‘Chariots of Fire’ & Tolkien

    I like to participate in the ‘Movie Discussions’ on the Forum of ‘The One Ring.net’, my favorite website for all things Tolkien.
   When we discussed the scene in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ corresponding to the chapter in the second volume (‘The Two Towers’, shortened here to TTT) entitled ‘The Three Runners’, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli pursue for three long days the Uruk-hai who have taken two of their Hobbit friends captive, it so happened that besides the questions proposed about that scene itself, there was a ‘Bonus Question’ about another film where some people are also shown at length as they run: ‘Chariots of Fire’.
    Was there anything else in common that could be seen between ‘Chariots of Fire’ and Tolkien?…
    I found the answers to that Bonus Question quite interesting for the kind of topics that are studied here on my blog: Evolution, Spirituality, and also in that specific case the Soul of England as a country.
    So I decided to make a Research Document out of that  aspect of the discussion, so as to post it here as well, with the authorization of the two other writers, ‘Darkstone’ (great joker, be prepared) and ‘Squire’, the third nickname, ‘Mae Govannen’, being my own on that Forum. Darkstone, who knows many films, often puts this kind of ‘Bonus Question’ at the end of his posts, but usually I am not able to answer, not knowing at all the film he is talking about; that time exceptionally I was among the few who knew the ‘Bonus ‘ film…!
    Down below is that Document, composed of the relevant parts of those few posts in which that Bonus Question was answered:    

Nick:     Darkstone (Registered User)
Date/Time:     Mon, 9/18/2006 at 22:10 EDT
***TTT Annotated Scene Discussion***: On the Trail of the Uruk-hai: They run and they run and they run.
Bonus questions:
Another famous shot of people running and running and running is in the opening credits of Chariots of Fire (1981).  The film is set right after WWI.  It follows two British athletes into the 1924 Olympics, focusing on their differing respectability, temperaments, motivations, and reactions to adversity.  The film ends with the hymn “Jerusalem” (words by William Blake and music by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry):

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

“And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic Mills?

“Bring me my Bow of burning gold;  
Bring me my Arrows of Desire;
Bring me my Spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

“I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.”

The hymn is about a changing England.  How do the themes of the hymn relate to the film?  How does the hymn relate to LOTR?  How does the film and LOTR relate to each other?  Would Ian Holm have made a great Bilbo?  (Er, wait…)
Nick:     Mae Govannen (Registered User)
Date/Time:     Tue, 9/19/2006 at 15:34 EDT
In Reply To:     ***TTT Annotated Scene Discussion***: On the Trail of the Uruk-hai: They run and they run and they run.    [22:10]  (3/3)
Aaaah!… For once I know the film you are talking about,
which is not the ‘Lord of The Rings’, Peter Jackson’s films!!! And I love your joke, that Ian Holm (so good as Sam Mussabini in ‘Chariots of Fire’) would have made a great Bilbo in ‘Lord of the Rings’… as he did!!!

‘Chariots of Fire’ is actually another one of my all time favorites, and for the same deep inner reason that makes me love also the world and the heroes described by Tolkien: behind it all, and guiding it all secretly, there is the loving wisdom and all-knowledge of Eru Iluvatar, as Tolkien named the One, or  God, as the ‘Flying Scot’ called Him, who ran not for his own glory, but to honour God, and always won, with a God-given, incredible ease and perfect humility, that every time left even his fiercest and most jealous rivals baffled – and actually deeply touched.
I don’t care personally about the precise religion both Tolkien and the young Scottish runner happened to adhere to: Christianism (and let me see… Tolkien was a Catholic; wasn’t Eric Liddell a Catholic as well??? Not sure, but it could well be). What I do care for and enjoy tremendously is the so strong, all-pervasive atmosphere of a sacred meaning to Life, and of the complete trust (‘Estel’, Tolkien would say…) that human beings (or Elves, or whatever) should have and keep always in their hearts, for that Eru/God whose Love will surely guide the world, in its perfect unfolding, towards the final ‘Eucatastrophe’ that will actually be the ever-destined, wonderful evolutive Healing of Arda and of all the beings evolving with it, and will open a new era for this regenerated world.
Not all the other pious Catholic people around Tolkien shared those views of his (which he kept more or less secret anyway, as far as I know, except for his closest friends), and in the same way the young  Scottish athlete had a hard time making his dear devout sister understand why he wanted to run races for a while, instead of just going back to the Mission in China. Not everyone in any religion goes as far as Tolkien or this young man, in feeling God’s presence in the world itself, and in putting their whole existence at the service of That, to express That as much as they possibly can, at every moment and in all the circumstances of their life.
The wonderful thing is that, very concretely and in real life, that inner contact both had with the Divine Presence, and the absolute trust both had in It did result in a veritable Eucatastrophe indeed for both, in the form of the final glorious victory, against all odds, at the 1924 Olympic Games for Eric Liddell, and in the form of the phenomenal success that Tolkien’s soul-written books finally met with, at his own complete surprise, soon after their publication, and all the more as the years passed, giving at last to the old man also the financial ease for himself and his whole family that for all his life before had eluded him, however hard he had worked to earn it as a teacher.
Both men were actually very unusual in their intimate relationship with the Divine; both had an extremely original and far-reaching understanding of God’s love and intention for the world; and both had the simple courage to express that deep, intuitive understanding in their own existence, through the use of their God-given, very special talents, for the glory of That which they called ‘God’.
The soul-power in both did it all, and both were in the end honored by that God they had themselves so sincerely honored, even at the cost of being ridiculed by others.
In ‘Chariots of Fire’,  one can see a very moving and inspiring, historical illustration of what Tolkien called ‘eucatastrophe’, a concept only someone with a genuinely active soul could ever find out and affirm.
His soul’s way of looking at the whole process of Evolution on Earth enabled him to intuit the further evolutive development that Humanity as a whole would benefit from in some future Healing of Arda, which would see also the reappearance of the Elves as well, and more than I can describe here, but which has been beautifully foreseen and evoked by Tolkien himself, particularly in ‘Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth’ , a text of his later years published after his death by his son Christopher as part of  ‘Morgoth’s Ring’, in his own ‘HoMe’ series. 
I cannot say how much that incredibly beautiful text has moved me when I read it a year ago, discovering the ultimate thoughts of Tolkien on a question that has always been part of his life, and happens to be the most crucial question for me too, in my own understanding of the world and of its evolutive destiny. To discover that my already beloved Tolkien had managed to reach such enlightened conclusions, so similar to what the greatest spiritual beings of our times have also told elsewhere, has been for me a most wonderful surprise, and has still increased the love and admiration I already had for him as a person.
There would be much more to say also about ‘Chariots of Fire’, but in spite of my enthusiasm, I guess I better put an end now to this post, before it becomes a whole undigestible essay no other TORNsib would be interested in reading or responding to…
Sorry to have already written so much!…
But it’s all your fault, Darkstone: why did you have to mention ‘Chariots of Fire?!?… 😀
Your other questions interest me greatly too, but, well, that will be for another post, and now I will just go to bed, for it is getting late here where I live…
Thank you anyway for the opportunity you have given me to express all this already…  🙂
Nick:     squire (Registered User)
Date/Time:     Tue, 9/19/2006 at 9:48 EDT (Tue, 9/19/2006 at 9:48 AST)
In Reply To:     ***TTT Annotated Scene Discussion***: On the Trail of the Uruk-hai: They run and they run and they run.    [Mon 22:10]  (3/4)
In Rohan’s green and pleasant Land
(Note from Bhaga: Rohan is the name, in Tolkien’s tale, of the land where the pursuit by the Three Runners takes place…)
Bonus questions:
Whoa! Excellent questions, and one of the reasons I responded so strongly to this post. I loved Chariots of Fire, and used to jog to the Vangelis soundtrack on my walkman for years. It’s perfect jogging music!

