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Filtering by Tag: Tolkien

Sub[urban] Creation

Jayne English

“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
     —J.R.R. Tolkien

I grew up in the suburbs. Those places where you could only see distance if you looked up, because the houses and yards and hedges of your neighbors and their neighbors became the extent of your horizon. These views were vastly different from the ones that inspired Coleridge and Wordsworth on their walking tour through moorland and woodland, and along the coast of Bristol Channel. They weren’t like Emily Dickinson’s views at the Homestead, where she wandered through orchard and gardens, tending the flowers that thrived in her poetry. And they’re not the English countryside Tolkien knew as a child that charmed his Hobbits’ Shire.

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An Unexpected Journey

Callie Feyen

1024px-HMCoSecondEdHobbitsI am reading The Hobbit for the first time. I am 40 now, and I am reading it because I have to teach it to 7th graders.

I believe it’s important I tell you my age and my motive for reading J.R.R. Tolkien because it’s embarrassing. I should’ve discovered the Misty Mountains, I should’ve gasped when Bilbo slips “a golden ring, a precious ring” on his finger, I should’ve considered how to blow smoke rings and having second breakfasts years ago when summers meant riding my bike and chasing fireflies until my mom called, “Callie, come home!”

I was not a reader growing up, and I have so much to catch up on: Tolkien and Eliot, and Shakespeare, and I haven’t even read all of Judy Blume’s books.

Reading is hard for me. I have to read The Hobbit with reading guides and synopses of each chapter. One night my husband came home from work to find me sobbing, my head in my hands, moaning, “I don’t get this. I’ll never understand it. I hate those damn elves!”

That evening, he made his from scratch taquitos and strong margaritas (he only knows how to make them strong) and he found Peter Jackson’s film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey online.

“Oh,” I said when the red paper kite dragon flew into view. “That’s foreshadowing. The paper dragon’s there because it’s the dragon that stole all that gold.” I took a sip of my drink then said, “I think I remember that dragon can’t do anything with the gold. Is that right?” I looked at Jesse for a moment, then back at the TV. “I mean, I think the dragon can’t enjoy what he’s stolen. He just lies in it and makes sure it doesn’t go away.”

I haven’t finished reading the book; I’m about a chapter ahead of my students (I have a friend who tells me all I have to be is a tad smarter than my class), but I like to think I have a lot in common with Bilbo Baggins.

I have a side that’s been lying dormant for years, too. It actually comes from my mom and my dad, the Ayanoglou and the Lewis side. Both are great readers who did their best to surround me with the finest literature. For Pete’s sake, I lived next door to a library. It was no use, though. Reading wasn’t something I did. Reading has always been hard. Oh, I can sound the words out just fine (usually). It’s processing and understanding what I read that’s difficult. I’ve been tested for everything but “poor reading comprehension” was all that showed up.

“I’m not bright,” I told Jesse during the part where Gollum and Bilbo were giving each other riddles (none of which I understood). Jesse told me Gollum used to be a hobbit, but after he found the ring, he became the freaky, scrawny, big-eyed thing we were watching on TV. I started to cry imagining Gollum as a happy hobbit smoking a pipe and wondering about after dinner seed cakes.

“Why are you so hard on yourself?” Jesse asked putting another taquito on my plate and pouring more margarita in my glass.

“It doesn’t bother me to say it. I’m not sad,” I explained as I squeezed lime into my drink. “It takes me a while to process things, but maybe that doesn’t make me any less of a person.”

It was probably the tequila talking, but I’m looking at what I’ve underlined in my copy of The Hobbit now: “The Took side won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce.” And, “You think I am no good. I will show you…Tell me what you want done, and I will try it.” And maybe my favorite, “There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”

I think what I’m learning from Bilbo is that it’s not so much that you think you’d be good at something if you just had a chance. Rather, it’s trying what you don’t think you can do, and are probably afraid of, and doing it anyway because the door is open and the Lonely Mountain is waiting with a dragon who believes all that glitters must be fiercely protected.

Flames upon Their Head

Ross Gale


When J.R.R. Tolkien writes, "Sub-creator, the refracted light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues" and refers to a future time when "poets shall have flames upon their head," I wonder why this time can't be now. I've always believed this time to be now.

The connotation of splintered light (men, women, and artists) can be interpreted as hierarchical: the art of humanity subservient to God’s holy creation. Because we are made in God's image we can create, but our creations are "lesser." Our art and stories and poems are "lesser." Compared to God, we are just children playing out and about.

This interpretation can be dangerous. Maybe I’m a stickler for words, but this can infect how you think about yourself as an artist. Tolkien was arguing against materialists, evolution, and modernity, even more than he was contending against the myth-hater C.S. Lewis, who once called myths lies.

I want something more than just play. I need something more than just lesser light. Stories and poetry and music and art are all something more. Rather than lesser lights they are illuminating truths. They are "the elves that wrought on cunning forges in the mind, and light and dark on secret looms entwined."

As a writer, I believe in what Madeleine L'Engle says, "God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.” A Creator is only a Co-Creator when he or she asks. The request must be made.

