Wednesday, September 05, 2007

J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Children of Hurin"

It is a rare thing when a work of a master writer shows up in print many many decades after all his significant work has long since been put into print. Having been less than overwhelmed by the previous efforts of J.R.R. Tolkien's son Christopher to give us more from the Master of Middle Earth (the "Silmarillion" has some interesting segments, but is basically too many fragments and too little continuous narrative about previous stories, characters and realms, and the same can be said for 'Unfinished Tales"), I have been pleasantly surprised with "The Children of Hurin" which appeared in bookstores earlier this year.

Understand that I am a big Tolkien fan, being the child who told his parents he was going into his room to read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, and please just slip the food and clean clothes under the door! The first volume of the Lord of the Rings was published the year I was born, and I grew up reading the Inklings (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other contemporaries like Dorthy Sayers). I was the one who made the pilgrimage to the 'Eagle and Child' pub in Oxford before it was cool, just to see where the Inklings quaffed their beer while trying out chapters of their work on each other. Oh, to be a barfly on the wall of that pub then! For someone like myself, after the heights of the Lord of the Rings, it is difficult to accept mediocre Tolkien at best.

I am thus happy to report that while 'the Children of Hurin' is not up to Hobbit standards, it is nonetheless finally a pretty good continuous narrative about characters that were predecessors to the one's we love so much in the Hobbit and its three sequels. In fact there are no hobbits in the 'Children of Hurin', and this in part accounts for the more serious character of this new volume, which is one full of pathos, with very little relief. Instead this is a tale of men and elves and orcs and an already well known dragon, not to mention the 'He who should not be named' Valar turned bad guy who makes most movie villians look petty and powerless.

'The Children of Hurin' is actually a tale that focuses on the 'doom' or 'fate' of one child of Hurin, namely Turin, and it follows his life from start to finish. Christopher Tolkien deserves full marks for piecing this small epic together from shards and fragments, and revisions of multiple versions. He has done a fine job of editing this material. The Appendixes reveal just what an untidy writer Tolkien was often writing and rewriting the same material again and again with variations and changes. He could have used his son's editing skills in the 1930s. This story shows, as do almost all Tolkien's work, just how indebted Tolkien was to Norse legends and characterization. But Tolkien's use of the motif of the creeping darkness of evil which falls upon the realm owes more to the Biblical notion of the effects of the Fall than to Norse lore. It is one of Tolkien's great skills as a writer that he can make one feel 'the darkness and wickedness' and its insidious nature as it silently seeps into human hearts and minds altering their behavior and leading to human demise.

'The Children of Hurin' is written in a sort of 'olde worlde' English, closer to medieval English than King James English at times (we have words like 'worsted' and fell' used in older ways), and in various ways this is appropriate as this is a tale from long ago, before the chronicles of Middle Earth we all know and love. If there is a theme to this moderately extended tale (226 pages of the actual tale-- short by Rings standards) it is that human pride goes before the fall, because it makes us all too vulnerable to the powers of darkness, and subject to manipulation by them. I will not spoil the story for you, as it is well worth the read, but bring your box of kleenex and enjoy the very fine illustrations by Alan Lee, whose grey and sepia tones certainly convey the mood of the novella itself quite well. Houghton Mifflin should be commended for their care in the production of this book, as it is a keeper, both in form and content.

In some ways it is a relief to know that Tolkien did not simply spin his tales out of his head and heart without stops or false starts, but labored mightily to get the stories right. It is also impressive as well how much insight he had into human nature already in 1917 when he was already writing. But then as one who lived through WWI and WWII it is hardly a surprise that he had a profound grasp of the 'heart of darkness' and its grip on the human race, and how only a true savior could come and change such a situation. Mere fallen mortals would not be enough, however brave and bold. This of course comports well with Tolkien's deep and abiding Catholic faith, something which sometimes made his conversations with Lewis awkward, the convert from atheism to Protestantism.

