There is something “perilous” about beauty and we are aware at some deep level of intuition or, better yet, at some vague awareness of a moral reality or “calling” that Beauty has within it the power to “change” us at some profound and ontological level of our existence. To follow a “trail’ that leads to “the Golden Wood” where one will knowingly encounter Beauty is one that requires courage and calls forth the essence of our character and reveals its flaws and weaknesses. It is here that we begin to acknowledge, again at some level, that Beauty contains within it the potential of great power and great goodness.
How does one create a hero at a time when heroes have fallen out of favor? Much of the literature of the twentieth century shows an ambivalence about this question. During the bloodiest century the world had ever known, a time of ever increasing disillusionment, the conventional hero became an increasingly rare figure in literature and the “anti-hero” increasingly popular. Against this background, J. R. R. Tolkien envisioned a character who embodied an old-fashioned ideal of heroism—but not at all in a conventional way.
The quest to recover a lost piece of priceless jewelry seems a natural topic for a good adventure story. Yet when the aggrieved quester discovers that the prize is not his, that it is not as valuable as he believed, and that he will die if he tries to regain it, the reader may begin to wonder if the story is really about adventure after all. Such is the case with Pearl, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien, and the story of Gollum that begins in The Hobbit and continues in The Lord of the Rings.1 Both the narrator of Pearl, who identifies himself as a jeweler (252), and Gollum must undertake a journey to find the thing each calls “my precious,” only to discover that he cannot reclaim it and live. The choice each character makes determines his eternal destiny; taken together, the moral lesson portrayed by both quests forms a powerful challenge to the reader.
his paper is about three writers and one idea which they held in common—an idea with which they were all positively enchanted. The three are C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien. The one idea is a certain fairly general (but far from trivial) thesis about meaning or fulfillment in life—that is, in the life of created rational beings. I will state the idea and then comment briefly on some of its parts. It is this: that the fulfillment of rational creatures, in any (positive) degree, involves some activity of the soul which is performed as an end in itself and which has as its contemplated object some external good, where that activity does not entail either arrogating to oneself authority to which one does not have a right, or being remiss in the exercise of authority which one is obliged to exercise.