Imagine what the test of real time will do to our literature that is not worth preserving. Imagine what it will look like when our century and the last one have that huge neighborhood garage sale, the one where we sell off all our old Book of the Month Club selections at a nickel a box. What will we keep? What will be left over?

I want to argue that The Lord of the Rings will be among the keepers. And schoolchildren several centuries hence will then be able to imagine that the 20th century was a time of literary giants, all of them with a Christian worldview—when there was a Tolkien on every corner.

I have taught courses in Tolkien (and in Lewis), and whenever you do this the teacher has quite a daunting challenge. If I were to teach a course in George Herbert, or T. S. Eliot, or Shakespeare, I would get students enrolled in the class who were interested and engaged, of course. But with a class on Tolkien, you will invariably get one or more students who have the entire middle section of The Silmarillion memorized. “No, no. Beren and Lúthien went through the Gate after they had put that spell on Carcharoth.” The same disadvantage attends any who would write about Tolkien as well. And so I begin this modest discussion, suitably abashed.

Those who dismiss The Lord of the Rings as simply Harry Potter for grown-ups, or as a source of bumper sticker material for aging hippies to put on their Volvos (“Not all those who wander are lost”) have really missed the central prophetic vision of the books—a prophetic stance taken against modernity . . . or perhaps what we might want to call mordornity. This is the prophetic element that makes Tolkien’s vision a fundamentally Christian one. There are places where I prefer Lewis’s Protestant take to Tolkien’s Catholicism, obviously, but on this issue Tolkien reflects the ethical perspective of the entire Christian tradition. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

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