The purpose of the exhibition is to accompany the visitor on the adventure of ‘rediscovering the wonder’, through a fascinating reading of Tolkien’s work and life, in three sections.
The first part of the exhibition concentrates on Tolkien’s life, and on the development of his ‘idiosyncratic’ love for beauty and literature. Specifically, it will reconstruct the foundation of his faith and his belief in ‘sub-creation’, focusing on the views expressed in his critical essays and letters. Tolkien had, indeed, a strong ‘commitment to creation’ (in the words of Rowan Williams), which involves two complementary views: first, the valorisation of the particular, of the idiosyncrasies, tastes, and circumstances of an individual life, including one’s imagination and fantasy; secondly, the conviction that every life, truth, and beauty produced by man ultimately comes from God, and that man is only a mirror, refracting the divine light given to him. For this reason, any ‘private vice’ has in fact a ‘universal’ dimension, as a gift given by God for the good of whole world, and the continuation of His history of creation. Indeed, as he stated in his letters, Tolkien considered himself as an imperfect, but as a ‘chosen instrument’ in God’s hands, ‘destined to kindle a new light, or, what is the same thing, rekindle an old light in the world’. Tolkien lived this elective attitude towards art (‘sub-creation’) right down to the more concrete details of his work: this is why he spoke of his writing as an ‘unexpected discovery’ or as ‘labour pain’, aimed to reveal ‘what was already there’; and why he considered literary creation as a ‘mystery’, involving an interplay between the freedom of both the author and of God.
The second part will be dedicated to the Silmarillion and the other stories of the First Age, focusing specifically on the musical creation myth underpinning it. According to this, a single, superior Being created a number of secondary divine powers (the Valar), with and through whom He subsequently brought the World into existence. This creation happened during and through ancestral musical singing; the Valar contributed, with their own melody, to the motive ultimately composed by God. Music (the artistic act) is a metaphor for God’s creative power, from which all human creations derive and participate in. For this reason, in Tolkien, music is never associated with evil beings; where there is music, there is a (more or less conscious) attempt at collaborating with God’s creation.
The third part of the exhibit will focus on the Lord of the Rings, and its hidden ‘divine narrative’. In the development of history, collaborating with God’s creation means recognising and facilitating His narrative, following and acting within the story that God has ‘plotted’. As revealed in Tolkien’s posthumous works, it was indeed Eru, through the Valar, who planned the ring’s destruction and Sauron’s defeat, choosing the hobbits as His instruments; they epitomise some key features of His own creative power (the ‘law of creation’), namely humbleness, obscurity, and mercy, which are indeed antitheses of mundane power (symbolised by the ring). In LotR each individual character is called to discover and collaborate with this ‘divine narrative’, while at the same time starting from their own particular nature: as Bilbo said to Frodo, the spring of the river-Road is ‘in every doorstep’, that is in each individual, idiosyncratic story. The fact that each individual path is a tributary of the a single ‘Story’ is a surprised discovery that comes through a journey (as it is for Frodo and Sam), not the fulfilment of a project.
The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say. (LotR 35)