January 3 is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien. Having converted at an early age, Ordinariate members might well wonder how this man and his marvellous works might be considered part of the patrimony – especially when his dislike of the Church of England was always manifest. Well, on one level, his sort of English Catholicism – rooted in the Recusant tradition – is part of the legacy inherited by Ordinariate members when they entered the Church. But it is a little more definite than that in JRRT’s case. He was practically raised in the Birmingham Oratory, founded by Newman and to-day an oasis of Catholic orthodoxy. Secondly, he was key in C.S. Lewis‘ conversion to Christianity (although it was his lifelong regret that Lewis allowed his Ulster Scottedness to keep him from crossing the Tiber). Of course, the duo were the key members of the Inklings – of whom the third major member was Charles Williams. Much has been made of Tolkien’s jealously of William’s influence over Lewis, and his suspicion of Williams’ more esoteric leanings. Interestingly enough, however, Tolkien arranged for a Catholic Requiem Mass for Williams – and served it himself; to do so for an ostensible non-Catholic was uncommon in 1945, and cannot help but make one wonder what Tolkien knew of Williams’ dispositions towards Rome at the end of his life.
In any case, in his collected letters, Tolkien also provides a great deal of solid spiritual advice to various people – including using the shipwreck of the liturgical revolution after Vatican II (which deeply hurt him) as a penitential exercise of atonement for one’s own sins. Therein we see a typically English manner of making do in the midst of disaster. This makes sense: for Tolkien was as deeply English as the Hobbits he created, and as English Catholic as the Medieval manuscripts he translated and commented upon. In the midst of Hollywood’s sometimes successful, sometimes not rendering if his work upon the silver screen, we should be grateful for such bodies as the Tolkien Society and the Mythopoeic Society that continue to provide thoughtful commentary upon and exploration of his work.