Human love and divine love in fantasy
AS Valentine’s Day approaches and advertisers exploit it for marketing gimmicks, it is so easy to scoff at the occasion. It is, indeed, lamentable that Valentine’s Day has degenerated into a commercial gimmick, or worse, nothing more than the celebration of Eros even in its illicit forms.
We forget that Valentine’s Day is a saint’s feast day, and that noble, pure human love—even romantic love—is a reflection of God’s love for us, and of how we should respond to that love.
One person who understood the relationship between romantic love and the love of God for us was the famous fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien. In a letter to his son, he wrote: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth”.
This quote is very significant, coming from someone who understood romance well enough to include touching romantic sub-plots in his fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
The main romantic sub-plot in The Lord of the Rings was the love between Aragorn, a mortal man of royal lineage who was heir to the throne of Gondor, and Arwen, an elf. The elves, in Tolkien’s imaginary universe, were powerful, immortal beings who did not die unless they were killed. In the story, Arwen faced a choice between her love for Aragorn and her immortality: if she were to wed a mortal, she would have to become mortal as well. In the end, she chose mortality.
Aragorn was no less noble. He knew of the choice Arwen had to make and was willing to let her go, although it made him suffer. Then, he had to leave her as he went on several quests to help save Middle Earth. All throughout, however, he remained true to Arwen. In the book version of the story, after Aragorn had defeated his enemies in battle and claimed his throne, he received a sign that Arwen was destined to be his bride. In the movie version, Arwen’s death was hastened and only Aragorn’s victory in battle could prolong her life. In any case, after the evil Sauron was defeated and Middle Earth was saved, Aragorn and Arwen were married.
It was the same writer of this love story who wrote to his son, “…in the Blessed Sacrament…you will find romance.” Indeed, in the Blessed Sacrament, we find a God Who hides behind the appearances of perishable bread and wine and suffers maltreatment and profanation out of His desire to stay with us. We find a God who does not force us to love Him but woos us, respecting our freedom while pining for our company.
It is a more compelling love story than the romance between Aragorn and Arwen, and it is a true story.