in Theology

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Christian Myth

A consideration of the genre and content of The Lord of the Rings and its applicability for Christian apologetics

Christopher R. Gillespie

Introduction

A renewed interest in the defense of the faith by Christians has brought with it special consideration of both method and content. For the sake of simplicity, the defense considers the hearer’s attitude and adjusts its method to suit him. For example, the “hard-hearted” hearer rejects Christianity on objective historic or philosophical grounds. An appropriate defense responds with historical and philosophical proofs. But a “tender-hearted” hearer may not respond to Christianity with an objective defense. The idealism of scientific objectivity has alienated many from objective proofs. For these, a subjective defense might be more fruitful, engaging literary or artistic evidence of the Christian faith. While not empirical or verifiable,[1] these subjective devices might remove “soft” objections to a presentation of the Gospel.

In either case, the goal of any defense of the faith is to enable the presentation of the Gospel through the narrative of the Scriptures. Apologetics are never an end unto themselves but always have saving faith in mind. This saving faith is not generic but a specific “good news.” According to the Lutheran confession, the article of justification is the chief article, the very heart of the Gospel, and the article by which the church stands or falls. Saving faith is none other than justifying faith. Article IV of the Augsburg Confession reads: “People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight.”[2] A historic defense of Christianity demonstrate that Jesus Christ existed in history, claimed to be God, performed miracles to verify this claim, ultimately both prophesying and fulfilling the prophecy of his death and resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus had at its purpose for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, a gift only God could give. All this is accounted for in the textual evidence of the Scriptures and the eyewitness claims therein. Philosophical defenses of God ultimately return to the person and work of Christ. In both cases, the apologetic’s aim is the central article of faith, justification.

What is the content of the “soft” apologetic that uses literature or the arts to demonstrate the subjective possibility that the Christian message ought be considered? Is it also the death and resurrection of Jesus and the promises attached therein? Is Christian fiction suitable for Christian apologetics, especially If the particular work of fiction bears no obvious Christ-figure? To answer these questions, this paper will especially consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, considered by many as Christian fiction. Along with C.S. Lewis, Tolkien is credited with a renewal of myth-style or fantasy writing in the 20th century. Over 150 million copies have been printed worldwide of the Lord of the Rings. A large body of scholarly work is available to consider the potential Christian themes in the book. As well, Tolkien himself wrote about both the nature of his writing and the content of myth relative to the Christian tradition. From these works, this paper will present Tolkien’s understanding of myth. It will consider the use of literature for apologetics from the writings of both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It will discuss details of Tolkien’s faith and life. It will outline many of the possible Christian themes in The Lord of the Rings. It will especially consider the possible Christ-figures as part of the narrative. In conclusion, it will suggest the possible role The Lord of the Rings has for Christian apologetics.

Myth-Writing

Evaluating the The Lord of the Rings is a difficult chore due to its unique character. Significant to establishing an understanding of the genre of “The Lord of the Rings” is Tolkien’s own work “On Fairy-Stories.”[3] “The Lord of the Rings” is defined by Tolkien with the genre terms of myth and fairy story. Tolkien sought to create not “canonical myth but mythopoeic literature; the author has created a story which speaks with something of the authority of the old myths–but only with something analogous to that authority.””[4] C.S. Lewis was influenced by Tolkien’s view: “Myth is always, in one sense of that word, ‘fantastic.’ It deals with impossibles and preternaturals.”[5] A mythic fantasy is a type of fairy tale which implies “I am merely a work of art. You must take me as such–must enjoy me for my suggestions, my beauty, my irony, my construction, and so forth. There is no question of anything like this happening in the real world.”[6]

Tolkien presents four real world values to fairy stories: “fantasy, the making by artist-man of something which was not in the primary world; recovery, a fresh appreciation of the things in the primary world; escape, a mental vacation away from hard and ugly places and times; and consolation, the life of the heart we receive from a happy ending.”[7] Fantasy gives the ability to see the wonder of what is commonplace and to “illuminate the vast inheritance our ancestors have bequeathed to us.”[8] Fairy stories and fantasy allow one to see “things as we are (or were) meant to see them.”[9] Fairy stories also provide the means to escape from progressivism and instead see creation not in terms of man’s progress by rather God’s creative hand. Tolkien warned that this is not the same thing as escaping from reality. We still deal with life and death, comfort and discomfort.[10] The happy ending Tolkien calls a “eucatastrophe.” While not a full restoration to the ultimate good, this ending brings consolation.

Tolkien argued that man ought to create myth. Not only the abstract thoughts of man but also his imaginative inventions originate with God, and must in consequence reflect something of eternal truth. In making a myth, the story teller or “sub-creator” (that is, one under God, the prime Creator), is actually fulfilling God’s purpose and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light. Pagan myths are therefore never just “lies”: there is always something of truth in them.[11] Even so, myth is not contrary to reason or truth for Tolkien. He argued the fantasy ought to operate in tandem with reason. Clear reason and truth will produce better fantasy, a natural human activity.[12] “Myth serves as a bridge between the infinite realm of Absolute Reality and the finite realm of abstract, propositional truth.”[13]

For Tolkien, the purpose of myth was to express the “transcendent truths … in intelligible form.”[14] Lewis says the appeal to seek truth in myth “springs in part from the same impulse that makes men allegorize the myths. It is one more effort to seize, to conceptualize, the important something which the myth seems to suggest.”[15] Lewis stated that myth should not be confused with mere allegory. In allegory, images stand for concepts. In myth, the images symbolize and imagine something which cannot be reduced to a concept. Allegory can always be translated back into meaningful concepts. Mythical meaning cannot be fully stated in conceptual terms.[16] Myth is necessary to teach the nature of man, who is not a compilation of abstract truths but an essential being. Myth teaches about man as more than mere rationality but a creature made in the image of God.[17] So also, Tolkien wrote Kilby his own opinion: “Much of this is true enough–except, of course, the general impression given (almost irresistibly in articles having this analytical approach, whether by Christians or not) that I had any such ‘schema’ in my conscious mind before or during the writing.”[18]

There is a danger in pursuing the timeless truths model, looking for abstract moralism in myth. This objective approach is easily confused with the myth itself.[19] Tolkien was greatly concerned about his readers confusing his myth with reality. He states in the preface to The Fellowship of the Ring, “As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ it has in the intention of the author none.” Furthermore, he explained, “It is neither allegorical nor topical.”[20] He wrote elsewhere, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision. I . . . have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults and practices in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”[21]

