Book Meme Challenge:
Favorite Book of ALL Time, EVER
Recently, one of my customers asked me this very question. I gaped at him for a full thirty seconds before pulling myself together enough to explain that that is exactly like asking a mother to choose her favorite child.
I was not sure he understood, but began to give him the list none the less: Lewis, Sayers, Tate, Austen, Porter, Chesterton, Waugh, T.S. Eliot, George Elliot, Terry Pratchett, John Donne, Flannery O’Connor . . . . and then he was starting to look a little shell-shocked so I took pity upon him and halted.
So obviously, again, this challenge could use some paradigm shifting.
The Favorite book should be the Bible. Probably. But the Bible is actually a tome, a volume comprised of many books. So which book of the Bible is my favorite? I love Judith, Proverbs Maccabees, Genesis, Luke, 1st Corinthians, and Revelation.
But when forced at sword point to declare the one that I would take with me to a deserted isthmus, the result is: The Song of Songs.
Beyond being a comfort book that can me happy in every single verse, from the amusing “your navel is like a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine,” to the amazingly and perfectly romantic “you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes . . . how much better is your love than wine!”
From the heart wrenching anguish of “I sought him but found him not . . . ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’ . . . when I had found him whom my soul loves I held him and would not let go,” to the stunningly beautiful “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death.”
It is rather surprisingly sensual, but always in a sacramental way. It is Holy Sensuality, the kind that can lead us to Heaven. The love that is a shadow of God’s all-consuming love. It is the passion and dedication of complete self-giving and fruitful joy. Each idea, act, word is real on both the physical plane and the spiritual plane at once.
It is pure poetry. Every line is beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and conveyant of the entire reality of the situation. It communicates the experience to the mind, heart, body, and soul. It is the kind of love the expands the sight and the heart. It stretches both lovers to love the entire world, not just themselves.
But if we were to stick to our original rule that the Bible be not included, (for reasons of variety and classical conscientiousness,) then I hereby declare my favorite book of all time to be . . .
The Lord of the Rings
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Do I have ‘dork’ stamped on my forehead? No matter. Actually, I should say that my favorite would be “The Entire, Complete, and Extensive Lore of Middle-Earth,” but I do not believe that that has been put into one volume yet.
Because I really, truly believe that this creation is one of the most comprehensive, delightful, adventurous, and wonderful works of art.
And there is so much than can be said about them! But I will stick to my two favorite points.
First, as David has mentioned, Tolkien’s stories do not exist in a vacuum. Every character has a personal history and family history. Every action has consequences beyond its immediate circumstances. The narrative of Beren and Luthien enlightens elements of the story Celeborn and Galadrial, of the adventures Elwing and Earendil, and set in motion not only the history that leads to Aragorn and Arwen but foreshadows the very romance. (So much so that when Aragorn first sees Arwen, he sings a verse from the Lay of Luthien.)
Everything has a place, a cause and effect, an echo than can be heard throughout all the stories to come. Everything is part of a real world. It goes beyond epic; the history of Middle-Earth is a myriad of intertangled epics that sweep out past the scope of the stars and sounds the void.
There is so much thought and detail and love that is put into this world, this Middle-Earth, that it truly lives. It can be over-surfeited at times, but being more and better surfeited than almost every other book is worth a little dry extensive detail.
(My favorite detail, found in the appendices of LOTR: King Eomer of Rohan marries Lothiriel, the daughter of Prince Imrahil. The two men formed a great friendship in Return of the King – which is awesome because together they make the most Holy and wholly awesome pair of practical and wise men. So casual statement on the list of dates whets my appetite to know more about this marriage. Was it love? Was it politics? What is this lucky girl like who got to marry the most manly of Men? How did she survive being so far from her beloved sea? Did she die from homesickness like her aunt?)
Secondly, like the Song of Songs, Tolkien’s tales are both full present in the physical reality and as spiritual reality. It is not a pure allegory. Tolkien said that he believed in simply writing from life, and then real truths would already be apparent. And so, unlike Narnia where Aslan is clearly one character in the persona of Christ, there are many “Christ-figures” throughout Middle-Earth. In writing about men, Tolkien could help but to hold them up the standards of the Savior. (And so created some darn attractive men.)
The vision of Middle-Earth is sacramental. Allen Tate describes the style of writing as the “Symbolic Imagination,” there can be a “generally accepted relation between the physical world and invisible”. There are layers to the meaning and reality of all in Middle-Earth, but all the layers coexist. The physical is holy and the spiritual is accessible all in one description or person, or idea.
Middle-Earth is complete and beautiful and real and exemplary. Not just for the fascinating story-telling, but because expands the vision of the reader until he is able to see more about humanity and life, good and evil, and himself and who he wants to be.
Also, if anyone finds a set bound like the ones in the picture above, can you buy them for me? It would make my mind, heart, and soul very happy.
I know, I am finishing this Meme far off schedule. But work and school got in the of life. And I want to pretend that I have a social life. But consider my time away as research for gathering interesting stories and reflections that I can share with you!