This week we briefly look at J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the world of Middle Earth. For many Lord of the Rings is the standard to measure all other fantasy stories. Tolkien undoubtedly created one of the most comprehensive fantasy worlds not necessarily in the size of Middle Earth but rather the intricateness of what he imagined there.
Tolkien sees story as a fundamental means of communicating truth. ” The beauty of the story, while not necessarily a guarantee of its truth, is a concomitant of it, and a fidelis is meant to draw nourishment from the beauty as well as the truth”1. This deeper revelatory power of narrative is only understood when we see story serving a purpose not just as a means of entertainment 2.
Unlike the his contemporary, C.S. Lewis; Tolkien masks the allegories in his works. “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism”3. The purpose of this is that the underlying truth is only revealed to those who wish to seek after it or who know it is there. This same style is apparent in the teachings of Jesus. The truth of Jesus’ parables really only becomes known when the listeners seek after Jesus further 4.
In his masking of religion throughout Lord of the Rings, Tolkien creates the idea of a hidden power at work. This is seen not only in the glimpses of the elves “on the other side”5, but also in passages such as:
“a sudden understanding…welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. [^6]
We see an outside power revealing a vision of past events, giving understanding and strength. In this way Tolkien, reflects how God works in the world today, not as something that is always visible and apparent but something invisible that is always at work. A God who works not as a part of dualistic6 pair but rather as the predominant power who works in, through and in spite of His creation.
We hope that this has sparked some new ways for you to look at what is one of our favorite stories and that you will see the shadows of the Gospel hidden within other stories that you love.
“The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ – C.S. Lewis
- Tolkien, J. R.R., Humphrey Carpenter, and Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. 109. Print. ↩
- “The purpose of literature (story) is to cause us to question our beliefs”. I heard this from my dad when I was in Jr. High and really didn’t pay too much attention to it then but it’s a phrase that has stuck with me almost twenty years later. ↩
- Tolkien, J. R.R., Humphrey Carpenter, and Christopher Tolkien. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. 172. Print. ↩
- Matthew 13:36, Matthew 15:15, ↩
- Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. London: Harper Collins, 2001. Print. ↩
- In theology, dualism is the idea ↩ equal
- Lewis, C. S., and Walter Hooper. On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982. Print. ↩