How hobbits and company might really exist
by Michael Healy
Late in 1996 (in issues II,5 and II,6), Justine Schmiesing and Dr. Holmes brought up some interesting points connected with the possibility of extraterrestrial life. In her article, Mrs. Schmiesing remarked in a footnote: “I regret to note that my theory rules out the possibility of the real existence of the inhabitants of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth—elves, dwarves, hob-bits, and the like—but I see no way around it.”
I am an avid Tolkien fan, with a knowledge of his works somewhat too intimate for my own good, so I knew that I would eventually have to reply to those words.
First of all, we must reject the idea that Tolkien conceived of Middle-Earth as another planet or as an inhabitable region at the core of this planet. The term “Middle-Earth” is a direct translation into English of Old Norse “Midgard.” In Norse myth, which highly influenced Tolkien’s writing, “Midgard” is the name given to this planet. Middle-Earth, therefore, is Earth in the distant past. This may or may not be apparent in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but it becomes more and more obvious in Tolkien’s lesser known works, such as The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales. In fact, in The Book of Lost Tales Tolkien makes this plain as day by referring to England, Rome, Babylon—and even states that the fall of the Elvish city of Gondolin was more disastrous than the fall of Rome or Babylon! And, of course, the sinking of Numenor is comparable to all the myths of lost continents that we see even today—but particularly to the sinking of Atlantis. The Akallabeth could even be rewritten as Plato’s account of the sinking of Atlantis if the names were changed and its first four pages cut and all references to the events of those pages cut or altered.
One may naturally ask, “If this is so, when did the events in Tolkien’s books supposedly occur?” The answer can be deduced from Plato’s dating of the sinking of Atlantis and Appendix B to The Return of the King.” According to Plato, Solon learned on a visit to Egypt that Atlantis had sunk 9,000 years before their time. Solon lived in the late sixth century before Christ, so it seems that Atlantis is said to have sunk in roughly 9,500 B.C. This means that the year that Tolkien gives for the sinking of Numenor in Appendix B, S.A. 3319, is equivalent to the year 9,500 B.C. Using this as a starting point, one can accurately determine the equivalent year on the Gregorian calendar for any date in the Second and Third ages of Middle-Earth and can come to approximately equivalent years for the First Age of Middle-Earth. The War of the Ring can be dated, by this method, to 6,360-6,359 B.C.
Middle-Earth, therefore, exists. We’re living on it. Therefore, the possibility of the existence of Tolkien’s human characters is equal to the possibility of the existence of the non-historical characters in historical fiction or the heroes of mythology. But there is no reason why hobbits could not have existed either. How can I claim this? In the first part of the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien writes, “It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than Elves, or even than Dwarves.” It seems to me that there can be only one interpretation of these words: whether he would state it directly or not, Tolkien conceived of the Hobbits as a race of pygmy human beings who happened to have hairy feet and live long lives—not as a distinct race like the Elves. This invalidates the idea that since the Bible does not mention Hobbits, they cannot exist. For if Hobbits are human pygmies, they are as completely a part of the human race as pygmy tribes living today.
What of the Elves and Dwarves? Tolkien deals with their origins in The Silmarillion. In the Ainulindale he makes it clear that in his conception of the creation of Middle-Earth the Elves were in exactly the position that Mrs. Schmiesing deems impossible—that of a non-human intelligent race that is as much a part of God’s plan as humanity is. How is this possible? Let us recall that Dr. Holmes points out in his article that being made “in the image and likeness of God” need not be interpreted literally. It seems to me that the Bible supports this view. Genesis 1: 27 states, “So God created man in His own image and likeness, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” If one interprets this as meaning that human beings physically resemble God, one will be hopelessly confused. It clearly implies that both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God—yet God is nowhere referred to as a hermaphrodite, and even if He were, neither sex would be wholly in His image and likeness. No—the meaning must be that we humans resemble God in our immortal souls, in our ability to love one another, in our ability to reason and in our ability, with the help of God’s grace, to grow in virtue. If these are the traits that make us “like unto God,” any other being that has these traits is also made in God’s image and likeness. Tolkien repeatedly makes it clear that his Elves have immortal souls and can love and reason and grow in virtue.
From this point of view, if the existence of Elves is not affirmed in the Bible, at least it is not denied. Besides, the Bible itself seems to contradict the idea that only those things which are mentioned in the creation stories in Genesis actually exist. Where in Genesis 1 or 2 is the creation of angels mentioned? Therefore, if the Bible does not deal with the creation of angels, though they undoubtedly exist, how can we say that any being not mentioned in the biblical creation stories cannot exist?
Mrs. Schmiesing asks in her article how Christ’s passion, death and resurrection could apply to any non-human race. Dr. Holmes provides a partial answer when he points out that C.S. Lewis, in his space trilogy, presents Mars as being inhabited by intelligent races that never succumbed to original sin and Venus as being inhabited by a newly created intelligent race that has yet to be tempted, and which also, in the end, does not succumb to sin. But this can only be a partial answer to Mrs. Schmiesing’s question, for it does not take into account non-human sentient life that has succumbed to temptation. This is precisely the condition of Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves. But I ask: Need Christianity work only for the salvation of human beings? The answer would seem to be, “Of course! Christ came as a man, was born of a woman, preached to men, and died for their salvation. How could any non-human race be saved through Him?” Nevertheless, I think that there may be reason to believe that Elves, Dwarves, and aliens could be saved through the Church. Why? Mk: 16: 15-16 is generally translated, “And He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved: but he that does not believe shall be condemned.” Note that in this, His final instruction to the apostles before His ascension, Christ tells the apostles to proclaim the gospel not to all men but to all creatures. Thus, He is not revealing to us whether there are any beings other than humans to whom preaching the gospel is worthwhile, but He implies through his choice of words that such beings may exist and that if they do He wants us to preach the gospel to them. Thus if Elves and Dwarves exist Christ wants us to convert them to Christianity. He would not want us to preach the gospel to Elves and Dwarves unless there were hope for their salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore, I think there must be a way for non-human sentient beings who live on this earth to be redeemed through Christianity.
