In my mind, J. R. R. Tolkien is a heroic figure. He understood that the greatness of humanity lies within each of us through our faithfulness to our daily mission. He was a Catholic, the son of a Catholic convert and an ardent believer in God. It was under his influence that C.S. Lewis embraced the reality of Christianity. While a young man, he formed a little club with some close friends, and despite the small size of the group, they had some very big aspirations. They believed that they had a mission to change the world, to make it a better place. As for many people during World War I, this vision was put to test when several of Tolkien’s friends died. They were not able to live out their noble aspirations. But in a letter, Tolkien was reminded of their ardent dreams, and he was encouraged to go forward—to fulfill his own potential. He did. An ordinary man in so many ways, yet his faithfulness to his family, to his wife and son, his students, his friends, and his stories reach us today.
After I had read most of his major works and become astonished at his incredible insight and clarity, I decided to read more about him so I could better understand his background and his mindset. In one book (J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter), I read about one of his typical days where his bicycle broke down and he was late for dinner while a stack of papers waited at home to be corrected. I was nearly pulling my hair out thinking about the fact that he could have been home writing great literature. But then, after I became more reasonable, I realized it was because he knew how to fix a bicycle, cared about being home for dinner, made it to meetings, and corrected innumerable papers that he was the kind of man who could write so faithfully about the human heart and the reality of suffering as well as the idiosyncratic silliness of common human interactions.
Tolkien, like many of his characters, could not predict the future, but he was engaged in humanity’s struggle to overcome evil, nevertheless. May we today aspire to the same noble faithfulness of a simple Hobbit—and an honest writer.