Peter Kreeft on Christian Themes in “The Lord of the Rings”

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In  Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005), he works through 50 of the great questions using four tools:

  • an explanation of the meaning and importance of the question;
  • a key quotation from The Lord of the Rings showing how Tolkien answered the question (many more passages are given in the Concordance to The Lord of the Rings in the Appendix);
  • a quotation from Tolkien’s other writings (usually a letter) that explains or comments on the theme in The Lord of the Rings;
  • a quotation from C. S. Lewis, Tolkien’s closest friend, showing the same philosophy directly stated.

Here’s the outline of worldview issues addressed (at least in part) by The Lord of the Rings.

1. Metaphysics

1.1 How big is reality?
1.2 Is the supernatural real?
1.3 Are Platonic Ideas real?

2. Philosophical Theology

2.1 Does God exist?
2.2 Is life subject to divine providence?
2.3 Are we both fated and free?
2.4 Can we relate to God by “religion”?

3. Angelology

3.1 Are angels real?
3.2 Do we have guardian angels?
3.3 Could there be creatures between men and angels, such as Elves?

4. Cosmology

4.1 Is nature really beautiful?
4.2 Do things have personalities?
4.3 Is there real magic?

5. Anthropology

5.1 Is death good or bad?
5.2 Is romance more thrilling than sex?
5.3 Why do humans have identity crises?
5.4 What do we most deeply desire?

6. Epistemology

6.1 Is knowledge always good?
6.2 Is intuition a form of knowledge?
6.3 Is faith (trust) wisdom or ignorance?
6.4 What is truth?

7. Philosophy of History

7.1 Is history a story?
7.2 Is the past (tradition) a prison or a lighthouse?
7.3 Is history predictable?
7.4 Is there devolution as well as evolution?
7.5 Is human life a tragedy or a comedy?

8. Aesthetics

8.1 Why do we no longer love glory or splendor?
8.2 Is beauty always good?

9. Philosophy of Language

9.1 How can words be alive?
9.2 The metaphysics of words: Can words have real power?
9.3 Are there right and wrong words?
9.4 Is there an original, universal, natural language?
9.5 Why is music so powerful?

10. Political Philosophy

10.1 Is small beautiful?
10.2 Can war be noble?

11. Ethics: The War of Good and Evil

11.1 Is evil real?
11.2 How powerful is evil?
11.3 How weak is evil?
11.4 How does evil work?

12. Ethics: The “Hard” Virtues

12.1 Do principles or consequences make an act good?
12.2 Why must we be heroes?
12.3 Can one go on without hope?
12.4 Is authority oppressive and obedience demeaning?
12.5 Are promises sacred?

13. Ethics: The “Soft” Virtues

13.1 What is the power of friendship?
13.2 Is humility humiliating?
13.3 What should you give away?
13.4 Does mercy trump justice?
13.5 Is charity a waste?

14. Conclusion

Can any one man incarnate every truth and virtue?

Below is the outline for his philosophical concordance of The Lord of the Rings:.

1. Metaphysics

1.1. Metaphysical realism: that reality is more than appearance, more than our consciousness, and more than our expectations

1.2. Supernaturalism: that reality is more than the natural (matter, time, and space)

1.3. Platonism: archetypes

2. Philosophical Theology

2.1. God

2.2. Divine providence (especially providential timings and “coincidences”)

2.3. Fate (or predestination, or destiny) and free will

2.4. Religion

3. Angelology

3.1. The reality of angels

3.2. The task of angels: guardians

3.3. Elves as halfway between the human and the angelic

4. Cosmology

4.1. The beauty of the cosmos

4.2. The personality of things in the world

4.3. Magic in the world and man

5. Anthropology

5.1. Death

5.2. Romance

5.3. The perilous status of selfhood; the flexibility of the self

5.4. Sehnsucht, longing (especially for the sea)

6. Epistemology

6.1. Knowledge is not always good

6.2. Knowledge by intuition

6.3. Knowledge by faith (trust)

6.4. Truth

7. Philosophy of History

7.1. Teleology, story, purpose, “road”

7.2. Tradition, collective memory, legends

7.3. The freedom and unpredictability of history

7.4. Devolution, pessimism

7.5. Eucatastrophe, optimism

8. Aesthetics

8.1. Formality, “glory,” height

8.2. Beauty and goodness

9. Philosophy of Language

9.1. Names and language in general

9.2. Proper names

9.3. The magical power of words

9.4. Music

10. Political Philosophy

10.1. Populism, “small is beautiful”

10.2. Peace and war

11. Ethics

11.1. Spiritual warfare

11.2. The power of evil and the evil of power

11.3. The weakness of evil

11.4. The strategy of evil; the mechanism of temptation (especially the Ring)

12. Ethics: The Hard Virtues

12.1. Duty versus utility

12.2. Courage

12.3. Hope versus despair

12.4. Obedience to authority

12.5. Honesty, truthfulness, keeping promises

13. Ethics: The Soft Virtues

13.1. Friendship, fellowship

13.2. Humility, “hobbitry”

13.3. Gifts

13.4. Pity

13.5. Charity; the gift of self

14. The Fulfillment of All the Points: Christ

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