What of aliens? Interestingly enough, the word used for “world” in Mk 16:15 is kosmo (kosmos), which can not only be translated as “world” but also as “universe.” Thus, based on the Greek text, Christ might have said, “Go into the whole universe and preach the gospel to every creature.” Thus Christ has not told us whether there is sentient life on other planets, but He has said, once again, that if it exists we are to convert it to Christianity.
Mrs. Schmiesing states her remaining argument thus: “[God] has called us His Bride—could He share such intimacy with another race and not be an adulterer?” I reply that if this were true on a cosmic scale, it would also be true on a smaller scale—the relationship of individual persons with God. Would Mary accuse God of being an “adulterer” for offering us a chance to be saved? Or did God betray each angel by creating other angels and humanity? Asking whether God could share intimacy with another race and not be an “adulterer” is like asking whether He can share intimacy with more than one person and not be an “adulterer”—which I believe to be tantamount to questioning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. For if God were truly the Jealous Lover (as Kay Cummins put it in her reply to Mrs. Schmiesing) would not God the Father and God the Son be so anxious to preserve their love that they would refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to spirate? And if they refused to permit the procession of the Holy Ghost, would they decide to create us? I think not. If they did we would potentially be “interlopers” threatening to ruin the love of God the Father and God the Son. Even if they did create us they would not offer us salvation, for then we would indeed threaten to distract the Father from the Son or the Son from the Father.
If God were the Jealous Lover, I think that He would never have created anything. And just as we find in experience that God’s love for others somehow adds to the fullness of our own relationship with Him, it seems to me that if the Lord made any non-human intelligent races they would be our complements, just as man and woman are complementary, and would further, not hinder, our relationship with Him. In other words, just as man and woman are a gift to each other so would the human race and non-human intelligent races be a gift to each other to further the glory of God and to heighten the magnitude of His gift to us all.
I think that these arguments demonstrate that according to Tolkien’s conception of the Elves they could indeed exist. Proving the possibility of the existence of the Dwarves would in general follow along the same lines, though the strange story of their creation complicates things. Tolkien states in the second chapter of the “Quenta Silmarrilion” that the Dwarves believe that they have immortal souls, but that the Elves disagreed. However, since Dwarves can speak and learn and remember and love, I think Tolkien conceived of the Dwarves too as having immortal souls. If he did, it is possible, by these arguments, that they too could exist.
What of the other races of Middle-Earth? To the best of my knowledge, too little is said about the nature of the giants, the monster in the mere outside Moria, the trolls, the Mewlips, or the giant turtles to determine whether they could exist. “Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar” is the One True God. The Ainur, the Valar, and the Maiar are the Angels. Melian, Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, the Ents, and the two “Blue Wizards” are Maiar who have taken bodily form—that is, they are “angels incarnate.” Morgoth, or Melkor, is Satan. Sauron is whatever demon is second to Satan. Balrogs, Dragons, werewolves, vampires, and giant spiders are other demons. Therefore, it is unquestionable that they all exist on the spiritual plane. Whether they could exist as Tolkien depicts them depends on whether angels and demons could adopt physical forms and dwell among us.Barrow-wights are demonically possessed corpses. The Nazgul are humans who live continuously on earth through demonic magic and whose bodies do not decay. Instead they gradually become more and more insubstantial until, despite the fact that they still have bodies and may yet be slain, they literally look like ghosts. Gollum, of course, is a hobbit who started down their path but never completed it.
Finally, let us consider whether Orcs can exist. To answer this we must see how they came into existence in Tolkien’s works. Tolkien offers two theories: one is in the third chapter of the “Quenta Silmarillion” “...all those of the [Elves] who came into the hands of Melkor…were put in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs….” Another account appears in a footnote to “The Druedain” in Unfinished Tales “Doubtless Morgoth…bred Orcs from various kinds of Men….” The implication seems to be that to “create” the Orcs, Morgoth (a.k.a. Melkor) ensnared various Elves and Men and bred all beauty and goodness out of the population and bred only ugliness and vice into it. This means that the Orcs, of all things, have a good chance of actually existing! For they are not actually a separate race—they are the result of centuries of diabolical selective breeding on a scale that Nazi Germany would never have dreamed possible. Thus, as long as either Elves or Men exist, so could Orcs—and, of course, Men do exist.
I must admit, though, that I personally do not believe that Elves, Dwarves, or Orcs exist. Nor do I believe that there is intelligent life on other planets. Yet this is only because I do not yet see any convincing proof that non-human sentient physical beings exist. I do not think that Catholic doctrine makes the existence of other intelligent life forms impossible. For we cannot fathom the mind of God, and if it has pleased Him to create other intelligent races for us to share this universe, or even this planet, with, we must admit that it is within His power to create them. If He has done so we may never know His reasons for creating them. But we do know that if we meet any non-human sentient life forms we must accept their existence as His will—and we must evangelize them.
Michael Healy is a junior majoring in philosophy.