The theology of The Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings

Ever since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books first came out, there has been discussion of whether author JRR Tolkien intended to reveal his own very devout Catholic faith in the works, or not. Here, New Zealand Anglican Archbishop emeritus, Sir David Moxon, goes in search of the theology of Tolkien's theology.

- By David Moxon, L'Osservatore Romano

If he did intend this, consciously or otherwise, there has also been much discussion about

whether this faith is orthodox, or whether it is ‘syncretist ’ with the contamination of many other cosmologies and myths. 

There is no doubt that Tolkien was a Christian through and through. In a number of places in his work we see his imagination influenced, even if only sometimes subconsciously, by his biblical faith.

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote in a letter to a friend, ‘is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in revision.

Although Tolkien may not have been wishing to be explicit, biblical imagery and the principles of the Gospel seem implicit in many places.

Tolkien portrayed his world as a fallen one, before the coming of Christ, which is why evil seems to be capable of covering the whole earth in the form of Sauron, who has fallen from a higher form of being.

However as with the first Testament of the Bible there are foretastes of what will come in Christ and there are characters who prefigure aspects of Christ. In the story, Christian principles are finally restored even though they are not directly named.

The journey of the Hobbits in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ displays all the aspects of the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes.

Although they are poor in spirit, the kingdom is restored to them. Even though the Hobbits are sorrowful, they are unexpectedly consoled. Although they approach life with a gentle spirit, they do eventually inherit the earth. Although they often hunger and thirst to see right prevail, they are satisfied.

Bilbo and Frodo show mercy to Gollum and receive mercy at the end.

Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn can be seen to represent different images of Christ: Frodo as the high priesthood of Christ, by bearing the sin (ring) of the world, Gandalf as the prophetic mission of Christ, by challenging, foretelling and enacting, and Aragorn as the kingship of Christ, by sharing the suffering of the people he was called to lead to a new kingdom. 

Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn all placed themselves in harm’s way for the greater good. Further it is the obscurity and smallness of the Hobbits that is used to save the rest, if their resilience and vision can be sustained. This is the great theme of the Incarnation, that the world is not redeemed by the power of the Roman Empire or the culture of the Greeks, but from an obscure place called Nazareth where most of the people reject the one who is sent.

There is no simplistic ‘happy’ ending. The self-giving life does produce a joy at the end, but this joy also sees the Fellowship come to an end and Frodo’s scars remain, even though he and Gandalf set sail for the undying lands. So it is with Christ in Resurrection.

Read full article: Fundamentally religious and Catholic - see p.12 (L'Osservatore Romano)

Related coverage:

Official Trailer: The Hobbit, Desolation of Smaug (YouTube)

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