Have you seen The Fellowship of the Ring?
What is your take on the Tolkien trilogy?

Commentary by Greg Wright

Reader Comments, Page 5

These pages were assembled from reader comments between January of 2001 and May of 2002.
These pages were last updated on May 31, 2005.

LOTR Coverage Index here

E-mail Greg Wright here

Subject: Lord of the Rings
Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001
From: Randy

Man, your essay is a bunch of rubbish. You need to do your homework. First of all, Tolkien was a devout Christian, and I don't think he saw a need to replace Christianity with anything. His works were written for one reason, and that was to give his country a myth. He felt that his country was lacking in that it had no mythological stories to enrich its history. Also, he has no religious elements relating to Christianity in his works. He tried very hard not to copy Christianity in his works. In fact, when asked if Gandalf's revival from the dead was a imitation of Christ's resurrection, he vehemently denied the fact. He did not want Christianity paralleled in his works. He said that it he would try to copy something of that magnitude. Before you go spouting off on the internet make sure you got your info right man. You really made yourself look stupid when you put that up.

-"Do not interfere in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."- Gandalf

Response:  Well, Randy, anytime you put something up on the web, you run the risk of looking stupid.  Good thing that doesn't stop us!  Take a peek at my Essay Notes page.  It might cool you down a little!  Remember, "Not all who wander are lost."   ;>)  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2001
From: Erica

Mr. Wright,
I donīt know if you havenīt read it, but thereīs an introduction at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings where the author clearly says that his book is NOT allegorical at all. Further, I read an interview where he said he hated allegory; he didnīt mean to represent anything with his characters. His only purpose was to inculcate moral truths in a world which seemed to have lost them.

Tolkien clearly said itīs just a tale and nothing else, which he devised just for amusement, and where he couldnīt avoid exalting his own high moral values of friendship, self-sacrifice, responsibility, wisdom, etc. Iīve been a follower of Christ since childhood, and I have read the Bible several times, and I have read many a Christian book and I can tell you, that as far as my acquired understanding permits it, I see no moral error in Tolkienīs work. Thereīs an awful mistake in your essay, and you should have taken more care: It was because of his long conversations with Tolkien that Lewis gave up atheism and began to believe in God.

Iīm from Argentina (Spanish speaker) but I can speak English as you see. I look forward to hearing your answer.

Response:  I don't see LotR as allegorical either.  Do you have me confused with someone else?  I also see no moral error, and I'm sorry if I implied that.  What I do see is a man sorely vexed by a morally broken world, as he should be; and so he uses his imagination and God-given talents to help work things out for himself.  We all have our doubts at times, don't we?  There's nothing wrong in that.  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: "Michael Buttrey"

Oddly enough, I rediscovered a Tolkien quote on the same day I found your analysis. I read it in a biography of C.S. Lewis. 'We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a "sub-creator" and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic "progress" leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.' - J.R.R. Tolkien

Interesting, anyway. Paganism, or false myths, are superior to materialism, since while all myths assume the existence of good and evil, modern thought is vilely bent towards relativism.
Michael Buttrey

Response:  That's a good quote, and offers much to ponder on all sides of the debate.  Tolkien expresses these thoughts in the voice of Aule in the Silmarillion.  Thanks for contributing!  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: 24 Aug 2001
From: aelwyn

I disagree with many of your conclusions of Tolkein's work. Have you read his theory on subcreation? I think it would be illuminating. He never meant to write an allegory. He was simply being creative when he invented Middle Earth. His Christianity is seen by many of his fans in the themes of good vs. evil, self-sacrifice, healing, and, indeed, in a spiritual hierarchy of beings.

By the way, it is my understanding that it was not Lewis who influenced Tolkein's Christianity, but vice-versa. It was through Tolkein's witness that Lewis eventually was lead to Christ.

Sometimes, I think it would be more profitable for Christians to stop worrying about whether or not some of us enjoy reading and focus more on winning others to Christ.

Download the Lord of the Rings Desktop at http://www.lordoftherings.net

Response:  I don't mind that you disagree, as long as you don't mind either!  It's arguable, though, that Tolkien's body of work represents perhaps the most inventive fiction written since moveable type was introduced.  Do you feel you do his work justice by claiming that he was "simply being creative" in producing it?  By that standard, the Sistine Chapel is "just a painting."  Personally, I am very intrigued about the workings of an artist's mind consumed by such a vision.  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: "Kenneth"

you obviously know nothing about Tolkien or his walk with Christ. Im a Christian and an avid reader of Tolkien and youve done an incredibly inaccurate job of portraying the Christian in Tolkien and Middle Earth. And another thing, please come off this modernist thing. This is horrible. What a waste.

Response:  Kenneth, are you sure it's Tolkien I've done injustice to, or your understanding of Tolkien?  I am also a Christian and an avid reader of Tolkien.  I'm not offended that you disagree with me; why are you offended that I disagree with you?  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: Adam Barnard

Before you go writing about Tolkien's level of Christianity I suggest you do some research. Such as, you talk about the possibility of C.S. Lewis friendship with Tolkien rubbing some Christianity off on him. You have that completely backwards. If you knew your stuff you would know that it was TOLKIEN who converted LEWIS (a former atheist) into Christianity. Also, you have a whole essay about whether or not Tolkien's work was Christian or not, where if you had just read some of the author's own words you would have seen that he has outright said that The Lord of the Rings is an expressly Christian work. Nothing more, nothing less. So basically next time you choose to do an essay like this try and do some more research, especially over the life of the author. Although I do commend you for your level of knowledge for the texts of the actual works this is still an issue that extends beyond the texts and into the life of Tolkien.
Thank you, Adam Barnard

Response:  You're welcome, Adam!  Check out my Essay Notes page for a more complete answer; but I didn't say it was MY opinion that Lewis was the more Christian of the two.  What I did say, in distilled form, was, "Were such a silly claim true, Tolkien's writing should look more like Lewis' writing, i.e., more allegorically Christian.  And it isn't."  A lot of people also seem to have deduced from my essay that I am somehow a fan of Lewis' allegory.  I am not.  My "whole essay" is not about the Christian aspects of LotR; that's what the other six web pages are about.  The essay is about the whole of Tolkien's mythology.  I have a profound respect for Tolkien and his work; I'm sorry that didn't come across clearer.  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: Zepmlon

Pastor Wright has made a good arguement, but it under plays Tolkien's own belief system. Tolkien was devoutly Roman Catholic. This is seen in his view of a dying world (older is better than newer), and his distrust of the human spirit. Tolkien does borrow from the conventions of myth, but a great deal of it is still centered upon the Judeo-Christian paradigms. For the Lord of the Rings itself, I believe that Tolkien reveils his faith in the Return of the King through the character and importance of Aragorn. An allegorical connection can be made between his signifigance and Christ's. Now, Aragorn is not an exact copy of Christ, it has its holes; I don't think Tolkien is going for blasphemy. The resemblence still stands: A lost and awaited king returns to his throne; he goes through the "Paths of the Dead;" frees the people who are cursed at Erech; gives those who follow salvation; calls Faramir and Eowyn from death. This all resembles the death, resurrection, and redemtion of Christ. I think Tolkien quietly planted this in his story.
But, that is just my opinion.

Response:  Thanks for sharing your view!  -Greg

Subject: Tolkien's Motivation Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: Dixie

I go back to Tolkien's OWN statement of his motivation in writing the stories: he said he wrote them FOR HIS OWN CHILDREN---fiction to entertain them. The fact that they were published commercially for the rest of us to enjoy as 20th century literature, is a delightful, serendipitous thing.

Response:  It's certainly true that Tolkien's primary motivations were private.  And yes, his work, like all great art, is immensely enjoyable.  Sometimes it is just better to appreciate art than to dissect it!  -Greg

Subject: Lord_of_Rings
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
From: CT Blake

Honestly, guys, do your homework. Tolkien was a Professor of Medieval Languages, specifically the languages of northern Europe. His main focus of study was the legends, folklore and bits of spoken history that is all we have of these sometimes dead and sometimes precursor languages of modern Finnish, Swedish, Danish and others, including Gaelic.

Guess what? LotR has NOTHING to do with Christianity. Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic, but as the saying goes, just because you go into a garage doesn't make you a car-- Tolkien was writing stories for entertainment, not for some deep insight into the spiritual nature of Man. According to his own papers, "The Hobbit" was written to entertain his kids, and LotR was written as an exercise to incorporate the fictional languages he had created in his researches, as well as adding some depth to the story he had already created. The big fun of reading Tolkien and his languages is getting all the puns and inside jokes in the translations, if you happen to KNOW the translations.

Don't try and read Christian meaning into these stories, because they aren't based on Christian mythology. that doesn't make them any less a ripping yarn-- I read Tolkien in my sub-teens, and it inspired me to continue my readings for the rest of my life. (Prior to that, all my fiction reading was drab & dull.)

Frankly, it sounds to me like it wouldn't hurt a few folk to read legends and myths NOT associated with the Bible. There is an incredible wealth of beautiful and vastly different folktales out there, if you choose to read them. Once you have a few of them under your belly, you can begin to see how Tolkien blended on Finnish, Norse, Celt and Gaelic mythology into the building of LotR.

