Louis Bouyer’s early review of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”

This is probably completely against some kind of Internet etiquette or arcane copyright law, but I am going ahead and doing it anyway.

I was intrigued to find the name of Tolkien come up in The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer, and on pages 179-180 find Bouyer telling us about a short review of “The Lord of the Rings” he published in 1958 entitled “Le Seigneur des Anneaux, une nouvelle epopee“. The full review article can be found here in the original French. Does anyone know of an English translation of this article available on the net? I haven’t been able to find one.

So in my desperation to read the article, I resorted to Google Translate (mea culpa etc.). If you will therefore forgive me, here is the result below. I personally have next to no French at all, so I have not attempted any kind of cleaning up. But you will get the gist.


Lord of the Rings – A new epic?

Studies by Louis Bouyer Wednesday 12 November 2014

In recent years, the British public has been gradually amused and intrigued and passionate impatience by the successive release of three beautiful purple volumes from the publisher Allen and Unwin. They were presented in a bizarre cover, stamped with a cabalistic sign uneasily that accompanied vaguely decipherable runic characters. The general title The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), was hardly illuminating, nor the titles of the three parts corresponding to three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King

Now that the finished work is in our hands, in which the leaf for the first time it provided a succession of surprises, if not for mistakes, no less disconcerting. At first glance, if one has the wisdom to read a row the first forty pages of the first volume, resisting the urge to run away to see how things will develop, the impression was of come across a new Jules Verne, but of a far superior quality. The best of the best starts of Jules Verne is evoked; the prologue and joined exceeds the scientific hoax of Journey to the Center of the Earth, however, that the first chapter throws you in medias res, as dazed and seized what happens to you in L’Ile propeller or better yet the Testament of an eccentric. But the amazing storyteller art mingles here the effect of a music skillfully and archaic style, and already the first chords of a grand poetry accompany the progress of these long sentences of imperturbable humor. You can then hold you to jump to the so-called explanatory appendices that meet the tight hundred pages from the end of the third volume. Think again to the scholarly pedantry mystifying justifications provided by Jules Verne Upside down. But after a few pages, you find yourself hesitating. Is it likely that a counterfeiter has had a great deal of patience these strangely accurate maps, genealogies also numerous, varied, complicated than those of the Bible – with thorough explanations lose yourself in the maze of a language, of heraldry, a chronology that you can absolutely believe word but we still manage to take less for the possible product of a single brain …? Yet this is not all: should we really accept that this confusing author could invent a language from scratch (nay language: many, in their different forms albeit subtly related …)?

But really, who is he that J. R. R. Tolkien, whose name, without any title or explanation is repeated on the three volumes? A look at who’s who British teaches us, or reminds us that this is the name of one of the most famous philologists Oxford, Fellow of Merton, leading expert of ancient languages ??and Scandinavian literature. We remember when C. S. Lewis, in his famous autobiography, has quietly appointed in passing as a Catholic friend who had especially helped found the Christian faith.

This encourages us to situate the somewhat strange atmosphere in which the story will push us more and more. In the characters – in fact we meet along the way, in this place names and place names that proliferating but we shall come gradually to regain its footing, there is not there something in the Nordic Sagas, and even time the old Celtic legends such as these come to us through the Mabbinogion, Brut of Wace or even Morte d’Arthur …? Yes, and many other things that we discover, or will believe discover along the way. But if we are advising us to scrutinize any of these analogies, we will be disappointed, or rather our curiosity, far from being satisfied, will do than irritated. None of these similarities is a kinship. All these characters, these stories, all mysterious objects and the incredible sights that will show we are like Melchizedek: the prestigious genealogies some of which are filled, the justifications developed for the others remain “without father or mother,” not only in history, but as well in the fable … we must bear it with delight: the world “enormous and delicate” Lord of the Rings is certainly a world that Mr. Tolkien alone has the key, and this is even a world he came entirely from his sleeve, pretending to pull the old books that adorn its Merton scholar library seasoned in a science where insiders are particularly rare.

But advance us further in our reading. We are not, far from it, at the end of our surprises. We began by familiarizing us with a curious country, the “Shire”, that is to say the county where the “Hobbits” are conducting a peaceful bourgeois and slightly wayward life. Who are these Hobbits? They explained to us, like everything else, with a generous luxury sports scholarship. A sort of little men to share the terrestrial dating, they are reminiscent of the gnomes Grimm, but their idiosyncrasy remains deliciously British. Two heroes will gradually come off of abundant company in various figures, but all equally charming. This is Mr. Frodo Baggins and his faithful companion, Sam. It is thought the couple to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, so often imitated. But how brilliantly it was anglicized, or rather “hobbitisé”! There is in Frodo Hamlet rubbed a humor that would be a “squire” countryman, flier intermittently, particularly scholar and meditative, but in which the knight emerges unexpectedly from the upbeat and end without improbability in a ” transitus “as well as Enoch or Oedipus at Colonus. Beside him, Sam, the son of the hilarious “Gaffer” has exactly the right proverbial sense of Sancho, with a fidelity that thoughtlessness, the badaude curiosity, but not any selfishness, can cross without ever really put in danger. But its slaughter and its trick of “cockney” honest, his inexhaustible ingenuity, tastes rather feel that the Terran freshly stirred up him a figure all Anglo-Saxon would not be unworthy of Chaucer. And around them as succulent figures, from these first pages without leaving the “Shire” from the various members, male or female, the Baggins family until farmer Maggot, another crunchy whitening our fables!

