“The Soil for Unexpected Good”

Tolkien's LettersAbout fifty letters into The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter we get a series of letters to Tolkien’s third son, Christopher.  The letters move back and forth wonderfully and soberingly between the events of World War Two and the writing of The Two Towers, being the second part of The Lord of the Rings.  And while I will get to some of the best parts on the writing of The Two Towers, I think it best to start with one of the many great articulations of life in war-time (which is part of what it means to be human, some might say).  From the letter to Christopher on April 30, 1944:

I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days– quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice.  If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens!  And the products of it all will be mainly evil– historically considered.  But the historical version is, of course, not the only one.  All things and deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their ’causes’ and ‘effects.’  No man can estimate what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis [under the aspect of eternity].  All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success– in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.  So it is in general, and so it is in our own lives . . . . . But there is still some hope that things may be better for us, even on the temporal plane, in the mercy of God.  And though we need all our natural human courage and guts (the vast sum of human courage and endurance is stupendous, isn’t it?) and all our religious faith to fave the evil that may befall us (as it befalls others, if God wills) still we may hope and pray.  I do.  And you were so special to a gift to me, in a time of sorrow and mental suffering, and your love, opening at once almost as soon as you were born, foretold to me, as it were in spoken words, that I am consoled every by the certainty that there is no end to this.

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