Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Book Review: 'In the House of Tom Bombadil' by CR Wiley

Book Cover
Materialism claims that everything can be reduced to physical processes. Christianity on the other-hand, reveals that there is a spiritual dimension to our world. JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a prism through which we can understand this spiritual dimension more clearly. Tolkien’s multilayered creation of Middle Earth is an expression of his Christianity and a reaction to the false promises of Materialism. CR Wiley, the author of In the House of Tom Bombadil, uses the character of Tom Bombadil both as introduction to the world of The Lord of the Rings, and to highlight the spiritual depth of our own world. “Generally speaking people can sense that there is a lot more to The Lord of the Rings than what is visible on the surface” (9).

The character of Tom Bombadil is a “mysterious” (12) outsider, similar to the Oracle from The Matrix (1999), or a type of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic who shared the gospel with CS Lewis when they were professors together at Oxford, and showed him that God was the source of both our rationality and our imagination. After Lewis became a Christian he wrote The Narnian Chronicles as an allegory of the Christian faith. Tolkien, was subtler, seeking to embed Christian themes into his secondary world, rather than directly illustrate them like Lewis. Tom Bombadil however could be considered an exception. His character is a reminder that there is more to this world then we may first assume. Tom Bombadil’s presence in the plot represents God’s wisdom (13). Throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien contrasts ‘technique’ with ‘wisdom’. The evil wizard Saruman is always breaking, building and grasping in contrast to the good wizard Gandalf who is always learning, growing and sacrificing (21). Tom Bombadil represents both the original goodness of creation and God’s ongoing providential concern for His creatures, in contrast to the selfish pattern of human autonomy unleashed by sin. This is demonstrated vividly when Tom Bombadil handles the One Ring of Power casually, impervious to its power or temptation. The Ring that the evil Lord Sauron created, lost and is now searching for in his quest to conquer Middle Earth. Tom Bombadil’s ability to resist the Ring is because of his relationship to the original goodness of creation. He is “master” of his domain, not in a negative, corrupt way, but in the way that humans related to the natural world before Original Sin (19).

Goldberry is some type of water spirit who has fallen in love with Tom Bombadill and become his wife (70). The recent podcast ‘The Witch-hunt of JK Rowling’ featured an episode outlining conservative Christian reactions to The Harry Potter series. Some Christians have also been skeptical of the talking-animals, wizards and magic featured in both The Narnian Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings. Wiley is keen to show us we can redeem the pagan imagination (75). King Solomon integrates King Lemuel’s wisdom into Proverbs and the Apostle Paul integrates Ancient Greek poetry into his evangelism. When they became friends, Tolkien convinced Lewis that the gospel made emotional and imaginative sense as much as it made rational and philosophical sense. This is important when we think about Materialism, the dominate paradigm of our modern world. Materialism lacks a meta-narrative, a big story to make sense of everything. Whereas the Christian story has a plot line that outlines the defeat of Evil and the future of those who love God. In the first-half of chapter six Wiley uses Tom Bombadil’s rescue of the Hobbits from the Barrow Wrights to show us that “evil tends ‘naturally’ towards death” (83). If Sauron won, the world would end in destruction. In the second-half of chapter six and the rest of chapter seven Wiley shows how Tolkien creates the sense that The Lord of the Rings story is only one fragment in a much larger story (90). Life with God is a deeper, richer and more complete version of this world. A theme more clearly spelt out in Tolkien’s short story, Leaf by Niggle. “But in Leaf by Niggle death isn’t really the end - it’s not even the end of Niggle’s tree. Somehow the tree is there at the end of Niggle’s journey, but it’s no longer just a painting; instead, it’s Real, and it’s complete, and it’s more wonderful than he ever envisioned” (92).