A 'Must Read' for Heathens

I have enjoyed the writings of Dr. Tom Shippey on Tolkien for many years, but a recent post to a Heathen email list brought this lecture to light: Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy.

Basically it covers the same territory as The Road to Middle Earth. Here's a passage that should show why I feel that this is a 'must' read for Heathens:

However, the third reason I would indicate for the powerful impact of Old Norse on European scholars, and on Tolkien, is the rationale it gives for heroism. The most surprising image of Old Norse mythology, for Christians, is perhaps the idea of Ragnarök, an Armageddon which the wrong side wins. Tolkien was very impressed by this, as one can see from his comments in his 1936 British Academy lecture on Beowulf:
"It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent and terrible solution in naked will and courage. 'As a working theory absolutely impregnable.' So potent is it, that while the older southern [i.e. Classical] imagination has faded far even into literary ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own times. It can work, as it did even with the goðlauss viking, without gods: martial heroism as its own end. But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death."
However, one can also see that - writing just before the outbreak of World War II - Tolkien was also rather disturbed by it: he saw that the ethos it represented could be used by either side, as indeed it was in the deliberate cultivation of Götterdämmerung by the Nazi leadership a few years later. Nevertheless it did provide an image of heroic virtue which could exist, and could be admired, outside the Christian framework. In some respects the Old Norse "theory of courage" might even be regarded as ethically superior to the Classical if not to the Christian world-view, in that it demanded commitment to virtue without any offer of lasting reward. Men must fight monsters because it was their duty, not because they thought the monsters would lose, or the gods would win. In the deep disillusionment which overtook the Western world, and England especially, after 1918, the Old Norse mythology seemed immune to self-doubt, precisely because it had no self-belief.

Read the whole thing. And if you'd like an extra "lore treat", read Professor Shippey's books: you'll not be disappointed.

23:00 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link