For those of you who like these sort of dark tales, I can also commend the truly amazing dark tales of that lesser known Inkling, Charles Williams. Try his 'All Hallow's Eve' or his 'Descent into Hell' and for a lighter touch his 'the Greater Trumps'. It is much to be wished that we had writing circles today in Christianity like that of the Inklings where cross-fertilization and encouragement and inspiration could be shared. Until then, enjoy 'the Children of Hurin', and watch out for olde dragon breath Glaurang!

36 comments:

carl said...

I've never read 'the hobbit' but I guess I should read this one first before I do. You got me interested.

Sean Babu said...

I absolutely love the Silmarillion. IMHO it beats the LOTR any day. I do wish Tolkien had been able to finish it the way he wanted.

That said, I can't stand the chapter on Turin. It's my least favorite in the whole saga, and I usually skip it. If I force myself to read it, I have two reactions: "No! Stupid! Wrong!" and "Ick!"

This one I simply can't get.

Darryl Schafer said...

I have a love/hate relationship with The Silmarillion. The legends he draws from and then develops as his own are absolutely beautiful, but the book (as you said) is just too fragmented for me to completely throw myself into it.

This is why I have yet to pick up The Children of Hurin. Your review, though, makes me willing to give it a chance.

And I, too, wish there were more writers like the Inklings. One of the things I love about them (ESPECIALLY Tolkien) was that they were masters of the English language -- their writing is just breathtaking. It seems like that's becoming a lost art nowadays.

FrankDG said...

I read "The Children of Hurin" shortly after its release.
Very grim and very sad but with the typical Tolkien element of heroism against impossible odds. Enjoyed it in spite of its dark cast.

Love the LOTR -- have read it more times than I should mention.

Just got through reading "Farmer Giles of Ham". Clever and hilarious.

J. Clark said...

The complexity of Tolkien's works are still mesmerizing. The genealogical history alone marks his genius. Pray, that we have again, the mix of Spirit, genius and beer somewhere in a small pub located on a side street discussing mythologies, moralities, and mysteries.

Ben Witherington said...

What is required of course is a community that nurtures the arts, and more specifically a Christian community where communion and communication can happen. I see little enough of that anywhere. We're so busy touting the sciences and math, which is not a bad thing, that we neglect or complete fail to fund the arts, and so impoverish the whole right side of our brains. Christian schools are especially notorious for not adequately funding and supporting the arts. When I went to school, beginning in the third grade I had nine years of orchestra, lots of classes in literature, history and the like. We had poetry contests, debating contests, spelling bees. We had choirs, bands, orchestras, dance recitals etc. and this was all in school, not private. We were given Spanish in the third grade, and then three years of Latin.

Now, I get graduate students who can't even write proper English sentences or spell--- even with spell check! Many of them have never read Shakespeare, never read Steinbeck, hardly even read great Christian literature. It's sad and pathetic. In my lifetime I have seen the impoverishment of our literary heritage.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Matt said...

While I think The Lord of the Rings was clearly Tolkien's magnum opus, reading through the Silmarillion definitely helped fill in some blanks regarding stories referred to but never really told in LOTR. It contains some passages of great beauty, such as the creation of Arda or the story of Beren and Lúthien. I'm inclined to agree with Sean Babu on this one, though; the chapter on Túrin is really depressing. That doesn't mean it can't also be brilliant, but I'm the sort of person who only needed to see Deerhunter once.

Peace,

Matt F

Steve Bedard said...

I enjoyed the Children of Hurin but I felt a bit cheated with this being marketed as "new" Tolkien when I had read much of it in the Silmarillion. Speaking of, I loved the Silmarillion. I liked its fragmentary nature, it made it feel like a collection of myths accidently discovered in some tomb. The creation account is brilliant and it was there that I really saw the biblical influence on Tolkien.

Nance said...

Thanks for the review Dr. Witherington; I need to make some time for Hurin.
More than that, though, thanks for the Charles Williams plug. I think his fiction is simply brilliant, and it's a shame that he is so unknown, especially compared to Lewis and Tolkien. I'd also throw my recommendations behind Descent into Hell and All Hallows' Eve--I've yet to read The Greater Trumps, myself. Humphrey Carpenter's fine biography The Inklings also spends much time on Williams, and in that account the man very much recommends himself to potential readers.