Especially as he worked on the Silmarillion, he sought to provide as theological coincidence to Christianity to avoid such confusion.[22]The creation in The Silmarillion hears a remarkable similarity to the creation story in the book of Genesis. In the beginning was Eru, the One, who “made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.” This is the theological foundation upon which Middle-earth is erected. Disharmony is brought into the world when Melkor, one of the Holy Ones, or Archangels, decides to defy of the will of the Creator, mirroring the Fall of Satan. This disharmony is the beginning of evil. As Birzer states, “Tolkien’s myth follows the ‘true myth’ of Christianity with allegorical precision.”[23]

Literary Apologetic

In a letter to his son Christopher, Tolkien identified two types of reader: the first is the fidelis, the Christian believer.[24] The fidelis will be attracted to the theological aspect of the narrative as a matter of course. Secondly, he identifies the “fainthearted,” one who has no theistic faith or has lost the faith he once had. Tolkien intended that these readers hear the essential truth via myth of majesty and grandeur. For their sake, he disguised the theological underpinnings. Heavy-handed Christian themes might interfere with the readers enjoyment. His book was first written “to amuse (in the highest sense) — to be readable,” as he wrote to an editor; it should “excite, please, and even on occasion move.”[25] In addition, Purtill suggests that “Tolkien was a more reticent man than Lewis, by all accounts, and less inclined to speak much of the things closest to his heart.”[26] As a cradle Roman Catholic, it is not surprising that he was less inclined to speak overtly of his faith than his friend C.S. Lewis, a convert to Christianity.

Lewis is considered one of the foremost Christian apologists of the 20th century. He saw storytelling as a valid means of defending the faith. Walter Hooper stated that C.S. Lewis believed there are three elements in all developed religions, and in Christianity, one more.[27]The first is the experience of the “numinous,” the sense of awe, wonder and inadequacy one feels in the presence of the Holy. The second element in religion is the consciousness of moral law, and the third element appears when we realize that the numinous power is the guardian of the morality to which we feel a sense of duty of obligation. The fourth element, for Lewis the uniquely Christian element, is the historical event of Christianity, the Incarnation, and the recognition that the incarnate Son of God is the “awful haunter of nature, and the giver of the moral law.” As this paper argues, Tolkien was less willing to embrace this fourth category.

Lewis declared that Christians must no be ashamed of the “parallels” and “pagan christs.”[28] Lewis felt it would be more threatening to the Christian faith if these parallels were not there. As Lewis denoted, the similarities between certain pagan myths and the Christian one: “The resemblance between these myths and the Christian truth is no more accidental than the resemblance between the sun and the sun’s reflection in a pond … or between the trees and hills of the real world and trees and hills of our dreams.”[29]

As a Christian apologist, Lewis developed this idea: “[I]f my religion is true, then these [pagan] stories may well be a praeparatio evangelica [a preparation for the Gospel], a divine hinting in poetic and ritual form at the same truth which was later focussed and (so to speak) historicized in the Incarnation.”[30] “Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth, even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical, but also an imaginative response. It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as to the conscience and to the intellect.”[31] The Gospels “had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion … was precisely the matter of the great myths.”[32] The question remains whether Tolkien’s myth, while it might delight the unbeliever, is suitable for such an apologetic preparation if it does not contain an obvious Christological figure.

Tolkien the Catholic

To answer this question, the faith and philosophy of Tolkien needs consideration. As was noted above, Tolkien was a cradle Roman Catholic. As he admitted, The Lord of the Rings is both a religious and Catholic work. Kilby recognizes many examples of the Biblical world and Tolkien’s Roman piety. For example, Elrond calms the waves at the Ford of Bruinen mimicking Christ (I, 236). Aragorn and others call upon Elendil, Elbereth Gilthoniel and Galadriel in a prayerful manner (I, 208; III, 195; I, 345). The lembas bread is perhaps the most obvious example, mirroring the Eucharist as sustaining the Christian for the journey through life.[33] Tolkien appears to mimic the language of St. Paul in Ephesians 6:12 in portraying the “principalities,” “powers,” and “rulers of the darkness of this world” in the bodiless evil spirit of Sauron, the Ringwraiths who are formerly earthly kings and now kings of darkness.[34] At the victory celebration at Minis Tirith, all the people of the city, “sang for the joy that welled up in their hearts from what source they could not tell.” Their song to the transcendent “other” mirrors the Christian canticle Exsultet (“Rejoice now…”) from the liturgy of the Resurrection, typically sung on Easter morning.[35] The pattern of song from Tolkien’s Roman piety influenced the canticles of Middle earth.[36]

Birzer, himself a Roman Catholic, recognizes the role of Father Morgan, a doctrinally traditional priest, who cared the child J.R.R. and his mother after the death of his father. Brizer states: “Like all Catholics, Tolkien believed that the Church stood upon scripture, tradition, and the teaching authority of the Magisterium. The Protestant fascination with the early, primitive Christian church, Tolkien wrote, simply resulted in a morbid fascination with ignorance; the Church had needed time to grow.[37] This piety was mythological in its nature, developing as a “natural organism,”[38] with both saint myths and Marian superstitions. This is part of the “vast inheritance our ancestors have bequeathed to us.” Secondly, Roman piety brings mystery and wonder over commonplace things. “It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of words,” Tolkien wrote, “and the wonder of all things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”[39] Fairy stories and fantasy allow one to see “things as we are (or were) meant to see them.”[40] One may infer that he was referring to the significance of the Eucharist and transubstantiation with his reference to “bread and wine.” Tolkien refers to importance of the eucharist in his piety in a letter to his son Michael, “Out of the darkness of my life, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”[41]

The narrative of The Lord of the Rings is possibly likened to the Old Testament. Birzer and Kirby agree that Middle-earth serves as prolegomena to the Christian narrative.[42] It is the tale of the fallen world before Christ and redemption. The life of Middle-earth is largely an endurance test. This world reflects a Roman Catholic theology of virtue dimly persisting in man from God’s original image placed upon him. The people of Middle-earth live a life of struggle but are aware that occasionally they receive aid in their struggle, corresponding to prevenient grace in Roman parlance. This is not a hope based upon God’s promise but rather a hope based on some sense of the “numinous,” reminiscent of Roman mysticism. Tolkien also recalls both the lives of the apostles and the mythical lives of the saints. For example, Gandalf bears resemblance to the angel sent to Peter to let him out of prison (Acts 12:1-9) and perhaps St. Boniface (Wilfred) of Mainz/Crediton.[43] Unlike Lewis, Tolkien has both human and quasi-human mediators between God and man. From Tolkien’s Catholic imagination, we have Elbereth and Galadriel, both we might imagine addressed as “Our Lady,” as well elves and wizards who mirror the miracle-working saints of medieval legend. (I, 208; III, 195) Yet, Tolkien avoids presenting his “saints” as superheroes, always adding some human character, much like Aslan’s playful romp for Lewis.

