“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.
When Frodo stabs a Ringwraith at Weathertop with his sword and cries out in Elvish, “O Elbereth Gilthoniel!” he doesn’t know what he is doing. Later, Aragorn explains what happened at that moment,
More deadly to him [the Witch-king] was the name of Elbereth.
But why is the name of Elbereth (Varda) so deadly to the Witch-king? Isn’t it just a sound?
It turns out, it’s not. In our divided consciousness, we tend to separate the name from its bearer. We do so subconsciously because modern consciousness perceives everything in fragments. We think that the name is merely a sound, and the thing it denotes is a physical object that exists separately from its name. But that’s not what we find in the Inklings.
In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Elvish languages seem to represent the one proper language, or “language as it should be.” It is the primal proto-language not yet divided by the curse of Babel. It proceeds from the consciousness that perceives the world as a Whole, and in it, words are always one with what they name. In fact, words contain what they name as in a “house.”
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke of words as “the house of being,” not labels or tags on things. He said,
For words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are.
So, what is a name according to the Inklings? It is a portal that ushers the invocator into the invisible realm concealed behind the sound.
I have long ceased to invent… I wait till I seem to know what really happened.Or till it writes itself.
For a participated consciousness, there is no difference between the name of a thing and the thing itself. The thing exists in its name. That’s why words always effect what they name. The name is not a denotation; it’s an invocation. That’s why Elbereth was really there at Frodo’s call. There is no other explanation for Frodo’s survival – if Varda wasn’t there, Frodo would have been consumed by the Darkness. But she was there fully present in her name.
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 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.
If there is one connective tissue between the fantasy imaginations of the Inklings, it is the theme of our participation in the Divine Music – the Music of Iluvatar.
The worlds of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield are born in Music and governed by Music.
In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Ainur descend into Arda, the created Realm, as individual themes of the Music of Iluvatar to behold their unique part becoming incarnate in the visible elements of air, earth, water, and other substances.
Enamored of their part in the celestial symphony, the Ainur follow this “music-made-flesh” into Arda and dwell therein because each yearns to participate in the Divine Thought.
They didn’t yet know how the Music would end – the only thing they knew was that the discord of Melkor would somehow be resolved by the coming of the Second-born to whom Iluvatar gave “strange gifts.”
The Third and final theme in the Music of Iluvatar announces the coming of Men in a soft, slow, and immeasurably sorrowful theme, from which its beauty chiefly comes.
How does Narnia start?
C.S. Lewis’s Narnia also begins in Music, the Song of Aslan, which is “the deeper magic” of his fantasy world – the magic of growing that opposes the black magic of domination.
Aslan sings his world into existence, and all the stars join him in the Song.
I wasn’t planning to write a review on Amazon’s The Rings of Power, but my son asked me a question I couldn’t ignore.
And thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor. Of all things which Yavanna made they have most renown, and about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven.
As we finished watching the first episode of The Rings of Power last night, my son asked me after a pause:
“What do you think?”
“Don’t know yet,” I answered, “not too bad, I suppose, but I hoped there would be much more Tolkien in it.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, “there’s Galadriel, Elrond, Sauron, hobbits. What else?”
“Hm…” I scratched my head, “I guess to have more Tolkien there you need to start the tale how he started the tale.”
“Do you mean with the creation of Arda?” he pressed.
“No, with Music. The Music. The world of Tolkien began in Music.”
“So, how would you have started the series?” he finally asked.
“Let me think,” I said, and there was silence in the room for about half an hour broken only by the chirping of a cricket outside.
And silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna.
Finally, I broke the silence.
“All the tales of Elder Days are woven around the fate of the Two Trees. Do you have any idea why?”
He shook his head.
“Imagine Galadriel and her brother Finrod sitting by a murmuring brook at twilight. He asks her: ‘Do you know how Elves came about?’
The camera zooms in, and we see the following scenes unfold in Galadriel’s big blue eyes as she listens to Finrod’s tale.
‘By the starlit mere of Cuivienen, Water of Awakening, the Elves rose from the sleep of Iluvatar; and while they dwelt yet silent by Cuivienen their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight, and have revered Varda Elentari above all the Valar.’
Galadriel sees in her mind’s eye the mere of Cuivienen and then looks up and suddenly sees Varda walking among the heavenly hosts.
‘Who is it?’ she asks her brother in amazement.
‘Varda, the spouse of Manwe, the chief of the Valar.’
Like any true myth, the story about Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side is compelling in its overwhelming persuasiveness. What led Anakin to the dark side?
C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter to Peter Milward that a good myth is
“a story out of which varying meanings will grow for different readers and in different ages.”
And then he added that a myth is not really dependent on the words in which it is told or the art form in which it is conveyed. It’s not the narrative itself that makes the myth convincing but something much more elusive.
“The narrative is more of a net whereby we catch something else.”
What led Anakin to the dark side?
What I caught in the net of the Star Wars myth is HOW Anakin was led to the dark side — it happened, oddly enough, through his inordinate desire for something good.
As a young boy he swore a solemn oath at his mother’s grave: “When I grow up, I will become strong and will never let my loved ones suffer and die.”
This oath marked his transition to the dark side long before it happened in chronological time. At that moment, a bargain was struck in his soul for the possession of a loved one in exchange for breaking God’s law.
At that moment, he made a decision for himself to never ever part with his loved ones again, no matter the cost. The perfectly good desire — to protect his loved ones from death — turned in him into a demonic possession when he put it on a pedestal.
An idol is usually a good thing that we make ultimate. We say, “Unless I have that, I am nothing.”
Why did Anakin choke Padme?
When Anakin had to choose between losing Padme — fearing that she might die in childbirth — or turning to evil to “save” her from death, he chose evil. It was his desire to “save” her at all costs that led Anakin to the dark side. For him, the dark side became a means of saving his loved one. He chose evil to achieve what he thought was the ultimate good.
Ironically, this led to Padme’s death. He choke the one he wanted to save with his own hands. When we turn a good thing into the ultimate thing and try to get it at all costs, we lose that good thing — destroy it with our own hands.
Such is the harsh logic of idolatry. We are captivated by some version of good and turn it into the “summum bonum” — without noticing it. And then everything becomes a means to an end, a sacrifice offered on the altar of this god.
A wise man once said that a myth is something everyone knows without being told. This “story” lives in humanity’s collective unconscious, and we all instantly recognize it once it is put in the form of a narrative.