Josh said...

Does anyone have a list of Charles William's books that are still in print?

And can I get some recommendations for good fiction, specifically fantasy/sci-fi.

I have all of Lewis' fiction, some of L'Engle, Tolkien, George Macdonald, Ray Bradbury. Anyone else got any select choices for a poor college student.

Just as a side note. In my Intro to Pauline Literature class, my professor stated that simply reading good literature has help in understanding scripture more than all of his hermeneutical studies combined. Good words, huh?

jabre said...

For me, reading LOTR and then The Silmarillion was kind of like reading 1 & 2 Samuel and then going to 1 & 2 Chronicles. There is a lot of good stuff in there, but you have to work to find it; it's not so much a narrative as a collection of various kinds of literature.

A good website for Inklings info is Bruce Edwards' at http://www.pseudobook.com/cslewis/

Ryan said...

Josh wrote... In my Intro to Pauline Literature class, my professor stated that simply reading good literature has help in understanding scripture more than all of his hermeneutical studies combined. Good words, huh?

What did he mean by 'good literature'? ...science fiction?

Josh said...

Ryan,

No, the professor did not imply that the Bible is science fiction or anything like that. He meant that reading good literature that one enjoyed (instead of all academic stuff) will make one a good reader. It is a skill that we have to keep honed.

C.S. Lewis mentioned in the Screwtape Letters that simply enjoying something good for goodness' sake can lead us Godward. All beauty is God's beauty. Enjoying true goodness and beauty will inevatibly lead us into his prescence (but it doesn't guarantee that we honor him as Lord).

The kind of reading that I enjoy for its own sake is science fiction and fantasy. I have especially enjoyed Lewis' Space Trilogy and Ray Bradbury's short stories.

Nance said...

josh,
There's a list of Williams's novels(and his non-fiction)on his wikipedia page--several Charles Williamses will come up on a search, but his listing mentions Lewis and Tolkien--and all of them are pretty easy to find, say, on Amazon, and at really good prices.
That's where I've picked up all of his books of mine.

Nance said...

Oh, and just for sci-fi in general, I heartily recommend Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novels--his first trilogy that takes place after ROTJ is Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command--these are great. But then again, I am a nerd.

Ryan said...

Hi Josh,

Thanks for your reply. I wasn't insinuating that your professor implied that the Bible was science fiction, but that science fiction helps one understand (ie. interpret) the Bible better than good exegetical study. I'm still a bit confused. Let me see if I understand you correctly then: Reading science fiction and other literature I like will teach me how to read and therefore help me understand (interpret) scripture better...more than all of his hermeneutical studies combined. Does that fairly summarize how you understood his comment?

Josh said...

Nance,

I must be a nerd too because I read all of the Timothy Zhan SW books. They were intense! If you can think of anymore good sci-fi, post it up.

No Ryan, that's not what he was saying. My professor earned his Ph.D from Aberdeen with an emphasis in Pauline Studies. Of course he values exegetical studies (he was also my Greek teacher; he also teaches other NT classes). He just means that reading is a skill that must be constanstly honed and the best way to do that is to constantly read good literature that you enjoy. Hermeneutics and exegetical studies are great but nobody wants to read them all the time. It will turn you into a turdhead.

Ryan said...

Josh wrote... Hermeneutics and exegetical studies are great but nobody wants to read them all the time. It will turn you into a turdhead.

Perhaps you have just met your first turdhead. :-) I want nothing more than to fill up every second of my day reading the scripture and exegeting it. But alas, I must work, eat, sleep, spend time with my wife and raise my children.

Josh said...

Best luck to ya, turdhead.

I enjoy it too. One of the major reasons that I went back to college is the desire to learn the biblical languages because exegesis had taken me as far as possible.

