Spring 1993

J.R.R. Tolkien: Lover of the Logos

Mark Sebanc

"Tolkien's is an exquisitely proleptic art that takes a pagan, pre-Christian universe and suffuses it discreetly with a sacramental holiness stemming implicitly from what Balthasar makes bold to call the Christ form."

The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dyin , dying;
(Song from Tennyson's "Princess")

This past year marked the hundredth anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1972), the nondescript, hobbitic Oxford don who has posthumously found himself ensconced in an enigmatic literary niche all his own, outside all the accepted and honored canons of modern literature. For his is not a name today's literary critical establishment conjures with. His solid, conventional figure sorts ill with the promethean icons of modernism, men like D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. Indeed, his fictional work has elicited withering contempt from more than one luminary in the world of humane letters. Edmund Wilson, the famous American critic, for example, called it "juvenile trash." Even Edwin Muir, a poet and critic of otherwise sublime perceptiveness and sensitivity, attacked it trenchantly, although with less acid than Wilson, in a review entitled, with superciliously descriptive derision, "A Boy's World." The English poet W.H. Auden, on the other hand, considered it a masterpiece, as have many other scarcely less distinguished readers.


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