A “Metaphysics of Esther”

As a number of readers have recognized, Tolkien’s literary technique in The Lord of the Rings of avoiding any overt reference to God, only to make thereby an even more profound statement about divine providence, has an important biblical precedent: the Old Testament book of Esther. As Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman write of the book of Esther in a passage that, mutatis mutandis, describes well the theology of The Lord of the Rings, it is “a book that does not so much as mention God. Yet here we encounter an aspect of the genius of the author of Esther. His story is built on an accumulating series of seeming coincidences, all of which are indispensable when the story reaches its moment of peak dramatic tension… Luck indeed! What the writer of Esther has done is to give us a story in which the main actor is not so much as mentioned—the presence of God is implied and understood throughout the story, so that these mounting coincidences are but the by-product of his rule over history and his providential care for his people. It is an extraordinary piece of literary genius that this author wrote a book that is about the actions and rule of God from beginning to end, and yet that God is not named on a single page of the story… God’s actions in history may be hidden; they are certainly not transparent to all. Yet in spite of our inability to understand divine purpose in all that transpires, none of it is beyond the reach of his hand.” (Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 196.) I suggested in an earlier post that Tolkien’s, like St. Thomas’s, is a “metaphysics of Exodus.” We could with equal legitimacy call it a “metaphysics of Esther.”

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