Now even the Pope is a Tolkien fan?

As you may have noticed from some of my posts I am a bit of a Tolkien fan. I’ve taken an interest in his life and works and modern fantasy literature in general for 25 years now and it has always been a very pleasant experience to see what wonderful, bright and charming people share my interest in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion (and many more books most people don’t really know about – yet.) One of them is Pieter Collier of and he issued a list of famous Tolkien fans in 2011 and when I first saw this I quite liked the idea. It is nice to finally see your author being appreciated by the Bold and the Beautiful.

However, even with this particular list I wasn’t quite happy. Now, Queen Margrethe II is an asset, having done illustrations inspired by Tolkien’s works which later on she kindly granted permission to be used for the covers of the amazing Tolkien Ensemble CD’s. Árpád Göncz, the former president of Hungary, is an impressive addition to the list and yes, even Stephen Colbert seems to know his Tolkien. No, we don’t have to mention Sir Christopher Lee (who is the only one of the film trilogy’s cast to have actually met the Professor!) because this man is the bomb!

But then things turn into a direction I wouldn’t be happy to follow. Nicholas Cage? Megan Fox who in the very quote used at the Tolkien Library shows she doesn’t know her Tolkien (how can anyone eat Lembas bread in the Mines of Moria if they get it in Lórien first?) And even though I appreciate football like anybody else I don’t see tattooing myself using the Tengwar script wrongly as the best thing I can do right now. And hunting down famous Tolkien fans is fun, in a sense, but even though liking ‘Lord of the Rings’ on Facebook is supposed to be a sign of a high IQ I don’t really want each and everyone out there to be a Tolkienist 🙂 There, I said it. And why? Because many people like Tolkien’s writings for the wrong reasons and because many didn’t really understand them – at least, that is my impression from many years of being part of the Tolkien fandom.

The hunt for Tolkien fans (not to be mistaken with the amazing fan project The Hunt for Gollum) has now found another victim and none other than Pope Francis himself. In an article in Italian blog Inoltre published March 16th, 2013, Pope Francis is said to have mentioned Tolkien as an influential writer worth reading in his Easter message to teachers in Argentine of 2008 (then still Cardinal Bergoglio). He also names Borges, Hölderlin and Dostojewski in that particular message which is about the way of man throughout his or her life and the choice between good and evil – in Spanish called “hombre en camino” – ‘learning to walk with God’ might possibly be a translation. I’d love my friends at the Spanish Tolkien Society to provide a translation of this and see what they make of it.

If there are no other mentions found of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legacy used in Pope Francis’ I will consider this a one time opportunity of a learned man to use one of mankind’s most cherished stories to prove a point even if I don’t necessarily share his faith. Until then …

If you speak Portuguese do head on over to the friendly people at who have also written about it at length.

And P.S.: No, I will not go into the whole ‘J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic!’ thing. Everyone appreciative of Tolkien knows where to put faith, theology and literature. At least we all should.


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

14 Responses

  1. The article at TL is actually a list of “Famous Tolkien and Lord of the Rings fans” mixing the book and the movie fans… maybe a separation between the two is needed? But since the dual universe is now in existence why not mingle the two? The damage has been done anyways and is here to stay for a long time! As for the pope… maybe he has a high IQ? No Harley for him then I suppose!

    • It’s a very nice list and I am glad it is there 🙂 In Germany we now have a major literary critic (think Germaine Greer) called Denis Scheck who is all over Tolkien and is really helping modern fantasy literature to come ‘out of the closet.’

      There are some fans, though, I would not like to be associated with. *cough*

      • haha… same here! But then again some geeks might like the idea to watch the movie with someone like Megan Fox. I’m certain about that! But guess the better dream would be discussing the books… alas that will not happen soon.

    • TroelsForchhammer says:

      For my sake, I would say that splitting it is a good idea.

      There are two distinct “universes” in existence, and mingling them does not, in my considered opinion, lead to anything good; rather it leads to misunderstandings and misperceptions about Tolkien and his work — as Marcel so eloquently puts it, “many people like Tolkien’s writings for the wrong reasons and because many didn’t really understand them”. I agree entirely with Marcel here, and I think that mixing the universe, story and characters of the films (of any of the films) with the universe, story and characters of Tolkien’s book only aggravates this.

      This possibly makes me a grumpy purist in the eyes of many (though I don’t quite see the point of their fondness of this phrase: what does it make of themselves? Pollutists? That would be quite apt, actually), but I am not saying that there is nothing to appreciate or even love about the universe, story and characters of one of the cinema adaptations, but these are not Tolkien’s, and mixing them with Tolkien’s makes you misunderstand Tolkien’s story, universe and characters even more.

      There are lots of people who can appreciate both, and I respect that — it is the mixing of them that I think is the problem.

