Did Tolkein Waste His Life?

He did more than write engaging stories; he created worlds. And in that creation, he created maps, legends, folklore, and even languages.

One might look at the life of JRR Tolkein, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings among other things and think that he wasted his life. After all, who composes an entire elvish language? Who goes to the painstaking work of drawing extensive maps of a world he has imagined? There are bigger and better uses of one’s intellect and time surely.

In regard to this issue, Jon Bloom writes:

Since I am not God, I do not know how much of his life Tolkien may have wasted in his work. God knows I’ve wasted more than enough of my own already. But in terms of Middle-earth being a means of escape, Tolkien had this to say:

“Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and what is more, they are confusing . . . the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.” (“On Fairy-stories”)

Tolkien never intended his tales of Middle-earth to be a desertion from reality, but a means of seeing beyond the confined walls of our perceptions to a much larger reality beyond. And he suffered no delusions that Middle-earth was that reality. But through the lenses of Middle-earth, Tolkien, an unashamed Christian, wanted to show us “a far-off gleam . . . ofevangelium in the real world” (emphasis his, “On Fairy-stories”). His kind of fantasy was intended to help prisoners in the real world escape and go home.

There is a deep, profound reason why God created us to be story-makers and storytellers, and why, when the Word became flesh (John 1:14) he frequently spoke in stories. The best make-believe stories help us better understand the real world. And in our day, such stories are needed more than ever.

True indeed.

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