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"Inculturation 'means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.'"

Redemptoris Mission, para. 52.

Culture Talk:

"The word on the street is....."

This page provides a monthly reflection on an aspect of faith and culture. Responding to current events, issues in the news and in politics we aim to provide some considered thoughts on how our faith impinges on the world around us and the reverse.

Feel free to comment on it via the Discussion Board or contact us directly to let us know your thoughts.

The Ring of Power and Liberation from Bondage.

‘Noon? Said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘Noon of what day?'

The fourteenth of the New Year,' said Gandalf; or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and you were brought out of the fire to the King.'

If the great and the good of the film world have any sense (and that may be a contentious hope!) then Peter Jackson's stunning presentation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy should be laden with Oscars. The rich mythic literature of Tolkien has combined with the best of modern imagination and technology to produce a marvellous cinematic experience. My only complaint is that all three films were too short – a complaint largely nullified by the excellent DVD extended editions. As a Tolkien anorak I wait eagerly for The Return of the King to be released in this format.

Like all great works of literature, the Lord of the Rings defies classification. Tolkien was adamant that it was not an allegory. It did not address the issues of the mid-twentieth England through representing what was going on there by quasi-legendary fantasy figures: middle-Earth is not in any direct way to be read as middle England. Nor did Tolkien try and represent the Christian story through a work of fiction. His friend C.S. Lewis came much closer to that sort of allegory with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (And indeed Lewis' own conversion was aided and encouraged by the influence of Tolkien). Yet, as a man deeply committed to his faith and profoundly formed by Catholicism and with a great love and concern for England, there can be no doubt that Tolkien did intend that themes connected with Christianity and of relevance to our contemporary culture would be illuminated by a sensitive journey with Frodo and his companions. Tolkien himself wrote in a letter:

" The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision".

This tale can be applied to our present circumstances and that application brings to bear on our culture profound spiritual and mystical insights from the Christian tradition.

In this short piece we cannot but scratch the surface of the many layers of Catholic insight to be found in The Lord of the Rings . But one interpretative key can be found in the significance of the date of the destruction of the Ring. The 25 th of March is a date redolent with Christian significance. Nearly every important element connected with the Christian story comes to a head on that date. The most vital is that the 25 th of March, according to most ancient sources, was believed to be the actual date of the Crucifixion of Our Lord. In our present Calendar the date of Good Friday moves, but we should remain aware of the saving significance of 25 th March. Because of this connection with the sacrifice of Christ around which all time flows, many other moments of significance in the Christian story cohere on this day. It was presumed to be the day on which Adam and Eve were created, the day on which people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, and ,most lastingly in our tradition, the day on which the Blessed Virgin Mary said yes to God's message and messenger, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and thus became the vessel in whom the Word of God took flesh.

The ring, the great symbol of subjugation, the burden of sin and limit on human potential, is destroyed on the 25 th March. From this date on the ‘Age of Men' can fully come into being. It is a date of new creation achieved through making hard choices, travelling on a perilous journey and ultimately involving sacrifice. New possibilities can be, because of this liberation from the chains of Mordor. No longer slaves, the peoples of Middle Earth can be free. Perhaps this potential of freedom is best shown in the book in the Chapter ‘The Scouring of the Shire' – an episode regrettably not in the theatrical release of the film (sorry I did warn you above that I am a Tolkien anorak).

And this surely is a message for our land. Our people can make the choice for freedom. In Christ the bondage of sin has been lifted. New life is offered, the glorious liberty of the children of God. Our difficult, often perilous, journey through this earth, needs us to choose good and resist evil inspired by a vision of God's Kingdom, the Kingdom of love, justice and peace. Indeed the ‘common good' of our country needs us to pursue this vision in our daily lives.

A large selection of articles on the ‘Catholic Imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien' can be found at http://www.bigbrother.net/~mugwump/tolkien/

(See the article on ‘The Feast of the Annunciation' in the Catholic Encyclopædia (1914) for a short introduction to some of the date presumptions of our Christian forebears. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01542a.htm )

Amongst much else written about Tolkien and his Catholicism you might wish to read:

Stratford Caldecott Secret Fire: The Spiritual Vision of J R R Tolkien   (Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2003)

Humphrey Carpenter J R R Tolkien: A Biography (HarperCollins, London, 2002)

Joseph Pearce Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life   (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2001)