The Tree
of Tales

SCOPRI LA MOSTRA 20 - 25 Agosto 2021 PODCAST

Tolkien, The Tree of Tales Conference (22 – 23 August 2021)

(…) he saw the King’s Tree springing up, tower upon tower, into the sky, and its light was like the sun at noon; and it bore at once leaves and flowers and fruits uncounted, and not one was the same as any other that grew on the Tree.

Every artist in some way expresses his or her own individual creativity in particular forms, but few writers of Tolkien’s stature have had the courage to take this position to its extreme: the very form of his literary work, often unjustly dismissed as ‘Fantasy’, is instead the proof of the appreciation he had of his own creative idiosyncrasies, starting from an unconditional exaltation of his aesthetic preference, both literary and linguistic. In his work, this is reflected in the centrality given to the characters and their individual stories, including the humblest, and in particular to those of the artists (the ‘sub-creators’), each one called to affirm a unique individual voice. The exaltation of the I that this entails is rarely found even in the most extreme individualistic ideologies. At the same time, Tolkien treats even the darkest and deepest idiosyncrasies of the individual, including the ability to do evil, as ‘given’ by God, and ultimately to be integrated by Him in His own creative project, just as every stream eventually flows into the Sea. In Tolkien’s powerful vision, Creation is thus imagined as a great Tree made of countless different leaves, as a polyphony of innumerable voices, each called to contribute in its own fashion to a single great Music. This awareness of being a “part” which is found at the start and the end of every human journey, in a never-resolved tension between self-affirmation and the humility of belonging, gives the artist, and everyone, the courage to undertake and continue the adventure of the I. At the heart of Tolkien’s work is the dramatic discovery that everyone is called to collaborate, with their own desires and thoughts, to a greater design, to contribute with their own ‘I’ to the great polyphony of creation, and thus entwine their own story onto the one great Tree of Tales.

The main focus of the conference is the organic tension between the particular and the universal, that is (on a (meta)narrative level) the tension between individual character and general narrative, and (on a mythopoetic level) between a sub-creator’s creative freedom and the design of a ‘higher’ Author (the ‘theme(s) of Iluvatar’).

Some of the topics that will be investigated are:
• the relationship between different planes of creation (particularly primary and secondary, but also, within the secondary world, between (sub-)creators of different ‘ranks’ (Ilúvatar and the Valar, the Valar and the Noldor, etc.));
• the tension between individual vs. general design, control of otherness vs. creative mercy, claims of (technological/gnostic) omniscience vs. ‘holy’ ignorance, autonomy vs. communionality, etc.
• the relation between a (sub)creator and their (sub)creation;
• Tolkien’s ‘private vice’ and the discovery of a literary mission
• the nature of influence of primary realities (including literary sources) on the development of Tolkien’s secondary legendarium.

Confirmed speakers


Catholic personal influences in Tolkien’s early years
José Manuel Ferrández Bru (Independent scholar)

Tolkien’s childhood and youth were very important periods for his personal growth and for the development of his personality, tastes and creeds. The figure of his mother obviously had great influence, both in her teachings but also in the profound impact that her early death had upon Tolkien. After her, Tolkien’s main adult point of reference was his tutor, and “second father,” Francis Morgan (1857-1935), a Catholic priest of Spanish origin.
Morgan was a member of the Birmingham Oratory who transmitted to the young Tolkien the teachings of Cardinal Newman, his own companion and friend, alongside elements of his own Spanish cultural tradition. Many of Morgan’s ancestors are leading figures in Hispanic literature, such as his great-grandfather, Juan Nicolás Böhl de Faber, a bibliophile and prominent scholar, and his great-aunt, Cecilia Böhl de Faber (Fernán Caballero), one of the most famous Spanish writers of the XIX century. Although indirectly, Morgan had an undeniable intellectual influence upon Tolkien, also influencing several of Tolkien’s likes, such as his love for the Spanish language, the only romance language he fond of.
In addition, this relationship flourished at a very interesting time for the Catholic Church; the author’s formative period coincided with the pontificate of St. Pius X, an historical context which also influenced the young Tolkien.
This paper serves as a brief tour of the historical and personal contexts related to Tolkien’s early years. It will reveal some striking facts about his guardian and Morgan’s influence upon Tolkien at a creative level.

