is basically evil) and began to use unlawful power instead of the wisdom the Istari were meant to use.  For that, as you can see in the quote way above, he was thrown out of the order of the Istari.  How’s that for irony?  A “Wizard” thrown out of his order because he learns and uses magic!
“But what about the One Ring?  That certainly looks like magic and you can’t try to say it’s not evil.”
Yep.  It is evil.  LOTR is a good vs. evil story.  And I won’t say it’s not magic.  Let’s look at our definition.
Magic: gaining power from the forces of evil that perverts the natural order of things. 
Gaining power?  Oh yes.  From the forces of evil?  Sauron’s power was bound up in the Ring and if he’s not a force of evil, I don’t know what is.  Pervert the natural order of things?  Why don’t you read LOTR?  And the story of Middle-earth’s creation.  That should convince you.
So The Lord of the Rings does have magic: in the One Ring.  It is clearly portrayed as evil, but should we really be liking a book that has so much evil in it?  I present to you another quote, this time from Douglas Wilson.  And if you’ve been scrolling and not really paying attention to this very long post, this is the time to listen up.
Magic is trying to wrest power from the created order in order to exercise that power over others.  This is to be distinguished from exercising dominion, which works with the created order in order to serve God and others… The Lord of the Rings is not a book promoting magic, with a little “good guy magic” or “white magic” thrown in to make it palatable for Christians.  The Lord of the Rings is actually one of the most profoundly anti-magic books available.  Why is this? 
…Through an odd circumstance, they [the good guys] came to possess the Ring of Power, and this Ring (wielded by someone like Gandalf, or Elrond) would overthrow Sauron and all their enemies completely.  Then they would be able to wield power decisively.  But when they had overthrown Sauron, they would discover that they had done so by becoming Sauron.
This is why they decide to destroy the Ring.  When Frodo, at the fateful moment, says, “I will take the Ring,” he is saying not just that he will undertake a very dangerous mission.  It is indeed dangerous, but fundamentally, it is a mission of repudiation. The good guys have the ultimate weapon, the ultimate power, and they refuse to use it.  Think for a moment how strange this is as a story line.  Most wartime adventure stories are about trying to acquire a great weapon, or destroy one in the enemy’s possession.  This story is about trying to destroy the enemy’s great weapon that is in your possession the entire time.

Put yourself in Middle Earth for a moment.  Evil is sweeping across the world; you have the great weapon that the bad guy is sure to get, if you don’t use it first.  If you do use it, you can destroy the bad guy forever.  And since the Ring is evil in itself, after you’ve used it to destroy Sauron, you can hop over to the Mount of Doom, throw it in, and be done with evil forever.  That’s what I would have thought.  Sure, the Ring is evil, sure, it’s magic.  But to have one person use that evil once could destroy evil forever.  Wouldn’t that be worth it?  I might think so.  But the three most powerful good guys, Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, are all offered the Ring, and they all refuse it.  Gandalf speaks of it like this.
“With that power I should have power too great and terrible.  And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.” 
They realize that the Ring is evil.  If they used it to destroy Sauron, they would destroy him by becoming him, as Douglas Wilson said.  “They have the ultimate weapon, the ultimate power, and they refuse to use it.”
Kudos to you if you’ve read this far!  I didn’t actually mean for this post to be so long, but it piled up.  There are just three things more that I want to say.

I’ve demonstrated that LOTR is not bad.  But it’s more than not bad.  I could talk for ages about the epic storyline, how much it’s inspired my own writing, the beauty of it, the important themes, the Christian worldview… but that would take a couple more posts at least this long.

The LOTR movies are, for the most part, faithful to the story, and for that I heartily applaud them.  However, the makers of the movies did not share the worldview of J.R.R. Tolkien, so some of the themes don’t shine quite as clear in the movies, and also, the movies’ treatment of magic is, in my opinion, subtly different from Tolkien’s.   So they’re fine to watch, but be discerning in what you get out of them.

I’ve mention Tolkien’s Christian worldview and that it shows through in LOTR (and especially his other works.)  I haven’t mentioned yet that Tolkien was a Catholic.  I believe that certain parts of the Catholic faith, such as purgatory, transubstantiation, and the veneration of saints, are unbiblical.  I can’t imagine how whatever conclusions Tolkien got from the ideas of purgatory and transubstantiation could have found their way into his writings (although some traces of veneration of saints does seem to have slipped in,) but a person’s worldview does influence his thinking, so, again, discernment is a very useful thing to have.  The Lord of the Rings (and Tolkien’s other works) are great books, but they are not perfect any more than Tolkien (or me, for that matter,) is perfect.

