J.R.R Tolkien was a profoundly Catholic author. This is a well known fact, and if you didn’t know before, well you know now. The world he created in his fantasy epics shows this. Much of his work draws heavily from his faith and although it may not be noticeable to everyone, with proper analytical skills it can be seen quite blatantly. Although I could go through all his works and point out the relation it has to the Christian faith, I am going to focus on the Lord of the Rings because it has the deepest correlation to Catholicism. Once you see the relation, it’s quite beautiful.
Priest, Prophet, King
You can see three Christ figures in Lord of the Rings. These characters manifest through Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn. They each represent a Christ figure in their own light. Frodo is a priest because he makes a sacrifice, he goes and sacrifices himself to destroy the Ring of Power (which represents sin). Gandalf is a prophet because he is in essence a teacher, and explains things with deep wisdom. Finally, Aragorn is the King and represents the return of the King. Furthermore, these characters all give a sacrifice of themselves and go through a revival out of love. Frodo, who is this small, unnoticeable character, is able to slip quietly into Mordor and go into the heart of darkness. Christ slipped into the heart of darkness and, out of love, sacrificed himself to redeem us from the sin. Gandalf fights the Balrog, a representation of a demonic being, and ends up dying and then rises as Gandalf the White. He also says the words, which are the only direct reference to God, in the book. He says, “I am a servant of the secret fire” which is a representation of the Holy Spirit. Aragorn goes to the city of the dead and raises them up to fight for him, just as Christ decended into Hell. Each one of these characters subversively shows Christ attributes, but the ultimate Christ figure of the story is Samwise. If you recall, at the climax of the film even Frodo becomes seduced by the ring’s power and it is Sam who never is. All Sam wants is the simple things in life: marriage, family, and a humble and peaceful lifestyle.
When you see these things in the books and movies, you notice the profoundly Christian worldview embedded in Tolkien’s writing.
Attributes of Christian Mythology
1. Darkness invades Middle Earth, where there is a constant fight for good vs. Evil. No matter how dark things get, there is always a good worth fighting for. Sam says it best…
Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam : I know.
It’s all wrong
By rights we shouldn’t even be here.
But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because, how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
2. The one ring represents evil and sin and its ability to entice, corrupt and enslave people. It shows power but once people try and use it, they are ultimately betrayed by the evil and fall because of it.
3. Evil is a parasite that leeches on the good. It cannot create, but only destroy what is already created. Illavatar (God in Middle Earth) created a good creation, in which evil corrupts and destroys. Evil cannot exist without good, yet good can exist without evil.
4. Frodo, who is not suited for a great task, must take up an impossible one. Just as we are called to carry our own cross and follow Christ, which we are reluctant to do, just as Frodo does not wish to take the task upon him, he still does. He says “What can a little Hobbit do?” and in the bible Isaiah (11:6) says “A little child will lead them all.”
5. The Hobbit lifestyle and the Shire are representations of the beatific world God intends us to live in. They represent the meek who will inherit the earth. The pure of heart.
6. Throughout Middle Earth there is a longing for a return of the King (Aragorn), just as us Christians long for the return of our King, Jesus Christ.
7. Gollum represents how sin corrupts and disorders man and creation. How it can take something beautiful that is ordered to the good and turn it ugly and dark. Man attempting to force his will over Gods.
1. Galadriel bestows upon the Fellowship 7 gifts, which represent the 7 sacraments of the Catholic Church. I cannot recall all of them but the Lambas bread represents the Eucharist. If you recall the Lambas bread is extremely filling, which represents the spiritual fulfillment that the Eucharist offers. Also the sword that Merry receives from Galadriel represents the Sword of the Spirit which is contained in Ephesians 6:11-17. The sacraments protect us from evil and this is why Merry did not perish when he killed the Witch King of Angmar (That one may be a bit of a stretch, but nonetheless). Furthermore, Galadriel has a subtle line that takes a shot at the Protestant mockery of the Eucharist as just “hocus-pocus” or “dogmatic superstition” by saying, “For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same words for the deceits of the enemy”, when Frodo looks in the Mirror.
2. Grace and creation is experienced through a sacrament and control, and destruction are shown through anti-sacraments, the one ring in particular. Sacraments give us God’s love and peace; the anti-sacraments only bring enslavement and control to those who wear it. Divine life and grace, as opposed to the suffering and death caused by the one ring.
3. The Witch King of Angmar represents an apostate, who was once noble and endowed but sold out the truth for temporal reward and power, and who are swallowed up by Mammon. The Nazgul represent this.
4. Isengard represents Paris/France: once a great place of faith, it was corrupted during the French Revolution in the name of tolerance and diversity and endured evil persecutions of the faithful. Furthermore, Tolkien plays into the role of King Pepin, the first ruler to bring the faith to the Franks, and through his narrative Pippin tells Treebeard to take them to Isengard. (Again this is just a theory, but makes sense).
5. Just as I said, the Hobbits represent the Meek, and the Shire represents a society embedded by the Catholic Social Teaching. A society with a community of little formal organization and no conflict. They work only enough to survive and relish in each other’s company. “The unexpected journey”, no one does anything unexpected in the Shire, there is no greed or jealousy. The selfless behavior of the Hobbits creates a wonderful society.
6. Gandalf, besides a prophet, represents the Papacy. He is the leader of the faithful, yet claims no rule over a certain land. Just as the Popes of history have done with Kings, Gandalf crowns and blesses rulers (Aragorn) to govern with goodness and peace.
7. There is also a representation of Blessed Virgin Mary, who responds to pleas for assistance. The elves call her Elbereth (star-queen) or Varda in the common tongue and is described queenly and holy. When her name is spoken (which Frodo and Sam do-“O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!-), miracles follow and aid the good against evil. This is similar to the way Catholics venerate Mary and represents the numerous apparitions that have taken place through history of Mary assisting those faithful to her Son.
This information should shed some light on the profoundly Christian and Catholic themes in Tolkien’s work. The one thing Tolkien did make clear in interviews was the fact that his work is not an allegory. He believes allegory is used to impose a dominance of the author as opposed to his use of applicability in which you can apply certain themes to the actions of characters. This is not to say allegory is bad, because Tolkien’s dear friend C.S. Lewis used it quite frequently.
There are many more Christian and Catholic themes in the LOTR books and Tolkien’s other writings. If you want to read more, do a google search and you will find a trove of great information.