The Mirror of Galadriel: Reflections of Tolkien’s Life on his Works
Oronzo Cilli (Tolkien Society)

Tolkien’s life is both a guaranteed key to the interpretation of his works, and a false friend. As a key, it allows the critic to perceive how the author’s participation in the Great War, his young love with Edith Bratt, his Catholic education, and the studies and readings of his youth helped and shaped both early and late versions of his Legendarium. As a false friend, it becomes psychologism; it induces critics to assume that his being bitten by a spider as a child in South Africa inspired his evil spiders. It is important to keep such a distinction in mind when studying the impact of the author’s life upon his works in order to consider the importance of references and avoid the risk of pure speculation. Thus, although “even the Wise cannot see all ends”, we may perceive that “things that were, things that are, and some things… that have not yet come to pass”.

‘And Her Song Released the Sudden Spring’: Lúthien’s Song and Dance in the light of the Ainulindalë
Giovanni Carmine Costabile (Independent scholar)

It is often taken for granted that no further light may be shed on Tolkien’s Creation Myth, as given in the several versions of the Ainulindalë, by taking into account the subsequent unfolding of the History of Arda. Yet, to take any given event, or character, or plot, in Tolkien’s Arda Mythology, and assume that it may be even broadly taken as a single thread on its own, is probably a mistake.The tale of Beren and Lúthien, in particular, besides being defined as one of the Great Tales from the Elder Years, was also repeatedly singled out by the Tolkien throughout his life as a story embedded with deep significance. One of the reasons for this is that the Elf maiden’s dance, which won over the heart of Barahir’s son, was famously considered by Tolkien himself to represent his wife Edith dancing for him during his convalescence from trench fever in Roos, while the First World War was still raging.
Notwithstanding, or, perhaps, precisely because of such circumstances, one finds that in the tale of the first Human-Elf couple the structure of the Music of the Ainur is somewhat repeated. Thingol’s daughter first enchants Beren’s heart by dancing to Dairon’s tune, just as the Ainur had put Eru’s theme to music to please him; she then sings her way out of Thingol’s tree-prison, and eventually sings both Carcharoth and Morgoth to sleep, thus paralleling Ilúvatar’s interruption of his own themes after Melkor’s introduction of disharmony. Eventually, by singing a moving lament, she even persuades Doom, as personified by the Vala Mandos, to give her back her beloved Beren, who had died in the attempt to retrieve the Silmaril that had won him her hand.
Since the latter song by Lúthien is expressedly pointed out to weave together the themes of both Elves and Men, it is interesting to relate how such a feat seems to encapsulate the whole of the primordial Music within its notes. In fact, besides Men and Elves, whose representatives were already the focus of her earliest dance and song respectively, being related in her tale, she also weaves the theme of the Ainur together with the others, as the one being in this case enchanted may be called to represent them all, Melkor included, who sees himself as the true Master of Fate (and is not). Moreover, by managing to overcome Fate itself, Lúthien’s song to Mandos may even parallel Ilúvatar’s final pronouncement concluding the Music, as he rises for the third time, and now even he is no longer imperturbable.
Although there are only a few statements addressing such matters in Tolkien’s personal correspondence, I propose, nonetheless, that room for speculation was the author’s specific intention.

The meanings of Estel in the Athrabeth and Tolkien’s theological dialogue
Michaël Devaux (Université de Caen Normandie)

Estel is a very famous quenya word in Tolkien works. In The Lord of the Rings, everyone recalls that it is one among the names of Aragorn. Indeed, the Gilraen’s linnod is famous: “Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim / I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.” (Appendix I, A, v). But what is the difference between Hope and hope? Some readers have argued for a theological reading, seeing in estel the theological virtue of hope. Is that right? Moving from the word to the concept of estel, beyond its semantic opposition with amdir, and is not simple thing. The Athrabeth helps us to go a step further. Such philosophical dialogue is often read as giving access to Tolkien’s thought. But there are methodological issues in reading it thus. If it is philosophical dialogue, we must not only read it as giving access to Tolkien’s philosophy, but also as dialogue: the sense of hope evolves during the conversation. Thus, estel does not have a single meaning. Tolkien reveals his mastery to question not only philosophically, but also socratically. It is not a philosophical treatise nor a kind of Summa theologiae. Quotation from the Athrabeth about estel must not be taken without considering its context and speaker. This paper will show that, in the Athrabeth, estel is used in five different meanings, making it a real exercise in conceptualization. It will also consider the prophetic potential of such creative imagination within the secondary world: it is not only dialogue, philosophy, or even psychology, but it is ultimately a dialogue addressing a theological issue.

