Disney’s treatment falls far short in addressing two fundamental touchstones of Tolkien’s life and work: the ancient and medieval texts of the Western literary tradition and the Catholic faith of the author.
Disappointing but, sadly, not surprising:
The new Disney film cuts out some of the most important influences in his life. The movie does not once mention the great ex-atheist and Christian author C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien… The movie also does not mention the Inklings, the society of writers who read each other’s works and spurred both Lewis and Tolkien on to greatness. The film focuses on the early influences of Tolkien’s life, so these cuts may be justifiable.
Worst, however, is the film’s neglect for Tolkien’s faith, which inspired his entire life. The movie also cuts out the literary works that inspired his imagination — touchstones of the Western literary tradition. In fact, the author’s literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings is heavily influenced not just by the Western literary tradition but by Christianity and Jesus in particular.
I had been looking forward to seeing this movie, but now I am not at all sure I want to spend the time or the money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in light of all this, the Tolkien Estate have disavowed the film. In a statement on 23 April, the Estate said:
“The family of J R R Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate are aware of the Fox Searchlight motion picture entitled ‘Tolkien’ that is due for release in May 2019. The family and the estate wish to make clear that they did not approve of, authorise or participate in the making of this film. They do not endorse it or its content in any way.”
The PJ Media post linked above notes that “Joseph Loconte, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at The King’s College in New York City and author of the recent book A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, saw the film… and noted the glaring omissions in remarks to PJ Media,” inter alia:
“As a student at the King Edward’s School at Birmingham and later at Oxford, Tolkien was immersed in works such as The Aeneid, Le Morte d’Arthur, and Beowulf. Here are stories of the noble quest: the tragic hero who answers the righteous call on his life, acts with courage, and performs his duty — regardless of the chances of success,” Loconte said. “The triumph of multiculturalism, however, has mostly marginalized these works from the academy, along with the ideals and virtues they embody. Despite its respect for Tolkien’s intellectual life, the film’s writers seem unable or unwilling to explore it with care.”
Worse yet, Tolkien’s strong Catholic Christian faith has been sidelined or ignored entirely in the movie, as Loconte explains:
“Tolkien’s Christian faith is another great factor in his life and career, a force that animates all of his creative energies… Yet there is no hint that Tolkien possessed a faith of his own, or that it was a source of strength and comfort during the tragedy of the war.
“In fact, Tolkien was a regular churchgoer, and even attended Mass whenever he could while a soldier at the Western Front. In explaining the power of myths to grip our imagination, Tolkien spoke of the eucatastrophe — the reversal of a catastrophe through ‘a sudden and miraculous grace.’
And the ultimate eucatastrophe, as Tolkien himself pointed out, was the Crucifixion and Resurrection itself, the core of the Christian faith, and the greatest outpouring of grace the world has ever known. Loconte continues,
“Until Hollywood acknowledges this grace as a divine reality, as an authentic source of literary imagination, its treatment of Tolkien will remain small and insular, like a fretful hobbit afraid to ever leave the Shire.”
Sad. But as I say, not surprising!