The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions: Part 2

23 Mar

Reading a book on the virtues would not be most people’s idea of a good time. Who would want to read a 220

English: Map of Narnian world as described in ...

English: Map of Narnian world as described in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

page book about how you should behave and why? I’ve done that. “The Practice of Godliness,” by Jerry Bridges was over 260 pages of enlightening but somewhat tedious reading. I read it willingly because I wanted to learn more about the subject, but I can’t imagine that it’s a big bestseller.

“On the Shoulders of Hobbits: the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis,” by Louis Markos, is nothing like that book. Trust me. This book deserves to be a big bestseller, both in the secular market and, especially, the Christian market. Markos joins such writers as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and Richard Foster in arguing that being a Christian means more than holding a belief. His path to illustrating this truth is not theological, however. Being an English professor, he takes us down the Story road.

“On the Shoulders of Hobbits” is divided into four parts: The Road, The Classical Virtues, The Theological Virtues, and Evil. After a nice foreword by philosopher Peter Kreeft on how people become good or evil, Markos explains his purpose in an introduction titled “Stories to Steer By.” Being an educator, he is very aware of the rampant secular humanism that has saturated our school systems and culture in America today. This secular worldview is not much concerned with creating good human beings. It wants to produce career-ready people who fit into a secular society with a minimum of friction. The increasing emphasis in our schools today on science, math and technology testifies to this. Pretty much the only “virtues” taught to our children are environmentalism, multiculturalism and, of course, tolerance, which these days means (incorrectly) that anybody’s lifestyle is just as good as anybody else’s. This is a form of egalitarianism: all people, all ideas, all cultures are the same. According to Markos, this trinity of postmodern virtues will produce “a colorless, passionless, amoral existence.”

So how can we avoid this dreary, utilitarian future that the secularists are trying to force on us? Markos’ answer is simple: we need stories. Not the politically correct drivel that is dished out to our children (and us) daily in television and movies, but the grand heroic narratives Western civilization has long cherished and passed on to countless generations. Epics such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy. Epics like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And stories bearing eternal truths like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Markos likens Tolkien and Lewis to knights of old, carrying on the old understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, through their stories. Thus The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are the tales used in this book to examine the virtues our culture so needs in these times.

Throughout my delving into this wonderful book in future posts, I’m going to have to resist the impulse to quote Markos too often. He makes it difficult, however, because of his plentiful insights and observations. Thus I will give in to temptation and finish this post with a quote that, to me, makes clear the great need for the ideas in this book:

Our modern (and now postmodern) age has cast off – sometimes deliberately, but most often unthinkingly – many of the beliefs and virtues and disciplines that are necessary to the continuation of civilized life and the preservation of individual dignity and purpose.

To that I can only add, “Amen!”


Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Book Review


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5 responses to “The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions: Part 2

  1. jubilare

    March 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    I agree with most of this, and I am really curious about this book and want to read it. However, being me, I will challenge you on one thing. πŸ˜‰

    “The increasing emphasis in our schools today on science, math and technology testifies to this.”

    I think we desperately need to emphasize these things because most of my generation and the ones who have come after us have abyssal understanding of such things, and that is not good. We feed on the surface, not understanding what lies deeper. I agree that we need to educate ourselves and our children in strong morals and the understanding of good and evil, but I also see that feeble understanding of the sciences creates bad scientists and mathematicians as well as people who, because they don’t understand the sciences, fear them.

    I have a strong background in science, and I can’t tell you how many times I roll my eyes at so-called scientists who defy the basic scientific principles in order to forward a secular agenda. It’s maddening. Equally maddening is the assertion I hear, so often and so ignorantly from both sides, that there is something inherently contradictory between science and religion/faith. The only solution I see to this is to develop our reasoning abilities, the sciences, and our moral boundaries hand-in-hand. Each without the other is dangerous.

  2. Rob

    March 25, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    I don’t think we disagree that much. I’m all for students learning about math and science, but I think it gets overemphasized these days to the detriment of the humanities. I don’t think our children are exposed near enough to the great classics in literature. It is via these great stories that we learn much about the virtues and our moral boundaries.

    Another thing to consider: who will be teaching them science? Will it be someone like you, objective and balanced? Or will it be a secularist whose faith is in scientism? Where will the balance come from if the English, History and Arts programs are slighted?

    Finally, check out this blog about the new Common Core Initiative: A lot of food for thought in there. Of course, there are no simple solutions. If only!

    As always, thanks for challenging me. Please continue! Hope you’re doing well.

    • jubilare

      March 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      The sad truth is that we are woefully inadequate across the board, failing to even teach our children strong reasoning and problem-solving skills. I’m totally against cutting back on literature and stories. Even among my age-group, I’m often shocked by how little people have read.

      I’m beyond frustrated by the fact that almost everyone seems to have an agenda… too many people want our children taught according to their ideas, and too few want them to be educated to the point where they can reason for themselves. Many teachers, maybe most, would really like to teach their students to think for themselves, but they are being locked down by more and more restrictions. The Common Core Initiative scares me more because it is a blanket-homogenization than any specific internal issue. A close friend of mine who is becoming a teacher is really worried.

      What about diversity? Innovation? Independent thought? True competition? Sameness does not equal equality, and definitely does not equal health… but now I’m just preaching to the choir, I guess.

      • Rob

        March 26, 2013 at 12:50 am

        Yes, you are preaching to the choir (though you wouldn’t want to hear me sing!) Too many people say they want students to think for themselves, but what they mean is that they want students to think like them. The universities are getting really bad in this department. I guess all we can do is keep an eye on our local schools and speak up when we feel the need to.

        And, of course, make sure the kids in our worlds are exposed the great stories!

  3. jubilare

    March 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I always loved hearing a tone-deaf friend of mine sing simply because of her joy in doing so. πŸ™‚

    Any is too-many, but I am not hopeless yet. Half of my family is in academia, and a lot of my friends, and we have a lot of good teachers out there, more joining the forces every day. My greatest worry is that they will not be allowed to do their jobs. Speaking up is very important.

    Oh yeah! πŸ™‚ Teach screwballs like me to read! That way the world won’t be so easy to manipulate or control.


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