Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Bede influence on Tolkien

This one was a bit surprising, since the story in Tolkien struck me as pretty imaginative.

St. Bede reports the events of a certain foolish man who lived wickedly. His companions frequently urged him to repent, but he ignored them. It happened eventually that he became ill, and his friends became all the more fervent in their efforts to persuade him, but he replied that if he repented out of fear of death then people would charge him with doing something that he wouldn't have done when healthy.

Silly man.

His illness got worse. At last an occasion came when he was visited by two angels. They showed him a beautiful tiny book - a book containing every good deed he had ever done. There were very, very few of them.

Then an army of demons appeared, and they showed him "a volume of enormous size and almost unbearable weight, horrible to behold," which contained a record, "in hideous handwriting," of every sin of thought and word and deed that he had ever committed. The demons asked the angels, "Why do you sit here since you know that this man is certainly ours?"

"You speak the truth," said the angels; "take him away to help make up the number of the damned."
Then two very wicked spirits who had daggers in their hands struck me, one on the head and one on the foot. These daggers are now creeping into the interior of my body with great torment and, as soon as they meet, I shall die and, as the devils are all ready to seize me, I shall be dragged down into the dungeons of hell.
The similarities here to Frodo's experience on Weathertop with the blade of the Nazgul are pretty obvious.

I think this man's experience also sounds a warning to us all that I have discussed before. The life that we lead now will make it easy or hard for us to be faithful to God. The fact that we might be given a last chance to repent doesn't mean that we'll take it. We need to live lives of repentance now, when we have the chance, because there may not be another one.


Anonymous said...

Did Tolkien tell Bede puns?

But a facinating story. When I read things like that though I always wonder if it is coincidence created by great minds running together, unconcious borrowing of a great image, or concious reuse of a grat image. I guess Bede and Tolkien aren't talkin, so we'll never know.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

I guess Bede and Tolkien aren't talkin

God willing we might find out in heaven :-)

However, since Tolkien was a philologist, a professor of Anglo-Saxon, English, and English literature, it's inconceivable that he would have been ignorant of this passage from St. Bede. So I'd say that - while not exactly a certainty - it seems virtually certain that Bede influenced him.

I just did a quick Google search, and I'm not the only one who thinks so; here's someone else who thinks similarly.

Thanks for stopping by!