J.R.R. Tolkien, famous for his works The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and even The Silmarillion, is warmly embraced within the community of Christianity despite many things that might seem rather contradictory by nature to what Christianity is all about (i.e. magic, war, death, famine, fighting, etc.). In mentioning these things, it is likely that many critics of Christianity in whatever form that may be are giving nods of affirmation at Christianity being identified with such things as war, magic (mythical things), death, famine, fighting, and I am sure critics could append a list of great length to what I have only begun to list here. However, I believe in sincerity that there is something more in Tolkien’s writing which takes the reader into not merely a world of faerie, not merely into a sort of escape, but perhaps an irregular confrontation with the realities that are ever-present around us in our own world.
It is no secret to many of my friends that I am a fan of Tolkien’s works, and it would not be much a surprise to mention I have purchased the book The Gospel According to Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood. Something many of you might not be aware of is that I am thinking of writing about some of the many Christian themes in Tolkien’s works and my intent in doing this is not to do him a disservice by associating mere allegory to his work (Tolkien abhorred allegory openly because it interferes with the imaginative efforts of the reader by limiting the meaning). I am intrigued not only by the vast world and languages which Tolkien created in his works, but particularly by the characters that he employs.
My goal will not be to get too analytical in discussing the fine points of Tolkien, but it will be to bring out some of the great parallels in Tolkien’s work The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit to show how they can resonate with Christians in such a way that don’t equate Christianity with death, war, fighting, evils, etc. as the critics do today, but equate Christianity with an otherworldly good that exists in Middle-Earth (Tolkien’s world) which though not limited to specific type or allegory, do indeed bear great theological meaning while still being large enough in scope to fish the depths of human imagination.
I will be trying to make these posts as short as I can in order to allow for discussion and interaction with the content being drawn out. I will start with a bit of a teaser to what is to come in what I will merely call some ‘Christian thoughts on Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.’
Beginning these “thoughts” in a sense far less distinguished than that of Pascal, I would like to point toward and discuss something that is unique in Tolkien’s humanity in The Lord of the Rings. Now, there are many sorts of creatures in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth: trolls, orcs, Uruk-hai, wargs, balrogs, humans, hobbits, elves, ents, eagles, et al. However, something that is interesting about humanity which Ralph Wood has discovered as well is that humanity in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are very much like elves, but they are a little different.
Elves are immortal, beautiful, and highly religious while humans are mortal, less attractive, and less than religious more often than not. Though, there is a resemblance of the appearance of the elves in the appearance of humanity. Also, in Tolkien’s humanity which inhabits Middle-Earth, all of the humans long for something more. Ralph Wood describes this while speaking about one of Tolkien’s works by saying that it is as if humanity once had something great, lost it, and is constantly trying to find it. It is as if humanity had the beauty, goodness, and religious devotion that many elves have yet they had somehow lost it and are looking to something in the future to restore what was once lost in their own being, their existence. Does mortality in humanity point to something greater?
Mortality is something that Tolkien wrote to be considered a gift for humanity originally, but this gift was corrupted and viewed only as death and decay. So, there was something that was once given to humanity by the one who created them and that intent was for them to be good, to be a blessing, yet, somehow that goal originally intended was not reached and all that remains is the faint echo for something more, something greater than humanity, yet, somehow a little out of reach.
There is a battle externally within Middle-Earth, many battles actually, but there are also internal battles which exist in Tolkien’s works. Within humans, there is a struggle between good and evil which is evident in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth even apart from the Ring of Power. There is also a recurring theme which is even visible, though slightly, of light throughout all of the films which have been made of The Lord of the Rings. The light pierces the vast darkness in Tolkien’s world, casts out evil, and blinds those who are not of the light themselves.
Think on this concept of light a bit, if you will and how it relates to Christianity, to the scriptures, and our own lives…
Despite the bleak outlook in the early stages of The Lord of the Rings there is a great hope in things to come beyond whatever evil grows. There is something beyond the reign of evil which men, elves, wizards, and hobbits unite together hastening for some reason.
As Christians, do we not possess a remnant within us of something that was once good, but has been corrupted? Can we identify with the humanity of Tolkien in that we too have been created by a creator for a good purpose, but that purpose, that goal has not been achieved? Despite all the troubles in our own real world, is there not a desire for all of the troubles to be removed and the hope of a day in which all death, war, fighting, and evil will be expelled? Do we not hope for a new world despite inhabiting this old world and at the same time see remnants of light within this present world?
Can we identify with all-consuming passions for work, money, power, love, etc. which can dominate our senses and cause us to be blinded to the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the sovereignty of God, and even the desire to see the that glorious day when all evil is defeated completely and our Lord, our King, returns gloriously for his bride?
There will be more to come in this series of posts on Tolkien’s works which will draw out Christian reflections on various parts of Tolkien’s world and story. These posts will not necessarily be weekly or as frequent as my previous posts, but will be in sequence so please be patient with me. I would appreciate, as usual, any comments or responses that you may have to any of the questions I propose. Grace & Peace, MG