Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-s5lbf Total loading time: 0.139 Render date: 2022-06-27T22:24:20.102Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Article contents

What Story Are We In? The Use of Tolkien in John Dunne's Recent Works

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2014

William J. Collinge
Mount Saint Mary's College


This paper examines the use of themes from J.R.R. Tolkien in the work of John Dunne, C.S.C. of the past two decades, but especially The Mystic Road of Love (1999) and Reading the Gospel (2000). Dunne has “culled” four sentences from Tolkien that express Dunne's own sense of being on a journey with God: “Things are meant. There are signs. The heart speaks. There is a way.” These sentences not only express Dunne's personal journey but also indicate where, according to Dunne, humanity is going in its collective journey with God. The paper concludes by shifting the focus from Dunne to Tolkien and asking how, if Dunne is close to right about Tolkien's significance, the conventional view of twentieth-century English literature and Tolkien's place in it would have to change.

Copyright © The College Theology Society 2003

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 I cite The Lord of the Rings in the three-volume paperback edition published by Ballantine (New York: 1965). Volume 1 is titled The Fellowship of the Ring, Volume 2 The Two Towers, and Volume 3 The Return of the King. In citations in the text, the number before the colon is the volume number, that after the colon the page number. All in-text citations of this form are to The Lord of the Rings. The work is often called a “trilogy,” but it is actually a single, continuous narrative in six “Books,” two to a volume. Most of the passages I cite are cited somewhere by Dunne.

2 I cite The Mystic Road of Love and Reading the Gospel in the text, with page numbers preceded respectively by “MRL” and “RG.” At the end of this article there is a chronological list of Dunne's books. After this paper had been accepted by Horizons, The Road of the Heart's Desire: An Essay on the Cycles of Song and Story (2002) was published by University of Notre Dame Press. The editors have allowed me to introduce some slight revisions to take it into account, but it does not depart in any substantial way from Dunne's previous work in regard to the themes discussed here.

3 Http:// On the first two tetralogies, see Collinge, William J., “John Dunne's Journey of the Mind, Heart, and Soul,Horizons 16 (1989): 2844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 “Participation in the Theology of St. Thomas” (Gregorian University, 1958). See Dunne, John S., “St. Thomas' Theology of Participation,Theological Studies 18 (1957): 487512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 The Music of Time, 138, quoting Tolkien's, Smith of Wootton Major (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967), 36.Google Scholar

6 These four sentences give rise to the section headings in the second chapter, “The Road of Individuation,” in The Road of the Heart's Desire, 23–61: “The Things of a Life,” “The Signs of a Time,” “A Thinking Heart,” “The Way of an Individual.”

7 Luke, Helen, “Choice in The Lord of the Rings” (Three Rivers, MI: Apple Farm Group Discussions, n.d.).Google Scholar

8 In The Road of the Heart's Desire, the “signs of a time” are eternity breaking into time, signs, like Sam's star, of the eternity of which time is an image. See below, section VI.

9 In Tolkien, though, the heart does not always have the last word. Elrond has misgivings about allowing the young hobbits Merry and Pippin to join the Company of the Ring. Of Pippin in particular he says, “My heart is against his going” (1:362). His heart is in effect overruled by Pippin's insistence, supported by Gandalf (“I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom” [1:361]).

10 The Reasons of the Heart, 1, quoting an old man quoted by T. E. Lawrence [of Arabia].

11 Dunne, often cites this song not directly from The Lord of the Rings but from The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967)Google Scholar, in which Donald Swann sets poems by Tolkien to music. This provides the model for Dunne's own song cycles, which appear in each book since Love's Mind (1993).

12 The Music of Time, vii, citing Robert Frost.

13 On the pursuit of certainty versus the pursuit of understanding, see A Search for God in Time and Memory (1969), 217–20 and The Way of All the Earth (1972), 42–44.

14 “Eternal life belongs to those who live in the present” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.4311).

15 The Road of the Heart's Desire, xi–xii. See also Peace of the Present (1991), 71–72, citing Guss, David M., The Language of the Birds (Berkeley: North Point, 1985), ix–xv.Google Scholar

16 “The Liberation of Desire: An Exchange,” Cross Currents 41 (1991): 376, responding to David Toolan.

17 The House of Wisdom, 70.

18 The Church of the Poor Devil, 107, quoting The Lord of the Rings, 3:456.

19 For instance, in his inventive use of language. Joyce (1882–1941) and Tolkien (1892–1973) were contemporaries, both Catholic in formation at least, both fascinated with mythology and language, especially northern European traces in English. Each published a relatively short first novel (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Hobbit) that some critics think is his best, then a large work (related to the first) that is consciously on an epic scale and is generally regarded as his masterpiece (Ulysses and The Lord of the Rings), and then spent the last years of his writing career on an idiosyncratic work of great importance to the author but found impenetrable by most readers (Finnegans Wake and The Silmarillion).

20 “Deconstruct This: J. R. R. Tolkien: Shot From the Canon,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 7, 2001). I am quoting from the Chronicle website, The article consists mostly of comments by Tolkien scholars as to “why the Oxford philologist gets no academic respect.”

21 Shippey, Tom, J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), xv.Google Scholar He takes the quotation of the unnamed critic from a column by Jeffreys, Susan in the Sunday Times, 26 January 1997.Google Scholar

22 Thompson, Clive, “Checking it Twice,Washington Post Book World, 5 May 2002, p. 15.Google Scholar

23 Rosebury, Brian, Tolkien: A Critical Assessment (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 Dupre, Louis, “The Broken Mirror: The Fragmentation of the Symbolic World,Stanford Literature Review 5 (1988): 20.Google Scholar

25 Rosebury, 142.

26 Dirda, Michael, “Excursions: Fantastic Voyages, Science Fiction and Fantasy,Washington Post Book World, 7 April 2002, p. 15.Google Scholar

27 Tolkien, J. R. R., “On Fairy-Stories,” 68.Google Scholar I am citing this essay from The Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine, 1966), which reproduces several shorter works, retaining their original pagination. “On Fairy-Stories” is reprinted as it appears in Tree and Leaf (George Allen & Unwin, 1964). It was first published in 1947.

28 “On Fairy-Stories,” 54.

29 Ibid., 68.

30 Ibid., 70–71.

31 Rosebury, 140.

32 Shippey, 126–28.

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

What Story Are We In? The Use of Tolkien in John Dunne's Recent Works
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

What Story Are We In? The Use of Tolkien in John Dunne's Recent Works
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

What Story Are We In? The Use of Tolkien in John Dunne's Recent Works
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *