Returning To Tolkien

Listening to the Amon Sûl podcast (Episode 10), I heard Michael Haldas’ conversation with Fr. Andrew Damick about Tom Bombadil. During that episode, they also mentioned Haldas’ book “Echoes of Truth” and, well, it snowballed from there. I spent the weekend immersed in Tolkien.

I never quite understood all the fuss about Tolkien when I was younger. My first contact with Middle-earth came through the Middle-earth Roleplaying Game and the supplements for Rolemaster. I vividly remember traversing Moria as Goriel Swiftfoot who (rather ridiculously) slew the Balrog. But I didn’t really understand.

I read The Lord of The Rings as a teenager and I enjoyed it. I also read The Hobbit and found it pleasant. But the kind of devotion for Tolkien that some of my friends experienced eluded me. I could talk about the books but I really wanted to play in the world. The story had strange elements that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, such as Tom Bombadil.

In “Blue Jacket, Yellow Boots“, the co-hosts helped me to appreciate the character of Bombadil in a way that I haven’t before. I enjoyed the encounter with the Barrow Wights and Tom’s rescuing of the hobbits, but I was never comfortable with this mis-matched section of The Lord of The Rings. It had simply never occurred to me that the story might have a spiritual element.

Certainly, friends had alluded to Tolkien’s Christianity – Rev. Derek even wrote a thesis on theodicy in Tolkien – but I hadn’t really been ready to receive the spiritual messages about which these two Orthodox Christians were able to open my eyes. But the real revelation came through Haldas’ book (which I am still reading) and a return to the text of The Lord of The Rings.

So here I am, immersing myself back into those old stories and adding a re-reading of The Silmarillion to my list. Instead of reading The Lord of The Rings as a very long fantasy action story, I am experiencing it again as a text rich with imagery and subtext. In a way, opening my spiritual eyes to the words Tolkien has left us has felt like waking up.

Coming, as it does, at a time when I am re-evaluating the kind of roleplaying games that I want to run, re-visiting Tolkien is helping me to see some of the underlying ideas and themes that are important to me. Some of these are explicitly Christian but others are more about the kind of world that the Professor showed us. There is resonance.

Resonance is the ingredient that I have been missing in my fantasy gaming: a sense that the games I am running are in tune with the person that I am. The idea that the way I look at the world around me should be allowed to colour the worlds that I create for play. There is beauty to be found as we explore the fantasies we sub-create and I am keen to discover mine.

Game on!

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