By Mary Beth Bowen
February 10, 2024
There has been a steady incline in popularity of the delightfully entertaining novels written by the brilliant author J. R. R. Tolkien. This is largely indebted to the fact that Hollywood has made 16 hours-worth of impressive epic film on these stories. I enjoy them and so do many people in my age group. This fascination, however, is something that the older generation does not understand. They see the story as it appears on the surface - dark, scary and perhaps lacking morality. But young people enjoy the challenge that the epic gives their minds and that it intrigues them to deeper thought. They have limited their adventure tales to these films, but I think that this attachment merely comes from a lack of deeper thought in other areas of life. Perhaps their minds have never been challenged to think critically about epic literature. Unfortunately, much of what Tolkien was inspired by is lost to my generation and there exists a divide between what previous generations read and discussed and what we are enamored by, a Hollywood product.
My attempt here is to narrow the divide between the stories that connect my generation to those of our grandparents.
Toward the end of the 19th century, there rose several popular Englishmen who enriched the West with their literary works. The first of these are G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. These two are known for their poetry and words of wit. Another one of these English authors was Rev. Robert Hugh Benson, arriving late to the Catholic Faith as he was a convert from Anglicanism. He also gave the world works of poetry, for it was he who penned "A Child's Rule of Life." If you do not know the prayer, "now I lay me down to sleep..." then this is a good place to start in your Benson reading.
These three men contributed many wonderful novels during their life time, and we will speak more of them below. About 20 years later, John Ronald Reuel (J. R. R.) Tolkien was born. and his Protestant friend, Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis, who is known for his works The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia. It is important to remember that although many say that C. S. Lewis was Catholic in his heart, his works should still be read warily as he never did convert to Catholicism. (Robert Hugh Benson condemned his own Protestant works and wrote books hoping to heal any damage which he may have caused.) But this is not about C. S. Lewis; that is a topic for another time. We will focus on the previously mentioned Tolkien and continue.
Tolkien wrote many literary works, but we will strictly focus on the ones that Hollywood has picked up. I will try to be brief in giving a synopsis. Chronologically, The Hobbit comes first. It follows the adventure of a homebody who is hired to be a "burglar" in a treasure hunt mission with a band of dwarves and a wizard. The treasure is guarded by a fire breathing dragon and it falls upon the said hobbit to steal "The King's Gem" so that the dragon can be destroyed, thereby ridding evil and uniting the scattered dwarves. This is a bittersweet and enduring tale of adventure and summoning courage when the occasion has never arisen before to need it. During the journey, Bilbo, the hobbit, discovers a ring which makes him invisible, whereby aiding him in his mission. This may seem like a useless detail, except that it is the ring which sparks the need to tell the sequel, The Lord of The Rings.
In this sequel, it is discovered that the ring is evil and must be destroyed in the fire that made it, which is in the center of a nucleus of evil. A small fellowship is formed to help Bilbo's nephew, Frodo, travel into the belly of the beast to destroy the ring. Many details could be related here, but, if you are a young reader, you will know what I'm talking about, and if you are an older reader, you will get more enjoyment out of comparing this story with other works with which you are more familiar.