The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
And full of wonder indeed is Caldecott’s magistral reading of Tolkien’s work. Read it all: this review just touches two decisive points, but the whole of Caldecott’s work is worth reading and reading again.
Caldecott’s reading of Tolkien reveals that The Lord of the Rings is a tale about the mystical Way and that the Way is established, guaranteed, and protected as the very Heart of the world. Why can we say this ?
First of all, Caldecott’s great illumination: the Ring is the symbol of the ego.
The Author proceeds from a general presentation of this decisive reflection [ p.82 : “…the Ring of Power exemplifies the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God.”] to a discussion with the Jungian interpreters of the Lord of the Rings [p.154 : “…the Ring is not the Self but the false self…”. Here we need to remember that in the Jungian psychology the “Self”, with a capital S, is the deepest and the most positive and enlightened center of the entire person].
From there, Caldecott moves to the more precise final definition: p.207, “The Ring is the Ego, our idea of the self…”.
It should be obvious to any Reader that such interpretation radically transforms our entire reading of the Lord of the Rings. Caldecott’s reading is a precious key. But I have observed that some Readers greatly underestimate Caldecott’s deep illumination, and they ask “what does that mean ? what is the sense of it ?”. So, let’s think about it for a moment.
If the Ring must be read as the symbol of the ego, of the unending assertion of I, I, I, me, me, me, mine, mine, mine…[ “Mine, my Precious…”], i.e. as the symbol of the self that has lost any connection with the Light, or that wants to lose any connection with the Light, then the adventures through Middle Earth to destroy the Ring represent directly the mystic Way, the Way back to the Light. So, Middle Earth is no world of “fantasy” (unless we take, as perhaps we should, this last term very seriously, as a synonym of “imagination” … and if we know the deep implications of the latter): instead the drama developing through Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings is the most realistic and truthful analysis of our true destiny as human beings…when we obey the Law, when we do our duty. It is the description of how our lives truly are (or … should be, if we would not fall, i.e., if we would not enlist in the armies of the orcs of the “dark fire ”…).
Caldecott discusses the “dark fire ” extensively, starting from the long quotation from the Lord of the Rings at page 136: [Gandalf on the bridge of Moria, trying to stop the balrog]
“<You cannot pass >he said . The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. <I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow ! You cannot pass.>”.
The “dark fire”, the fire of Melkor (ibid. p. 136), i.e. of Satan, burns and consumes, instead of illuminating. Compared to the fire of God, it is shadow (ibid.).
The True Fire and more Wonder: the Secret Fire.
Let’s read Caldecott’s decisive page 135:
“The “Secret Fire” is Tolkien’s term for the distinctive creative power of Eru. It is God’s “secret”…For Tolkien, the fire represents life, love and creativity, the Wisdom and Love of God that burns [SIC] at the heart of the world and sustains [SIC] it in existence … it is the Holy Spirit, the “Giver of Life”.”
A few lines below, Caldecott quotes again Tolkien, who spoke about
“…the mystery of ‘authorship’, by which the author, while remaining ‘outside’, and independent of his work, also ‘indwells’ in it, on its derivative plane, below that of his own being, as the source and guarantee of its being”.
And at page 100 Caldecott quotes directly from the Silmarillion (the early pages, about the Creation):
“ Eä ! Let these things Be ! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be;…”
The Secret Fire is the Presence of the Living Love of God at the Heart of the reality, the true Being of all that exists.
Thus, Caldecott’s symbological reading of the Ring points to the Way, the Way to get rid of the Ring-ego and to reach the Truth. And the Presence of the Truth - of the Living Love of God, at the heart of the reality, at the same time True Way and True Goal - is asserted decisively in the discussion of what the “Secret Fire” is.
As we said above: Caldecott’s reading of Tolkien reveals that The Lord of the Rings is a tale about the mystical Way and that the Way is established, guaranteed, and protected as the very Heart of the world.