Welcome back to Muse Monday, where you will find essays, photos, or wise sayings to entice the muse to come by and whisper in your ear!
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door…. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Bilbo was not kidding. I had no idea where I would be swept off to when I first stepped inside a dark theatre in December 2001. Even though my first exposure to The Lord of the Rings was in 1980, I did not know it at the time. As I bid farewell to a beloved high school French teacher, I said, “May the Force be with you!” She responded with a fervent “Frodo lives!” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I have wondered more than once why I remember those words so vividly decades later, as they meant nothing to me then.
After I first truly encountered Frodo Baggins two decades later, and with him the tale contained in the Red Book of Westmarch, I did not how much he would grow on me. I was, after all, still a completely obsessed Star Wars fan. It certainly did not occur to me that anything or anyone could tear me away from that! But this story and the people in it changed my life, imperceptibly at first, then radically, as slowly Mr. Underhill took up residence in my heart, and I was transformed into who I am today.
I read the books after I saw the films. At some point I become aware of many books analyzing the spiritual themes of the Red Book. I was searching at the time for something to write about that I could possibly make some money on. I signed up for a class at a local community college to try to figure this out, but it was canceled due to low enrollment. I soon came to understand this was meant to happen, as Gandalf would say. I decided to use the refunded money to buy several of the books I saw. I still remember where I was as I started my first one.
It occurred to me I could write such books myself. Over some time I acquired a nice-sized collection and filled many journals with notes I transcribed into a vast computer file that continues to grow. Some of my research found its way into my first book, Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings, which also includes a chapter on The Hobbit. I used others in my second, Chosen: The Journeys of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire. My favorite books were and are those that speak of how we can learn from the lessons taught by those in Middle-earth and apply them to enrich our own life and those around us. Moments of Grace partly focuses on this and partly on how active God is in Middle-earth.
Dimitra Fimi notes in her Appendix to Tolkien, Race and Cultural History that Tolkien studies began as soon as The Hobbit came out, and decades after Tolkien’s death, scholars continue to break new ground and find new ways of approaching the masterworks. Many colleges and universities teach courses on Tolkien. Signum University is one. I am a student there for my Master’s Degree. I had wanted for some time to go back to school, so I could write term papers again. Yes, I know, I am weird. 🙂 Fimi hopes someone will write a master book that could be used to teach Tolkien, especially about his use of myth, and the time is also right for a new biography. She sees a bright future ahead as new blood and views come into play to infuse freshness into the field. I find this personally encouraging, as I have more books planned!
Christopher Tolkien has blessed us by his unflagging and loving service these decades after his father’s death to bring to publication so much more about the incredible world of Middle-earth. These help satisfy, though never completely, the thirst for more and whet the appetite for even more. Peter Jackson’s films have also helped expand the field of Tolkien studies. Many of the books that have come out around those years focus on the books, but there are some that chose the movies as their theme.
I look forward to what is further down the Road for myself, and for the future of Tolkien studies. Middle-earth offers such vast and fertile landscapes to explore, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, there will always be unexplored avenues to explore, new roads to trod, and secret gates to pass through, as well as well-worn paths that will still bring to light unnoticed gems. The Road indeed goes ever on and on. Thank God for that!