Tag Archives: Tolkien

Of course goblins can’t hurt him.

While at Pippin’s I had the great satisfaction of reading Christmas stories for a total of several hours during my stay. The genre seems most appropriate for reading aloud, but when we have our larger family gatherings, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for it. Meanwhile, my collection grows.

Recently I acquired Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien, though in this case I think “recent” means 10-15 years ago. I’d glanced at them myself, but I think I was waiting to share the experience — to peek in on the Tolkien family and the stories that Tolkien the father created every year for his children. He wrote and illustrated them for over 20 years, starting by writing to three-year-old John, and continuing until he was only writing to his fourth child, Priscilla, with hopes that she will be hanging up her stocking “just once more.”

It is particularly interesting to me how Father Christmas refers to world events, in terms that place them in the context of the ages-long attempt of evil spiritual forces to destroy humanity once and for all. He first mentions goblins in 1932 and ’33, after he has written letters for about 12 years, and his goblins remind me of those in George MacDonald’s stories. They are a nuisance, and sometimes very scary  —“Goblins are to us as rats are to you,” — but if you stand up to them they flee. They have no real power.

Most of the letters from the North Pole are about the mischief and adventures of all the people and creatures who live there: elves and snowmen, reindeer — and the North Polar Bear, who drew a bath, climbed in, and fell asleep with the water running, flooding the cellars full of toys.

But in 1932 the same bear had an encounter with a goblin:

“…he smelt a goblin! and became interested, and started to explore. Not very wise; for of course goblins can’t hurt him, but their caves are very dangerous.” In the next letter things are still heating up:

“Another Christmas! I almost thought at one time (in November) that there would not be one this year. There would be the 25th of December, of course, but nothing from your old great-great-etc. grandfather at the North Pole.

“Goblins. The worst attack we have had for centuries….”

More than once he mentions the last worst battle with these creatures, “the goblin-war in 1453, that I told you about.”

From then on the goblins show up regularly. The children are old enough to understand about the world situation as it affects them, and in 1940 F.C. writes more plainly, “We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks, and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I’m glad you are still at home!” 

The text of the 1935 letter above reads: “[North Polar Bear] says that we have not seen the last of the goblins — in spite of the battles of 1933. They won’t dare to come into my land yet; but for some reason they are breeding again and multiplying all over the world. Quite a nasty outbreak. But there are not so many in England, he says. I expect I shall have trouble with them soon.

“I have given my elves some new magic sparkler spears that will scare them out of their wits. It is now December 24, and they have not appeared this year — and practically everything is packed up and ready. I shall be starting soon.”

I’ve interspersed Tolkien’s illustrations with the last images from my northern adventure. Pippin and the children and I walked by the lake, and the stream flowing into it. We came home and snuggled again on the couch, with cats, and finished the last letters. I think we were all sad that the Tolkien children grew up!

He went further than human tyrants.

Tolkien illustration

“In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.

“In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.”

“You can make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power.”

―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

How and why dragons almost exist.

I’m anticipating a drive to the mountains next month, during which I want to hear the whole of this podcast, In Full Fire. This morning I only had time for the first few minutes, and was impressed with how fast I was plunged into the vast history of dragons as symbols, starting with listeners’ questions regarding contemporary books and movies that their children and grandchildren enjoy.

It’s a wide range of topics! Dragons in the East and in the West, strange or friendly, and as some stories suggest, superior to humans; dragons as dreadful enemies or sources of strength and creativity. Can dragons be tamed? De-fanged?

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick hosts the Amon Sûl podcast and three others on ancientfaith.com. In this episode he interviews Jonathan Pageau, who has his own website and podcast, The Symbolic World. Even if you are not a huge Tolkien devotee, you might like to sample a few minutes yourself, because more than ever, dragons are everywhere – almost.

Tolkien’s illustration for Beowulf

From bitter cold to laughter and light.

I know that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ has passed; the Leavetaking of Nativity was yesterday, so that we might enter fully into today’s feasts. So it may seem a bit odd for me to post the poem below, but for many reasons it seems most appropriate. (One practical reason is that I only now rose from my sick bed to look at my blog!) I might be hearkening back to the early church, about which we read:

“During the first centuries of Christianity, the Feast of Theophany was celebrated together with a number of observances as recorded in the Gospels. They are: the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin Mary; the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the glorification of the heavenly hosts, the veneration by the shepherds and the coming of the Magi; the Circumcision; the Naming of our Lord; the Presentation in the Temple; the Flight into Egypt and Return; the Baptism at the River Jordan; the Temptation in the Wilderness and the Testimony (Witness) of St. John the Forerunner.

“This group of feasts was celebrated from the 6th to the 13th of January, called the octave of Theophany; the most prominent being the Birth and Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, with special importance afforded to the Baptism. The church grouped the birth and baptism, together (called Theophany, “the revelation of God,”) on January the 6th because they were the first revelations of His divinity, incarnation, and the beginning of His ministry as Lord and Savior of mankind.”

I first read the poem last summer on Elizabeth’s blog, so she obviously thought it applicable at any time of the year. And for myself, I can’t imagine looking forward to a new calendar year with anything but foreboding, were it not for the fact that “God is with us.”

Do you count this the seventh or eighth day of Christmas? Most Christians count Christmas Day itself as the first day, so New Year’s Day is the Eighth Day. For us Orthodox, it is also the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and St. Basil’s Day. Soon we will arrive at the glorious Feast of Theophany.

So many feasts and commemorations! But they all flow from the astounding fact and reality that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

NOËL

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

If your Christmas celebrations were lacking in bells, I recommend these videos of bell-ringing from New Jersey to California and abroad. Most of them start out slow and progress to very lively and joyous. Nothing compares to hearing them as you are leaving church after services of a Great Feast, but these are worthwhile substitutes. The bells of Paradise never stop ringing.

Bells of St. Nicholas

Brother Seraphim

St. Alexander Nevsky

Sf. Ioan Teologul

St. Alexander Nevsky (shorter)