Along with my professor, I strongly believe that reading good literature on our ability to READ scripture. Also, reading scripture alongside ancient texts such as the Aeneid, the Odyssey, and The Apology by Plato can help us to understand the minds of the ancients and also see the distinctiveness of what the scriptures record.

Ben Witherington said...

The Bible is great literature. And to understandit you need to understand how various different genre of literature works-- for example the difference between parable and allegiory, or apocalyptic prophecy from regular auditory prophecy. You can't really study the Bible without some understanding of the different types of literature and how they work, what their conventions are, and so on. To that end, reading good literature helps, and by good literature I do not mean science ficition!

Blessings,

Ben W.

Matt Knight said...

Thanks for the review. I read this one this summer and did enjoy it. Having read the Turin chapter previously I was familiar with the story. It did feel somewhat reminiscent of a Greek tragedy. As one reads his works, Tolkien's intimate knowledge of ancient literature becomes readily apparent. I definitely agree that this is not a pleasant or happy tale by any means, it definitely has the feel of epic literature.

Perhaps the day will come again when Christians are able to produce great literature again instead of the stuff that we put out there now.

anthony said...

I read your article with interest, being of the age where most people either fall in love with Tolkien's writing (yours truly included) or get put off it for life. I've not read Children of Hurin yet but have finished its other 'cousins' e.g. LOTR, Hobbit, Silmarillion.

This is the nitpicker in me speaking: I'm quite sure Glaurung is spelled with a 'u', not an 'a' as you did; given Tolkien's fondness for varying his characters' names, though, I wouldn't be surprised if it was because a different manuscript was used for CoH.

Anyway, small matter in the face of such a topic. Long live the Inklings!

And long live good command of the enigma that is English, and solid writing skills.

-C.L.

Ryan said...

Hello Ben, and thank you for your response.

Ben wrote... "The Bible is great literature. And to understandit you need to understand how various different genre of literature works-- ... You can't really study the Bible without some understanding of the different types of literature and how they work, what their conventions are, and so on."

Yes, I agree with this... but I think I got a good enough introduction to the various different genres of literature in my basic High school english classes. Do I really need to go and read lots of secular literature in order to understand the Bible at that point, or is it not sufficient to identify the different literary genres in the Bible and read them there? I think my time is better spent reading scripture than Homer's Iliad, wouldn't you agree?

Ryan

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ryan:

I am not talking about reading Homer, though that might help you understand the mindset of Paul's Gentile converts in various ways. I am talking reading early Jewish sapiential literature, like Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon to understand how the sapiential literature in the canon functions. I am talking about reading up on Greco-Roman rhetoric since Paul uses this in his letters repeatedly and so on. In other words, I am not referring to some general knowledge of non-Christian literature of no direct relevance to the study of the Bible. For example, there are dozens of early Jewish parables out there that can be compared to Jesus' parables (see Brad Young's book on this). Of course studying the Bible is the prime mandate.

Blessings,

Ben

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben said: "For example, there are dozens of early Jewish parables out there that can be compared to Jesus' parables"

I have read more than my share of Jewish parables in the Talmud and quite seriously, the Jewish mindset made me quite ill with all their rules and regulations even within the parables.

In contrast, Jesus parables are God-breathed literature. There is no comparison at all with anything that mere humans can write. Are other cultures missing something because they don't have access to other classical literature besides the bible? I sincerely doubt it.

I have been pondering. Is it possible that those who spend a lot of time reading other classical literature and parables might be the same ones who start looking at the bible as if it is on the same level as the uninspired literature? Perhaps that is why the scripture is treated as if it could not escape corruption. For me, I just prefer to read the bible. There is just so much there to learn and I know that in the end it will be eternally beneficial for me to study what God has said instead of judging the bible by the writings of others.

Ryan said...

Hello Ben,

As always, I appreciate your responses.

Ben wrote... "I am talking reading early Jewish sapiential literature, like Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon to understand how the sapiential literature in the canon functions. I am talking about reading up on Greco-Roman rhetoric since Paul uses this in his letters repeatedly and so on."

