Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Lord of the Rings Christian?

The Two Towers is on TV -- again! -- but I don't care; I find this entertaining. But I thought of a question I'd post for your comments:

Is Lord of the Rings Christian?

I do not mean, is it compatible with Christianity; I have no qualms about that. It was the work of a Christian, and the way Christians have embraced LOTR is noteworthy. It calls to mind Christendom at its best.

What I mean, rather, is to ask: is it essentially Christian? Put it another way: could it have come forth from, say, a Jewish milieu? Or Muslim? Or Hindu? Or Buddhist?


Mattias A. Caro said...

The story evolves around that story the ring of power and the need to plunge it back into the depths from whence it came to once and for all vanquish its seductive hold upon the world. That to me sounds like Christ needing to take on the sin of the world and forever destroy its hold upon mankind and restore man to the order of Grace lost in Eden.

Without getting too much into it, LOTR does indeed have a Christ figure. But it is Christ in his three fold office of Priest (Frodo), Prophete (Gandalf) and King (Aragorn). No single literary figure could capture the subliminal mystery that is the incarnation and yet, Tolkien explores this very mystery through the missions of these three character intertwined as it were towards one telos

And if Lambas bread doesn't remind you of the Eucharist, then you're just not paying attention....

Strider said...

Wonderful question, Father. It's hard to imagine another religous culture producing a work like Lord of the Rings, but given my ignorance of other religious cultures, I suppose I should remain silent.

But what other culture would have its hero (the insignificant Hobbit Frodo) getting to the very edge yet of the fiery crevice yet refusing at the last moment to throw to its destruction that "thing" which is the cause of such terrible evil. And in that moment of failure, evil (Gollum) destroys evil (Sauron). This is all so very Christian. What other culture could create such a myth!

Jeff Miller said...

J.R.R. Tolkien himself said that the primary influence to LOTR was his Catholic faith.

There is an excellent set of lectures in mp3 format given by Ave Maria Professor Joseph Pearce on this subject at a Southern Baptist Seminary availble for free.

Mark Anthony said...

As deeply steeped in Anglo-Saxon and Nordic culture, and in Tolkien's Catholicism, as it is, I doubt that any culture could have produced Lord of the Rings. It is too unique. As the Vala Yavanna says of the Trees of Light, "Even for the mightiest under Illuvatar there is some work that they may be accomplish once, and only once."

Still, one of the great beauties of Tolkien's work is the care he takes to "incarnate" Christian truth into a non-Christian pre-history. It is throughly Christian, without resorting to allegory (like a certain lesser imagination and his "talking lion"). The theme, I believe, is the necessity of our living a life of faith, but never thinking that we are in charge. The failure of Frodo to throw the ring into the fire flies in the face of our culture's idea of Hero, but is deeply Christian.

The real powers in the Lord of the Rings are mercy and pity, more important than strength or intellect. As Gandlaf tells Frodo when Frodo says it is a pity that Bilbo did not kill Gollum when he had the chance:

"Pity? It is pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. There are many who live that deserve death, and some who die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Do not be too quick to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see the end of all things."

And, as Gandalf was a Maia connected to Nienna, the Vala of Suffering, he should know.

It also fits in well with the Church's teaching on euthanasia and the death penalty.

Thomas said...

Evil relies on strength of arms, efforts of slaves (for whom he doesn't care), and his own abilities to deceive in the pursuit of power and self-aggrandizement.

Good relies on trust, friendship, loyalty and hope... and "only a fool's hope," at that in the pursuit of justice and peace and mutual benefit.

Doesn't get much more Christian than that.

LOTR, the Buddhist version: Sauron wants power, Aragorn and Gandalf sit cross-legged under a tree, forget about the ring, and let the world burn around them, awaiting their nirvana. Sauron gains his wanted power and subjugates Middle Earth.

LOTR, the Jewish version: Sauron wants power, he gets it, the people realize they're up the creek sans paddle, realize it's because they were unfaithful to the LORD, wail, gnash their teeth, wear sackcloth and sit in ashes, and eventually Aragorn is raised up (but no Gandalf or Frodo in this instance) and Aragorn leads a band of a few hundred men against the hordes of Mordor. Aragorn personally slays ten thousand with the jawbone of an ass, while his troop marches around the Black Gate before blowing a horn to knock it down. Sauron is vanquished. For now. Then the people dance and play the lyre and harp. The cycle repeats itself.

LOTR, the Secular Humanist version: (see: Gollum's story and what would happen if he hadn't lost the ring to Bilbo.)

LOTR, the Muslim version: er... this may not be a particularly PC thing to say, but the Muslim version would be very similar to Tolkien's version, except that the people of Middle Earth would try to use the ring for themselves -- perhaps Boromir succeeds in getting it and gets back to Minas Tirith, perhaps Gandalf takes it for himself -- but in the end, Sauron wins.

Jacob said...

This is of course not very deep (kudos to my brethren who have commented so far).

In a work Tolkien wrote that told of a conversation between Finrod and a mortal woman where they discussed mortality and the 'original sin' of Men, Finrod intuited that in order for the corruption of Melkor/Satan to be ended, Eru/God would have to enter the World through the vehicle of a Man.

(_The War of the Jewels_ in the 'History of Middle-earth' series.

This is not quite what the question is, but given the fact that Tolkien in his private writings pretty much explicitly tied 'Middle-earth' to the eventual rise of Christianity, a LotR in another religion would just not be possible, given the entire conception of Tolkien's legendarium is Catholic.

Mark Anthony said...

Remember that Middle-Earth is our world, just in the distant past. The Professor naturally would anticipate the Incarnation in the farsightedness of a noble Elf such as Finrod. He even alludes to it in the Silmarillion: "Yet some things there are that they [the Valar] cannot see, neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but himself has Iluvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past."

Anonymous said...

I am no expert, but I agree that the Ring could only come out of a Christian Culture. But, would any other culture appreciate it like we do?

In a similar thought, are there equivalents written for other cultures that we overlook because we don't understand the cultural conections?

Mike L

Anonymous said...

Wonderful question and wonderful answers. I would go farther and say it is not merely Christian, but specifically Catholic. I base this on thirty-five years of rereading the story; on reading all of Tolkien's letters; and on reading the Silmarillion. The sheer number of things I could say would require my own blog, but there are many, many well-written articles and books that cover the ground better than I could.