On Love

The Mirror of Galadriel


“Saint Valentine Baptizing Saint Lucilla” by Jacopo Basano (Source)

Love, according to the ancient chorus, is all you need. Echoing inspired poet and courtly minstrel alike, love is described as facilitating all things, so that “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,” etc, etc when taking into account that “all you need is love.” With a Christian perspective keen to capitalize the letters of all words in order to instill within them the Divine, this Love has some substance to it, though it requires long theological exegesis to grapple. However, in its original coleopteran orientation, this sentiment is blatherskiting falderal. If love is all one needs, then what is love?

Fortunately, C.S. Lewis, in his beloved (and ever topical for St. Valentine’s Day) volume The Four Loves, comes to the rescue. For Lewis, the power of love derives from its diversity of orientations and meanings: need-love and gift-love, liking versus loving, natural and pleasurable. Ultimately, Lewis parses the single English word “love” into four major categories as understood from the Greek: Affection (Storge), Friendship (Philia), Romance (Eros), and Charity (Agape). These four, taken alongside certain sub-loves towards objects such as nature and country, rarely appear in their pure forms. Reflecting upon them in isolation, however, helps to understand them when they appear in their mixed and convoluted forms.

The Lord of the Rings is a book of love, though the love modern society most readily associates with love, that of romantic eros, is perhaps the hardest to uncover in the pages. Glimpses of Arwen have hinted at a possibility below the surface, and Eowyn of Rohan will soon ride on to the pages of this tale. Yet it is certain that eros is not the love which Tolkien wishes to dwell upon. And while storge meanders its way through the paths of Middle-earth (consider Frodo’s fondness for Bilbo, or Gandalf and Aragorn’s affection for the hobbits of the Shire) and agape is a crucial component to the feats of the Fellowship of the Ring (the charity in which will make itself evident over time), nevertheless it is philia, friendship, where Tolkien invests heavily in the infrastructure of love.

Lewis himself notes that he cannot think of a modern novel that has celebrated the love of friends. The notion of “friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest,” seeking out “the same truth,” is a challenging “love” to depict on the written page. Yet The Lord of the Rings is full of them, and even in Lorien alone we the unpredicted friendship between elf and dwarf bud as Legolas “took Gimli with him when he went abroad in the land, and the others wondered at this change.” There is the friendship between each member of the Fellowship and Gandalf, whose loss they feel so poignant as grief. There is the friendship between Sam and Frodo that will keep Sam on “the long road with Mr. Frodo,” though the beauty of his beloved Shire is in danger. There is a deep and tremendous power in the love of friends that unites as one old enemies, inspires songs, and keeps one side by side through danger and darkness.

And so, on this day of Valentines, there is a value in celebrating love more broadly. To lavish attention solely upon spouse or significant other diminishes the festival’s potential. Honor friends. Give thanks for land and country. Remember old affections. Live out charity. Love is perhaps all we need, but only in its expanding variety. To ret-con the venerable verses:

“All you need is storge,
All you need is eros,
All you need is philia, agape,
Love is all you need.”

2015’s Reflection: “On What Even the Wisest Cannot Tell


One thought on “On Love

  1. Thanks for these reflections Michael – glad I found your blog – since you tagged Joanna in a previous post.
    The love between Frodo and Sam is remarkable – such a powerful illustration that we need the love of a community of people to have courage for the challenges of life.


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