I think what you are saying is that what I read in other literature that may parallel some of the things I find in scripture, such as other forms of wisdom lit, poetry and rhetoric, may inform me a bit more about how people conversed in similar times and how meaning was generally communicated. Is that what you mean? That being said, it seems to me that taken too far, such as saying that I cannot truly understand the meaning of what God is communicating in His "God-breathed" scripture unless I read extra-biblical "non-God-breathed" literature, relegates true understanding only to the upper echelon who can access this information and spend the years it takes to read it and understand it. So those with Ph.D's can figure it out and I have to trust them because I am not an "expert" in the original languages, textual criticism, extra-biblical Jewish or Greco-Roman literature, etc.

While I can see some benefits in reading this literature on the side, particularly things like the Talmud and other materials directly referenced in the scriptures (for instance 1 Cor 14:34 where Paul refers to oral Talmudic tradition), I believe that I am still able to understand the meaning of scripture by carefully reading in context, allowing scripture to interpret scripture.

For instance, I referred to the LXX in our discussion of Isaiah 7:14, but I didn't need to. By carefully reading that scripture in context, I proved that this particular scripture could not be multivalent. Matthew was not re-interpreting it to have a meaning that was not originally intended. The only meaning that makes sense is the meaning that Matthew gives. Other scriptures such as John 7:27 in light of 2:5-6 suggest that people were aware of the virgin birth understanding of Isaiah 7:14, since they inferred that Jesus was born out of fornication, thus proving that He could not be the Messiah when they knew that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem. While I am sure we can glean additional support from other textual evidence such as the LXX and perhaps others, the fact is that the meaning is contained within the words of the scriptural text itself.

Michael Deal said...

Glad you like the Children of Hurin. I recived it as a gift in April but have yet to read it, but it does appear to be a cut above Christopher Tolkein's other efforts to do with his father's manuscripts.

I must disagree about "unfinished Tales" though. I really enjoyed the way it sketched out stories about LOTR such as "The Hunt for the Ring" etc, I found them riveting. I also adore the story of Turin. Again it is such a rich story. A tragic tale but so well told. Turin is such a tragic fgure with such strength and yet so much appalling weaknesses. In many ways he resembles the account of Saul in 1 Samuel and even some of teh Judges. Such strength and character mixed with appalling personal qualities. Tolkein appeared to reflect the lives of some biblical figures in his stories. It just makes them so much more profound.

Adam said...

I've been looking forward to reading CoH for quite a while now, and this review has renewed my desire to move the book up in my reading list. Thanks for the great work presenting your thoughts!

I appreciate, as well, the dialogue about our reading of literature and how that effects our ability to read scripture. In my opinion it seems that something has been left out in the thoughts presented though... I whole-heartedly agree that we should spend our time and efforts in the study of Scripture, as well as that Scripture is not on the same level as other literature. I have to say though that it disturbs me when I hear other Christians say things like:

Ryan says "Yes, I agree with this... but I think I got a good enough introduction to the various different genres of literature in my basic High school english classes."

or

Cheryl Schatz says "Is it possible that those who spend a lot of time reading other classical literature and parables might be the same ones who start looking at the bible as if it is on the same level as the uninspired literature?"

There are several things disturbing about these sentiments. The first is on the level of our interaction with the world around us. If we close ourselves off from the culture we live in, spending our time only in Scripture, it becomes easy to be an expert in Scripture who is unable to interact with those outside the church. If we're to be salt and light we have to have meaningful contact with those we are to be salt and light to. It seems that this attitude can easily lead to Christians shutting themselves off completely, doing no good to anyone but ourselves.

On another level, having spent time in the world of Christian Academics, I find that it is very easy when all we do is study and exegete, to start to look at the Bible as just another textbook... something just as harmful as treating it on the same level as other literature. By allowing ourselves to enjoy things that are good and enjoyable, like great literature, it can be very helpful as we try to remember that the Bible can be beautiful and enjoyable and that it doesn't always need to be exegeted.

