Glory Reflected Backwards

I have been thinking about our conversation at the last book discussion meeting, particularly when the topic turned to Tolkien’s idea that the happy ending of the fairy-story and of history itself “reflects a glory backwards” so that all can ultimately be known to be good. This has always struck me as a view that could be arrived at by synthesizing Stoic and Epicurean philosophies–the former demanding that we see life as it is without sentimentality but embrace it anyway, the latter demanding that we revel in each moment as an expression of eternity. Just now, I came across this quote from the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He wrote that it is our duty to say to the Universe, “I love along with you,” acknowledging that, no matter what befalls us, it is because “the Universe loves to produce all that must be produced.” As a world-builder, Tolkien clearly loved to produce all that he felt must be produced (though he never felt satisfied that he had done so). He did not set out to take the reader on a pleasant stroll through Middle-earth but to trouble us with orcs and Witch-kings, knowing that even these foul things are “good in a tale” and not immune to the effects of transcendent, inescapable, eternal glory.

3 thoughts on “Glory Reflected Backwards

  1. Sometimes the talk at our meetings seems to move very quickly, but even when the words move more slowly among us, I often wish to revisit and absorb at my own pace many of those moments. So thanks for setting down this thought, Badgaladriel! For those who live far-off in the world, this blog really is a great place to glimpse some of the things that we say to each other when we gather at Grey Havens.

  2. Totally agree with that last statement Talelmarhazad! It is great to be part of the discussion.

    That being said, I love the premise of this post/thought. It immediately brought to mind Sam’s discussion on the nature of stories on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol…as well as “Bilbo’s” comment at the house of Elrond regarding pleasantness/happiness in stories. What people want to read/hear, and what ultimately resonates is a view of the hardships of the characters. The happy and bright moments are only perceivable as such when set side by side with the dark.

    On another track, I also love the quote “reflects a glory backwards”, which is both a great way to describe the benefits of re-reading, applicability and eucatastrophe. Knowing the final outcome, the pieces of the puzzle, the steps along the way become visible…and the master plan is revealed. Granted much of this is purely personal revelation, but it is what makes re-reading and study in history a new and everlasting journey.

    The thought in this concept of glory fits like a glove with my current and long history contemplating the power of the Ring, the nature of Providence in Middle Earth and the ultimate question of whether Frodo fails in his quest. This post was great food for thought for me, as I finally embark on putting those ideas on the page. Thanks!

  3. At the meeting, lots of people said, that when someone is giving them a hard time, they remind themselves that, like Gollum, that person is making their story more interesting and might still have a more important part to play. It’s amazing how Tolkien can get us through the day!

    Really looking forward to reading your Mithlond submission(s), ilverai!

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