Books and movies were my idols. I wrote fantasy and fairy tales, and lived inside a kind of alternate reality made up of fantasies, mysteries, and romances. I enjoyed this book so much that I read most of Tolkien’s fiction and his biography. When Peter Jackson made his film adaptations, my husband and I became Jackson/Tolkien fans. Now we have let these things go, and here is why:
1 John 2:15-17
King James Version
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
The Lord of the Rings continues to be a huge hit in the City of Vanity Fair (this world). So why do Christians claim that it is a Christian fantasy written by a Christian writer? Didn’t the Lord explain to us that the world loves its own?
“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Is The Lord of the Rings a Christian book?
To determine whether it is a Christian work, we need to notice what Tolkien included in and omitted from his story about the rescue of the fantasy realm known as Middle Earth.
First of all, the rescue is temporary and partial – Middle Earth is not saved. In this story, there is no mention of the Son of God, the Cross, the atonement, the redemption.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t even hinted at. (I’m glad this is so, for it’s terribly wrong – blasphemy – to make the Lord a character in fiction, something which many Christians don’t yet understand.)
The only “deities” in this story are:
1) a kind of Fate, which Gandalf alludes to, which moves the characters to accomplish its goals; and,
2) Elbereth, a female entity, who is entreated in times of trouble, much as the Mary of Catholicism is entreated. (Elbereth is one of the Valar, male and female beings who framed Tolkien’s cosmos, and who are said to be the Nordic gods reinvented.)
The most revealing fact about the story is that Middle Earth is rescued by a character who is wicked. The one who destroys the evil ring of power is Gollum, a pitiful wreck of his former self, a lying, sneaking, cringing, conniving “Stinker”, whose wickedness is used by the invisible Fate to do this. Other sinful and weak creatures are used in the rescue, principally the hero Frodo, a Hobbit (halfling, smaller person) who is commissioned to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom in which it was forged.
Gollum once had possession of this object, which he calls his “Precious”, and he tries to steal it from Frodo. When he fails to, Frodo forgives him and allows him to go on the quest with him and his loyal friend, Sam. Along the way, Gollum’s selfish agenda resurfaces in attempted murder, and Frodo and Sam go on without him. Reaching Mount Doom, and standing before its fires, Frodo finds that he is incapable of destroying the ring. Gollum shows up and fights him for it. Gollum wins, and gripping his “Precious”, begins to leap with glee. He ends up falling off a precipice into the fires, where he and the ring are consumed.
Rescue accomplished – but by the wicked, through a happenstance.
Rescue accomplished – but no salvation from the sin through which the ring came into being.
Expert storytelling – but no truth about the characters’ most urgent need.
Evil is centered outside of the characters, whether they are human, hobbit, or elf. Yes, the ring arouses the lust for power in each of them, but evil itself resides chiefly in the ring. It is the ring then, that needs to be destroyed – destroyed so that hobbits can go on just as they were before the mess began, merrily tippling and overeating, hiding in a selfish dream world that insulates them from the suffering in the larger world around them.
It’s only fair to say that none of the characters involved in the quest to rescue Middle Earth go on just as they were before it began. However, they rescue Middle Earth so that it can go on as it is – and what it is, is a pagan world.
Frodo certainly doesn’t go on just as he was when the quest began. Forever changed and wounded by evil, he sails for an island where the Valar dwell. In his retreat from the world and its evils and temptations, and in the Valar themselves, Tolkien’s Catholicism is evident. Frodo’s escape is a monastic retreat, and the Valar are the revered ones of Middle Earth – its saints. These things are not Christian but Catholic.
Tolkien admitted that the “‘Third Age’ [the epoch in which the story occurs] was not a Christian world.” So why then, do Christians continue to claim that his story is Christian? Tolkien knew better. He said that his story was Catholic (see the quotes further down). I believe that Christians no longer make the distinction between “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3) and Catholicism, and also that they are somehow joined to their idols – as my husband and I were. They love the world which is passing away. They are good citizens of Vanity Fair.
It is heart-stirring to see the ring destroyed, especially set to an amazing film score, and Gollum’s death seems so real and sad that it is heart-wrenching. But Gollum isn’t real and Frodo isn’t real. None of this is, especially Tolkien’s worldview, for he demonstrated that he believed that people save themselves and their world, with some help from friends and the unseen realm. His view then, truly “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). He replaced the Cross of Jesus Christ with the schemes and plots and struggles of characters who, in trying to possess a powerful and evil object, destroy it unwillingly and unintentionally.
Certainly the Lord uses the wicked to accomplish His purposes, men such as Nebuchadnezzar. But the wicked cannot destroy evil, and people cannot save themselves – not the ruined Gollums of this world, nor the well-intentioned but weak Frodos, nor even the loyal Sams. Only the Lord can save a world from evil and sin and death, and He has done this. Watching characters trying to do this for themselves certainly fits the category of fantasy! From what I’ve read, Tolkien planned to “reinvent” the Incarnation for Middle Earth. I’m glad he put off doing this.
I haven’t dealt with Sauron, the wicked being who forged the ring, the wizards (!) who are so important to the story, or the dazzling elves and heroic yet fallen men. My intention was to show that for Tolkien, the rescue of Middle Earth was mostly in the hands of creatures, and a kind of invisible Fate, and the reinvented Nordic gods who sometimes lend a little help.
Is any of this Christian?
Christian, or Catholic? Pertinent Tolkien quotes
“As he told a Jesuit friend, The Lord of the Rings ‘is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.’”
J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth, by
“In the true, though exiled, kingship of Aragorn we see glimmers of the hope for a restoration of truly ordained, i.e., Catholic, authority.”
J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth, ward, p. xii.
I need to acknowledge the administrator of husky394xp YouTube Channel. He read the above book (I didn’t) and offered these two quotes in a detailed exposé. Because of his presentation, my husband and I cleaned house, throwing away all of the books and dvds by and about Tolkien. (A disclaimer: I don’t agree with all of husky394xp’s views.)