The Marian figures are essential for Tolkien. Tolkien all but affirmed that Galadriel must serve as the most important Marian figure, as “[t]here is something missing from any form of ‘Christian thought’ that could make such an omission. A failure (I think) to accept full all the consequences of the Incarnation-story as it is told to us in scripture.”[44] Elbereth serves as another Marian figure in the Silmarillion. The angelic wife of Manwë and maker of light and stars, she serves, like Mary in Roman Catholic theology, as the “Queen of Heaven” and “Queen beyond the Western Seas.”[45] The most obvious Marian figure in The Lord of the Rings is Galadriel. The Elven queen of Lorien, a timeless realm she created and sustained with the ring Nenya, Galadriel spent much of the Second and Third Ages resisting the power of Sauron. Tolkien wrote, “it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary.”[46]

The main theme is not sin or guilt but rather death. “I do not think that even Power and Domination is the real center of my story. It provides the theme of a War, about something dark and threatening enough to seem at that time of supreme importance. But that is mainly ‘a setting’ for the characters to show themselves. The real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it: the anguish in he hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it until its whole evil-aroused story is complete.”[47]

For Tolkien, this “oldest and deepest desire” of overcoming death is expressed in fairy stories. “There is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape, the Escape from Death. […] The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness. But our stories cannot be expected always to rise above our common level. They often do. Few lessons are taught more clearly in them than the burden of that kind of immortality or rather endless serial living to which the “fugitive” would fly … But the “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story.” [48]

He argues that all fairy stories must have the consoling resolution, the “eucatastrophe.” The battle for Middle Earth results in much death and destruction. But through this catastrophic battle, comes the good (eu) of the destruction of Sauron. Even so, this is not a full redemption of man but a partial. Orcs still roam the Middle Earth, Saruman ravages the Shire, and Gandalf warns that evil will rise again. The Lord of the Rings is not the Gospel for Tolkien but rather echoes the Gospel. This good catastrophe is a “sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.” In it “we see a brief vision that the answer may be greater–it may be a far off gleam or echo of evangelism in the real world.”[49] For Tolkien then, the struggle of Middle-earth is death. His characters are not culpable, but instead part of a battle between good and evil.

Tolkien, an English philologist by profession, so carefully limits his imagery to hearchetypal symbols of Celtic and medieval deep myth and the verities of the Christian tradition.[50] This is demonstrated by his first scholarly work, a treatment of the medieval poem Beowulf. The influence of Beowulf on Tolkien is clear. It serves as an aesthetic paradigm for the style of the Lord of the Rings. For example, the author of Beowulf understood that the theme should be implicit rather than explicit. According to Tolkien, the Beowulf poet wisely avoided a formal allegory and created his setting as “incarnate in the world of history and geography.” Unless highly cautious the author could have easily destroyed the poetry and significance by making the meaning too explicit.[51] Further, Tolkien asserts that the anonymous author of Beowulf used the poem to demonstrate that not all pagan things should be dismissed by the new culture. The most noble virtues of courage and raw will ought to be embraced. “It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage,” Tolkien wrote. “The northern [imagination] has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own times.”[52] This emphasis is evident in his constructing The Lord of the Rings as principally a moral tale.

Christian Themes

While Tolkien did not have Christian schema consciously in mind when writing The Lord of the Rings, yet the deeper meaning of the story clearly rose from the writer’s spiritual roots. Rutledge helpfully summarizes the themes of The Lord of the Rings: The story is first of all about God, then it is about “providence, history, demonic forces, archangels, bondage and liberation, justice and mercy, failure and restoration, friendship and sacrifice, sanctification and glorification, divine election and human freedom.”[53]This summary runs against simply considering Tolkien’s moral lessons and timeless truths. Such a tendency is possible as  Tolkien makes no explicit reference to God in The Lord of the Rings. The presence of God is sensed through the unseen providence operating for good through human (and angelic) agents, even through “little” ones like the hobbits.  The narrative and characters seek to avoid simple moralism. He wrote, “‘Moral didacticism’ is the exact opposite of my procedure in The Lord of the Rings. I neither preach nor teach.”[54] Tolkien criticized Lewis’s Narnia series for “obvious” Christian elements.[55] Still, certain characters and the narrative itself embodies particular “universal truths.” In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien states that each person is “an allegory … embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.”[56] In many ways Tolkien “facets” character: each individual, and to some extent each race, represents one aspect of a complete human being. He has said specifically that the Elves represent certain human characteristics in isolation: “in fact exterior to my story Elves and Men are just different aspects of the Humane. The Elves represent, as it were, the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of human nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men.”[57]

Church

Some commentators suggest that the fellowship more closely represents the church. This is in keeping with Tolkien’s stated intent that the novels demonstrate the life of the Christian in the world.[58] The many parts, the unique gifts and the bearers of those gifts, collectively form the fellowship of the ring. This echoes Paul’s language for the body of Christ in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians, and Colossians 1, e.g., “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4-5).

Morality

Tolkien clearly understands the purpose of myth telling to be an instructor in morals. A “real deep-rooted tale” that is not a thinly disguised moral allegory is the best medium for moral teaching. Moral teaching is the principle guide for Tolkien towards ethical conduct. “Morals should be a guide to our human purposes, the conduct of our lives: (a) the way in which our individual talents can be developed without waste or misuse; and (b) without injuring our kindred or interfering with their development. (Beyond this and higher lies self-sacrifice for love.)”[59] In contrast to Frodo and others who teach positive morals, there are a number of characters in The Lord of the Rings who must be regarded as moral failures, among them a man, Denethor, a wizard, Saruman, and Gollum, the pre-hobbit who has become a monster. Furthermore, there are several pictures of persons who take a wrong turn but finally repent, including Boromir and Théoden.[60]

Tolkien himself responded to those who sought an absolute positive moral figure and were disappointed with Frodo: “Frodo indeed ‘failed’ as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end: he gave in, ratted. I do not say ‘simple minds’ with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable. Their weakness, however, is twofold. They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget . . . Pity or Mercy, which is an absolute requirement in moral judgement . . . we must estimate the limits of another’s strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances. I do not think that Frodo’s was a moral failure. At the last moment the pressure of the Ring would reach a maximum –impossible . . . for anyone to resist…. Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely.”[61]

The Fall

“I think it is a sad story, and it could have happened to others, even to some hobbits I have known.” Gandalf is gently suggesting that Frodo not be so quick to judge Gollum, that indeed he might reflect upon the possibility that under certain circumstances he himself might have met the same fate. [62] Tolkien’s man is marked by capacity for any act: treachery, warcraft, gentleness, domesticity, adventurousness, or poetry. No composite is easily reached. (consider the “sinfull” act of Bill Ferny, Grima, Denethor, Butterbur, Eomer, Faramir, Boromir, Théoden, Éowyn).[63] The corruption of Middle Earth is not simply that of Sauron and his ilk. Tolkien’s mythology presents the fallenness of Creation from the Silmarillion and even into the Fourth age. The need for redemption from the fallen creation remains yet unfulfilled.

Despite his reticence to delve into the nature of evil, Tolkien’s narrative conveys the subtle workings of the Shadow. We begin to learn slowly about the “Dark Power,” called the Necromancer in The Hobbit, Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. He has taken an interest in hobbits not because he actually needs them — he has more than enough servants already — but because according to Gandalf, “hobbits as miserable slaves would please him far more than hobbits happy and free.” The slaveholder himself is the slave to his own greed for more power. This echoes St. Paul in Romans 6-8, where Sin and Death are both personified as enslaving and enslaved, with the ultimate goal of enslaving the whole world.[64] Elrond echoes the language of St. Paul in Romans 3:10, saying, “We were all at fault” (I, 264).

Sin and Evil

The One Ring highlights Tolkien’s belief on the problem of evil. “‘Alas, no,’ said Elrond. “We cannot use the Ruling Ring … Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will…. The very desire of it corrupts the heart [That is] why the Ring should be destroyed: as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so. I fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.’ ‘Nor I,’ said Gandalf” (I, 281).

Heroism

“One of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of the mythical and heroic quality. Much that in a realistic work would be done by ‘character delineation’ is here done simply by making the character an elf, a dwarf, or a hobbit. The imagined beings have their insides on the outside, they are visible souls. And Man as a whole, Man pitted against the universe, have we seen him at all till we see that he is like a hero in a fairy tale?”[65] Essential to the heroic character is the virtue of martyrdom. For the living live a life of humility and repentance. But for Tolkien, notably in the character of Boromir, the dead atone for their sins when they die for those whose safety is his charge.[66]

Repentance

Flieger argues that the goal of Tolkien’s narrative is to effect the same shift of direction that Christian repentance causes, to move from dark to light, despair to joy.[67] In this way, he mimics to a lesser degree a conversion experience, through a metanoia, changing the direction of the mind from the downward to the upward. Thus, this turn which we feel at the turn in a fairy-story is, to however small a degree, a conversion experience. In Tolkien’s terms, it would be a Secondary experience, echoing what is for him the Primary experience at the turn of the Christian story, the Resurrection. This turn would have, he says, “exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the ‘turn’ in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.)”[68]

Prayer

The prayer of Faramir and his company echoes Christian prayer. When they face west, holding a moment of silence, the hearers mind cannot help but recall the practice of prayer. Their line “to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be” mimics the Gloria Patri: “who was and who is and who ever shall be,” both speaking of the life to come. (II, 284-5) Some of the other important Christian symbols in the mythology comes in the form of invocations, petitions, and prayers to higher powers, mentioned above.

Servant

Sam’s faithful service to Frodo and his eventual rise to Mayor of the Shire can be taken as an illustration of the saying of Christ “He who would be greatest among you must be least, and a servant.” With the servitude comes suffering. But with responsibility and suffering comes growth. “It is this genuine growth, along with humility, that enables the Hobbits at the end to come down from ‘fairy-tale’ heroism to the more ordinary task of ‘scouring the Shire.’”[69] Merry and Pippin too need to be strengthened for their task. By this suffering they learned a truly servant attitude, relative to their introductory vegetable theft. As with any afflictions, God is not a passive observer but an active hand and will deliver in the end. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, / but the LORD rescues them from them all” (Psalm 34:19).

Tolkien stated that the aspect of his tale that meant the most to him was the ennoblement of the humble and ordinary.[70] He saw himself as hobbit-like, with his pipe and his garden and his disinclination to leave home.[71] In keeping with the theme of Christian life, Tolkien wanted to tell of the story of Sam into the Fourth Age but omitted for fear of it being trite. In this chapter, Sam is shown married, with many children, a home, and garden. By his example, Tolkien sought to demonstrate the beauty of this ordinary life.[72] The finale of The Lord of the Rings is seen mainly through the eyes of the hobbits. The picture of the Middle-earth as a balance of noble and small, great and forgotten is made poignant with the final act. Its purpose for Tolkien then is “to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in ‘world politics’ of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole … is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.”[73] Sam, more than any other character is Tolkien’s model of a Christian disciple.

Christ-images

Dickerson suggests that the myth of Middle-earth cannot be classified strictly as Christian because of the absence of Christ. There is no salvation within a story unless there is a historic event of a true redeemer.[74] On the other hand, if “the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism,” and if Tolkien “cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults and practices in the imaginary world,” then the task of finding Christ in this “fundamentally religious and Catholic work” is necessarily challenging. This has not stopped a plethora of both scholarly and popular writing searching for the presence of “Christ images.”[75]

The challenge of Christ figures is the tendency towards allegory.[76] This risk may have been the motivation to avoid any obvious Christological figures. Yet, even with Lewis’s Aslan, any literary figure of Christ is not without difference in correspondence. Thus there is a tension between the biblical picture and the literary one. Yet, the Christian author cannot help but give witness at least to a messianic hope whether via negativa or via Christ image. In both cases the reader is left with the longing for a truly redemptive character. Thus, Tolkien presents characters who mirror Christ and therefore are like Christians who also weakly mirror Christ who lives in them.

In an often cited but only recently discovered essay, Prof. Barry Gordon suggested that the three offices of Christ as king, priest, and prophet are elucidated through Tolkien’s narrative.[77] Certain concepts of Christian soteriology are worked out in Tolkien’s chief characters. The priestly office most closely corresponds to justification. Frodo mimics the priestly role of Christ, bearing the ring at the sacrifice of his life. Yet, this self-sacrifice is not for personal transgression but rather to destroy the non-personal evil of the ring.[78] In summary, Christ as figured in the three characters of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf. Tolkien admitted in the letter to Kilby that the Gordon thesis was true, but that such a scheme had been unconscious on Tolkien’s part.[79] In his own notes expounding on the Gordon thesis, Kilby wrote: “M-e.[Middle-earth] is saved through the priestly self-sacrifice of the hobbit Frodo, thru wisdom and guidance of Gandalf and mastery of Aragorn, heir of kings. Also forces beyond these. As each agent responds to his ‘calling’ he grows in power and grace. Each becomes increasingly ‘Christian.'”[80]

Gandalf

Gandalf’s struggle against the Balrog, his descent into the fiery pits suggest Christ’s descent into hell, conquering death. According to the timeline in appendix B, he battled the Balrog for ten days, and did indeed die. It was almost three weeks before he returned to life on top of Mount Celebdil, and three more days before Gwaihir the Eagle found him and bore him to Lothlórien. Much like Christ’s descent into hell, we know little more of his time in those dark days, only saying, “Naked I was sent back–for a brief time, until my task was done” (II, 125). Even after Gandalf’s death, Aragorn and Merry hope-against-hope for Gandalf’s return in order to defeat the powers of darkness, much like a messianic hope or the Christian waiting for Christ’s return in judgment. Gandalf’s reappearance is plainly described by Tolkien as a resurrection. Even his appearance mirrors Christ’s resurrected flesh: Gandalf’s hair was “white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand” (II, 98). Yet, Gandalf is not a type of the resurrected Son of Man. “There is no ’embodiment’ of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology,” Tolkien wrote. “Gandalf is a ‘created’ person.”[81]

Aragorn

Aragorn makes Christ-like sacrifices, mimicking the healing narratives of the Gospel. Though he desires to go to Minis Tirith to take up the throne and marry Arwen, he sacrifices this desire for the sake of Merry and Pippin. LIke Christ, Aragorn calls back Éowyn from death, and Faramir and Merry as well, and later on, Frodo and Sam. Aragorn’s acts as an agent of healing power from on high, symbolized by the athelas. Faramir instantly recognizes Aragorn as king, and “a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes.” He says, “My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?” When Aragorn comes to Merry lying comatose, he “laid his hand on Merry’s head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name.” And Merry awoke, and said, “I am hungry,” perhaps also a reference to Christ’s raising of the daughter of Jairus.[82]

Aragorn also experiences a resurrection-type by coming back from the Paths of the Dead. The army of the dead mirrors the dead raised from the tombs at Christ’s resurrection, both being rescued from the captives from torment.[83] Not even Aragorn,Tolkien writes, could have withstood the presence of Sauron, by choice or otherwise.[84] But Aragorn’s kingdom is of this world and he is restored as its king. This is not the ushering in of the heavenly kingdom of Christ but does typify the restoration of humanity in Christ to dominion and rulership.[85] Aragorn is clearly Tolkien’s man par excellence. Aragorn will sit on the throne. Narsil is reforged as Anduril, a seedling of the White Tree is found, the city is rebuilt, and he marries Arwen

Frodo

Frodo volunteers to bear the ring to Mordor, resembling Christ’s willingness to bear the cross and his life to Calvary. Frodo is not motivated by pride but rather self-sacrifice to bear the ring away from the corrupting influence of the fellowship. “I will do now what I must,” he said. “This at least is plain: the evil of the Ring is already at work even in the Company and the Ring must leave them before it does more harm. I will go alone. Some I cannot trust, and those I can trust are too dear to me.” (I, 519-20) Christ dies for all human beings individually; Frodo is willing to lay down his life for all those threatened by evil, but especially for his own kind and his own friends.

His journey to Mordor echoes Christ’s journey to Golgotha. Along the way, Gollum is reintroduced to torment Frodo, used as a tool by Dark Lord to reclaim the ring but also used by the unseen good. Gollum serves as warning of the power of the ring, especially when he betrays Frodo in the end, much like Judas to Christ. When Frodo is captured by the Orcs, he is imprisoned, stripped of his clothes, mocked, and whipped, again bearing striking resemblance to Christ. This was conscious or unconscious portrayal reflects the meditation of the Rosary, praying upon the sufferings and mysteries of Christ and Mary, especially the in Christ’s final hours.[86]

Unlike Christ, Frodo does not die nor does he persevere until the end. Indeed, he was saved three times from death: one from the blade of the Nazgûl, once from the sting of Shelob, and finally by Aragorn at the end of the quest. (III, 234) His ability to save the life of the friends and the world is limited, for he is only an ordinary hobbit. Frodo could certainly be seen as fitting the prophet Isaiah’s depiction of the promised Christ: “There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him” (Isa. 53:2).[87] He exercises his love for his friends in humility. In Tolkien’s myth, the unseen God must intervene when finally the burden of the ring is too much to bear. Frodo displays tremendous sacrificial love and the physical marks to prove it that in a small part mirrors the greatest love the world has known in Christ’s atoning death.”[88]

Frodo’s commitment to being the ring bearer, his and Sam’s journey, leaving behind friends, traveling through Mordor, the willingness to pass unto death, and the triumph all mirror Christ. Unlike Christ, Frodo does not redeem the whole world but only temporarily abates the current evil. In this way, he mirrors Christ in that he mirrors the Christian life. It is one of struggle, often bearing great burdens willingly. For some it involves leaving friends and family for faith. The specifics of Frodo’s struggle in the Mordor bear strong resemble the last day of Christ’s life, except that Frodo does succumb to the Ring in his final moments. Unlike Christ, Frodo could not resist the greatest of temptations. Yet, like the Christian, the unseen God of Middle Earth rescued Frodo from death in Mount Doom.

Conclusion

The history of Middle-earth is effectively judged because it measures up according to Christian history. For Tolkien, the story did not originate in history but entered history, implying that it preexisted that history. Dickerson rightly notes, “If Tolkien is correct, then the Gospel story is the truth from which all story truths are measured. But no such Gospel is present in The Lord of the Rings, or even in The Silmarillion: the story that Tolkien believes has entered the earth’s history has not entered the history of his Middle-earth.”[89] Rather that present a retelling of the Christian story, Tolkien sought to present a uniquely Christian worldview. While not a Christian myth per se, his intent for the Lord of the Rings was to give a presentation of the struggle of Christian life, clothed in myth and legend. Purtill suggests that this imaginary history does not contradict Tolkien’s Christianity. “That human beings once shared the earth with other rational beings, that they were all under the rule and guardianship of some sort of supernatural being, that they faced the servants of the Evil One in physical battles – none of this contradicts anything in Christian belief.”[90]

Birzer states that for religious fundamentalists, myths represent lies. They argue that myths constitute dangerous rivals to Christian truth and lead the weak astray. Why study Homer when the Christian Gospels tell us all we need to know for salvation? “It is likely, the fundamentalist concludes, that all myth comes from the devil and is an attempt to distract us from the truth of Christ. The ancient gods and demigods of Greece, Rome, and northern Europe, after all, must have been nothing more than demons in disguise.”[91] Fundamentalism operates similarly to demythologizing in emphasizing the subjective. The Christian apologist ought to avoid the faith as a purely experiential phenomena, or a distillation of “truths” without narrative or historical foundation.[92]

In contrast, Tolkien held that ancient myths attempted to express God’s truths. But if it remains pagan, it is perilous. Instead it ought to be brought into God’s service. Myth can make a defense for natural law and the order of creation, bringing it to the recollection of the people. Especially in his World War II context, Tolkien’s world seemed to be descending into chaos, into a new dark age, needing sound moral judgment more than ever. Tolkien’s stories did contain explicit and implicit moral judgments, but as Tolkien frankly admitted, he communicated his beliefs and worldview under the cover of “mythical and legendary dress.”[93] Each person is “an allegory,” Tolkien conceded to his former student, W. H. Auden, “each embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.”[94] Both Lewis and Tolkien argue that true myth can access the natural knowledge of God, namely the human condition and nature of the divine. This natural knowledge is present by St. Paul in Romans 1: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ESV).

Birzer helpfully suggests that the primary burden of a Christian humanist like Tolkien is to demonstrate “that man is not the creator of his own world, but is a creature who inevitably lives under the natural and divine law.”[95] Thus, the characters of Middle-earth recognize the transcendent with piety and humility despite not understanding it. To look too deeply into the transcendent or to seek to supplant it with human law or invention is to succumb to the first temptation: “you too shall be as gods.” The reader is to recognize that God’s grace, like faerie, is everywhere, granted that we accept it as a gift. This divine grace, consistent with Roman Catholic theology, ennobles the weak to acts of heroism, sanctifying the fallen to do good. “Evil labours with vast power and perpetual success,” Tolkien wrote. Ultimately, though, evil works “in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.”[96] All actors are to embrace the life of every person and be proper stewards of creation. The hearer is called via the characters to protect the good and the oppressed, always doing what is good and virtuous.[97] Finally, we must expect a resurgence of evil, as man is fallen and easily succumbs to sin. “The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured” (II, 155). “Other evils there are that may come [says Gandalf], yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule” (III,155). The characters live in hope for the final end of the Shadow and the continued divine providence through the ages.

“The chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis . . . . We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour. And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf . . . all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing.”[98] Thus the purpose of Tolkien’s myth summarized and is in harmony with his Roman Catholic piety.

Does Tolkien pursue the second part of Paul’s argument in chapter 2? “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15 ESV). At least in The Lord of the Rings this theme is absent.  Yet, according to Tolkien’s student, he considered including additional narrative as part of the Silmarillion to explain the fall of creation, introduce an incarnate God-man, and even tell of the final consummation.[99] This final consummation is the defeat of the enemy and eternal life. It is a Christus Victor sense and not forensic. Tolkien did not intend even in this hypothetical epilogue justification in the fashion of Augsburg Article IV.

The final result is that The Lord of the Rings can delight the pagan reader with grandeur, beauty, and virtue. Tolkien would understand this as God’s grace working in the natural order, consistent with his Roman theology. In this way, it is preparatory for the greatest story of Christ’s redemption of the world. For the Christian, it provides a window into the Christ-like life they have been baptized into. In either case, it is merely prolegomena the narrative of the Scriptures and especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It does not present a solution to the problem of the fallenness of man or sin. Tolkien observes in “On Fairy-Stories” that at one point, the lines of myth and history crossed: with the life of Jesus. “This story is supreme; and it is true. Legend and History have met and fused.”[100] The material well-known throughout the world’s myth now happened at a verifiable point in space and time. The eucatastrophe of death defeated is soberly announced from Jerusalem. The ultimate fairy story, or true myth, is the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact,” C. S. Lewis argued. “The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.”[101] With the Incarnation of Christ, “art has been verified,” Tolkien claimed. “God is the Lord, of angels, and of men–and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused” with the arrival of God in Time, and man has been blessed beyond earthly comprehension.[102] The apology of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is to engage the imagination to consider the battle of Good and Evil as real and to hope for the final victory. Christ may be absent but he is prefigured and hoped-for to overcome the plight of man.

 

Bibliography

Birzer, Bradley J. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003.

Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

———. Secret Gardens : A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

Christensen, Michael J. C. S. Lewis on Scripture : His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation, and the Question of Inerrancy. Nashville: Abingdon Pr., 1989.

Dickerson, Matthew T. Following Gandalf : Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003.

Flieger, Verlyn. Splintered Light : Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Freshwater, Mark Edwards. C.S. Lewis and the Truth of Myth. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988.

Gordon, Barry. Kingship, Priesthood, and Prophecy in the Lord of the Rings. Unpublished paper. Previous version of the paper given to the Newcastle Theological Society circa 1964. Electronic version created 05/05/2009 by Dr Moira Gordon., 1967. http://library.newcastle.edu.au/record=b2474576~S16.

Hooper, Walter. Past Watchful Dragons : The Narnian Chronicles of C.S. Lewis. New York: Collier Books, 1979.

Hooper, Walter, and E B Pusey. “The Longing for a Form.” In Narnia : The Author, the Critics, and the Tale. 1974.

Kilby, Clyde S. “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton [And] Charles Williams. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974.

———. Tolkien & the Silmarillion. Wheaton, IL: H. Shaw, 1976.

Lewis, C S. An Experiment in Criticism,. Cambridge: University Press, 1961.

———. Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis. London: G. Bles, 1958.

———. Surprised by Joy; The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956.

Lewis, C S, and Rouben Mamoulian Collection (Library of Congress). Miracles; A Preliminary Study. New York: Macmillan Co., 1947.

Lewis, C S, and Walter Hooper. “Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings.” In On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

Lewis, C S, Arthur, Greeves, and Walter Hooper. They Stand Together : The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1914-1963. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1979.

Lewis, Clyde S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.

McCain, Paul Timothy. Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions : A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

Montgomery, J W. “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton [And] Charles Williams. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974.

Purtill, Richard L. J.R.R. Tolkien : Myth, Morality, and Religion. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

———. Lord of the Elves and Eldils; Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974.

Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod and Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien.” In A Tolkien Compass. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2003.

Rogers, Deborah Webster, and Ivor A., Rogers. J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.

Rutledge, F. The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Smith, Mark Eddy. Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues : Exploring the Spiritual Themes of the Lord of the Rings. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Tolkien, J R R. The Fellowship of the Ring : Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965.

———. “On Fairy-Stories.” In Tree and Leaf. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964.

Tolkien, J R R, and Christopher Tolkien. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” In The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Tolkien, J R R, Humphrey Carpenter, and Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.

Urang, G. Shadows of Heaven: Religion and Fantasy in the Writing of CS Lewis, Charles Williams, and JRR Tolkien. Philadelphia, PA: ess, 1971.

 

 


[1] Most apologetic endeavors through Christian history have been Empirical: following the biblical model. The scriptural apologetic makes miracle and prophecy Central, and the Apologists of Patristic times, who closely followed the Apostolic footsteps, went and did likewise. Today’s Analytical movement in philosophy has redirected attention to fundamental epistemological considerations, and has rightly insisted that if a religion wishes to make meaningful claims to factual truth, it must offer meaningfully objective evidence in support of those claims; Objective, historical evidence for Christian truth has the great merit of openness to public inquiry; it cannot easily be ignored as the product of inner wish-fulfillment. J W Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,” in Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton [And] Charles Williams (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 16-17.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions : A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005), 59.

[3] Published as part of J R R Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in Tree and Leaf (London: Allen & Unwin, 1964).

[4] Tolkien himself speaks of the fairy story (or fantasy) as having three faces: the Mystical towards the Supernatural; the Magical towards Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man. The essential face of Faerie is the middle one, the Magical. But the degree in which the others appear (if at all) is variable, and may be decided by the individual story-teller.” G Urang, Shadows of Heaven: Religion and Fantasy in the Writing of CS Lewis, Charles Williams, and JRR Tolkien (Philadelphia, PA: ess, 1971), 106.

[5] C S Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, (Cambridge: University Press, 1961), 44.

[6] Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism,,, 56.

[7] Summarized by Deborah Webster Rogers and Ivor A., Rogers, J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980), 47.

[8] Bradley J Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003), 38.

[9] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 146.

[10] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,”, 150.

[11] Tolkien said to C.S. Lewis, “You look at trees, and call them ‘trees’ and probably you do not think twice about the word. You call a star ‘a star,’ and think nothing more of it. But you must remember that these words, ‘tree,’ ‘star,’ were (in their original forms) names given to these objects by people with very different views from yours. To you, a tree is simply a vegetable organism, and a star simply a ball of inanimate matter moving along a mathematical course. But the first men to talk of ‘trees’ and ‘stars’ saw things very differently. To them, the world was alive with living silver, bursting into flame in answer to the eternal music. They saw the sky as a jeweled tent, and the earth as the womb whence all living things have come. To them, the whole of creation was ‘myth-woven and elf-patterned.’” Quoted in Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), 41.

[12] ”Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific veracity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.” Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 144.

[13] Mark Edwards Freshwater, C.S. Lewis and the Truth of Myth (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988), 39.

[14] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, x.

[15] Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism,, 45.

[16] For a helpful summary, see Michael J Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture : His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation, and the Question of Inerrancy (Nashville: Abingdon Pr., 1989).

[17] Clyde S Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,” in Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton [And] Charles Williams (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 120-21.

[18] Clyde S Kilby, Tolkien & the Silmarillion (Wheaton, IL: H. Shaw, 1976), 55. Also he declares in fact that he has a “cordial dislike” of allegory, and he says he began The Lord of the Rings just to amuse himself. To him it is “largely an essay in ‘linguistic aesthetic,’ ” in which the story was made “to provide a world for the languages rather than the reverse.” “Tolkien on Tolkien,” Diplomat, October, 1966, p.39. Quoted in Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,” 124.

[19] Despite Tolkien’s intent, Oxford professor and children’s literature critic Humphrey Carpenter argues that the Lord of the Rings creates an “alternative religion.” Carpenter rightly understands Tolkien’s Roman Catholic faith as a significant influence. Carpenter also recognizes the absence of Christ and thus soteriology.Humphrey Carpenter, Secret Gardens : A Study of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985), 211.

[20] Introduction to J R R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring : Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965), 6. hereafter indicated by (Part, page).

[21] ”Letter to Father Murray,” SJ, The Tablet, Sept 15, 1973 quoted by Kilby, Tolkien & the Silmarillion, 56.

[22] ”The success of The Lord of the Rings only increased his determination to mesh the mythological world of Middle-earth with Christian theology. As Christopher Tolkien has noted, his father spent the year prior to his death wrestling with the theological implications of Elvish immortality. Tolkien feared, rightly, that many readers would interpret the moral and spiritual elements of his mythology as pagan or, worse, as the heralds of a new religion.” A 21st century reader can’t help but consider the rise of Jedi as an adopted faith, despite its creation by George Lucas and elocution in the Star Wars film series. Tolkien’s concern for this propensity in man is validated by the evidence of Star Wars. Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 47.

[23] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth,, xi.

[24] “[C. S.] Lewis recently wrote a most interesting essay . . . showing of what great value the ‘story-value’ was, as mental nourishment — the whole Christian story (NT especially). It was a defence of that kind of attitude which we tend to sneer at: the fainthearted that loses faith, but clings at least to the beauty of ‘the story as having some permanent value . . . they [the ‘fainthearted’] do still in that way get some nourishment and are not cut off wholly from the sap of life: for the beauty of the story, while not necessarily a guarantee of its truth, is a concomitant of it, and a fidelis [faithful person] is meant to draw nourishment from the beauty as well as the truth.”J R R Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000), 109., quoted by F Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 3.

[25] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 232-33.

[26] Richard L Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils; Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 120.

[27] Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons : The Narnian Chronicles of C.S. Lewis (New York: Collier Books, 1979), 94.

[28] “The Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’ Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being ‘a description’ in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.” C S Lewis, Arthur, Greeves and Walter Hooper, They Stand Together : The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 1914-1963 (New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1979), 427-8. quoted by Freshwater, C.S. Lewis and the Truth of Myth, 37.

[29] C S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis (London: G. Bles, 1958), 107. quoted by Freshwater, C.S. Lewis and the Truth of Myth, 40.