This familiar realism is so pleasantly that lavished to prepare the most incredible figures, in the best traditions of the great Anglo-Saxon. It starts with the wise Gandalf, the wizard of beneficent personality will gradually, too, not only epic grandeur, but almost religious. Next, the mysterious opponents ahead soon, striking right away by the wave of terror they barely passing glimpse. They too will grow up to the stature of the Knights of Apocalypse and princes of a nameless horror. This is also one of the most constant features, but the most cleverly spun, this singular work the way the characters, first with an almost comical reality, transform or hatch rather grandiose figures.

The quest of Frodo and assorted companions that attach to its not going to start soon. The object will remain partially obscure until the end. This is to recapture the magic rings, one of which is in possession of the little people at first so little inclined to nothing epic, and so ward off the formidable progress of the great Darkness that once repressed threat again , with so peaceful county, an extraordinary human universe, prehuman and preternatural that will reveal itself to us gradually.

The quest begins by crossing a mysterious forest besieging of its huge plant presences easily evil, the protective wall of the “Shire”. Two episodes will there also dream as an omen of alternation of heavenly or hellish adventures has in store this novel where the epic still has colors of Apocalypse. This is the last night in the stifling tumuli haunted, and this is the sunny glade where the singular romance flourishes that Tom Bombadil, true Puck of the forest, with which, for the first time, have a poetry casting visionary who, from place to place, always renewed and always true to its very charm aside, interrupt the narrative prose.

After two episodes of enchantment, picaresque novel of color, but very British, again, to prepare us insidiously to a new dive in the most responsible for the delicious anguish fantastic: the night in the inn distracted, chatty and helpful Barliman Butterbur, “the prancing pony”. Around her roam the dark riders, and we’ll slip a Shakespearean farce formed the best terrors; that is, if you will, Falstaff at the Castle of Otranto. At the heart of that night when we fall in Walpurgis Rabelais, one of the great encounters of the story takes place: that of the enigmatic Strider, who is later revealed to as Aragorn, before appearing as the expected King Gondor.

But the quest will resume, with him now to lead us first in the North Elves City, where will the big Elrond martial. Our valiant companions will not reach without first night battle with the cursed riders. The respite they will enjoy after this will be short. It will prepare for the big trip south, which extends again the Darkness, and the fulfillment of the mission of Frodo. Then they have to go through underground passes of Moria, where Gandalf seem engulfed by an infernal power. They emerge in the enchanted kingdom of Lothlórien, to be guests of the queen Galadriel. However a new companion still will append to them, the ambiguity Gollum, holder of the secrets of magic rings, ready for all the humiliations and tricks to recover the ring that Frodo holds; but it will be eventually defeated by the transparent simplicity thereof.

The course of the great river, along which float the body of the unfortunate knight Boromir, bring them to Isengard, the fortress of Saruman magician. First enemy, as Gandalf, found in the meantime, the dark powers. Saruman has been won by the charm of talismans he believed ward. But the amazing vegetable humanity Ents, coming to the aid of our friends, drown her accursed city under a tremendous flood.

So come on the scene the faithful Cavaliers Rohan. Thanks to them, we will come to Minas Tirith, the city of light, paralyzed, as a new “land gaste”, under the ambiguous charm of Palantirs, magic mirrors that have both seduced and perverted Saruman himself. But his struggle with Minas Morgul, the city of darkness, will resume, with the arrival of the expected King that its senses power from the hands of failed Stewards. However, it may not deliver the decisive battle against the dark realm of Mordor before Frodo, accompanied by the faithful Sam and Gollum perverse, had defeated in his lair of the invisible nightmare Sauron and finally sacrificed the power of magic rings …

Then the funeral of King Black Riders will be defeated and, once again, the Great Dark retreat. But the Lord of the Ring, with the victorious princes, his companions will not remain after their supernatural experiences, in the peace of an earthly kingdom. An unnamed vessel will carry them in the afterlife unattainable Western Islands. However, the faithful Sam will not grow weary of reliving this dream true in the well earned peace of his domestic happiness …

and trace the outlines of this story reduced to childish tale. And it is there, no doubt, the same frame of a book that has made year after year from the “stories” followed a father, a poet than scientist, took up tirelessly for children, as logically imaginative than himself.

But tell, especially hastily, these “stories” beautifully spun can not give any idea of ??the wonderful embroideries that have flourished this frame or the inlay treasure that is inserted there, where the most fun or the most realistic deeply human mingles constantly visionary poetry, as in the fairy light water Palantirs.

