The body as the “art” of the soul

In addition to its role in first preserving and later reconstructing the body, and like the Valar, whose sub-creative capacity is a function of their peculiar regard for and relationship with physical reality, another consequence of the greater command of the Elvish soul over its body is the superior artistic control and execution Elves enjoy in comparison with Men: “Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence)” (Letters 146). Tolkien further indicates a relationship between Elvish immortality and artistry when he writes that “[t]he Elvish fëa was above all designed to make things in co-operation with its hröa” (Morgoth’s Ring 332). Both Elvish art and biological longevity, in short, are co-effects of a common cause, namely the soul-as-form’s dominion over matter. In the figure of his Elves, accordingly, Tolkien treats us to a rather creative depiction of the analogy St. Thomas, for example, observes in Aristotle when he writes that “the soul is compared to the body as art to the thing made by art” (Summa Theologiae 3.80.1). Through his semi-scholastic, Aristotelian anthropology, in summary, Tolkien not only attempts to return his readers to and so help us to “recover” a proper understanding of human nature as a true union and mutual belongingness of body and soul, but he also imaginatively links two of the central themes of his mythology—the question of creaturely sub-creation on the one hand, and the perplexing question of human mortality on the other—and reveals them to be at one level one and the same problem.

1 thought on “The body as the “art” of the soul

  1. Pingback: Elvish Preservationism: The Correspondence of Sub-creative Intellect and Will | The Flame Imperishable

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