Sorry for the long post. I'm not trying to point fingers or put anyone down, but I do think these are important issues that's plaguing the church and needs our attention.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Adam said:

"If we close ourselves off from the culture we live in, spending our time only in Scripture, it becomes easy to be an expert in Scripture who is unable to interact with those outside the church. If we're to be salt and light we have to have meaningful contact with those we are to be salt and light to. It seems that this attitude can easily lead to Christians shutting themselves off completely, doing no good to anyone but ourselves."

Seems to me that you didn't get what I was saying because I didn't say that we should only read the bible. However the bible is the only reliable source of truth that we can trust.

In my ministry I spent 16 years leading Jehovah's Witnesses to Christ and I used their own literature to get them out of the Watchtower and then I used the bible to correct their doctrine.

The problem is that many do not see the bible as fully inspired and so they spend their time reading other literature and seeing scripture through the lens of the other uninspired literature they are reading.

When we give scripture its proper focus and respect it as a God-breathed message to us, we should not be seen as something that is "plaguing the church".

Arthinian Gammell said...

I get so tired of ryan always wanting to pick holes in everything ben says or doesnt say...give the guy a break ryan, you dont always have to be right!
By theway LOTR is a great book.
peace

Adam said...

Cheryl - I don't mean to say that you personally are 'plaguing the church.' As I said, I believe these are issues plaguing the church, and should be discussed.

I'm glad to hear that you have used the writings of Jehova's Witnesses to help bring them to Christ. I think that's a wonderful use of that literature.

I find your statement "However the bible is the only reliable source of truth that we can trust." somewhat cotradictory. In that statement you are making a point that you expect me to take as truth... yet you've just said that the Bible is the only source of truth that I can trust.

Luke 19:40 says "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

Jesus is pointing us to creation as a source to learn about him. All things good and true belong to God. We should not take these things over scripture, but we should look at the things that are good and beautiful and true in the world, whether it is in nature, literature, or somewhere else, and weigh these with what we find in Scripture. I find that this does not take away from the respect we should give Scripture, but gives the respect we should to the rest of God's creation.

Again, I don't personally know you, so I have no way of saying whether or not this fits you. The statements you have made might lead me to believe that, but it's entirely possible that I've mis-interpreted you. I have however seen these issues in those I can witness, which is why I say that these are issues that are "plaguing the church" and should be discussed.

Ben Witherington said...

Well Cheryl we will just have to disagree. God by his general graciousness has inspired in a lesser sense many great writers to write great literature through many centuries. To ignore this, or repudiate all of this great literature is just obscurantism. I love the Bible and its divine inspiration just as much as you do, but to denigrate all the other good literature in the world is a bridge too far. As the Scriptures themselves say--- "all good gifts come from God above." That includes great non-Biblical literature.

And one more thing. Some of the parables in other early Jewish literature are wonderful, not leaden pile-driving legalism, especially the ones about the king.

Blessings,

Ben

Ryan said...

Ben, I think you misunderstood what Cheryl is saying. I don't think she is promoting obscurantism. She merely said that "the bible is the only reliable source of truth that we can trust." Indeed, feel free to read whatever else you wish concerning God, His character and His will for humanity. There are many good books out there by people who have devoted themselves to teaching and preaching. And to Adam-- enjoy how God communicates through creation:

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Psalms 19:1-4a, NIV

But it is God's word in scripture that gives us His specific revelation on His character and will for our lives and commands us to obey it. Therefore, all of the things we read must be subjected to the scrutiny of God's God-breathed" scripture. I have a lot of books, but I have found that I am most satisfied and most protected by buying my oil from God Himself. And His canon is closed; all that we need to live godly lives can be found in the pages of the scriptures that we have today.

Does this make more sense?

Cheryl Schatz said...

Adam said: "I find your statement "However the bible is the only reliable source of truth that we can trust." somewhat cotradictory. In that statement you are making a point that you expect me to take as truth... yet you've just said that the Bible is the only source of truth that I can trust."

As Ryan pointed out, I am not saying that there is no truth outside of scripture. I am saying that the bible is the only reliable source that we can trust. All other sources of truth, unless they match up with scripture are subject to change.

Ben said: "Well Cheryl we will just have to disagree. God by his general graciousness has inspired in a lesser sense many great writers to write great literature through many centuries. To ignore this, or repudiate all of this great literature is just obscurantism."

I am not disagreeing that there are many good books out there. I have bookshelves full of them and many I read over and over again because they have been so helpful to me. Yet they stand far away from the inspiration of scripture and they are not necessary for me to understand scripture. It seems to me that there is a movement underway to down play the importance of the bible and the necessity of the God-breathed word as testing everything else. It seems to me that some are lifting up man-made material and using those books to test the bible. I have seen a lot of this in the cults, but never thought I would see it in the evangelical church.

My main point was to bring us back to the foundation of scripture and to test all things by this only reliable source of truth. When we look first outside scripture we can lose our way. When we hold dearly to the complete inspiration of scripture and use the bible as our guide, then we have a proper unshakable foundation to read other literature that claims to supply spiritual food. Many who don't have this foundation have lost their trust in God and they are left with judging everything by their feelings or their own inner guidance.

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

I found the Silmarillion and various books of unfinished tales to be interesting. That's not to say they are as good as the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which are complete, finished stories. Steve Bedard commented on this as well, it's as though fragments of early history have come down to us and someone has tried to make sense of them. It is incomplete and yet gives us a glimpse into this (fictional) world that we cannot otherwise know.

As for reading literature in general, I've realized lately that I am one of those poor souls who was not given the proper grounding in literature and the arts in school. Part of the fault is clearly mine, as I didn't do anything about it but the fact is I didn't get a very good grounding in the foundations of western civilization. Recognizing this in myself, I have recently begun to read the things I should have been forced to read in school but wasn't. I have a lot of catching up to do. This isn't so much in an attempt to understand the Bible in particular but more to understand our culture and society, to understand people and places, to understand where we came from and perhaps see where we are heading. This doesn't mean I've stopped reading and studying the Bible. It means I've given up reading what might be called "lesser" works (science fiction and fantasy, mostly). It also means I've spent less time reading blogs (oops).

There is a LOT of great literature out there: Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Dostoevsky. There is Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Milton, Lewis, Boethius, Hamilton, Madison, Cervantes, Solzhenitsyn, Melville, Tolstoy, Defoe, Hardy, MacDonald, and Lincoln, to name just a few (and in no particular order). Few of these authors were Christian or even wrote from a Christian perspective but they all wrote works that either shaped or reflected our culture. They are classics for a reason. So, I read and I learn.

My daughter is in a private school that emphasizes literature, history, language and the arts (without leaving out math and science). She started Latin this year (sixth grade). Band is a required class. No school is perfect but I'm hoping she won't have as much catching up to do when she is 47.

Aaron said...

In regards to the question about exegesis vs reading "literature," it seems to me the very way the question is phrased presupposes a thoroughly modernist mindset that sees a "scientific" approach as the way to true knowledge (even a scientific hermeneutical approach), rather than immersion in a narrative that leaves you changed. While I would not belittle the high value of rigorous investigation of the text and linguistic meaning of scripture, I do feel that sometimes that sole application of that approach can lead to a logical but somewhat disconnected series of doctrinal propositions, when the Bible was written as, and likely meant ot be read as, a narrative of God's doings in the world. As C.S. Lewis said, in Christ Myth became Fact. If this is so (and I think that it is), then not only must we learn how to study "fact", but we must learn to appreciate "Myth" (meant not in the sense of an untrue legend, but rather a way of infusing a particular narrative with meaning). If, as I believe is true, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, then we must trust Him that the form He chose (which is largely narrative) is the form He wanted. The long and short of it is, learning to appreciate the plot and nuance of great literature can assist us in seeing all that the Word has to offer, for the Word is, among other things, great literature.