Poetry, the novel, which is both a poem and is crossed besides passages in verse recalling both Celtic ballads, Vaughan … or Lewis Carroll – poetic, this novel is above all the sense etymological, by an inexhaustible imagination creative power. Humanity, or mythological animals, superhuman or subhuman, which mixes them – are equally convincing, and an astounding profusion. But it is highly poetic in its enchanted places, turns itself magical, as the realm of Lothlorien, idyllic as the home of Tom Bombadil, magical as Isengard and its surroundings, epic (like Homer or the Bible) as the plains of Rohan or the royal city of Gondor, as the demonic empire of Sauron. It is even more so perhaps some of the episodes that take place there: the nostalgic party at the elves Galadriel; funeral erring body Boromir comes to moving waters of Anduin; the incredible steps in deserts, underground, haunted forests dotting the narrative; the frightening shadows walking by the mountain of the dead; and above all perhaps the arrival to the citadel of Minas Tirith, suicide denies the Steward Denethor in the funeral palace given to the fire, and finally the titanic struggle and victory of Elendil …

Poetic, finally, it is still by both the romance of true friendships that continue to, rare few and modest loves that it forged as the margins of the story and the influences that it preternatural foresee around talismans (rings or Palantirs) between superhuman magicians and enormous powers of a sub-human spirituality that support or counteract the …

One senses behind this poetry, at once so human and so fantastic, a hidden meaning but everywhere present. It is remarkable that there is demonic power as a series of hierarchical avatars, low but devious Gollum in invisible Sauron, Saruman through the white wizard lost pride of his powers, and the King of scary Nazgul … But it is clear that the light power has only servants, Gandalf, the benevolent wizard, Aragorn, King of Gondor, by Frodo himself, the ultimate winner, because the pure, the selfless, who willingly lost in the abyss into which it had been forged talisman of preternatural powers … This power itself remains unnamed, invisible to the eye obviously even himself invisible Sauron, his ultimate enemy . It was she, however, that will join the victorious princes, voluntary passenger ship lost to the West …

One thinks, of course, the old magic stories of the Arthurian legend, Christianized in the Grail Quest. Here, however, surprisingly authentic Christian spirituality underlying this fantastic poetry seems more assured. Yet not once the Divine Name is pronounced, not a single allusion is made to the Savior. But talismans here are not superficially disguised as sacraments: they are deliberately sacrificed by a purity, a hard-won disinterestedness, too clearly woven of love not to be derived from faith, this faith in which s’ eventually absorb the victors valiant.

C. S. Lewis, and others with him, were not afraid of comparing this unusual work to those of Ariosto or Spenser. It supports one or the other comparisons, as it looks like an unexpected form of “science fiction”, while it is a detective novel of exceptional verve and a great fantasy adventure that overshadows Arthur Gordon Pym or Moby Dick.

I read not only with renewed pleasure with which I read to twelve the best Jules Verne, but with an ever-increasing impatience of following a story that keeps you going for a thousand pages without failure. And thousands are already like me, not only in Anglo-Saxon countries but wherever English literature a few readers.

Does this mean that we have here a work destined to remain a kind of sui generis epic of modern man dreaming awake its most immediate problems in a deceptively archaic setting which reflected all the mythical symbols that are ageless ? The author himself, no doubt, would welcome the potential irony of Max Jacob password on the Soulier de Satin: “It’s a masterpiece!

What would convince me best that there is more than the prestige of an exceptionally fertile imagination, is that Mr. Frodo and his loyal Sam did not seem unknown. I remember as English cottage Warwick County, Shakespeare country, where I have spent in a chair in the corner of the fireplace, entire evenings to hear the stories, especially the digressions of a farmer. He renewed his inexhaustible verve and my interest in the bottom of the tin where pints poured himself an excellent ale it was Sat.

And I no less readily evokes such a comfortable home on the Downs Somerset, where I leafed valuable books of a squire to the poetic and pious soul, which, during our walk was interrupted in his stories hunting to show me off the nave of Wells and Glastonbury Tor. Now he spoke of Aelred of Rievaulx and his De amicitia, with the same fervor, while filling us two glasses of sherry its best: I believe it was Frodo …

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Louis Bouyer’s early review of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”

  1. John Gough says:

    I am a retired university academic researching the life and works of Elizabeth Goudge, the English novelist and spiritual writer.
    I have found that she was a friend of Louis Bouyer, who was also a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and, I believe, of C.S. Lewis.
    I know that Goudge read and admired Lewis’s work (and Tolkien’s also — she even named one of her dogs Frodo!).
    According to an interview reported in Goudge’s biography, “Beyond the Snow”, by Christine Rawlins, Bouyer reported to Goudge’s late-in-life companion and carer, Jessie Monroe, that Lewis read Goudge’s books.
    Can you shed any further light on connections between Bouyer, Lewis and Goudge (and Tolkien, apart from the French review you have posted on the internet)?
    Hoping you may be able to help,
    Dr John Gough — Deakin University (retired)

    • Schütz says:

      This was a long time ago that I wrote this post, John. I don’t have any more information. I’d actually like to read a biography of Bouyer – I don’t think I am very familiar with his life, but he seems to have been well connected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *