What does it take to create a world? Well, you might think it requires you to be God. So why don’t we ask the question about a literary world, but nevertheless a complete world, with a comprehensive vision, an atmosphere and a history and languages, customs, and traditions. We might think few people are capable of creating such things, and we are definitely right in thinking that. Yet there are some authors––some artists––who manage such a feat, and one such figure who stands perhaps above just about any other in the powers and fruits of creation is J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of The Lord of the Rings.


So let’s ask our question again: What did it take for Tolkien to create Middle-earth? And that is where today’s episode comes in. Many might think that Tolkien was a stand-alone genius, to whom ideas and images came complete unto themselves and without precedent. We might think his work is something like “pure originality” in that he conjures things up out of nothing, as if he were quite a bit like God who is indeed an uncreated creator. Or we might think that any influences Tolkien had, however dim they might be, are all located in the past, which accorded more with his special area of scholarly expertise. But today, we will consider the modern influences on Tolkien’s creative imagination, and in so doing we will think about what a creative imagination is and how a Catholic like Tolkien exercises his imagination.

To guide us on our quest, Dr. Holly Ordway joins us today. Dr. Ordway is the Cardinal Francis George Fellow of Faith and Culture at the Word on Fire Institute, whose recently published book is Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages.