Friday, June 15, 2007

Did Patrick Curry mean to insult a billion Muslims?

Now that TOLKIEN STUDIES vol. IV has arrived, I'm enjoying making my way through the reviews, which have the usual interesting match-ups between reviewer and topic reviewed. Having once myself written in a review that an author should be ashamed of herself for writing the book I was reviewing, I can appreciate a reviewer's being forced to confess that she finds one piece "a perfectly vile essay" (p. 247). But I was rather taken aback by Patrick Curry's piece on Dickerson and Evans's ENTS, ELVES, AND ERIADOR: THE ENVIRONMENTAL VISION OF JRRT, an investigation of JRRT's work as an expression of Catholic environmentalism -- not because his review is so negative (Curry wrote the only other significant book on Tolkien as an environmentalist, and objects to their exclusion of NeoPagan and New Age environmentalist thought) but because he gratuitously brings in Islam to make a point in a markedly jingoistic fashion.

Specifically, in response to Dickerson and Evans' statement that exploitation of nature is radically at odds with Christian faith, Curry retorts that this "is comparable to maintaining that Islam IS a religion of peace and Marxism IS a philosophy of liberation. They may be, metaphysically; and perhaps they should be, in earthly reality; but in effect, on the ground--where, I would say, it matters most--the truth of all three assertions should be radically doubted." (page 240). I take this to be D. and E. arguing that Xianity, properly understood, involves cherishing God's creation, and Curry responding that if so the record of Xians' stewardship is a poor one, but the form his rejoinder took surprised and dismayed me. The impulse to judge all other religions than your own by their worst manifestations is all too prevalent in the world today, but that doesn't mean we have to give in to it, and this seems a strange place to encounter it.

One unrelated question, from elsewhere in Curry's review: has Beorn struck anyone else as "ruthless[ly] Machiavellian" (p. 242)? I've read Machiavelli of course (including his play The Mandrake Root, which is rather fun) but I can't think of any application of the adjective 'Machiavellian' that I'd apply to the werebear; the only vaguely Machiavellian character I can think of in Tolkien offhand is the Master of Lake-Town, whose actions are wholly guided by self-interest (with ultimately disastrous results). Perhaps I just missed something, but seems an odd characterization of poor old Medwed/Beorn.


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