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Poe’s Tolkien exhibit on display at Union

J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien

JACKSON, Tenn.Nov. 16, 2012 – Weeks before the much-anticipated Dec. 14 premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and nearly 40 years after author J. R. R. Tolkien’s death in 1963, Hal Poe put his collection of Tolkien’s works and related memorabilia on display at Union University.

American and British first-edition copies of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Silmarillion” are among the pieces displayed in the lobby outside the G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel in the Penick Academic Complex.

Poe, the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union, has purchased his collection pieces from eBay since 2001.

Poe said he hopes the exhibit will be enjoyable for people who have read Tolkien’s works and that it will make people who have not read the books or thought about their themes curious.

“I would like (the exhibit) to be a catalyst for people to think about faith issues,” he said.

Tolkien is largely responsible for making the fantasy genre popular, Poe said. Some scholars deride Tolkien’s literary genre as “escapist.”

“It really isn’t escape at all,” Poe said. “It’s actually confrontation, because all of the crises are laid bare, stripped of their modern contemporary context, which in many ways allows you to see the dynamics more clearly in the fantasy story than you can see it in a realistic story.”

A few of the items in the collection relate to Tolkien’s time as a student and professor at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England.

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis founded a literary society called “the Inklings” while fellows at Oxford. The group met about once a week to talk about what they were writing “and everything under the sun,” Poe said.

Poe, who teaches a class about Lewis, co-wrote “The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends” with Jim Veneman, assistant professor of communication arts at Union, and founded the Inklings Fellowship, a group of people interested in Lewis and other members of the Inklings.

Poe said Union students are invited to attend the Inklings Fellowship’s trip to Oxford in July 2013.

The entire Tolkien exhibit focuses on a postcard-sized photograph of Addison’s Walk, a path on the grounds at Magdalen College, Oxford, Poe said. The photo shows a walkway well-shaded by a thick row of trees lining each side.

It was on a stroll in Addison’s Walk that Lewis, who was not yet a Christian, protested to Tolkien that Christianity was just another version of the dying-and-rising-god myth found in every culture, Poe said.

Tolkien immediately replied that Lewis was absolutely right -- it is the same myth, Poe said. The only difference, Tolkien told Lewis, is this one really happened.

“It was the catalytic moment in Lewis’s conversion,” Poe said, “because whereas all the other myths happened once upon a time, Jesus was born when Augustus Caesar was emperor, and Quirinius was governor of Syria. ... He was not in some misty, unknown realm, he was in Galilee and Nazareth and Jerusalem.”

Lewis became one of Christianity’s most celebrated apologists and novelists, who embraced the idea of a myth that reflected the true universal story in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.

By Samantha Adams (’13)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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