“My business is with Isengard tonight, with rock and stone.” Treebeard.
What can be more vulnerable than a gentle sprout springing from under the ground? You can easily step on it and trample it underfoot. You can knock it off with a stick or break it with your fingers. And yet, in Tolkien’s lore, the power of growing things prevails over the power of the Machine.
In The Lord of the Rings, The One Ring is the epitome of the ultimate Machine, a technology used to control other wills. In Tolkien’s philosophy, the Machine is an external technique or device designed to subdue reality to my will.
By the last [the Machine] I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognized. . . The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines.
Saruman didn’t believe in the power of growing. He didn’t care for growing things. He believed in the Machine. He believed in forcing. Forcing is the opposite of growing. Growing is allowing things to be as they are. Forcing is imposing your will upon another. As Treebeard says of Saruman,
He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for living things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”
Ironically, Isengard was defeated by “the things that grow” – the Ents and Huorns (trees) who were roused enough to unleash their hidden power. But where does this power come from?
There are two types of magic in The Lord of the Rings. One is black magic called the Machine, and the other one is Art. The Machine is using external means to bulldoze reality into my mold. Art is the magic that grows out of who I am. Hobbits and elves love “all things that grow” because they are attuned to the “deeper magic.”
For all hobbits share a love for things that grow.
Saruman wasn’t attuned to the “deeper magic,” the magic of growing – the magic that grows slowly and is rooted in the soil.
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Gandalf
What does Aslan say about the “deeper magic”?
C.S. Lewis mentions this “deeper magic” in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan says of the White Witch:
The Witch knew the Deep Magic…but there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.
In Magician’s Nephew, we see this deeper magic unfold in the way Narnia springs into existence from the primeval darkness — as an echo of The Song. The deeper magic of Aslan’s Song makes all things grow. All living things literally spring out of the ground, from the soil of the earth.
Who is Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia?
When someone asked Augustine, “What is time?” he answered, “When you don’t ask, I know. When you ask, I don’t.”
We all know what time is, and yet it’s hard to say what it is.
To understand time, the Greeks personified chronological time as Chronos/Khronos (Χρόνος), who later was mixed with a Titan Cronus – the one who devours his own children. And this conflation is quite understandable since we are all born into this world in chronological time and, eventually, chronological time will consume us.
The Romans called Chronos Father Time. Chronos, the chronological time, gives life and takes it away. That’s why the Romans associated Chronos with Saturn, the god of the underworld.
The first time we meet Father Time in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is in The Silver Chair. He is a bearded giant asleep in the underworld. He is the largest of all giants.
“Who’s that?” asked Puddleglum…
“That is old Father Time, who once was a King in Overland,” said the Warden. “And now he has sunk down into the Deep Realm and lies dreaming of all the things that are done in the upper world. Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands. They say he will wake at the end of the world.”
Father Time is sleeping. When I first read that years ago, something stirred in me and I thought,
“Hm… we don’t yet know time for what it is. We only know the Time that sleeps. I wonder what it’s going to be like when it awakens?”
Aslan piqued my curiosity even more when he said in The Last Battle:
While he lay dreaming his name was Time. Now that he is awake he will have a new one.
Chronological time as we know it is only a sleeping, dreaming Time. It will have a different name when he awakes. In our world, time is used for estimating duration. As such it must be associated with Saturn, the god of death and the underworld. Time devours its own children because it’s under a curse. It’s not yet awake.
How did he sink down to the underworld? Why is he asleep?
The Warden in The Silver Chair says,
Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands.
It’s easy to sink down to the underworld. Father Time wasn’t an exception. He was once a King in the upper world, but something must have happened that made him fall asleep and forget his true name.
Surprisingly, we find the same motif of “sinking down” and “living in the dream world” in Owen Barfield’s The Silver Trumpet.
King Courtesy is overcome by the death of his beloved to such a degree that he forgets who he is and falls into a dream-like state. The whole land sinks into a nightmarish dream. This curse is the King’s own doing – he lost the Silver Trumpet, the only thing that keeps you awake.
