Well, here we are.
Ten months ago when I put into temporary hibernation “A Lent of the Lord of the Rings,” I noted the darkness and the sense of powerlessness that seemed to be encroaching on all fronts. I admitted that I wished that these times were not mind to endure, and worried that many a land would be marred by gloom. Alas that the intervening months have not lessened these concerns; instead, in my life both at home and in the community, I am weighed by burdens, sorrows, anxieties. I suspect I am not the only one to have such cares, as I look out onto a broken world more and more showing its scars and hostile to itself.
Fitting, then, that we return yet again here: to Lent, to The Lord of the Rings, to the literary and spiritual journey to the mountain, to the end of all things. For in The Lord of the Rings there is an escape, but an escape that reaffirms our commitments. In this Lenten season there is a taking up of one burdens, ultimately to lay them at the foot of the cross. Perhaps more than in the years that have passed are we, reader and writer, present in this quest, this fool’s errand, this fellowship. Perhaps this season has arrived precisely when it needs to.
This will be my third year reflecting on The Lord of the Rings over Lent, and as such I should note two small changes for the days ahead.
First, in the inter-Lenten period I have made my way through the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth, the collection of Tolkien’s drafts, early attempts, and alterations made to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and many of his other works. It is an exhaustive and exhausting collection, but it has offered me further glimpses into the proto-hobbit’s mind. More than anything, the volumes make clear the reflection and iteration it took through most of the story to craft the beautiful, poignant, and thought-provoking lines that have inspired so many of my posts these past three years. Rarely did a scene spring forth perfectly formed; therefore, the few that did are even more awe-inspiring. Throughout this year I hope to use the revelations surfaced from this collection to help dive even deeper into the text.
Second, this year I will try a new approach: I am going to listen to the entirety of The Lord of the Rings via audiobook. Tolkien’s epic is probably both my favorite book and the one I have re-read the most. As such, I quite familiar with it, and know many parts by heart. Consequently, I know there are passages upon which I linger and through which I speed. I am cognizant of lines which I savor and lines which I skim. And I am comfortable, though a bit embarrassed, to admit that I have a tendency to overlook the poetry and the long descriptions. Therefore, it is my hope that listening to the book will shake things up, forcing me to approach the story with a new perspective and comprehend new details that I can no longer overlook, whether intentionally or not.
The audiobooks are daunting (the unabridged Fellowship of the Rings is over 19 hours long), and so unless from personal experience you greatly prefer listening over reading, I still recommend picking up a physical copy. That said, if you do join with your ears instead of your eyes, I encourage downloading the version narrated by Rob Inglis, which can be found on sites such as Audible.
So, wherever you are – whether living in fear or cautiously hopeful, whether frustrated or impassioned, whether bitter or broken, whether done with it all or just getting started – grab your copy, and let’s set out. Over the days ahead, we’ll wander the forests and mountains of both Middle-earth and our own lives, and we may find green things and a hope for spring. But even in the dead leaves that we take up in our hands and hearts we will take comfort, for as Hilaire Belloc once wrote, “Year after year have I picked up the dead leaves, until all the leaves of my life were dead, and year after year I have found between my hands gold and more gold.”
On February 20th, I hope you will join me in a Lenten read of The Lord of the Rings.