From The Federalist: A Review Of The New Tolkien Exhibition At The Morgan

I hadn’t realized that The Federalist was going to run my review of the new J.R.R. Tolkien exhibition that just opened at the Morgan Library in New York so soon, but since it appeared today I’m happy to share the link with you. As I always do, I extend my sincere thanks to my editor for being the patient and careful reader that she always is. Somehow, Joy Pullman inevitably manages to condense my often rambling prose into a more readable format, for which I’m very grateful.

Even though as I write this the Federalist article just came out, already the comments section on the piece (as well as some voices on social media) are criticizing *my* major criticism of the show, which is that it fails to examine Tolkien’s religious faith. As usual in the lazy age in which we live, people have failed to actually take the time to read what I wrote in its entirety. In the article, I acknowledge the fact that no single exhibition can hope to explore all aspects of an artist’s life and work. If a particular artist happened to be a member of the Shinto faith, but that faith had little direct impact on his life and work, a museum might reasonably decide not to discuss that issue, in the context of a general survey exhibition on his life and work.

Yet it must be acknowledged that Tolkien himself was a very devout Catholic. He himself stated, as I quote in The Federalist piece, that “The Lord of the Rings” is a Catholic book. Tolkien’s entire life was informed by his faith – from his being raised by a Catholic priest when he and his brother were orphaned at a young age, to his helping his future wife to convert to Catholicism as part of their courtship, to their eldest son becoming a Catholic priest, to his close relationship with another famous Christian fantasy author, C.S. Lewis, whom he helped to move from doubt to belief, and so on. I found the fact that the show doesn’t even touch upon Tolkien’s Christianity, let alone explore it, but does spend time examining his horror of conflict based on his wartime experiences, or his views on environmentalism given what he saw of industrialization in early 20th century England, to be a serious oversight.

Agree with me or not, I hope you’ll take a moment to pop by the The Federalist and have a scroll through the piece, and by all means feel free to share your own thoughts in the article’s comment section.

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