As is usually the case when a new Tolkien/Inklings themed journal arrives, there's one piece in these that particularly caught my eye: in this case, Richard West's Note on Fr. Rbt Murray. While brief I think this is a major contribution on a major point in Tolkien criticism: to what degree is LotR a 'Catholic' book and Tolkien a 'Catholic' writer? Tolkien's 1953 letter to Rbt Murray (later Fr. Rbt) contains the oft-cited line
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious
and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first,
but consciously in the revision (LETTERS .172)
This is often taken to mean that, however much he denied it elsewhere,* Tolkien intended his work to be read as allegory, not just Christian but explicitly Roman Catholic. It's a revelation, then, to find that the person to whom Tolkien wrote this passage didn't agree with that interpretation at all.
The main substance of this Note is Richard's reproduction of a letter Murray wrote in 1980 in answer to a query from Michael A Witt. In it Murray gives his evaluation on this point:
Tolkien was a very complex and depressed man
and my own opinion of his imaginative creation
is that it projects his very depressed view of the
universe at least as much as it reflects his Catholic faith
. . . I don't think I would care to say more than that
on one level the values underlying Tolkien's imaginative
works are Catholic in a rather mediaeval form. But
I would subsume all theological evaluation under a
literary appreciation of them as works of imagination
inspired by ancient and mediaeval literature . . .
There is a case to be made about Tolkien the Catholic,
but I simply could not support an interpretation which
made this the key to everything
("A Letter from Father Murray", ed. Richard C. West, TOLKIEN STUDIES XVI.135-136)
As Richard points out, '. . . it is of special interest that the person to whom Tolkien wrote that The Lord of the Rings was "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" himself took that in a very nuanced and cautioned against reading too much into this statement' (ibid. 137)
All in all, I'd call this an important contribution to Tolkien studies (and to TOLKIEN STUDIES).
--current reading: THE GRAPES OF WRATH (reminds me of CITIZEN KANE), MR. FAIRLIE'S FINAL JOURNEY (August Derleth pastiche)
*e.g. in the Prologue to THE LORD OF THE RINGS itself (Foreword 10-11)