And that, my friends, is all I have to say.  For now.   Do you agree with me?  Disagree?  Is there something I missed?  Remember, the comment box is always available and comments are more than welcome. :D

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Thanksgiving

It had never entered my mind that I would do a Thanksgiving post today.  After all, 'my' (Canada's) Thanksgiving was more than a month ago.  But today, without thinking of Thanksgiving at all, I found myself being joyfully, gloriously, thankful.  I'm not going to make a list of what I'm thankful for, because that list could reach on into infinity.  Anything that I have, anything that I am, any beauty, any joy, it is all from Him.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen.
Romans 11:36

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mock Execution

WARNING: Looooong, two part post ahead.  Anyone who tries to ignore either half of this post will be faced with the wrath of Shuffle. (And if you read to the end you'll find out who shuffle is!)

The first thing I have to show you is this, Jessica’s superly-duper novel.

She is publishing it
We are having a blog party to celebrate. 

I’ve never celebrated this kind of party before, so I can’t tell you from experience what will be happening, but I’ll hazard a guess and say that we’ll talk about how much we like Annabeth’s War.  At least, that’s what I’ll be doing.  

But if you don’t read Annabeth’s War, you won’t be able to talk about how much you like it.  And if that happens, what is meant to be a Fun Party will turn out to be a Pity Party.  Not fun.  So go out and order your copy – wait!  Not quite yet, it’s still being published! – well, go out and decide that you will order your copy.  When it does come out. 

The point of this little advertisement (which isn’t one, because I’m not being paid to do it and I’m not doing it from any personal motives except for the desire to get a nice cosy benefactorly feeling when you find out you love the book I recommended to you…)  Well, the point of it is to introduce Annabeth’s War to those who don’t know about it (yes, thank you, Mary) and to explain in a long-winded fashion the reason for the nonsense that is soon to appear on this page. 


Being naturally excited about Annabeth’s War (and also Jessica’s next to be published book, which is spectacular) I was poking around her blog (here, peoples) and came across some posts I fondly remembered from the days I first found Safirewriter.  One of them in particular dreadfully amused me.  The Music Tag.  Jessica did tag everyone.  I don’t think she expected to have someone finally do it two years later, but if you offer out an amusing tag, you must abide by the consequences.

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle. (My Windows Media player doesn’t have all that much because I lost a lot of my music when my old laptop broke and the downloader thing on the computer isn’t working, so I haven’t gotten much new music either.  But what there is will be shuffled.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Tag 20 friends.
5. Everyone tagged has to do the same thing.

Behold the questions.

If someone says "Are you okay?" you say...
Forest of Vincennes from The Scottish Chiefs audiobook.  Makes sense?  Nah?  Well, the most crying over characters I’ve done was while reading that book.  If anyone had come upon me during one of those outbursts, “Are you okay?” would be exactly what they ask.

What would best describe your personality?
Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music.  Wrrrrong.  I ain’t sixteen.  And I take any resemblance to that Rolf-crazy girl as a personal insult. :P

How would you describe yourself?
If I Can Help Somebody by the Irish Tenors.  Well, if you say my outstanding characteristic is helping people I won’t object.

What do you like in a guy/girl?
Chapter 12 of Nicholas Nickleby audiobook.  Whereby the reader will be enabled to trace the further course of Miss Fanny Squears’ love and ascertain whether it ran smooth or otherwise. Oooooookay.   *nervous giggle* Does this mean that I like in a guy whether my love runs smooth or otherwise?

How do you feel today?
Allegro Molto Appasionato by Felix Mendelssohn.  Allegro means fast, lively, or light, molto means very much and I’m taking a guess here and saying that Appasionato has something to do with being passionate.  So I feel fast, lively, light, and very much passionate today.   Not too bad, but if Mendelssohn was composing about how I feel today, he forgot the pneumonia.

What is your life's purpose?
On the Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady.  Oh yay!  I get to spend my life singing on streets where people live?  Maybe not.

What's Your Motto?
Return of Bingley from Pride and Prejudice.  Ouch.  That makes me feel like Mrs. Bennet.  Now I am insulted.

What do your friends think of you?
The Ring Goes South from The Fellowship of the Ring.  Yes (gollum, gollum,) it means I’m their preciousss!

What do your parents think of you?
Hope and Memory from The Two Towers.  Oh, NOW I know what they’re actually thinking when they look at me funny!  But I do think that a parent’s life should include a lot of hope and a lot of memory. 

What do you think about very often?
Halcyon Days by Eric Coates.  Halcyon: calm, peaceful, happy.  Dramatic me thinking about that?  Try again.