And as the last note (of the Silver Trumpet) died slowly away, the light left King Courtesy’s face, and he sank back on the sofa with only a vague troubled look in his eyes.
It’s so easy to sink down, and it’s so hard to return to sunlit lands. King Courtesy awakes only after the Silver Trumpet is recovered. He wakes up and remembers who he is – at the end.
In the Last Battle, Father Time is awakened at the end of the world by the roar of Aslan himself. He rises above the horizon like a black shape and fulfills his last Saturnian duty by putting to death the old sun.
Then Aslan said, “Now make an end.”
The giant threw his horn into the sea. Then he stretched out one arm—very black it looked, and thousands of miles long—across the sky till his hand reached the Sun. He took the Sun and squeezed it in his hand as you would squeeze an orange. And instantly there was total darkness.
As Father Time fulfills his last duty as Chronos, he is reborn. He ushers in a new Narnia, where no more chronicles can be made. There’s nothing to chronicle. With the death of the old world, there’s no more chronological time.
It has a different name now. Its name is Kairos. A pregnant Time. A fullness of Time. A Time that no longer counts anything – it reveals what really counts.
Even as Mark proclaimed in his Gospel (chapter 1),
The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The time has been perfected. Its curse has been lifted. It is awake.
Greeks used the word “Kairos” to indicate an opportune time, the right time, the perfected time. When Chronos has fulfilled his duty, his name is Kairos. Time no longer passes. It ushers us into the invisible Kingdom.
Time acquires a new quality. It doesn’t simply bring us horizontally from one moment to another – it makes us stop and commune with the moment as it is. Each moment is a doorway. We have all felt it. We all know what Kairos feels like. It’s a glimpse into the eternal Kingdom—a reality where Chronos is engulfed by Eternity.
Who is Father Time in The Lord of the Rings?
Here’s how J.R.R. Tolkien captures the effect of Kairos in the mysterious passages about the magic of Lothlórien.
Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness. When he had gone and passed again into the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien.
In Lothlórien, time was slow, even irrelevant. It was all now. Frodo felt he was, is, and will always be there. The unfading beauty of the enchanted wood made him feel like he had stepped out of the world and walked into Valinor of old.
This is more Elvish than anything. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.
Haldir, the leader of the Elves, answered,
You feel the power of the Lady of the Galadrhim.
That’s why everything in Lothlórien seemed young and ancient at the same time.
Frodo felt as if he saw Mallorn trees for the first time – as if they had just been created. And yet they were ancient as the stars of heaven.
The shapes seemed… as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever.
In our world, Father Time is still asleep. He sank into the depths of the underworld a long time ago, and we sank with it. As we walk the dark paths and corridors of the underworld, it’s so hard to believe in the existence of the Sun. The upper world seems like a dream.
Chronos takes us from one moment to the next without bringing real joy or meaning. But Chronos is not its name; it’s its curse. At the last roar of the great Lion, he will awaken and remember his true name. And he will usher us into the upper world so we can see the Sun with our own eyes.
Recently, someone sent me AI-generated art and said, “How cool is that?” I looked at it, showed it to my wife, and we both said, “It looks kind of dead.”
It’s so mathematically perfect that there’s no life in it.
I immediately imagined myself seeing that picture in an art gallery hanging next to Monet. No comparison.
No doubt, AI-generated art is okay in the sense that it looks like art. But it’s not properly art. Because art is not created mathematically. It’s created inspirationally. It has a soul.
AI-generated “art” may look perfect, but it’s dead because it’s soulless. It cannot have a soul because no one inspired it.
It takes inspiration to have a soul. AI-generated content may read fine, even perfect, but is it food for the soul?
I experimented with ChatGPT, asking it to create a short story based on Russian folklore. It came out fine, readable, passable, recognizable characters that I knew from my childhood, but it was drab and meaningless.
But why? What is the fundamental flaw of AI?
The answer is deeply philosophical and spiritual – not technical or mathematical.
The “I-It” model is seeing the world as separate from myself. It’s literally “I” and “It.” There’s no connection. I am a subject, and the world is an object out there.
