Fantasy, Music, and Christianity at the Bozeman Public Library
On November 15, Dr. Jay Smith wore an elfish green cloak and a wide smile to Bozeman Public Library. He was giving a free public lecture—one of the “Tipping Point” series—on acclaimed fantasy author and Christian apologist J.R.R. Tolkien. Attendees had heard about the lecture in the MSU paper or on the local Bozeman radio, and arrived eager to hear a presentation on their beloved Tolkien.
From June-October 2018, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University held an exhibition titled, “Tolkien: The Maker of Middle Earth.” Tickets to the exhibition and speaker series were reserved days in advance, with thousands of people from all over the world in attendance. The event testified to the lasting popularity and influence of J. R. R. Tolkien and his epic literary creation of “Middle Earth.” Tolkien’s complex mythology drew from Norse, German, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon history, with its own language and rich backstories.
Although one can find themes of adventure, beauty, anger, fear, and the self-sacrifice of love woven throughout his body of work, one of the most beautiful aspects of Tolkien’s worldview is his unique creation account, contained in The Silmarillion. In this account, Tolkien sets the stage for the creation of “Arda”—Earth—by the supreme deity, Eru Ilúvatar. The first creation by Ilúvatar are the Ainur, beings which echo the angels of the Christian Bible. Ilúvatar teaches them music and gives each of the Ainur themes to play and sing. From this music comes the harmony—and discord—of creation.
Dr. Smith’s lecture, called “A Beautiful World: J. R. R. Tolkien and the Music of the Ainur,” covered a brief history of Tolkien’s life and educational influences. It outlined Tolkien’s creation story, and what brought Tolkien to use music as its primary language. Finally, the lecture investigated the correlation between Tolkien’s Christian faith (Tolkien brought his good friend and colleague C.S. Lewis—creator of the Chronicles of Narnia series—to Christ) and his creation account, and what we can learn from it today!