A Reader’s Guide to the Silmarillion

***Kocher, Paul H. A Reader’s Guide to The Silmarillion. Houghton Mifflin, 1980. From a somewhat cursory glance, this appears to be a fairly thorough and mostly accurate (I noted some small misreadings here and there) summary of the narrative of The Silmarillion. Unfortunately, a summary is about all that it offers, providing very little by way of insightful commentary on or analysis into the text. This is disappointing, as I thought Kocher’s Master of Middle-earth quite good. So, do read the latter, but unless you are a newcomer to The Silmarillion and need help just orienting yourself, you can safely skip A Reader’s Guide.

A Theology of the Possible

I’ve been working on a project for over a year now which I have been tentatively referring to, and so will be categorizing here as, “A Theology of the Possible.” It’s a spin-off of some of the work I did in my dissertation, specifically on Tolkien, St. Thomas, and William of Ockham on the theological nature of possibility and its implications for sub-creative possibility (as well as the implications that sub-creative possibility might have for how we think of God’s own creative possibility). The idea is to develop a theological answer to the question of possibility (“what does it mean for something to be possible?”) which combines Trinitarian theology (the Son is the “possibility” of the Father, the Spirit is the “possibility” of the Father and Son, etc.), Thomistic metaphysics (actuality is prior to potentiality, existence to essence, etc.), theological poetics, and Tolkien’s theory of sub-creation, especially his view of Fantasy as a combination of Imagination (the mental capacity of forming unreal or strange images) and Art (inhabiting those images in a “secondary world” with the “inner consistency of reality”). I anticipate the theory having application to a range of relevant theological issues, including the doctrine of divine omnipotence (and in particular its historic and scholastic expression in terms of the dialectic of divine absolute and ordained powers), the problem of evil, the infra- and supralapsarian debate within Protestant scholasticism, narrative theology (see Francesca Aran Murphy’s critique, God is Not a Story: Realism Revisited, by Oxford U. Press), the modal apologetics of Leibniz and Plantinga, and the list goes on. So here’s to good intentions!

Some influences in Tolkien’s earlier years

*** Bru, Jose Manuel Ferrandez. “ ‘Wingless fluttering’: Some Personal Connections in Tolkien’s Formative Years.” Tolkien Studies 8 (2011). A brief examination of some influences, both individual and institutional, and all Catholic, on the young Tolkien, arguing that of all the relevant cultural tensions at play in Tolkien’s day, it was religion which “became the strongest component of his ideological positioning.” Contradicts the disparagement of Carpenter and others of Tolkien’s guardian Fr. Francis Morgan’s intellectual abilities, giving a short intellectual biography of the latter’s family. Perhaps of greatest value is Bru’s indication of Tolkien’s sympathies for the reforms of Pope Pius X, developed at greater length in A.R. Bossert’s Mythlore article, “ ‘Surely You Don’t Disbelieve’: Tolkien and Pius X: Anti-Modernism in Middle-earth” (vol. 25, no. 1/2: 53-76). Overall, provides a few new pertinent but perhaps not hugely significant biographical details into some of Tolkien’s formative influences.