I can only observe it from the outside, gather data about it, measure it, and conceptualize it.
In the “I-It” pattern, we believe we only know something when we have studied it externally by amassing data about it. If I gather all the data about the Sun, I know what the Sun is. If I gather all the data about that person, I know what that person is.
But do I really know that person by collecting data about them? No. I have only created a mental concept of that person based on the data collected and mistaken that concept for reality.
As I got off the phone with an old friend this morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being under some spell.
He had shared a video with me from 12 years ago when we were much younger, my daughter was 10, and my son was 6.
We had a picnic around a fire, cooking hotdogs, chatting, and enjoying a warm summer evening in Siberia.
As I watched my daughter’s cute chubby face chewing on the hotdog and my son’s frantic hopping and jumping over the fire, I teared up.
“This is Paradise,” I thought. “Why didn’t I see it then?”
“Paradise,” echoed my friend on the other side of the conversation.
“Hmm…,” I thought to myself after I hung up. “Why is it that we tend to see an experience as ordinary when we are in the middle of it? And when there’s some distance between us – whether it’s time or geography – it transforms into something else.
Why didn’t I see all that before? It was an ordinary evening. Yes, I enjoyed it very much, but now I almost see it as a doorway into some inexplicable magic. A picture of another world.
Is my memory playing a trick on me, so am I imagining something that wasn’t there?
Or maybe it’s the other way around – my memory shows me something that was there, but I was too close to it to see it for what it is.
“You can’t recognize a person’s face when you are too close to it,” said the Russian poet Sergey Esenin.
But how do I know that my memory is not deceiving me?
Owen Barfield said in his poem The Tower:
But many times, the secret-breathing world Whispers to thee, yet whispers with a voice Which memory shall warehouse as a shout.
The magic of Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of how the Inklings use the power of vertical speech.
Quoting Max Picard from The Worlds of Silence,Peter Kreeft said that in modern writing, words have lost their vertical static quality:
The architecture of the Hebrew language is vertical. Each word sinks down vertically, column-wise, into the sentence. In language today we have lost the static quality of the ancient tongues. The sentence has become dynamic; every word in every sentence speeds on quickly to the next … each word comes more from the preceding word than from the silence and moves on more to the next word in front of it than to the silence.
In modern writing, words are used primarily as communication tools. People use words to get their message across. This type of speech is message-driven, not meaning-driven.
You look for words just to move the reader along as quickly as possible from one word to the next horizontally. Words are whips to get the reader going.
The Inklings use words vertically, not horizontally.
For them, each word is alive. Each word speaks through a particular sound shape – and needs to be heard.
When you “hear” the word’s speech, the curtain of the world is drawn for a second or two and you see… what the words dimly point to.
The Inklings use words to allure the reader to the silence around the words – not to get the message across. As Treebeard said:
You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.
To use words vertically means to find words that make the reader spellbound for a second or two. Preferably longer.
The right words are inspired by Mercury himself – they descend from heaven like fire and become “proper names” in the mouth of the herald.
Like a piercing line of poetry, they make you stop breathing the air of the world and plunge into a meditative reverie as you breathe in the fragrance from beyond the walls of the world.
Tolkien’s description of the magic of Lothlórien is a case in point.
How does Tolkien describe Lothlórien?
Just like Tom Bombadil, Lothlórien could easily have been left out of the plot. Linearly speaking, nothing “happened” there except that the fellowship felt the magic of Lothlórien and got some rest.
Technically, the chapter about Lothlórien is just as extraneous as the chapter on Tom Bombadil.
But it’s a fine example of vertical speech that introduces the reader to the perilous realm of Faerie.
The effect of entering the realm of the Lady is such that all the company feels the presence of some inexplicable magic.
For some, it is a delight. For some, it is torment.
Tolkien seems to suggest that the whole land was Galadriel’s mirror – not just the stone mirror itself. As the fellowship walked through the enchanted wood, they saw their secret thoughts and desires revealed as if in a mirror.
Some liked it; some hated it. But they couldn’t hide from it.