Mythologizing Modernity: Reading Tolkien after the Pre-Raphaelites
Rebekah Lamb (St Andrews)

Among Pre-Raphaelite inheritors, JRR Tolkien stands among the most significant and as certainly the most substantive. The mythologizing aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) and their extended circles were anything but homogenous. Nonetheless, from their founding in 1848 to their resurging influence in the mid-to-late twentieth century, it is clear that they possessed a key, shared principle: to mythologize emerging modernity by reviving the medieval reverence for, as TS Eliot has called it, the “pastness of the past.” As Holly Ordway and others have recently shown, Tolkien was deep in William Morris’ particular form of Pre-Raphaelitism. Both shared a fascination for language’s power to build worlds and, equally as important, both saw in medieval aesthetics ways of offering emerging modernity a transcendent horizon. This paper builds upon and extends recent Tolkien scholarship in examining Pre-Raphaelite dimensions of his mythologizing of modernity. Special emphasis will be placed on the conceptual sympathies and divergences between Morris’ The Earthly Paradise and Tolkien’s Silmarillion. In so doing, this paper will examine how both myth-makers sought to challenge and enrich growing, expressly modern and industrialized concepts of time and community. It will also necessarily account for their differing approaches to mythologizing, itself.

Speaking in Verse: Tom Bombadil as historical, theological and ecological anomaly
Alison Milbank (University of Nottingham)

The BBC Radio dramatization and the Peter Jackson film of The Lord of the Rings omitted scenes with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry completely. This is understandable because this characters does not fit into the narrative. Famously, Bombadil is unaffected by the Ring of Power, and is therefore unable to be of use in its destruction, precisely because of his radical innocence. Apart from creating a reality effect by presenting an anomaly in the understood ordering of Middle-earth, what is Tolkien’s purpose in translating a child’s toy into a fictional character?
This paper examines the role of anomalies in the understanding of human evolution in the early twentieth-century and the fictional expression of ‘survivals’ in stories by Arthur Machen and John Buchan as well as existing ancient fairy inhabitants such as Lob in Edward Thomas’s poetry and Buchan’s mysterious Midwinter. It compares Tolkien’s Bombadil and the wild man, Ghân-buri-Ghân to such figures, situating the former especially midway between the survival and the elfish. In contrast to the violent neanderthals of other stories, all Tolkien’s survivals have a positive theological and prophetic function, and reveal the close relationship between creation and redemption in his writing, while the Goldberry/Bombadil union offers the germ of an implicitly feminist nuptial theology.

Eru’s Justice vs. King’s Law in Tolkien’s Works
José María Miranda Boto (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela)

In Tolkien’s works, Law, as a rule, is nearly indistinguishable from Morality and Justice, all of them emanating from a series of eternal, immutable principles that derive from a common source. This common source is, most certainly, Eru Ilúvatar, who, despite not being mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, is the clear origin of all good things in the world.
The idea of pre-existing Justice is revealed by Melkor’s first dialogue, when he claims lordship of Arda, and Manwë. The latter opposes the former’s claim, affirming that “this kingdom thou shalt not take for thine own, wrongfully, for many others have laboured here do less than thou”. The idea of suum quique tribuere, central to Ulpian’s idea of Justice, can be easily extracted from the words of the Vala.
From a legal point of view, the biggest problem in the analysis of Tolkien’s works is the issue of the sources of Law. Who has the power to create legislation? Eru has not given all that is necessary and the different societies in Tolkien’s works must have found a procedure to create their own rules, the King’s Law.
Tolkien himself, in one of his letters, tries to explain this idea of the ancient rules: “A Númenórean King was monarch, with the power of unquestioned decision in debate; but he governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter) but not the maker”. Who, therefore, was the maker? What was the relationship between these two sources, Eru and the Kings?
On the other hand, the idea of Law being a covenant between individuals to build society does not fit in Tolkien’s works. Legal positivism better fits science-fiction, where Law is seen mainly as a tool of oppression. The complete absence of Justice is a usual trait in the grim, dark future that awaits Humanity.
In Tolkien’s narrative, this situation also leads to the predominance of customary law over written law. There are no charters, no Corpus Iuris Civilis of any type, not even a Magna Carta. In any case, traces of English Common Law can be detected in Tolkien’s writings, in opposition to the written Roman Law and its derivatives during Middle Ages in Europe.
In a certain way, legal culture in Tolkien’s works is clearly influenced by the English system in its rejection of Civil Law, both in the Anglo-Saxon period and after the Norman Conquest. The absence of Parliaments and priests, on the other hand, is another factor that leads to the inexistence of Civil Law, as they were the makers in medieval Europe of this type of legislation.

“Middle Earth and Dreamlands: the cosmogonies of J. R. R. Tolkien’s and H. P. Lovecraft as foundations of the philosophical sustainability of Secondary Worlds”
Adriano Monti Buzzetti (independent scholar)

The names of J.R.R. Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft form a celebrated diarchy in the field of fantastic literature, although they apparently knew nothing of each other and their work is antinomic in many respects. The aulic epos of the Oxford professor, evoking the timeless atmosphere of ancient Nordic sagas, contrasts with the old-fashioned prose of the Providence gentleman, modelled on the King George Bible. As for their anthropological vision, Tolkien’s work a deep concern for the ultimate destiny of human beings, the latter’s reveals almost annoyed indifference. More deeply, the ontological dimension of Arda as conceived by the Catholic Tolkien is pervaded by a sense of divine harmony, founded upon the ineffable presence of Christian Revelation. In contrast, the alien pantheon created by the atheist and pessimistic Lovecraft is embedded in a dark universe ruled by chaos, with no space for those experiences of “eucatastrophe” and “consolation”, which Tolkien attributes to fairy stories.
This analysis focuses first on some subtle assonances between the two authors, arguably founded – at least partially – on a common stylistic “ancestor”, namely Lord Dunsany, worshipped by Lovecraft and respected by Tolkien, even if with some doubts. Dunsany’s influence can be traced in Tolkien’s occasional fondness for the fearful and the horrific, visible for instance in his eerie description of the Dead Marshes and its ghostly dwellers, the tentacled “watcher in the water” emerging in front of the gates of Moria, or even in Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog, where “nameless things” gnaw the world “far beyond the deepest delving of the Dwarves. Dunsany’s presence is even more evident in Lovecraft’s works, especially in his “oniric” novels, and in his general love for “the vivid green of jade and copper domes, and the delicate flush of sunset on the ivory minarets of impossible dream-cities”.
This paper further investigates the complementarity between Tolkien’s beliefs about the “sub-creative” role and the power of imagination in the shaping of coherent and believable Secondary Worlds, and in the literary theory underlying Lovecraft’s cycle of tales (Celephais, The Quest of Iranon, Polaris, The White Ship etc.). These are set into the Dreamlands, a parallel dimension whose geography and phenomenology are constantly enriched by the visions of poets and sensitive souls (often hobos in the ‘real’ world, like the protagonist Kuranes in Celephais), who act as proper demiurges, molding Lovecraft’s alternative reality with their lucid dreaming of new cities and places, like the protagonist of Dunsany’s novel The crowning of Thomas Shap.
Through their common Dunsanian roots, this paper associates these two outstanding writers, apparently so different, and construes them as, first and foremost, theorists of the world-building power of fantasy – interpreted by devout Tolkien as “sub-creation” derived from divine Grace, and by materialist Lovecraft as a lay religion of Beauty and Unknown, a sort of arcane magic serving as the only antidote to the ugliness and prosaicism of everyday life.

The Story of a Real Man: Boromir the Son of Denethor as a Metaphor for Man’s Arduous Quest for Eternal Life and His Place Within the Divine Economy of Salvation
Łukasz Neubauer (University of Koszalin)

It is common knowledge that Tolkien disliked any form of allegorical interpretation, or, in fact, any one-to-one correspondence between his sub-created world and the world that we live in. This is not to say, however, that certain elements of his fiction can not be read within that framework, not as allegories per se, of course, but as modes of reflection within the broader context, for instance, of God’s salvific plan for mankind. Perhaps the best illustration of this philosophy can be seen in Tolkien’s hubristic heroes (e.g. Thorin, Boromir) who, despite their numerous failures on the thorny path of life, appear ultimately to be in some way redeemed. Thus, they become sort of metaphors for the human condition in general, with a particular emphasis upon man’s sinful disposition, moral confusion, and, in due course, well-nigh spiritual reflection, followed by sincere repentance and, we should hope, ultimate redemption. This paper seeks to look at Boromir, the older son of Denethor and a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, as an example of this very metaphor of man’s arduous, but, in the end, hopefully successful path to salvation.

