Professor Tolkien once said that a new word should be created, something that meant the opposite of a catastrophe, the opposite of a disaster. He wanted a word for when, against all odds, when all hope seemed lost, through an unexpected turn of events the good triumphed anyway. He suggested "eucatastrophe" for this word.
But Tolkien's work also leaves me searching for a word that I cannot find in our language. He is so determined to entice and allure with the goodness of the world, and the appeal is so strong and insistent, that the closest word I can find is "seduce". But "seduce" is always used of the appeal of bad things: the appeal of the bad is so strong that it corrupts our minds, our will, our character, and leads us down the wrong way to disaster. Tolkien has achieved what few others have done: he has shown the good in all its beauty and desirability, so that the appeal of the good is so strong and alluring that it un-corrupts our minds, our will, and our characters, and leads us down the right way towards health and sanity. When we have finished reading Tolkien, it seems genuinely unthinkable to lie or to betray a friend, or even speak too harshly with our neighbors. Aren't we supposed to be off somewhere helping to heal the world, or building a thing of beauty, or sitting with our friends and raising a toast?
Tolkien creates a world with layer on layer of history, each age leaving its own traces behind. Ancient poems in forgotten languages, hauntingly beautiful, are sprinkled through the pages. The landscape is scattered with the ruins of monuments of earlier ages. And the possibility is never quite gone: someone might take up those songs again, or take the empty throne again, and the crumbling ruins will then become the placeholders for rebuilding the glory that once was. The enchanting past never quite loses its sense of possibility, that it might have a living part to play in the future.
And so the good professor's works inevitably leave us with the impression that he was, after all, talking about this world. They leave us with a sense of unfinished business.
Professor Tolkien invites us to love what is good, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, those things that are worthy of praise, and to think on these things.
Title for scholars:
Professor of Ancient Beauties
Other holders of the Tolkien chair:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge