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The Art of Gift Giving

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2007)


In his article “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” C. G. Jung wrote: “The most that we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.” Perhaps no one in our age has succeeded in doing this more than J. R. R. Tolkien in his novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These novels are rich in symbolism and reflect numerous critical elements in the psychological journey to wholeness. The symbolic life awakens the “childhood” of the human psyche, that place in us that resonates with the primordial images through which the human mind first made sense of the world around it. In his more theoretical works Tolkien wrote: “Indeed only by myth making,, only by becoming a ‘sub creator’ and inventing stories, can man aspire to the state of perfection the he knew before the Fall.” Psychologically the “Fall” would represent leaving behind the wisdom of the human imagination and the symbolic language of the soul.

Tolkien lived his theoretical beliefs by creating a moving and enduring myth. Books are still emerging exploring the meaning of Tolkien’s work. Each year Tolkien offered an imaginative gift to his four children by sending them letters from Father Christmas. These engaging missives became enduring testaments to Tolkien’s effort to nurture the living imagination of his children. They have been collected into a coffee table volume titled Letters from Father Christmas.

The Lord of the Rings contains numerous symbols that are especially relevant to this time of year. One theme of the season is that of gift giving. In our culture, while it can reach manic and compulsive proportions, it can still be a uniquely creative endeavor. In the character or the Elf Queen Galadriel we see an example of gift giving in its most relevant and timely form.

When the Fellowship of the Ring arrives in her home of Lothlorien, she perceives the deepest desires of each member’s heart. As a symbol of the anima archetype par excellence, she understands what lies in each man’s unconscious. She leads two of the Hobbit members, Frodo and Sam, to her special “mirror,” whereby she pours water from a stream into a silver basin into which they each can gaze. As if in a dream, Frodo and Sam can see glimpses of the past, present, and future. Later Galadriel will give each of them a gift most relevant to what they have seen, though they do not realize it at the time.

To Frodo, the Ring-bearer, she gives a small crystal phial in which is contained the light of Earendil’s star, a mythic reality of an earlier age. She tells him that it will shine bright when night is about him. “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” Later the remembrance of this phial by Frodo and his faithful companion Sam is critical to their quest. Indeed, when they use it Sam realizes that they are actually a part of an ongoing myth, the old stories continue to live, and they are carrying them forward

Part of what Sam saw in the mirror was the destruction of trees in his pastoral home, the Shire. He desired immediately to return home to make things right, but if he did, Galadriel warned, if he turned from his appointed path, what he saw might come to fruition. Sam chooses to stay his path with Frodo, but when he returns home, he finds the Shire in the ruined conditions of his vision in Galadriel’s mirror. But then he remembers her gift to him: a little box with the earth from her orchard, and when he spreads the grains of earth that it contains, the trees and growing things of his beloved Shire are eventually restored. May we all give and receive such gifts this Yuletide season!

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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