[30] “Religion without Dogma?” from Clyde S Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970). quoted by Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,” 5.

[31] C S Lewis and Rouben Mamoulian Collection (Library of Congress), Miracles; A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan Co., 1947), 134.

[32] C S Lewis, Surprised by Joy; The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 236.

[33] ”The lembas has a virtue without which they would long have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this way-bread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 63.

[34] Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,” 139.

[35] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 348.

[36] Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor, For the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever, and the Dark Tower is thrown down. . . . for your King shall come again, and he shall dwell among you all the days of your life…. Sing all ye people! (III, 241)

[37] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 48-49.

[38] “My church” was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history–the particular circumstances of the world in which it is set.” Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 394-5.

[39] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 147.

[40] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,”, 146.

[41] Quoted in Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 330.

[42] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 25. and Kilby, Tolkien & the Silmarillion, 43.

[43] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 79.

[44] Quoted in Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth,, 65.

[45] Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils; Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,, 117. and Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 65.

[46] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 407.

[47] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection,, 246.

[48] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 69.

[49] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,”, 69.

[50] Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,” 14.

[51] J R R Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” in The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984), 62. summarized by Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 34.

[52] Tolkien and Tolkien, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” 77.

[53] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 4. In addition, Kilby traces many Christian themes in the Lord of the Rings. He suggests Tolkien presents sacred time Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,” 125., light and dark Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,”, 129-130., election Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,”, 132., and sovereignty of God Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien,”, 132..

[54] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 414.

[55] Walter Hooper and E B Pusey, “The Longing for a Form,” in Narnia : The Author, the Critics, and the Tale (1974), 110.

[56] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 212.

[57] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection,, 236.

[58] James Patrick claims that Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring is the mythological equivalent of the church, “moving across the dark landscape, enduring every privation, frightened but full of courage, fulfilling the providence of God.” Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 68-69.

[59] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 399-400.

[60] Purtill examines these characters and the double and triple contrasts Tolkien makes between them in Richard L Purtill, J.R.R. Tolkien : Myth, Morality, and Religion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 61ff.

[61] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 326.

[62] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 58.

[63] Deborah C Rogers, “Everyclod and Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien,” in A Tolkien Compass (Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2003), 70.

[64] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 55.

[65] C S Lewis and Walter Hooper, “Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings,” in On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 89.

[66] Mark Eddy Smith, Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues : Exploring the Spiritual Themes of the Lord of the Rings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 5.

[67] Verlyn Flieger, Splintered Light : Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 31.

[68] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 89.

[69] Urang, Shadows of Heaven: Religion and Fantasy in the Writing of CS Lewis, Charles Williams, and JRR Tolkien, 111.

[70] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 220,232,237.

[71] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 258.

[72] ”Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be high minded, and has, as it were, a vocation. The book will probably end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarified by the achievement of the great Quest and will pass West with all the great figures but Sam will settle down to the Shire and gardens and inns.” Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 105.

[73] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection,, 160.

[74] Matthew T Dickerson, Following Gandalf : Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 207.

[75] Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,” 23.

[76] Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,”, 25.

[77] Barry Gordon, Kingship, Priesthood, and Prophecy in the Lord of the Rings (Unpublished paper. Previous version of the paper given to the Newcastle Theological Society circa 1964. Electronic version created 05/05/2009 by Dr Moira Gordon., 1967), http://library.newcastle.edu.au/record=b2474576~S16, 1.

[78] Gordon, Kingship, Priesthood, and Prophecy in the Lord of the Rings,, 2.

[79] Kilby, Tolkien & the Silmarillion, 55-56.

[80] Quoted in Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 70.

[81] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 237.

[82] Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in the Lord of the Rings, 309.

[83] Dickerson, Following Gandalf : Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings, 209.

[84] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 332.

[85] Rogers, “Everyclod and Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien,” 73.

[86] Purtill, J.R.R. Tolkien : Myth, Morality, and Religion, 57.

[87] Dickerson, Following Gandalf : Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings, 209.

[88] “Frodo indeed “failed” as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end: he gave in, ratted. I do not say “simple minds” with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable. Their weakness, however, is twofold. They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget … Pity or Mercy, which is an absolute requirement in moral judgement … we must estimate the limits of another’s strength and weigh this against the force of particular circumstances. I do not think that Frodo’s was a moral failure. At the last moment the pressure of the Ring would reach a maximum –impossible … for anyone to resist…. Frodo had done what he could and spent himself completely.” Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 326.

[89] {Dickerson 2003@208

[90] Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils; Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien,, 122-123.

[91] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, xxiii.

[92] Mirroring C.S. Lewis, John Warwick Montgomery posits two apologetic means, the empirical and the subjective. With his preference toward analytic philosophy one might be surprised to learn he also engages the subjective apologetic. Montgomery perceives the risk of existentialism on the one hand and fundamentalism on the other.”Hesitancy in offering Subjective defenses for the Gospel has been increased by the history of such argumentation in the last two centuries. Kant so intimidated traditional, Objective apologists that a Subjective reaction set in through the work of Schleiermacher and Ritschl, leading directly to the ‘liberal’ dilutions of Christian faith so perceptively criticized by Lewis. In the half century after Kant’s death, a no less momentous reaction occurred when Kierkegaard opposed Hegelian idealism with the battle cry, ‘Truth is subjectivity.’ From Kierkegaard’s (genuinely Christian) subjectivity developed the atheistic subjectivity of 20th century existentialism on the one hand (Heidegger, Sartre), and the reductionistic, demythologizing existentialism of most contemporary German theology (Bultmann–whose position developed from Heidegger’s–and the post-Bultmannian ‘New Hermeneutic’).” Montgomery, “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe,” 18.

[93] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 41,121.

[94] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection,, 212.

[95] Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 133.

[96] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 76.

[97] Tolkien wrote to his wife: “I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.” Quoted in Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth : Understanding Middle-Earth, 137.

[98] Tolkien, Carpenter and Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien : A Selection, 400.

[99] “In this connection I should mention a lengthy account which Tolkien asked me to read. It was in the form of a Job-like conversation on soul and body and the possible purpose of God in allowing the Fall so that He could manifest His own sovereignty over Satan all the more, of Christ’s incarnation, the spread of His light from one person to another, and the final consummation at Christ’s return. He said he was not certain whether to include this in The Silmarillion or publish it separately.”Kilby, Tolkien & the Silmarillion, 61-62.

[100] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 156.

[101] Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 66.

[102] Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” 153.

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