Simon Says...


When re-reading 'The Lord Of The Rings' / 'The Silmarillion' / 'Smith Of Wootton Major' I was struck by the inherent religious qualities that Tolkien subtly drops in his writings, something I've never really noticed before in his writings, but once you find one example, millions come out of the woodwork!

I'm the least religious person going, but I found it fascinating to find that these themes seem to be a recurrent feature throughout his literary canon.

I've unlocked and identified them in various ways, through close scrutiny of the stylistic features apparent in Tolkien's writing, or by focusing attention on characterisation, personification and symbolism. Whilst never directly inviting the reader to make assumptions about his/his works religious identity, conclusions nonetheless can be made about our long gone, much missed J.R.R.

Whether Tolkien's work has a religious purpose or not is down to interpretative process of reader-response, and raises in itself an interesting issue worth deliberating on, Tolkien's 'Authorial Intention'. Defined in simple terms this involves the author's pre-meditated intention during writing a text, yet in a broader sense, this "intention" can also involve entirely unexpressed motivations from the subconscious. Some of you peeps might be familiar with the term "Intentional Fallacy". If not, it's a short term for all the waffle above!

To discern if Tolkien had a conscious desire to produce literature which lent itself to religious interpretation is difficult, but it is clear that his texts do seem to incorporate the themes/ideals that he applied to his everyday life as a practicing Christian. The Parallels between his "fiction" and his "fact" do suggest that a religious motivation expressed or otherwise, helped bring his literary endeavours to fruition. This is an aspect of Tolkien's work that becomes increasingly apparent with each read.

I should begin to identify some themes and possible interpretations for you...

A predominant theme in much of his work are the binary opposites of Good Versus Evil. In 'Lord Of The Rings' the "Good" is characterised as the fellowship of the ring, and those who aid its survival, with Frodo in particular being the fibre of all things morally sound. Despite his limitations (his size, lack of experience in adventuring!) he shows a great faith in humanity and in many ways could be perceived as a Christ like figure.

Hear me out!

There are many similarities.

Frodo demonstrates his compassion and an ability to forgive "questionable" people in many instances. Gollum, for example, is treated with respect and is seemingly forgiven during 'The Two Towers', yet the most striking display of redemption on Frodo's part occurs during the closing stages of 'The Return Of The King' when Saruman himself is treated with mercy. Frodo's tolerance towards a man who has caused so much destruction to the world he loves, and those who inhabit it, is remarkable.

"No Sam!" said Frodo. "Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we dare not raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him in the hope that he might find it?"

...This could be seen as a manifestation of Tolkien's overtly Christian beliefs, with Frodo displaying an ability to forgive those who have committed terrible acts against him.

The Ring, a burden, a restriction forced upon him by could be seen as Frodo's very own "cross" to bear on his seemingly doomed journey into Mordor. Frodo, like Christ, is an unassuming yet inspirational leader of his "disciples."

k... you might not be sold on that one, Frodo Baggins as Jesus Christ, but I had a go!

Back to the Christianity issues that jump out from the book...

There's also the baptismal imagery of Frodo's confrontation with the Ring wraiths at the Fords of Bruinen. A fatally wounded Frodo passes through water to the safety of Rivendell, where he can be restored to health - though he can never be completely healed in this world. As Frodo is rescued, the waters of Bruinen swept the Nazgul away, just as Israel escaped from slavery through sea, which drowned the pursuing Egyptian army. Also, just as we renounce Satan at our baptisms, with the words "By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!"

Frodo bravely defies the Ring Wraiths, albeit with little effect!

Another instance of baptismal imagery in 'The Lord of the Rings' can be found in the scene of Frodo's attempt to leave for Mordor alone. Sam tries to leap into Frodo's boat but falls short, sinking completely under the water before Frodo pulls him back up out of the river and into the boat.

One of the most obvious religious themes in Tolkien's writings is the resurrection of Gandalf, who had to sacrifice everything - even his years of plans, efforts, and his hopes that Sauron, and evil, might be defeated in order to secure the safety of the Fellowship. The comparison of Gandalf's death and resurrection to the death and resurrection of Christ is another noticeable example of religious imagery and scripture being recycled in Tolkien's writing.

Then there's Arogorn.

In 'The Lord of the Rings' Aragorn has many of the features of Christ - rightful heir to the throne, noble and honourable, humble and selfless, and gifted with a miraculous healing power through his hands. Aragorn even experiences a combined "Temptation in the Wilderness" and "Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane" when he challenges the Dark Lord by gazing into the Seeing Stone of Orthanc. Also, it can't be coincidence that on December 25 (Christmas Day) Aragon's broken sword is reforged when the Fellowship leave Rivendell to save Middle Earth?

Evil is also personified in 'Lord Of The Rings', the likes of Saruman, and Sauron being perpetrators of terrible destruction and ungodly chaos. Sauron, with his unnatural, magical powers and his all-encompassing eye, may well be representing Satan in the text. He certainly seems to share his diabolical qualities. Sauron, like the biblical figure, wants complete power over all others at any cost whatsoever. The very description of him and 'The Dark Lord' gives strong connotations as to who exactly Tolkien had in mind when creating the character. His power to manipulate and tempt so many through The Ring is much like the evil qualities Satan possesses, and the bible warns us of. It can warn me, but I'm still not going to resist! :-)

'The Silmarillion' is a tough old read as many of you will know. This too is littered with profound religious themes. The very style it's written in seems biblical, there's an "Old Testament" feel to the whole book.

The Silmarillion opens with the 'Ainulindale' and displays Tolkien's deep religious faith through an account of the creation of the universe by Eru. The description of the creation as a glorious, mystical chorus in which Eru and the Ainur sing Middle-earth into existence is uncannily similar to a quote from the bible itself.

Job 38:4, 6-7:

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the Earth? Or who laid the cornerstone thereof, When the morning stars praised me together, And all the sons of God made a joyful melody?"

Another aspect of Christianity/religion that Tolkien incorporates into Lord Of The Rings concerns the frailties of man, and the ease with which they can be deceived and corrupted by material wealth and power. Mankind in Middle Earth seems to be representative of our own mankind in reality, with God's commandments being increasingly neglected by the pursuit of power/capitalistic gain. The weakness Boromir shows when he fails to resist The Ring is indicative of the sense of fallibility man is tarred with in the trilogy, and indeed, The Silmarillion too. The encounter in question can be likened to Judas's betrayal of Christ, in both cases the loyal follower becomes an enemy, however short lived, and both result in the traitors death, although Boromir's death is infinitely more heroic!

The imagined world of Middle-Earth is a perfect setting for Tolkien's moral and religious beliefs, so it makes perfect sense that they should take place there. Of course, there are undoubtedly Religious elements in Tolkien's work, yet it is to his credit that he incorporated them into his literature without being too direct, too obvious. I seriously doubt whether The Lord Of The Rings and all his other texts would be so enchanting if they were expressed vividly and without subtlety, it certainly would have dissuaded me from looking into him. Tolkien was too good a writer to let his beliefs restrict the available interpretation of his work. As it stands, his writings will always be engaging and appealing to a wider audience of people, and perceptions.

Look hard enough and you'll find anything people.


4th February 2003.

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