by Joshua Packard, Fullness of Happy
Recently, I finished reading a nonfiction book called “The Philosophy of Tolkien” by Dr. Peter Kreeft. I highly recommend reading this book for anyone who is interested in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and other Middle-Earth novels and stories. Kreeft digs through the writings and letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and correspondence between him and his good friend C.S. Lewis of “Chronicles of Narnia” fame to demonstrate the very rich worldview and philosophy that fueled the creation of Middle-Earth and his fantasy stories. Kreeft discusses such questions as to God's existence, the existence and nature of angels, what is beauty, the meaning of death, romance and love, knowledge, history, language, politics, and ethics.
I started reading this book over a year ago and got bored for some reason. I picked it back up a couple of weeks ago and couldn't put it down. Perhaps this is because I left off on the parts where Kreeft discussed two of my favorite ideas: Predestination and Providence. I recommend especially the chapter in which Kreeft discusses Tolkien's take on ethics, especially the battle between good and evil which Tolkien dramatized in his novels. I want to highly recommend this book, though I feel inadequate to the task of doing the book justice in this review. But I want to insert here a quote about the battle between good and evil which I thought highly uplifting and inspiring:
“Good and evil are not equally powerful, because they are not equally real—even though evil appears not only equal to good but even stronger than good (“I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still”). But appearance and reality do not coincide here, and in the end evil will always reveal its inevitable self-destruction (although often after a terrible price is paid: e.g. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin). The self-destruction of evil is not just something to believe in and hope for, but to be certain of. It is metaphysically necessary, necessary because the very kind of being evil has by its unchangeable essence. For evil can only be a parasite on good. It depends on a good host for it to pervert. “Nothing is evil in the beginning” or by nature. Morgoth was one of the Ainur, Sauron was a Maia, Saruman was the head of Gandalf's order of Wizards, the Orcs were Elves, the Ringwraiths were great Men, and Gollum was a Hobbit. And whenever a parasite succeeds in killing its host, it also kills itself. So if evil succeeds, it fails; it commits suicide.”
I recommend this book highly. There are so many gems in the form of quotes from Tolkien's letters and correspondence with others such as C.S. Lewis, and I hope you will find more enjoyment in Tolkien's epic saga the Lord of the Rings after reading this book.
"The Philosophy of Tolkien" can be purchased on Amazon here.
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Out of the Silent Planet was written by C.S Lewis in 1943. Most of the story takes place on the planet Malacandra. The protagonist, Dr. Ransom, is a complex character who commits both dishonorable and good deeds. He is led into a trap by Weston and Devine, who he believes are scientists. They kidnap him and take him in a spaceship to a planet that the inhabitants call Malacandra.
They were invited by a being called Oyarsa, and planned to desert Ransom there. But, the doctor evaded his captors and made it into the wilderness where he risks both his life and his chance of escaping back to Earth. Fortunately, Ransom will discover that most of the creatures are friendly on this planet.
The first group of natives he meets call themselves the hrossa. One of his first friends is later shot by his former captors, who wish to show their power. The hrossa suggest he go to Oyarsa, who lives in a valley. In order to make the journey, he must first cross steep mountains. As the cold nips at him from the altitude, he comes across a cave. In this cave, he finds a sorn named Augray, another inhabitant of this strange planet, who he finds to be friendly. This creature helps him to find Oyarsa’s valley.
Finally, when he meets Oyarsa, he finds that his captors had already been taken captive for the death of the hross. Weston and Devine confess and are forgiven for their crime, and Oyarsa frees Ransom. Their space ship only holds enough provisions for ninety days. If their spaceship does not make it to Earth by then, they would die. Under great stress, they barely make it in 88 days. After they return home, Ransom becomes extremely sick. When he recovers, he wonders if any of this was real.
My favorite character is the protagonist, Dr. Ransom. It was amazing to see how much his character changed from when he was kidnapped to the trial scene with Oyarsa. C.S Lewis does an extremely excellent job of describing him. In most physical respects, he is rather average, although he has notably high stamina. An example of the latter is the trip he made when he was searching for Oyarsa. As C.S Lewis put it, it would usually be impossible for some one “with his age and build” to stand up to the extreme conditions he faced.
C.S Lewis writes many beautifully descriptive passages throughout the book. Here is an excerpt of Ransom’s impressions when they landed on the planet:
A mass of something purple, so huge that he took it for a heather-covered mountain, was his first impression: on the other side, beyond the larger water, there was something of the same kind. But there, he could see over the top of it. Beyond were strange upright shapes of whitish green: too jagged and irregular for buildings, too thin and steep for mountains. Beyond and above these again was the rose-coloured cloud-like mass. It might really be a cloud, but it was very solid-looking and did not seem to have moved since he first set eyes on it from the manhole. It looked like the top of a gigantic red cauliflower – or like a huge bowl of red soapsuds – and it was exquisitely beautiful in tint and shape.
I liked how descriptive C.S Lewis is in painting the scenery in my mind. The characters were realistic and believable, as well. This book was full of mystery and suspense which were well-balanced with the rich character development. The natives learned to trust Ransom, and to be wary about Weston and Devine. Ransom himself changes dramatically through the story. At the beginning, he had been dishonorable, but when his life was on the line, his values changed. The following passage talks about his encounter with a hross:
Then something happened which completely altered his state of mind. The creature…opened its mouth and began to make noises. This in itself was not remarkable; but a lifetime of linguistic study assured Ransom almost at once that these were articulate noises. The creature was talking. It had a language.
If you are not yourself a philologist, I am afraid you must take on trust the prodigious emotional consequences of this realization in Ransom’s mind. A new world he had already seen – but a new, and extra-terrestrial, a non-human language was a different matter…In the fraction of a second which it took Ransom to decide that the creature was really talking, and while he still knew that he might be facing instant death, his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling project of making a Malacandrian grammar.
Readers will be delighted to know that this is only the first book of a three part series called the Space Trilogy. The two books that follow this are Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. For further reading, C.S Lewis has also written almost 30 other books that may be of interest.
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