The Jerusalem hymn has fascinating connections to Tolkien. It posits that Christ once walked in England, which is (or was, in earlier centuries) an actual belief among some fringe English Christians, that I have come across in my reading. The legend is that during the time of Christ’s life that is not covered in the Gospels, He traveled to Britain with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was engaged in the tin trade in Roman times. (Tin in those days was mined extensively in Cornwall)

The visit of Our Lord to England remains an inspiration to Blake: he asks why Christ cannot be expected to return, and calls on every Christian Englishman to fight the devilish onslaught of industrialism (the famous “dark Satanic mills”), which is ruining the Edenic English countryside.

This equation of England with Biblical Eden and Jerusalem is echoed a bit in Tolkien’s idyllic Shire, which is almost a parody of the remembered bliss of rural England before the Industrial Revolution. It is possible to extend this thinking and relate all of Middle-earth to Tolkien’s idea of England (more properly it is northwestern Europe) in a state of innocence that has been challenged by the arrival of the Dark Power – industrial materialism and, more broadly, sin in general. If we see Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn each as an aspect of Christ in His mission to save and redeem a falling Middle-earth, then the hymn (which includes a call to war and battle – like the War of the Ring) truly echoes Tolkien’s retro-mythological thinking about what the best of England might represent to a fallen world.

Great topic, Darkstone!
Nick:     Mae Govannen (Registered User)
Date/Time:     Wed, 9/20/2006 at 2:40 EDT
In Reply To:     In Rohan’s green and pleasant Land  <squire>  [Tue 9:48]  (4/16)
Oh, Squire, what a great post!!!…
… Not an unusual thing from you here, as all TORnsibs know as well as I do…!
But in this case it so happens that the whole story about the visit of Jesus etc to England, and everything else you express in comparing the poem to Tolkien’s own themes, speaks directly and personally to me, as it is exactly the kind of topic I am myself researching intensely since thirty years, as part of my work for the Research Centre I am the head of in the very special, international place where I live.
I know and love the film since a long time, but never knew the actual lines that were sung in the end, giving its name to the film itself (that text is probably well known in England, but it is quite unknown in the French culture I am more a part of).
Now, thanks to Darkstone, I could read at last those lines; but on top of that here you are, giving me this fantastic analysis of their relevance for Tolkien as well, with all the background information I could dream of about that whole matter!…
Thank you so much…
In my own post just above yours, which I wrote at once yesterday night in direct answer to Darkstone question, without having yet read your post, I am myself explaining at some length another parallel that seems to me to be very much there, on another level, but also deeply spiritual, between Eric Liddell’s story, told in ‘Chariots of Fire’, and Tolkien’s own life and view of the world. Perhaps you will find that interesting too…?
By the way, I also love the music by Vangelis for this film, particularly that main theme which is indeed so perfect for jogging on a true, peaceful and joyful inner rythm… I live right by the seaside, with a long sandy beach stretching in front of my house, so it is just the ideal setting for this, a sight reminiscent (to some extent only of course) of the setting in the well-known, beautiful image from the beginning of the film…

I may not quite agree with all the views expressed by the other participants, for example the surprising ‘christic’ theory for Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn that ‘squire’ is echoing in his post, and if you have noticed the dates of our exchange, you have seen that it is in 2006 that it happened, when I had more time, less constant involvement in the place where I live; nowadays it is very rare that I can participate in those TORn Boards discussions, not enough time for that; so at least on this blog I bring today this sample of the great discussions one can have there on all things related to Tolkien, even ‘Chariots of Fire’!…


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Nang Madatnan Ko Si Gollum Papuntang Middle Earth (Bumping into Gollum on the way to Middle Earth) « YLBnoel's Blog

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