      • the mixing was done, nothing we can do about it now. When I look at my kids, they both read the books and see the movies… hard to explain (many) things that happen in the movie. Must have given the “yes, but that is just an invention by the movie director” so many times that I can witness the impact first hand. Really we can wish as much as we want, but while we all protested the idea of making the stories into movies, they are here now and here to stay. You can try to ignore that, but sadly… it will not change much. And indeed now we have a lot of “movie” fans, some not even aware who Tolkien is, but they love the same stories (sadly in a different interpretation)… but who are we to feel that we are better fans? I’ll have to think some more about that.

        • Well, the point isn’t about being “better fans” or anything – I am just a fan of the books and their writer, first and foremost. And there can really be no mingling, as Troels puts it, because having seen the films first will change your mindset and your expectations. I’d rather talk about ‘fans of different expectations’ and yes, film fans as well… If I am better in anything then it is this appreciation of the literary origins and they are better than the films, quite obviously.

          And yes, the films are here to stay. It’ll take less than 20 years, though, and then someone else will do another version.

        • TroelsForchhammer says:

          There are a lot of bad things in the world that I may not be able to change (war, famine, torture, discrimination …), but that doesn’t mean that I need to accept them, much less to help perpetuate them.

          The films are not merely “a different interpretation” — they portray a completely different story, happening in a completely different universe to completely different characters. It is that which it is necessary to emphasize again, and again, and again!

          I make absolutely no value judgement in this — regardless of my personal preferences there is absolutely nothing wring with preferring Bakshi’s, or Rankin & Bass’ or Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings universes: they are of course inherently just as good as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but they are different.

          In his essay, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien writes: “The habit, for instance, of pondering a summarized plot of Beowulf, denuded of all that gives it particular force or individual life, has encouraged the notion that its main story is wild, or trivial, or typical, even after treatment. Yet all stories, great and small, are one or more of these three things in such nakedness. The comparison of skeleton ‘plots’ is simply not a critical literary process at all.”

          Once we start claiming that Tolkien’s story is the same as those of the various films, we are precisely pondering this kind of summarized, or skeleton, plots, looking at all of these stories “denuded of all that gives it particular force or individual life”. Mixing them is as much a refusal of that which gives the films their particular force and life as it is a refusal of these elements in Tolkien’s story. Were I a fan of the film, I would be just as infuriated at people insisting on mixing it with that long-winded, breathless old book …

          When I speak of the evils of the world, I do not speak of any of the Lord of the Rings films themselves — I speak exclusively of confusing and mixing different stories.

  2. I did provide a link to the Archbishopric of Buenos Aires and the message talked about – so nothing’s missing there 🙂

  3. René Jarosch says:

    I couldn’t help blogging about this, and included a German translation of Bergoglio’s Tolkien paragraph:

  4. TroelsForchhammer says:

    With my own meagre Spanish abilities, and not least looking at translations by two other Tolkienists (Jonathan Fruoco and José Manuel Ferrández Bru), I have made something that I believe is a reasonable translation of the paragraph from the Archbishop’s address that involves Tolkien:

    ‘Other mythological tales show the human journey[1] as a return to home, to where the traveller originally belonged. This is the case with Ulysses or expressed poetically by Hölderlin in his ode “Rückkehr in die Heimat” (“Return to the Native Land”). Tolkien, in contemporary literature, takes up agin, in Bilbo and in Frodo, the images of Man who is called to wande, and his heroes experience and enact, while walking, the drama that is playing out between good and evil. The “man on the road” involves a dimension of hope; “entering” in hope. In all of history and mythology is emphasized the fact that man is not still or stagnant, but “on the road”, called, “vocado”[2] — hence the term vocation, and when he does not enter into this dynamic then he voids himself as a person or is corrupted. Moreover, the outset is rooted in an inner restlessness which drives a man to “go beyond himself”, to experience the “exodus from self”. There is something outside and inside of us that calls upon us to realize the journey. Go out, walk, carry out, accept the opeen and renounce the shelter … that is the way.’

    [1] Bergoglio is using the word “camino” and the associated verb “caminar” a lot. While the idiomatic translations in English will often be of the journey / travel / road kind, the Spanish carries also strong walking connotations, i.e. ‘the road one walks’ and ’travelling by foot’.

    [2] He uses two spanish words, “llamado, vocado” both of which should be translated as ’called’ — I have left the second untranslated to emphasize his connection to ’vocation’ = calling.

    • It is very much about the Christian concept of “homo viator”, I think, the way one takes on the road to God. A strong picture and quite an interesting piece, all in all. Thanks for the translation, Troels!

  5. Vana Holmes says:

    Well, I’ve known about Mr. Bergoglio’s appreciation for Professor Tolkien for years now. He was the Director of the Universidad del Salvador, which I attended. We were always hearing comments on Tolkien’s works from him when he visited our Faculty of Literature. He had the highest regard for one of Tolkien’s short stories, which all of you might know, Leaf by Niggle. I don’t share his faith, never have, but he is still a very intelligent man, and he did some of the best analysis that I’ve ever hear about that piece of work, and he showed a genuine passion for it.
    I’m Argentinian, member of the Greek Tolkien Society.