J.R.R. Tolkien and History as the “Long Defeat”


My latest Wisecrack video on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Philosophy of History just went up. The inspiration for writing it came after reading his final posthumous work to be published, The Fall of Gondolin, completing the ‘narrative Silmarillion’ begun in The Children of Hurin and continued in last year’s Beren and Lúthien.

I made a very deliberate decision not to overtly mention God or Catholicism. It has nothing to do whatsoever with any hostility to religion on the part of myself or anyone else at Wisecrack. My own interest in theology and love of Tolkien are closely related. Instead, I was trying to do something similar to what Tolkien himself did throughout Lord of the Rings: without explicitly mentioning anything related to religion, nevertheless let the implications be evident based on everything that is overtly mentioned. Had Tolkien gone on theological diatribes in Lord of the Rings, readers would have found such too close to proselytizing. Tolkien was trying to entertain, not evangelize. Likewise, we were interested in doing analysis and critique instead of evangelism. I thought Tolkien struck a sublime subtly, and was trying to replicate such.

We repeat several times throughout the video a partial quote by Tolkien: “I do not believe ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat…'” This is part of a longer quotation, one which I trust and hope that the video makes evident, even if not explicitly:

“Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory”

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