Christianity and Middle-Earth

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Purging the West of the West

Here’s a prime seasonal example of purge-Christianity-from-public-view thinking (more at link):
What were those Puritans thinking?

Some schoolchildren in Maryland may need to hear this story:

In Massachusetts in 1623, our Pilgrim forbears were struggling. A terrible drought, some six weeks in length, was withering the crops, without which they would not survive the winter. What was worse, a ship bearing more colonists and additional supplies was long overdue, possibly lost. In their distress, the Pilgrims turned to God. They determined to "more solemnly to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer." The morning following their "period of humiliation" a soft shower began to fall--a perfect, 14-day rain--and, says colonist Edward Winslow, "it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived." Then came blessing upon blessing: They received news that the ship they had been awaiting was not lost, but only delayed.

Their prayers answered, the Pilgrims thought "it would be great ingratitude, if secretly we should smother up the same, or content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that, which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us." Thus, the first (New England) Thanksgiving.

Why tell this familiar tale to residents of the Free State? Because in some Maryland public schools, students are taught all about Thanksgiving--the Pilgrims, the Indians, the dress, the menu-- except for one little detail: that thanks was given to God. "We teach about Thanksgiving from a purely historical perspective, not from a religious perspective," says Charles Ridgell, St. Mary's County Public Schools curriculum and instruction director. In fact, several school administrators in Maryland told the Capital News Service, "religion never coincides with how [they] teach Thanksgiving."

By way of demonstrating the asininity of this approach to teaching schoolchildren the history of their own country, we can apply it to The Lord of the Rings.

There’s an entire back-story that “informs” us, as the same lot say, about the setting in which Tolkien’s tale takes place, the motivations, the driving virtues and vices. (That’ll have to change for a start – the whole ‘values’ thing. Can’t have our children brainwashed into think that there’re any absolutes or that people might believe in those absolutes strongly enough to have been willing to give up security for the freedom to worship as they chose. What’s wrong for one culture might just fine for another one, after all, and who’s got any authority to say otherwise? Apart from the Dispensers of Politically Correct Wisdom, of course.)

Gandalf’s going to have to be redesigned, for one, since he’s a Maia - which in Tolkien’s created world translates out to something like an archangel in the service of the Valar, who translate out to even fancier archangels - maybe even seraphim - in the service of Eru, otherwise known as God.

On the other hand, the way Tolkien sketched out Gandalf in The Hobbit is fairly innocuous: we can treat him as a magician, nothing more and nothing less. The reference to the Necromancer is harmless enough: even conjurers of cheap tricks have to deal with bad guys occasionally.

This approach will require dispensing with the line about being a “servant of the Secret Fire,” of course, and the stuff about being “sent back,” but those are minor issues. It doesn’t really detract from our view of Gandalf’s function as a plain old-fashioned wizard if we trim those out.

But the Elves will require a bit more work.

For instance, the Galadriel issue: she’s going to have to truly be a Sorceress in the Golden Wood who uses “magic” the same way that Sauron uses “magic,” and Gimli will just have to live with it. Tough cookies.

Frodo and Sam may NOT call on a higher power; I don’t care how many bogeymen are after them. (We’re keeping anything that smacks of prayer out of this, remember? Unless, of course, it’s just an attempt to use “magic.”) None of this Valinor/Varda business and beloved stars and the light of Earendil and all that – far too High-Church-like and we all know what Tolkien was. (Shhh! There may be innocent young ears about!) It might give readers the idea that there are things that are ‘holy,’ whatever that means, and it will definitely upset the All-Cultures-Are-Equal crusaders…um, I mean, activists.

(On the other hand, you’ll be glad to hear that Frodo doesn’t have to feel rustic and unlearned at Faramir’s dinner table. The folk customs of the Shire are as good as any “high beauties” the DWM "West” can offer.)

By way of an example of this judicious bowdlerizing, we can - by cunningly removing offensive lines, adding a few words here or there in an appropriate spirit of political correctness, and generally rendering the story ‘accessible’ to progressive readers whilst retaining the happy idea of a magical Elf-queen - translate this passage from The Two Towers thusly:

"Even as Sam himself crouched, looking at her, seeing his death in her eyes, a thought came to him as if some remote voice had spoken and he fumbled in his breast with his left hand and found what he sought: cold and hard and solid it seemed to his touch in a phantom world of horror, the magic Phial of Galadriel.

‘Galadriel,’ he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music remembered the magical powers of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond.
Gilthoniel! A Elbereth!

And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know he cried:

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon si di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

Galadriel, O Tinkerbell!
Wet is the water of your well!

And with that he waved the Phial at Shelob defiantly and staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast’s son child again. ‘Now come, you filth!’ he cried. ‘You’ve hurt my master friend, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’

And he stuck his loosened tongue out at Shelob as far as it could go. As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency shaken its alchemical reaction into motion, the magical glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand and he bunged it at Shelob as hard as he could. It flamed like a sparkly holiday star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light even as it landed ‘SMACK’ right between some of her eyes .”
There, that should do it. At least, so far as the High Church flavor goes. I think we can safely say we’ve eliminated that.


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