Secularism, the movement which seeks to build the world on a new basis, one which avoids the human condition of original sin, and seeks a world where God is no longer a part. This movement, which has its roots in the Enlightenment, blossomed in that decadent era just before WWI, and took off in the most hideous way with the outbreak of war, only to blossom again in the decadence of the inter-war era, and then again in WWII. In just that time, Tolkien was preparing his 'parable' of nature and grace, the great story of The Lord of the Rings, a story which speaks about a society seeking to be built upon God.
This book (photo above), a gift from Tolkien to his wife in 1956, beautifully inscribed, is another historical record of the genuine, Catholic, plan for humanity which the secularism of the twentieth century has never had the power to overcome.
After both WWI and WWII, the societies of Europe and the West sought a merely political and social way of managing the aftermath of war and of rebuilding. Secularism since WWII has confined itself (until now) with seeking to 'iron out' all sense of nature and grace, of man and God together, and to provide a sense of life in which man is alone and entirely autonomous.
Not so for Tolkien, who returning to the roots of humanity, which are nature and grace, wrote his mythology as something which was completely counter-cultural, and into which he poured his high, linguisitic, learning.
The Lord of the Rings is a book about nature and grace, about good and evil and their power. The Ring is the focus of evil in the story, an evil which seeks to dominate and suppress all that is good, true and beautiful in people. But crucially, Tolkien wrote about the most powerful power of all, which is mercy. In The Lord of the Rings this overriding power for good is expressed in Bilbo's and then, Frodo's pity, compassion, for Gollum and the evil which eats away at him. It is this power that ultimately overcomes the vastly evil power of the Ring.
In some way, Tolkien's writing of this book was unthinkable. After all, secularism was trying to rebuild itself in a milder way after WWII, and the last thing that it wanted people to be reminded of was their relationship with God, and His wonderful Lordship of all creation. Of course, for my part, I am delighted that The Lord of the Rings came into being and has caught the imagination of the people of this age, expressing to us, in literary form, the interplay of nature and grace, and for giving us, in a sense, a tool for navigation in this dark age that we inhabit.