I was recently invited on the Mythic Mind podcast to discuss Tolkien’s short story, Farmer Giles of Ham. Here’s the episode!
Author: Aaron Bair
The Indwelling Word
Kicking off Advent season with a gem from St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. This is from thesis nine:
“And now the very corruption of death no longer holds ground against human beings because of the indwelling Word, in them through the one body. As when a great king has entered some large city and made his dwelling in one of the houses in it, such a city is certainly made worthy of high honor, and no longer does any enemy or bandit descend upon it, but it is rather reckoned worthy of all care because of the king’s having taken residence in one of its houses; so also does it happen with the King of all. Coming himself into our realm, and dwelling in a body like the others, every design of the enemy against human beings has henceforth ceased, and the corruption of death, which had prevailed formerly against them, perished. For the race of human beings would have been utterly dissolved had not the Master and Savior of all, the Son of God, come for the completion of death.”
Ranking Anthony’s Doerr’s Novels
In light of Doerr’s recent release, Cloud Cuckoo Land, I wanted to rank the three novels he’s written up to this point. I almost wrote a ranking of Doerr’s stories (including short stories), but to do that one justice, I think I would need to read Memory Wall and Shell Collector again first.
3. Cloud Cuckoo Land
From the outset, I could tell this was Doerr’s attempt to outdo what he did in All the Light by including more characters, storylines, and even time periods. For the most part, I would say that he succeeded. As always, Doerr’s description and setup–particularly the Constantinople storyline–is detailed, intricate, and compelling, which only makes the climax of the story all the more satisfying to read. Because of the added layers to this story, it did take awhile for the story to truly get going, and at times, all the jumping around from one perspective to the next felt a bit jarring. But once the story did get going, oh man, it was enthralling, to say the least.
2. About Grace
The often overlooked and underrated novel of Doerr’s. As much as I love his two protagonists in All the Light, David Winkler–the protagonist in this novel–may be his best constructed character. Part of the reason why is that we spend the entire novel with David. In contrast, his other two novels jump around in perspectives, which does have its strengths, for sure, but also hinders the reader from knowing the character as well as a character like David. Grace is easily the most simplistic of his three stories, but I think that’s also part of what makes it so great.
1. All the Light We Cannot See
If these were different categories, I would have All the Light as equally a nostalgia pick as well as a this-is-one-of-the-best-books-I’ve-read picks. I remember on my honeymoon walking into a Barnes & Noble in downtown Seattle and picking up a copy of this book. I was hooked from page one. Everything about this novel is wonderful. From Marie’s relationship with first her father, and then her withdrawn and haunted Uncle, Etienne, to seeing Werner’s slow transformation from an orphan boy to Hitler Youth, and then to see how their arcs converge was mesmerizing. One of Doerr’s best descriptions (and that’s saying something, because Doerr is excellent with the details (sometimes to a fault)) was a scene when Marie and her father were in the French countryside, after having escaped out of Paris, and then turned to see German bombers light up the sky.
Suffice it to say, all of these novels are worth your time, but if I had to rank these, this is where they would currently fall. Now onto rereading his short stories!
On the Comparisons of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones
I’ve read the first book of Martin’s series, and obviously (if you’ve been following my posts), I’ve read a lot of Tolkien. There are some superficial similarities between the two (time period, the existence of dragons, etc.), but that’s essentially where it stops.
Why is this? Because these stories operate by a different metaphysic (how reality is viewed). Tolkien’s world is a sub-creation of the Christian mythos while Martin’s is not. Mercy does not triumph over judgment in Martin’s world.
This is why Martin’s protagonists regularly descend into the debauchery and perversion of the world to be part of it, while Tolkien’s do not. Indeed, even the one semi-noble dude in GoT gets his head chopped off, and it isn’t even in a sanctifying or redemptive manner like many of Tolkien’s.
I know Martin has expressed gratitude for Tolkien, but given the fact that he created a series that, in many ways, is antithetical to what Tolkien cherished, his gratitude is a bit twisted.
Bottom line: Let’s stop comparing these guys. They are NOT the same in pretty much any way.