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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Religion

The film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic tale, "The Hobbit," will be opening soon at movie theaters, and if it's anywhere near as good as "The Lord of the Rings," it should be great. I recently listened to a "Research on Religion" podcast in which Tony Gill interviews Professor Corey Olsen, a specialist in medieval literature and Tolkien scholar, about the movie, the book, J.R.R. Tolkien, his friendship with C.S. Lewis (author of the "Chronicles of Narnia"), the pagan and Christian sources lying behind Tolkien's (and Lewis's) novels, and more.

For example, while many commentators argue that Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia" books are Christian allegories, Olsen disagrees because most of the characters in the books are drawn directly from Norse and Greek myths. Olsen notes that there are a number of myths about gods who die, and Lewis's purpose was to take that myth, place it in a different setting, and see what happens (so to speak). Olsen also discusses in some detail Tolkien's beliefs about providence, fate, and free will (which are very much informed by his Roman Catholic faith) and how these are reflected in his books. Olsen also notes that Tolkien didn't like Lewis's foray into Christian apologetics. Tolkien believed that was the priests' job, not Lewis's. Lewis, obviously, disagreed.

It's a splendid interview/discussion. You can download it from iTunes or listen to it at the Research on Religion website ("Corey Olsen on J.R.R. Tolkien, Religion, and The Hobbit"). Here's the description from the Research on Religion website:
Just in time for the release of the much-anticipated movie “The Hobbit,” we explore the life, times, and writings of J.R.R. Tolkien with Prof. Corey Olsen (a.k.a. “The Tolkien Professor”). We go over how Corey became enchanted by Tolkien’s writings and what Christians can take away from this genre of fantasy writing. Prof. Olsen reviews Tolkien’s influences, his fascination with mythology, and his ongoing relationship with C.S. Lewis. The conversation then delves into several spiritual themes that can be found in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, namely the issues of providence, fate, and free will. This podcast is a great primer for those heading out to the theaters over the holiday season and will provide a richer viewing of Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of this classic piece of literature.

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