“The Mystical Face of Fairy-stories: Tolkien, George MacDonald, and the Use of Allegory in Fantasy”
Holly Ordway (Word on Fire Institute)

Tolkien is well known for having declared, in the Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” However, as critics have noted, Tolkien did in fact use allegory when it suited him to do so, both in his fiction and his non-fiction writings, and his letters show a nuanced view of the form. In the Foreword, Tolkien goes on to say that “many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” His views on allegory and applicability show certain congruences with George MacDonald’s essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” and we know that Tolkien’s ideas about the literary use of allegory were influenced by MacDonald’s literary works, most notably “The Golden Key” and Phantastes. This paper will explore Tolkien’s ideas regarding the nature, role, and proper functioning of allegory, doing so by means of his engagement with the writings of George MacDonald. We will attend in particular to Tolkien’s own analysis of MacDonald’s mythopoeic mode, which suggests that MacDonald helped him to nuance his own idea of ‘applicability’ over his apparent rejection of allegory.

The Cats of Queen Berúthiel: Tolkien’s Linguistic Aesthetic and the Gratuitousness of Creation
Giuseppe Pezzini (University of Oxford/St Andrews)

The paper aims to substantiate and elucidate Tolkien’s claim that The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is above all “an essay in linguistic aesthetic(s)” (Letter 165; cf. also Letter 131, 180), and more precisely “an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real” (Letter 205). The paper will begin with analysis of Aragorn’s passing reference to the “cats of Queen Berúthiel” (LotR 311), described by Tolkien as the only element in LotR “which does not actually exist in legends written before it was begun, or at least belonging to an earlier period” (Letter 174), and about which he had “yet to discover anything” (Letter 163). This example introduces discussion of a typical pattern of composition of Tolkien’s works, attested from his very early years: this begins as an experience of purely aesthetic fascination for a linguistic entity (e.g. the invented name ‘Berúthiel’), which is then expanded into a narrative item (e.g. ‘the cats of queen Berúhiel’), and only later developed into a full, meaningful tale (cf. Unfinished Tales 401–2), through a process of “discovery” (in Tolkien’s words). The second part of the paper will investigate the theoretical implications of such an approach, also benefitting from the recent publication of a complete and annotated edition of Tolkien’s seminal essay on his philosophy of language, A Secret Vice. Specifically, the paper reconstructs Tolkien’s belief in the value and heuristic potential of a ‘gratuitous’ aesthetic event, and especially of a linguistic one, given the divine inspiration of language and its original expression of both wonder at and knowledge of created reality. Influences from ancient (e.g. Plato) and modern (e.g. Barfield) philosophies are taken into account (building e.g. on the work by Flieger, Fornet-Ponse, Honegger, and Eilmann), but the focus is more on Tolkien’s particular view on the ‘mystical’ dimension of language aesthetics, and the way it informs (or rather derives from) his literary practice. For this reason, great attention is given to Tolkien’s archetypical fascination for a mysterious verse from an Old English poem (‘Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, above the middle-earth sent unto men!’), which was later integrated (or rather developed) into his literature, with momentous narrative and exegetical implications.

The relationship between “primary world” and “secondary world” in Tolkien’s letter n. 142
Ivano Sassanelli (Facoltà teologica di Bari)

In the study of the religious thematic in Tolkien’s literature, the contents of the letter n. 142 to father Robert Murray are fundamental. Only if this text is analysed in a contextualized way and with a hermeneutics faithful to Tolkien’s intents, it will be possible to understand the reason why “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. Furthermore, this kind of analysis allows to discover the real relationship existing between the “primary world” and the “secondary world” in Tolkien’s thought, avoiding erroneous interpretations based on the applicability or on the excesses of religious, moral or political allegory.

Blessed are the legend makers: Worldbuilding as an Image of God’s Artistry
Eduardo Segura (Universidad de Granada)

J.R.R. Tolkien believed in the power of myths to convey some sort of deeper, clearer meaning on what we call ‘reality’ for lack of a better, more precise word. Inventing stories, i.e., discovering the true meaning of life and beauty in tales, was a privilege of the artist, a way to beautify the world. God’s creation reveals a splendor that can be glimpsed and understood by means of what he called sub-creation. The story-teller eventually becomes the image of the Giver of gifts by following “the law in which we’re made” (Mythopoeia). In this lecture/paper I propose Tolkien’s notion of art as a way of thanksgiving, and so, as a means for recovery and consolation —for the redemption of a wounded world.

