Monthly Archives: September 2016

Adoration and Amusement

A great king had two sons, who were come to the age where one should be named as the crown prince. The custom of that country was that the king would choose his heir directly, without weight given to birth-order. He was hard-pressed at the choice, for they both loved him and had noble and kingly traits. He decided to test them. Whichever son pleased him most in the test would become the crown prince. He summoned his two sons to his throne room.

“My sons, you are both fine sons, more pleasing to me than all the wealth and splendour of my kingdom. I am torn at the thought of choosing but one of you to rule in my stead, but the tradition of our country knows nothing of two kings ruling on the throne. One of you must rule; indeed, one of you must rule over the other.”

His sons stirred, but did not glance at one another.

“I have chosen to put your kingliness to the test. I will judge the winner according to my own counsel, and there shall be no debate entertained. As I could crown one of you this moment without objection from the other, so I may judge the winner of my contest by my own wisdom.”

His sons nodded, their gazes still down, as was the law in that land for one in the presence of the king.

“The test is this: you will gather as much fame for my name in one year as you can. At the end of the year, your efforts will appear before me, and I will judge one of you to be king after me.”
The princes departed, wished each other luck, and immediately sought counsel from the wise men of the land.

The younger prince consulted with the old men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved greatly. Bring him some people who love him deeply and truly, however many or few, and you will be judged the wiser son.

The older prince consulted with the young men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved widely, for he is a great king, and greatly to be praised. Bring him throngs of people, by whatever means, and you will truly have brought him the fame he seeks.”

The younger prince travelled amongst the people, staying in one town for weeks at a time. There he taught the people patiently, every day explaining the glory of his father’s wars, his mercy with his enemies, his justice in ruling, and his kindness as a father. Some were taken by the descriptions of his father. Many were indifferent, and the young prince’s heart often grew discouraged. Often he felt like he was trying to kindle a fire in green wood. What would he have to show for his work? A handful of obscure people who loved the king dearly? He at times questioned the counsel he had been given. Nevertheless, he persevered.

The older prince travelled amongst the people, setting up fairs and stage-plays, tournaments and circuses, contests and puppet-shows in the name of his father. He knew how much people loved these things, and knew that they would be drawn to them. His thinking was logical: once the happy crowds found out that such were provided by the king, they would love him as well. He was not disappointed. Crowds gathered wherever he went. People thronged his demonstrations, and enthusiastically accepted his invitation to appear at the castle on the day of the king’s judgement. Occasionally, he would question the sincerity of those who followed in his train and eagerly awaited the next amusement. However, he dismissed such doubts, certain that it was better to present a large crowd of king-lovers than a thin one, even if a few were there for the wrong reasons.

On the day of judgement, the older prince filled the castle’s courtyard with hundreds of cheering people, with many others outside the walls. When the king appeared from the royal balcony, the crowd exploded in praise, and the younger prince sensed he had lost the contest.

The king proceeded to give an oration, climaxing with the promise that his subjects could forthwith have direct audiences with him in the throne-room upon request. The crowd seemed unimpressed. No applause was offered, and a silence settled over the courtyard. Here and there a shout echoed, calling for more jousting tournaments, cock-fighting and banquets. The shouts turned into disgruntled jeering. The crowd was now angry and hostile. The king ordered his soldiers to dismiss the crowd from his castle.

The king retired to his throne-room and sat down. The younger prince came in, bringing with him a small and strange group of unimpressive peasants: a little child, a blind beggar, a woman of the night, a leper, a cleric, a widow, an orphan and a soldier. They had been weeping during the king’s speech, and now prostrated themselves before him, along with the younger prince. The king rose, called for a meal to be set out for this group, and lifted up each one by his own hand. He led them to the banqueting table and served each one himself.

Which of the two sons did the will of his father?

The Magic of the Elves is Art

Some Evangelicals’ credo might be: “There is only one Tolkien, and Peter Jackson is his Prophet.” While there is no denying that the art of John Howe and Alan Lee made the films a visual feast, or that Howard Shore’s scores were moving and memorable, let us set aside the movies for a moment and return to Tolkien’s own vision of Middle-earth. Tolkien once wrote a letter to Milton Waldman, a friend and editor at Collins Publishers. The letter is sometimes published at the beginning of The Silmarillion, for it is one of the few places where Tolkien explained the meaning and purpose of his entire mythology. In it are some choice statements that are worth several moments’ contemplation, particularly for the average utilitarian Evangelical.

Here is Tolkien’s summary of what the entire mythology is about:

“It is, I suppose, fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of Art (and Sub-Creation) and Primary Reality.”

You probably didn’t get that idea when you saw Legolas skate-boarding down Helm’s Deep’s stairs. Legolas

What does Tolkien mean, and why should we care?

Tolkien was concerned with what humans, as those made in the image of God, do with creation. As sub-creators, once we have used our creation skills to simply survive, we turn those sub-creative powers to making those things that express meaning. Tolkien describes that in the same letter as “Art and the creative (or as I should say, sub-creative) desire which seems to have no biological function, and to be apart from the satisfactions of plain ordinary biological life, with which, in our world, it is indeed usually at strife.” Here Tolkien sounds like Richard Weaver who says that art is what sets man apart from the animals:

“This great yearning of man to be something in the imaginative sense, that is, to be something more than he is in the simple existential way or in the reductionist formula of materialism is both universal and proper to him. The latter may be asserted because he is the only creature who asks the question why he is here and who feels thwarted in his self-realization until some kind of answer is produced.  This urge to be representative of something higher is an active ingredient of his specific humanity; it has created everything from the necklace of animal teeth with which the primitive adorns his body to the elaborate constructions which the men of high cultures have made to interpret the meaning of life and their mission in it. This is the point at which he departs from the purely utilitarian course and makes of himself a being with significance.”

To put it simply, art is concerned with the spirit. Man, as part of creation, distinguishes himself from those creatures not made in God’s image with his acts of meaningful sub-creation. Man’s art is either his greatest vindication as a child of God or his greatest condemnation as fallen from that state, for his art represents what he is, what he imagines reality to be, and who he worships. It is the highest statement of his beliefs and desires.

Tolkien’s mythology suggests how art in a fallen and mortal world can go in an evil direction or a holy direction. Here Tolkien describes evil art:

“It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as ‘its own’, the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator – especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective, – and so to the Machine (or Magic).”

Art used for holy purposes is the ‘magic’ of the Elves:

“I have not used ‘magic’ consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since all human stories have suffered the same confusion). But the Elves are there (in my tales) to demonstrate the difference. Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous reforming of Creation.”

The idea that art is sub-creation, and that it is either faithful to the Creator, or a selfish abuse of creation is something Christians should consider carefully. For if the art we use in worship constitutes an abuse of creation (say, a narcissistic celebration of ourselves), then we find ourselves in the awkward position of claiming to worship the Creator with a distortion of His creation.

Illuvatar is not worshipped with Dark Magic.