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White Shores and Beyond

Updated: May 20, 2023

By Dom Dalmasso

As a child I was close to my grandmother, especially during the time she lived with us in France. I spent countless hours in her room listening to the stories of when she was a youth growing up in Ireland, learning how to count in Irish, teaching her how to count in French, helping her with the concocting of Easter baskets, and helping her with what became a trademark of hers: namely, birthday posters with drawings and pictures and quotes. I find it somewhat ironic and definitely providential that we would exchange our knowledge of languages in that small room, the room where the great philologist J. R. R. Tolkien was first introduced to me. I didn’t see it then, but the connection between language and storytelling was something that would become very important to me later on. I don’t think she realized how precious a gift she offered to me and to my siblings by giving us Tolkien. At the age of seven I was thrown into her room for being obnoxious. As I sat there sulking, she asked me if I wanted to hear a story that she had received in the mail. I shrugged my shoulders and said “sure”. Once she had finished the first chapter of “The Hobbit,” all sulkiness had left me. I was enthralled! “Grandma, you need to read this to all of us!” And so, every day after school, she read to my siblings and me from “The Hobbit”. One day, she turned the last page and closed the book. We all sat there sad it was over, when suddenly, she read on the back cover of the book: “If you would like to know more about Bilbo and the ring, you can read ‘the Lord of the Rings,’” or something to that effect. We all leapt for joy exclaiming, “Grandma! You must get the ‘Lord of the Rings’!” A couple weeks later, every day after school, we began a routine: stumbling in the door, we threw our bags to the side, plopped onto the living room furniture, finding Grandma waiting for us with “the Fellowship of the Ring”. As we sat there, spell-bound by Tolkien’s story, my mother would make us dinner, which, once ready, we gobbled up in order to return to the living room, telling the last one to hurry up. Sometimes my mother would make sandwiches which she would bring to us as we listened.

From leaving the Shire to Tom Bombadil, from Bree to Weather-top, from Rivendell to the mines of Moriah, from Gandalf’s fall to Lothlorien, from the splitting of the fellowship to the adventures of Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo and Sam, we were spell-bound. Tolkien was molding our sense of adventure, our sense of wonder and friendship. When it all ended and the Shire was delivered from Saruman, Frodo left, and Sam settled, Grandma closed the book and we sat there with dreamy eyes. For months after that, we could not find anything we wanted to have read to us. The spell had to slowly subside. Last I saw her — she was in a nursing home and unable to speak — I mentioned Gandalf and Bilbo... and Tolkien. She looked up at me and seemed to recognize me. Then her eyes turned slightly red, and I saw small tears. She passed when I was out of state, but I was able to read the first paragraph of the Hobbit to her over the phone a couple hours before she breathed her last. Her funeral offered an opportunity to speak about Tolkien with my immediate family, as well as to a few members of my extended family (to whom she had also offered the gift of Tolkien’s stories). The genuine love of literature she awoke in us taught me many subsequent lessons, and still does today. But life moved forward, and my interests turned to philosophy: the wonder in Tolkien’s stories moved me to be more curious about the real world and to understand it more deeply. This ultimately led me to theology, which was the step that brought me full circle: I realized that the heart of theology was a story: the Story of Yahweh and Israel, a story of both cosmos and covenant, a story where the Word structures all things. Tolkien’s vision was steeped in what he called the true myth, which is the story of the Hebrew Scriptures and their culmination in the incarnate Word. I came to realize that the Old Testament was a story of solemn oaths where God gives his word; and in the New Testament he gives us a definitive Word of love which transcends death itself.

Our lives are lives of promises: We put to death whatever desire which gets in the way of keeping our word. But this detachment from our selfishness leads to a greater freedom, a deeper and fuller living, where we no longer belong to ourselves, but to another. As Tolkien tells it in “The Return of the King,” the dead King of Dwimorberg’s broken oath was fulfilled when the promised king Aragorn goes down to hades, as it were, and returns to defeat the armies of Mordor with death itself. So, it will be in the story of our lives, so it will be for our dead: the promised king has conquered death with death, offering us life to the full.

Dom Dalmasso is a 2023 graduate from Holy Apostles College and Seminary with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and philosophy. He was a Benedictine monk from early 2011 to late 2012 at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and was an active-duty United States Marine from August 2014 to August 2018. He runs the YouTube Show / Podcast The Logos Project, and is the editor-in-chief of The Ecclesia Blog. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles.

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Beautiful, brought tears to my eyes. Thank God for such a thoughtful grandmother. The love literature was instilled in my children by my husband . He too read to them the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when they were quite young. This article has toched me in many ways. Thank you for sharing!

Dom Dalmasso
Dom Dalmasso
May 04, 2023
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You’re welcome, thank you!

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