The new issue of Touchstone is heading to your mailbox. See the table of contents and articles available for online reading at www.touchstonemag.com, like this one by Anthony Esolen.
The Great Epics Are Theological & Mark the Hard Path to Beatitude
Some years ago I got into a rather tense conversation with a couple of students in the office of the English department. We were talking about The Lord of the Rings, and I remarked that nothing like it could be written now, because our culture—for want of a better word, I must use the word “culture” to describe our mass habits, after the reality of culture has withered away—no longer possesses a vision of the world and of man that would sustain such a work. Tolkien himself could write his trilogy only because he was something of an anachronism, as he was steeped in the medieval epics—the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, the Finnish Kalevala, the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, and so forth—and was a devout Catholic, seeing all things by the light of revelation and three thousand years of meditation upon the ways of God to man.
The students resisted. No youngster likes to hear that he lives in an age of decline and decrepitude. But over the years I’ve grown more convinced that my hunch was correct. Not only about the decrepitude—the palsy of the soul that mistakes cynicism for sophistication, and cold-hearted lust for love. Consider the ringing verse from Isaiah: “For my ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts, saith the Lord. For as high as the heavens are above the sea, so far are my ways from your ways, and my thoughts from your thoughts.”
That’s a verse that would set Homer himself to thinking. It expresses the vast distance between the divine and the human. But it is also addressed to man: it is a clarion call for man to set out on a journey to cross that distance, even as God reaches out to man in the events of human life. The sentiment on the part of the prophet is not despair but fear and wonder, and the appeal of an adventure in being itself.