When CS Lewis died, leaving his great friend Tolkien behind him, the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was devastated.
Such great friends they were, with Tolkien the instrument of Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.
But he was impatient with Narnia. Norman Stone – he who made Shadowlands– has unearthed entrenched differences between the friends over such a blatant Christian allegory.
Meanwhile, Tolkien was writing of Middle Earth amid a cataclysmic bid for a reign of darkness: right at the heart of the Second World War.
An allegory, surely?
No, protested Tolkien. Rayner Unwin, of publishers Allen and Unwin,made the mistake of making his suspicions that Lord of the Rings was indeed allegorical public.
“Do not let Rayner suspect ‘Allegory’,” Tolkien retorted.
“There is a ‘moral’, I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between darkness and light (as he calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phrase of history, one example of its patterns, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals–they each, of course, contain universals, or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such.”
Every living thing has universal-ness, then, according to Tolkien. But every actor on the world’s stage is an individual.
Today I woke with a heavy heart: for in just one part of my charmed life an era has come to an end, and I find myself rather a round peg in a square hole.
Carrying around the burden of a situation full of uncertainty felt today ike hauling a ball and chain, in the same fashion as Pip’s convict on the Kentish marshes scanning wildly for food and a file to broker freedom.
These days we are fortunate; There are so many ways to conquer such looming dread, which is often born not only of this situation, but of those which have come before it. We fight dragons from our past with a modicum of success, once we have learnt their names.
Yet still they loom in the shadows occasionally. A universal pattern: they do not come to all, but haunt many.
I found myself thinking of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. Which, for the record, I have never liked: moralistic, obvious preaching in a story which the author does not trouble to veil in any more than a fairytale.
Then how is it that the name Giant Despair kept nudging my thoughts?
Christian is on his way to the Celestial City when he and his younger brother Hope take the wrong path.
They fall asleep in the grounds of Doubting Castle, where lives the Giant Despair.And when he’s out on his morning constitutional, he finds them.
The Giant throws them into a dungeon and beats them until they are grieviously wounded. He robs them of all dignity and then he says to them: you are in hell. Best do away with yourselves, by knife, or halter, or poison: “for why, said he, should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness?”
I’ve always thought Christian’s way out rather corny. A cheap piece of plot manipulation. For after days languishing in Despair’s dungeons our hero claps his hand to his forehead. Blow me, he says, if I haven’t got the key to the door!
The key is called promise.
I looked around the house after trying vainly to plan for tomorrow and getting nowhere for hours. We were four disparate characters: Maddie wrote, Felix played a game, Phil was ecstatically burning an old chest of drawers in his chimenea in the garden.
Today, I needed them all.
“Run and get Daddy,” I told my daughter. “Ask him if he’d like to take the dog for a walk in five minutes.”
The answer came back: Love to. Be there in two minutes.
We haltered the dog and found sensible shoes and stepped out into the clearest sunshine and bluest skies, a proper-cold winter day.
We shambled up into the forest, across the top of the fort and into acres of woodland to salve the soul. And the three of them talked: about inconsequential stuff and momentous stuff, about the day the dog got stung on the bottom and whether a bit of the phobus grunt might clink across the path at any moment.
Up there, in the woods, I realised I had inadvertently been carrying the key to the ball and chain, the whole day long.
It was called promise.
a. A declaration assuring that one will or will not do something; a vow.
b. Something promised.
2. Indication of something favorable to come; expectation: a promise of spring in the air.
3. Indication of future excellence or success: a player of great promise.
Picture source here
Tolkien quotes aplenty here
Definition of promise here