What is 2 + 2?
Be Thou My Vision by the Irish Tenors.  Um, are you trying to make me go around in circles of logic to make that make sense?  Very well, I accept your challenge.  My Vision as the song is speaking of is God.  God is the source of all of creation, including math (and the reason I don’t like it is because it was corrupted by the fall… but anyways) He is the great Designer and also the great Mathematician.  Everything around us should point us to God, even math, therefore 2+2 = Be Thou My Vision.  No sense?  I did try…

What do you think of your best friend?
A Knife in the Dark from The Fellowship of the Ring.  Okay, Sjanie, either you are a homicidial maniac or I am.  Take your pick.  I’ll have to acquaint you with this fact tomorrow when we watch the Fellowship together. :P

What do you think of the person you like?
There is Nothing Lost from Sense and Sensibility.  There is nothing lost if I like him?  Or if I don’t?  Or is there nothing lost if I like someone else?  Shuffle, you make no sense.

What is your life story?
My Love by the Irish Tenors.  Love with a capital L.  Amen.  You are getting better, Shuffle.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
The Black Gate is Closed from The Two Towers  You mean I want my life closed against evil when I grow up?  Won’t argue with that…

What do you think when you see the person you like?
Cynthia’s Promise from Wives and Daughters.  Okay.  Just as you like, Shuffle.

What will you do at your wedding?
My Father’s Favorite from Sense and Sensibility.  I will be going up the aisle on his arm, at least.  :D

What will they play at your funeral?
Think of Me from The Phantom of the Opera.  Don’t look at me like that!  I didn’t choose it! 

What is your hobby/interest?
Morning from Peer Gynt Suite.  I am disappointed in you, Shuffle.  Even you are in on the plot to make me admit I’m a morning person. 

What is your biggest fear?
Marguerite a Traitor from The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Pretty scary if your name’s Percy.

What is your biggest secret?
Miss Potter from Miss Potter (obviously).  Wait!  Now you guys know my secret identity!

What do you want right now?
Breath of Life from The Two Towers.  “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

What do you think of your friends?
Grant Me An Interview from Sense and Sensibility.  Speaks for itself.  We like to talk.

What's the worst thing that could happen?
Double Wedding  from Pride and Prejudice.  Eeeeep!  I won’t get to plan the wedding all by myself!

What is the one thing you regret?
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again from The Phantom of the Opera.  I should never wish that.  It makes me cry…

What makes you laugh?
Song Without Words by Mendelssohn.  So that I don’t get to sing them?  No laughing matter.

What makes you cry?
Without You from My Fair Lady.  Okay, but not the song, just the idea…

Will you ever get married?
Stirling from The Scottish Chiefs audiobook.  That book’s about William Wallace.  Does it mean I’ll get married if Wallace comes around?  Can’t say I’ll mind if he does. :D

What scares you the most?
The Bridge of Khazad Dum from The Fellowship of the Ring.  Can you blame me?

Does anyone like you?
Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg by P.G. Wodehouse.  Ummmm, who likes me?   Jeeves or the Hard-Boiled Egg?

If you could go back in time, what would you change?
Edelweiss from The Sound of Music.  Let me think about that one…

What hurts right now?
The Gardiners from Pride and Prejudice.  NOOOOOO.  Mrs. Gardiner, how could you?

What would you want to say to the person who tagged you?
Danger Ahead
from The Scarlet Pimpernel.  This is Shuffle’s message to you, not me.

What will you name this post?
Mock Execution from the same.

*falls down dead* the execution not being as mock as it pretended to be.  Perhaps Danger Ahead was a message to me after all. ;)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blunt the knives and crack the plates...

But that's what Bilbo Baggins hates.
So carefully, carefully with the plates!

Or, the new sneak-bits of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack!  On youtube.  Right now.  I am delighted.

This stuff is NEW, peoples.  Just came out today.  Less than 100 views on some of them.  This gets more exciting by the minute.  Search 'ElyathProductions' (somehow they're doing it) and 'The Hobbit' on youtube and voila, you'll get it!

Sometime this month I'm going to be posting something about LOTR, magic, and wizards that's been simmering in my head for a while.  Sometime.  After I've gotten over this horrid cold.  *cough, cough, wheeze, cough*  And after I've caught up on Nano.   And after I've done more chemistry.  And after I've planned my LOTR themed birthday party.  Then.

p.s. if you want to listen to the blunt the knives and crack the plates song, it's sung by the dwarves and #4 of the soundtrack, and called (obviously) "Blunt the Knives."  You can listen to nearly half of it on youtube. :D