They stepped into a land of the Last Judgement unfolding 24/7.
When I first read C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra years ago, I was a bit confused at the end. Especially, when I got to the part about the Great Dance, in which “there seems no centre because it is all centre.”
As Ransom was listening to the Eldils delivering long speeches about the nature of the Great Dance, I thought these speeches sounded more like doxologies than explanations – as if the speakers didn’t care about making anything clear but rather were weaving songs of praise out of thin air.
And then, Ransom actually SAW their speech turn into SIGHT. The speeches of the Eldils became The Great Dance before his eyes:
“He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties.”
C.S. Lewis, Perelandra
What a strange ending, I thought. But somehow, at least in Ransom’s mind, it was a fitting resolution to the plot.
The Númenóreans began to murmur, at first in their hearts, and then in open words, against the doom of Men…
Why did Arda become round?
The downfall of Numenor led to the reshaping of Arda. Around the year 3319 of the Second Age, the world was changed. It became round. A circle. A ring.
Like a ring, the world became closed upon itself. Thus ended Men’s desperate search for immortality. It ended in creating bad infinity, the non-stop repetition of the same, a rat race of life, never coming to the destination.
People were still trying to find the Straight Way to the Blessed Realm but soon found that all roads were now bent. There was no longer a Straight Way to the blessed realm geographically. All roads were going in circles.
Their great mariners would still search for the Isle of Meneltarma because many believed that from the summit of the Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, one could still see a glimpse of the Deathless shores.
But they found it not. And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle… and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’
With bad infinity, no matter where you go, you come to where you started – to the old lands, subject to death. It is the curse of the Ring.
The Secret Fire gave Being to the vision of the Ainur, and Iluvatar set this Being amid the Void – as light shining in the darkness.
Melkor is ever seeking after the Secret Fire (Flame Imperishable) but cannot find it because it is with Iluvatar.
But why is he seeking Light if he is so bent on perpetuating Darkness?
It is said:
He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar.
The reason he craved the Secret Fire is that he wanted to bring into Being things of his own imagining but could not.
In his 1925 fairy-tale The Silver Trumpet, Owen Barfield expressed mythically what he would later expound philosophically in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry:
The life of the image should be none other than the life of imagination.
In other words, without imagination images are dead. Imagination is their lifeblood. Their substance. Their content.
When we look at the phenomena and confuse their appearance for what they represent, we take life out of them. The images are lost. They have been turned into idols by our refusal to see through them.
The moment I say: “The appearance of the tree equals the tree,” I am making an assumption that there’s nothing else to the tree than meets the eye. This mental concept is no more than an assumption (I don’t really know if the appearance of a tree equals a tree).
But I choose to see the tree through a non-participatory lens. In doing so, I refuse to go from an image to imagination.
I refuse to transcend the images with imagination (properly speaking, with faith as the ability to see the invisible). I refuse to go beyond the symbol to what it symbolizes. I take a sign for the thing it points to.
In The Silver Trumpet, this curious relationship between an image and imagination is captured in the relationship between Prince Courtesy and Princess Violet.
The key to entering Faerie is inside each and every one.
In Owen Barfield’s philosophy, this change of lens happens when a person allows their state of consciousness to be shifted by a line of poetry. And then they follow the call ringing through “this verse that lifts the curse” and enters the perilous realm of Faerie.
Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess is Tulkas, who is surnamed Astaldo, the Valiant. He came last to Arda, to aid the Valar in the first battles with Melkor. He delights in wrestling and in contests of strength… he is tireless. His hair and beard are golden, and his flesh ruddy.
Who is Tulkas? Why did he come to Arda last to aid the Valar in their battles with Melkor? And most importantly, why was Melkor so afraid of him?
So came Tulkas the Strong, whose anger passes like a mighty wind, scattering cloud and darkness before it; and Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter, and forsook Arda, and there was peace for a long age.
Of all the Valar, Melkor hated Tulkas the most.
There’s a spiritual and mythical significance to this. Tulkas is hated with bitter hatred because he represents the laughter of Iluvatar in the Great Music.