Letter to the Editor
As a lifelong Tolkien fan I read with interest and admiration Anna Mathie's article "Tolkien and the Gift of Mortality" (November 2003). As Ms. Mathie observes, human mortality in The Lord of the Rings, when accepted for what k is, ennobles men and gives hobbits a childlike freedom and simplicity. In a draft letter dated 1958, Tolkien himself, a believer in the felix culpa, states, "A divine 'punishment' is also a divine 'gift,' if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make 'punishments' (that is, changes in design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained."
Tolkien was also aware, though, that the view of death as gift, while indeed religious, is not necessarily Christian. In the same letter he writes: "This does not necessarily have anything to say for or against such beliefs as the Christian that 'death' is not part of human nature, but a punishment for sin (rebellion), a result of the 'Fall.'"
Was Tolkien promoting an unchristian mythical worldview regarding human origins? The Lord of the Rings is, in fact, rather vague in detailing mankind's understanding of its own mortality, and the "gift" idea is one almost always voiced by elves, as Ms. Matthie indicates. I believe the answer is found in the History of Middle Earth series, edited by Christopher Tolkien. In Volume X: Morgoth's Ring, there is a previously unpublished manuscript written between 1959 and 1960 relating a dialogue between Finrod Felagund, one of the High Elves who befriended mortal men in the early years of Middle Earth, and Andreth, a wise human versed in the lore of humankind. Their conversation concerns the idea of release from the world as a gift to the human species...