Struggling with the question of purpose allows us to examine our own role as artists and writers. I feel an immense sense of gratitude to those who commit themselves to this craft of love, who search, and grapple, and struggle. The time is now for the poets with flames upon their heads. It is you. Beginning with the first word, note, brush stroke. Even just starting with a prayer.

Fairy Tales, for Life

Abby Jarvis

24 Fairy Tale1 It was a hot summer Saturday when I uncovered a book of fairy tales at a vintage shop. It sparked a conversation with the shopkeeper, who asked me to recommend fairy tale books for her two young daughters. They wanted stories about fairies, princesses, dragons, witches — stories about adventures and quests for true love and truth.

Not until later, as I mused over my nephew playing in the darkening yard, did I realize how precious that conversation had been. It seems a rare thing, now, for children to want fairy tales. In a world full of iPads, structured play dates, and a relentless focus on academics and test scores, it seems that fairytales are being crowded out of everyday life.

And what a shame that is! Academia certainly has its place, but the lessons to be learned from fairy tales are not lessons often found in test tubes or classrooms. Fairy stories lend us a belief in the magical, in the un-provable. They teach us that bad things happen to good people but good will triumph; that things are not always as they seem; the value of love, and bravery, and kindness; that dragons, as G.K. Chesterton once beautifully put it, exist and that they can be killed.

In a skeptical world, fairy tales foster a sense of wonder, an appreciation for the unexplained and the magical. They’re morality tales, practical warnings, glimpses of the magical world that exists in the “black boxes”science and logic can’t explain. Princes and witches and dragons aren’t just frivolous stories; they teach us to love, and to hope, and to fight for truth, and to make your own way in an uncertain world.

I hope my nephew reads fairy tales. I hope he looks under bushes for gnomes and into streams for sprites and pixies. I hope he seeks redemption in desperate situations, that he dreams of magic and of eucatastrophe -- the sudden, inexplicable happy ending. I hope he fights dragons and quests for Fairy only to discover, as Tolkien phrased it, “that sudden glimpse of the truth…a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us."

And then, the morning came.

Jennifer Vasquez

Edvard-Munch-The-Sun “[We] can only come to morning through the shadows.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Right here in Central Florida, we have our very own mecca. Millions of pilgrims flock to it every year, but this mecca does not involve a deity, or worship, or a religion. Or does it?

It’s the mecca of happiness, where your dreams come true. These millions of pilgrims might not crawl there on their knees, but they often travel thousands of miles and pay a pretty price for their happiness, especially considering the cost of carrying a screaming baby around at 10:30 at night, while pushing two toddlers in a stroller, in an attempt to squeeze every bit of happiness out of the overpriced day.

Most of us worship our own happiness, maybe every day, or at least on occasion. We devote a lot of time and money towards it, but it’s always so elusive, so “just around the corner.”

And where does such a pursuit leave us when hard times come? When we lose a job. When a loved one dies. When, as much as we repeat and hear that “everything will be okay,” things still don’t work out as we had planned. When we just have a bad day.

There is no place for the pursuit of happiness in our quest. We will be forever treading water. The goal is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. This entails gratitude and thankfulness for where we are and what we have – even, or probably especially, for the hard stuff. This is very difficult. It is discipline. It requires the greatest effort. It is impossible…on our own.

He was despised and acquainted with grief. And then, the morning came.

(Painting by Edvard Munch)

The Ideal Writing Spot

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith It seems that most famous writers create a certain habitat for their genius, a custom-made space where their creativity can flow forth uninhibited. Virginia Woolf had A Room of One’s Own, J. K. Rowling has her European café, and Kurt Vonnegut has his hardwood floor where he worked out of his lap. So what are the basic requirements for a writing spot?

A desk, of course, is essential (except, apparently, if you’re Vonnegut). Preferably, a mahogany, stylishly-distressed desk that just looks like classics have been written all over it. A desk in the tradition of Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’, which you can actually see on display (including the wardrobe that inspired Narnia) at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Extra points if your desk has a secret compartment.

Next, coffee. Every writer needs an energy boost now and then. And if you’re self-employed, your caffeine addiction might even count as a tax deduction (don’t quote me on that…)! But don’t try to outdo French novelist Balzac, who was known to drink 50-300 cups of coffee per day.

Your writing space should also host somewhat of a cozy mess. Creative minds aren’t known for their organizational skills, you know.

Surround yourself with inspirational literary quotes. These will remind you not only how much you love, live, and breath writing, but how fun it is! Motivational catchphrases such as, “My stories run up and bite me on the leg” –Ray Bradbury, and, “Writing is…like a long bout of some painful illness." -George Orwell, should get you off to a good start!

You should also have something to fidget with as you wrestle your brilliant ideas down onto paper. Stress balls, those cool moldable erasers, etc. Now is the perfect time to develop a bad habit such as cracking your knuckles or chewing your hair. All for the sake of art, of course.

A muse: whether it’s a picture of your sweetheart, your cat, or your Edgar Allan Poe bobble-head, you should have something to attribute your strokes of genius to. And someone to take your frustration out on when writer’s block hits.

What’s your writing environment? Where do you hammer out your thoughts, poems, and stories?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at