Corey Olsen on J.R.R. Tolkien, Religion, and The Hobbit
Date: November 26th, 2012

Just in time for the release of the highly-anticipated movie The Hobbit, we explore the life, times, and writings of J.R.R. Tolkien with Prof. Corey Olsen, an assistant professor of English at Washington College and founder of The Mythgard Institute, a privately-run center for learning about Tolkien and mythology more generally.  Without doubt, Corey is passionate about the subject of Middle Earth, as is evidence by his alternate moniker The Tolkien Professor.  Tony probes where this passion came from and whether or not Christians should be wary of these stories that contain elves, goblins, and other seemingly pagan creatures.  Not surprisingly, there are a number of deeply devout individuals who are hesistant to let their children read books by Tolkien or see the movies.  However, Prof. Olsen does a remarkable job in discussing what myths are and what mythology is meant to do, and why religious believers should embrace these works of fantasy fiction.  Our discussion explores the important influences of Tolkien’s life, including his deeply-held Roman Catholicism, his love of languages, and his passion for mythology.  We learn that Tolkien not only created the mythical world that we see in movies such as The Lord of the Ring trilogy, but that he fully developed six different languages and a storyline about their historical roots, an amazing feat if one considers how complex our everyday languages are.  Tolkien’s relationship with C.S. Lewis is also discussed.  Admittedly, Tony is not a big fan of this genre of fiction, so he was surprised to find out the degree of influence Tolkien had on Lewis.  Corey shares a number of interesting tidbits about their longstanding and fruitful relationship.  We finally, then, get to the spiritual themes in The Hobbit.  Prof. Olsen notes that Christianity was not something that was explicitly woven into Tolkien’s writings, though his deeply-held faith did condition how he crafted his mythic worlds.  Providence, fate, and free will emerge as very important spiritual themes in Tolkien’s writings and Corey points to various examples within the story where this becomes apparent.  (Not to worry, folks.  There are no spoilers to the film in this interview.)  Prof. Olsen also speculates about how Tolkien probably was influenced by the ancient Christian writer Boethius.   We then finish off with whether or not, as a Tolkien afficianado, Corey is anticipating the release of Peter Jackson’s film.  He even manages to get Tony excited about seeing this film and maybe, just maybe, even reading the book.  Recorded: November 9, 2012.

RELATED LINKS

Prof. Corey Olsen’s biography at Washington College.

The Mythard Institute.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, by Corey Olsen.

 


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