As is well known, though Lewis and Tolkien were both orthodox Christians who took their faith seriously, neither of them was “puritanical” in his personal behavior or attitude toward others. Indeed, Jack and Tollers (as they called each other) could drink and smoke and joke with the best of them. Though neither was an alcoholic and though both were highly disciplined in their prayers and churchgoing, they rejected outright the notion that a Christian must refrain from all fleshly pleasures as a sign of purity and devotion—an attitude that has bewildered their evangelical fans, who are legion. And this shared attitude found its way into the fictional worlds they fashioned. Thus, Tolkien’s central heroes (the Hobbits) are not only big eaters and drinkers but are quite fond of pipe-weed: an “addiction” they share with the wise and “saintly” Gandalf. And Gandalf, though he can be as serious and grave as a desert monk, is filled with a life and a gaiety that is infectious. As he and Pippin stand in an upper room of Minis Tirith (the White Tower of Gondor) and prepare for the coming attack of Mordor, Gandalf suddenly lets loose a tremendous laugh that startles the Hobbit:
Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth. (V.i.742)
In contrast to more legalistic Christians who might consider it unseemly to laugh on the Sabbath, Gandalf (like Tolkien and Lewis) knows that Life and Joy dwell inseparably together and that those who would stem the flow of either are more likely to proceed from the camp of the enemy. Sauron knows nothing of such laughter; it is as foreign to him as goodness or light.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis makes it clear that his enemy (the White Witch) is equally devoid of all life, all joy, and all sensual pleasure. When the novel opens, we learn that the Witch has held Narnia in a perpetual Winter that never gives way to the joy, feasting, and conviviality of Christmas. With the coming of Aslan, however, the Witch’s long Winter begins to break, and Father Christmas returns to Narnia bearing bounteous gifts of food and wine. In response, a small party of woodland animals sets up a table in the woods and begins to feast in a style not seen in Narnia for decades.
How do we reconcile our liberty in Christ with our obligation to display Christian virtue?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not
We are joined this month by our friend, Dr. Lou Markos, Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. This month Lou will guide us through his masterful book On The Shoulders of Hobbits.
In addition to this site, our closest friends from over 130 countries meet in our Facebook discussion group, which you can join by clicking HERE.
For the study this month, Lou says
My approach throughout will be simple.In each chapter I take up a single theme (the nature of pilgrimage, facing death, kingship and hierarchy, the virtue of hope, the love that forgives, forbidden fruit) that has been overlooked or dismissed by our age, and then illustrate and embody that theme by making parallel references to one or more episodes from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or The Silmarillion. I will then develop the theme further by zeroing in on a single passage from one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia that clarifies or complements Tolkien’s message.
Happy reading and blessings for the journey!
Forward to On the Shoulders of Hobbits
Why should I read this book? What is it about?” That’s the question you want a foreword to answer.
Well, this book is about life. Your life. It’s not fantasy, it’s realism. It’s the so-called realistic books that are usually fantasy. When you close the covers of The Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia, you intuitively know that you are not exiting an unreal world and entering a more real one, but exactly the opposite.
The best educational advice for life that I ever heard was my father’s: “Just be sure you don’t get all A’s in your subjects but flunk life.”
We humans are the only beings in the universe who can flunk life, because we have a free choice about what kind of life we will lead and what kind of human beings we will be, good or evil. We make these choices not, like angels, instantly and timelessly, but gradually, in each of our many big and little choices between good and evil throughout the drama that is our lifetime.
How do we become good or evil? When Plato asked in his Meno how human beings become good (virtuous), he suggested four ways: (1) by teaching (“knowledge is virtue”); (2) by practice (forming habits); (3) by nature (i.e., being born virtuous); (4) in some other way (i.e., against nature, by force). Most philosophers—Oriental as well as Western—give one of these four answers: Plato, #1; Confucius, #1 and #2; Aristotle, #2; Rousseau and Lao Tzu, #3; Hobbes and the “Realists,” #4.
All these philosophers are wrong, probably because most of them do not have children. Parents and children know the answer: by example. By having moral heroes.
That’s why reading great literature, next to meeting people, is the single most effective way to learn not to flunk life. Life is a story, and therefore moral education happens first and most powerfully through stories, e.g., through books.
The greatest book of the twentieth century, according to four different polls, is The Lord of the Rings. And the greatest children’s stories ever written are the Chronicles of Narnia (I dogmatically assure you of that!).
On the Shoulders of Hobbits is the logical conclusion from all of the above facts. Read it. It will help you fall in love with these two great works, their heroes, and their values. It will baptize your imagination and fertilize the soil of your soul so that you become the kind of person who doesn’t flunk life.
Louis Markos holds a BA in English and History from Colgate University and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He is a Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities and teaches courses on British Romantic and Victorian Poetry and Prose, the Greek and Roman Classics, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He is the author of eighteen books, including On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, Apologetics for the Twenty First Century, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics,Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World, Atheism on Trial, and The Dreaming Stone and In the Shadow of Troy, children’s novels in which his kids become part of Greek Mythology and the Iliad and Odyssey. He has produced two lecture series on C. S. Lewis and literary theory with The Teaching Company/Great Courses, published 250 book chapters, essays, and reviews, given well over 300 public lectures in some two dozen states as well as Rome, Oxford, and British Columbia, and had his adaptations of The Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides, The Helen of Euripides, and The Electra of Sophocles performed off-Broadway. He is committed to the concept of the Professor as Public Educator and believes that knowledge must not be walled up in the Academy but must be disseminated to all who have ears to hear.
Visit his Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/louismarkos
Louis Markos and Peter Kreeft, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012).