The Long Defeat

From Fr. Stephen Freeman reflecting on Tolkien’s notion that history is a “long defeat:”

It was a common belief among the Desert Fathers that successive generations of monks would become weaker and weaker, unable to bear the great trials of their predecessors. Indeed it was said that in the end, the simple act of believing would take greater grace than all of the ascetic feats of the earliest monks.*

This is not a Christian pessimism. If history tells us anything, it is that this is a very honest, even prescient reading. The evils of the 20th century, particularly those unleashed during and after World War I, are clearly among the worst ever known on the planet, and continue to be the major culprits behind all of our current struggles. That first war was not “the war to end all wars,” but the foundation of all subsequent wars. May God forgive our arrogance (“boasters, proud”…). However, the Classical Christian read on human life contains the deepest hope – set precisely in the heart of the long defeat.

*emphasis mine

Review: Death, Dying, and LotR

At Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research I have a review published of Amy Amendt-Radeuge’s book The Sweet and the Bitter: Death and Dying in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

It’s one of those books that touched on all my favorite subjects: Tolkien, medieval studies, medievalism, and cultural criticism. Here’s a snippet from my review:

…chapter five reasserts the interplay between the theme of death and Tolkien’s notion of “hope without guarantees,” and the strong link between modern Western society and medieval Northern European culture. None of the characters espouse certain knowledge of life after death, yet all the good deaths demonstrate that a life well-lived affords hope beyond the grave. The uncertainty of death also establishes the foundation for the enduring relevance of Tolkien’s work. Amendt-Raduege argues that “by showing death as both a positive and negative . . . Tolkien’s text offers each of us the means to prepare for our own eventual ends” (110).