Spotlighting Tolkien Resources

Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth, by Lisa Coutras

Reflections by Dan Cruver and John Pletcher

During summertime 2020, we are spotlighting several of exceptional Tolkien resources that are favorites of the Eucatastrophe team. This month, we are featuring the work of Lisa Coutras. She holds a PhD in theology from King’s College, London, UK, and an MTh in applied theology from the University of Oxford, UK.

Dr. Coutras’ book, Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty, delivers marvelously rich content. Her engagement with Tolkien’s foundations proves so engaging. (Honestly, we found it very challenging to limit ourselves to just a handful of reasons we love Lisa’s work.) Here are our top four favorite focus areas.

Spotlight #1: Mythic Truth (shared by Dan)

Why is it that the best stories resonate with us so very deeply? When we read or hear them, we find ourselves drawn into them, similar to a gorgeous sunset beckoning our extended gaze. The sunset is outside of us, yes, but we look at it because in it we meet with transcendence. In my experience, that’s what the best stories do. The best stories give us an experience of transcendence.

In chapter 3 of her book, Dr. Coutras explores the value of myth as Tolkien understood it. (And for our purposes, know that my assumption is that what makes great stories great is that they tap into “legends and myths” that tap into underlying realities.) As Coutras notes, Tolkien believed “that an interest in ancient legends reflects fundamental human desires, such as a yearning for the quiet graces of nature, a communion with creation, and deathlessness” (32). She continues, “The great myths, however flawed, draw upon the beauty of this transcendental reality, expressing the deepest longings of the human soul . . . One is not abandoning the truths of reality by immersing oneself in the beauties of a story. Rather, the beauties of a story may reveal truths about reality which have otherwise been lost from view” (32).

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