Tolkien's Sacramental Vision
About the Book
One of Tolkien’s great appeals to readers is that he offers a world replete with meaning at every level. To read and reread Tolkien is to share his sense of wonder and holiness, to be invited into the presence of a “beauty beyond the circles of the world.” It is to fall in love with a universe that has a beginning and an end, where good and bad are not subjective choices, but objective realities; a created order full of grace, though damaged by sin, in which friendship is the seedbed of the virtues, and where the greatest warriors finally become the greatest healers. A correspondent once told J. R. R. Tolkien that his work seemed illumined “by an invisible lamp.” That lamp is the Church, and its light is the imaginative sensibility that we live in a sacramental world. This new book by the author of The Trial of Man examines in depth the influence of Catholic sacramentality on the thought and work of Tolkien, with major emphasis on The Lord of the Rings, but including his literary essays, epistolary poem “Mythopoeia,” short story “Leaf by Niggle,” and The Silmarillion. Here is a signal contribution to a deeper understanding of Tolkien, whose mythological world is meant to “recover” the meaning of our own as a grace-filled place, pointing toward its Creator.
Praise for Tolkien’s Sacramental Vision
“Craig Bernthal demonstrates that Tolkien’s literary vision was profoundly and concretely sacramental, and his magnificent retelling of the entire Cosmic Story shaped by the Church’s most basic theological claims and its quite specific sacraments. In making these visible for the first time, Bernthal provides us with a lens for a fresh and sprightly look at Tolkien.”
— RALPH C. WOOD
author of The Gospel According to Tolkien
“Bernthal’s is a unique study in fully establishing the centrality of St. John the Divine in Tolkien’s life and thought. He shows, compellingly, that the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance structure the legendarium, and that The Lord of the Rings truly is a book of signs.”
— ALISON MILBANK
author of Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians
“Through his academic work, his heroic fiction and legendarium, and his sanctified mythic vision, Tolkien revealed worlds of beauty and terror. In his new book, Craig Bernthal wondrously uncovers the numerous layers in Tolkien’s thought as well as the nuances, the trajectories, and even the empty spaces, immense with possibilities.”
— BRADLEY J. BIRZER
author of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth
“Having enjoyed Craig Bernthal’s excellent book on Shakespeare, I am delighted that he has turned the keen edge of his considerable intellect to the Catholicism of Middle-earth. This is a work that will thrill and enthrall all those who wish to delve deeper into Tolkien’s world.”
— JOSEPH PEARCE
author of Tolkien: Man & Myth and Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Hobbit.
About the Author
Craig Bernthal is Professor of English at California State University, Fresno, where he has taught Shakespeare and Renaissance literature for 26 years. He has published articles, essays, short fiction, and two books: The Trial of Man: Christianity and Judgment in the World of Shakespeare and Perfection in Bad Axe, a book of short stories. He is especially interested in the ideas of quest and pilgrimage in literature and in life.