Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Tolkien documentary...

I've only seen bits of this over the years but finally I have discovered the complete "centenary" Tolkien documentary from 1993. I heartily recommend it. It is narrated by a much younger looking Judi Dench and for me there is a tremendous feeling of solidarity watching it. I have met or been in contact with some of the persons in the documentary over the years, most notably Fr Robert Murray, whom I met at Heythrop College in 2006, and I was in contact with Dr Verilyn Flieger some years ago. What Murray says about the ideals of Tolkien's legendarium, being as they are in the tradition of epic poetry and the Middle Ages, is very astute.What Flieger says about Frodo can be ignored but I agree fully with her about recommendation of The Lord of the Rings. It is not a work that readily I recommend to people, for many complex reasons; I actually recommend few books. This is inextricably linked up with the nature of the book, Tolkien's magnus opus. Like Flieger, I think it is a work that you have to discover for yourself, akin, as it was with me, to the discovery of a secret wine cellar or a beauteously bound illuminated manuscript in a cathedral library long out of knowledge and memory.

Christopher Tolkien's observations are, of course, to be taken very seriously, particularly what he says about "the Machine," Tolkien's disposition to the modern world, and the malicious and deliberate confusion Tolkien's critics have made about his work, the actual distinction between the desire to escape from prison or the deserter running off. There is also a particularly moving moment in which he narrates one of Tolkien's letters to him when he was in South Africa, and Tolkien's desire to see the fields about Artois again; for reasons more profound than I, born in 1988, can really understand. Priscilla Tolkien narrates one of the finest passages from Leaf by Niggle, a work which I haven't read for about a decade. Tom Shippey, whose works on Tolkien are very astute, makes very cogent points, one about the rowan tree and Quickbeam, the Woses related to "Woodhouse Road;" and the Emnets of Rohan; what he says about Tolkien's mastery of Old English, that had England had the sort of rolling countryside of the antient fields of Calenardhon, what native names would they have had? It's like I am Gandalf, and I am having this conversation with Pippin going to Minas Tirith and saying; "I am trying, with my limited imagination, to perceive the unimaginable heart and mind of Tolkien at work." I won't say in the morning of the world, or when the Two Trees were in flower, because Tolkien was inevitably a man of his time, even if his mind and his manner were of a richer, more courteous realm. He did once say (to Robert Murray actually) that his own small conception of beauty and majesty were based on his ideas about St Mary. It's remarkable and it calls to mind Merry and Pippin's first meeting with Treebeard; do you remember when he asked them the modern name of what they were standing on! These questions, so beyond the reach of my own thought, were constantly going about Tolkien's mind. Rayner Unwin admits this; that Tolkien did his best not to try and embarrass him but that Unwin was constantly aware that Tolkien was a gigantic intellectual. And there are tears in my eyes as I write this. Even Queen Margrethe II of Denmark speaks of the affinity that she has with Tolkien, with his ideals and languages remote and yet near. C.S Lewis and the Inklings are mentioned only briefly, about fifty minutes in, but Priscilla quotes from a personal letter that Tolkien wrote to her shortly after Lewis' death which shews the "communion" (Tolkien's own term) that they both shared, going beyond the confines of ecclesial boundaries.

Ultimately, I agree fully with Tom Shippey that reading Tolkien makes you look at things differently. It's a very profound, ineffable and unexplainable feeling. It's as if the work speaks to you about things that you know, deep down, by a perception other than sight or hearing.

Forgive this appallingly bad and hastily written introduction to this documentary; I am speaking as it were from the heart having just watched it. I'm afraid that "$ully" doesn't go away.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. I have not seen the documentary in its entirety either. Thanks for providing the link. Tolkien is a consoling candle in a dark age. Please keep writing these things. They are good for you to write and good for us to read.