Leaving the Shire: Evocations of the Late-Victorian and Edwardian Spirit of the Country in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

In this paper, I argue that Tolkien’s late-Victorian and Edwardian upbringing and exposure to the literature and the spirit of that age, affected his literary portrayal of the hobbits as they are leaving the Shire. The late-Victorian and Edwardian zeitgeist, found in much literature of the period, championed a return to the country as a response to the insalubrious industrial conditions of life in the cities, and to the international political and military tensions of the period, and frequently articulated a desire to recover what was perceived as the ‘true roots’ of England. However, this return to the country and to nature is not unproblematic; it involves coming to terms with manifestations of deeper cultural strata that have become foreign to the modern Englishman (or, in Tolkien’s case, hobbit). In the late-Victorian and Edwardian literature that Tolkien read, the protagonists’ engagement with such manifestations often prompts a reassessment of their place in the world, which implicitly questions the scientific, technological, and cultural superiority of modern civilization, and exposes them to the type of awe the Romantics associated with the sublime. This is because the autochthonous myths and legends of the past, primarily associated with the natural world, can be simultaneously construed both as a threatening Other and an Ally that brings safety and comfort, and underscores the cultural frailty and paradoxical nature of the modern Englishman. Tolkien expresses a tension similar to the one which was inherent in the late Victorian and Edwardian times, but offers a different version of how to come to terms with it, bringing his notion of Recovery to the forefront.

Keywords: Edwardian culture and literature; Countryside as literary motif; The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings

The Maiar in Middle-earth: co-workers and sub-creators
Guglielmo Spirito OFM Conv (Theological Institute of Assisi)

As recounted in the Ainulindalë, the Ainur are the archetypical sub-creators, called to adorn the Great Music of Iluvatar, each with their own thoughts and devices. Their ‘artistic’ task, however, was not restricted to that primordial event. In fact, after the first performance, and an initial vision of it, their ‘musical’ sub-creation becomes a living reality, Arda. This secondary world however is not ‘realized’ in a single moment, as a static entity, but rather a dynamic one, with a full history which will grow, develop, and flourish in time, and indeed only thanks to the sub-creating activity of the Valar (as they are called after their decision to enter into that world). The Valar indeed had only foreseen and foresung the World, but they must now contribute in bringing it to its fulfilment. For this ongoing sub-creative task, the Valar drew unto them many companions whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of lesser degree, called the Maiar. They labored together, co-workers and sub-creators, in the ordering of the Earth, and although their will and purpose was not wholly fulfilled, in any place or in any work, due to to Melkor’s hindrance, their labor was not all in vain. Thus, the World is still unachieved, unfolding, developing, growing in non-prefigured ways, until – it is said – after the end of days, when the themes of Iluvatar shall be played fully aright – by the Valar, Maiar, Elves and Men –, without flaws. In Tolkien’s artistic vision, any creation (and sub-creation) is thus somehow a seed, with its inner vitality and heredity. For this reason, the truest metaphor used to describe artistic activity is that of the ‘gardener’, which Tolkien himself uses for instance in Letter 183. The wisest among the Maiar (the lesser ‘sub-creators’) was Olorin, and he loved the Children of Iluvatar. In later days, he became one of the Istari, and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imagination of darkness and received fair visions and promptings of wisdom in their hearts, like a canvas covered by its painting, or better still, a canvas reflecting the luminous essences of things. The paper investigates the role of Olorin (i.e., Gandalf) in Tolkien’s works, in relation to the original ‘sub-creative’ role of the Maiar (and Valar).

Tolkien and Purgatory
Brendan Wolfe (University of St Andrews)

Some of the most creative engagements with theology in Tolkien’s œuvre are his depictions of post-mortem intermediate states. This paper will canvass these depictions in stories such as Leaf by Niggle and Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, as well as general elements of the legendarium such as the Halls of Mandos. It will consider the creative and innovative theological aspects of Tolkien’s portrayal, particularly of purgation and reconstruction after death.

Tolkien’s Understanding of the Roles of Creator and Sub-creators
Judith Wolfe (University of St Andrews)

This paper examines Tolkien’s understanding of the roles of Creator and co- or sub-creator in the making of worlds, whether real or artistic. It begins by examining the chiastic structure of Tolkien’s account of creation in the Ainulindalë, in which aspects of creation are shared by Eru and the Ainur, while others are reserved for Eru alone. The paper then investigates the reasons and implications for this division, relating them to other aspects of Tolkien’s theological vision of God, humanity, and the world.