CT Blake
Nacogdoches, Texas

Response:  Thanks for dropping in more than once, CT!  I agree with you in general, but I think it may be a bit simplistic (not to mention flying in the face of other comments Tolkien made) to say that LotR has nothing at all to do with Christianity.  Culturally speaking, everything from desCartes forward (even Nietzche!) has to do with Christianity.  At HJ, all were really trying to bring people's attention to is how spirituality saturated our culture's art is.  Don't you find that interesting?  -Greg

Subject: Lord of the Rings
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001
From: "D. Stephen Douglas"

First of all, Lewis has never been seriously proposed as an influence on Tolkien. In fact, by all accounts, it is just the opposite case: as briefly sketched in Surprised by Joy and filled out in other first-hand accounts, Tolkien's contribution of his idea of Myth to Lewis marked the breakdown of one of Lewis' final barriers against Christianity. Instead of inadequate "to account for the world as we know it," as Wright proposes, Tolkien viewed the Christian story of the gospels as the basis for all myth. Some have described thier experience in reading LotR before becoming Christians to a foreshadowing of the Old Testament, as the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the New. The reason there are similarities in other mythologies to Christianity is that Jesus' life and work on earth as recorded in the gospels is the only "True Myth" that everything else yearns after and emulates. For Lewis, it was this yearning (he called "Joy") that led him to faith amid the super-rational world that dismisses all spirituality and hence fails to accomodate the human need for mythopoiea. One of Tolkien's letters after Lewis' conversion accounts that they had agreed to try to write literature that exhibited this influence of "Faerie," which they felt naturally attracted the hungry to Christianity.

Therefore, although there are perhaps points of value and logic in Wright's essay working from the thesis, the thesis itself, that of T-mythology as superceding Christianity and reflecting Tolkien's own personally-formulated ethic, is grossly preposterous, and causes all deductions from it to be suspect. One has only to read, for instance this article http://www.cornerstonemag.com/imaginarium/inklinks/ink004.html for quotes by Tolkien himself decimating this misunderstanding. Please--don't take my word for it: read about Tolkien's and Lewis' ideas of myth from them directly (they're all over the internet), instead of jumping to conclusions.
Thank you. D.S.D.

Response:  Thanks for the references and links.  We would all do well to check things out for ourselves.  But I must reiterate that there are no quotes from Tolkien that directly address material published after his death; and Christopher's opinion of that material seems to support my own.  Don't you think "grossly preposterous" is overkill when "misguided" would do just as well, and perhaps more civilly?  -Greg

Subject: Lord of the Rings
Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2001
From: "Chip Webb"

I just saw now that you've finished your work on all six books, and I read the last three of the six discussions. Congratulations! Thanks also for all of the old Brothers Hildebrandt works; they were at one time my favorite Tolkien illustrators, and it's been a very long time since I've seen their paintings. You didn't include some of my favorite biblical/Christian allusions in the novel. I realize that you couldn't cover everything, but allow me to bring up a few of them.

  • In Book Six, when Frodo and Sam complete the quest and are brought before the king, Tolkien talks about their reaction to seeing Aragorn, and how the lowly ranger now appears so high and majestic. The connection to Christ there (humble to exalted) is pretty obvious, and some of the detailed descriptions about Aragorn contain imagery very similar to that in Revelation (particularly Revelation 1).
    What comes next is more amazing: Aragorn sits one hobbit on his left and the other on his right, bows before them, and asks the company to praise them. The allusion is partially to James' and John's request about sitting next to Christ, partially to Christ's love for the believer, and partially to Catholic doctrine about how Christ is glorified through the honoring of the saints who follow Him.
  • Also, Tolkien confirmed to one person (as in my previous post, I unfortunately do not remember the reference; I still am relying mostly on memory and have not had the time to seek the references) that using the phial of Galadrial for light in the darkness parallels Catholic beliefs on Mary and the rosary, and lembas parallels both manna and the Eucharist.
  • You didn't mention Gandalf's words to Denethor against suicide and despair. They reflect a very Christian POV: Gandalf argues that no person has the right to decide when he or she should die, implies that only something/someone else beyond humans beings has that right (fitting in very well with earlier allusions to providence), and derides Denethor's madness as "heathen." An interesting discussion showing the evil of pride (traditionally, the greatest vice from a Christian perspective) also appears here.
  • Faramir's attitude toward Aragorn upon awakening from near-death also, like the hobbits' first view of the king, give a picture of the Christian's reaction to seeing the exalted Christ. Significantly, Faramir's first words here are ones that reflect a heart willing to obey his king.
  • Frodo's discussion of why he has to leave the Shire and go to the Grey Havens is an incredible passage about dying to self and shows Frodo in his "suffering servant" role.
  • I also think that your discussion would have been aided by talking more about Tolkien's concept of a eucatastrophe and also more about how Christian character might be reflected in the books. However, you've done a great job and your pages are quite valuable.

As I mentioned in my last note (dated March 11, if you want to go back and take a look at it), I do strongly disagree with the conclusions in your essay. You see Tolkien as presenting a Fourth Age as one without God (and without much hope, for that matter) -- It is a time when the races (particularly men) are left to their own devices. In the pages that I just read, this is most apparent in your contrasting Gandalf's words with Jesus' words. Your selection of Gandalf's words clearly tie in with that point of your essay, and the contrast with Jesus' promise only makes your argument clearer. Allow me, however, to mention several reasons why I do not agree with your argument:

Instead of reflecting the lack of supernatural intervention in the Fourth Age, Gandalf's words more go hand in hand with something that he mentioned earlier (and that you pointed out) -- We each have a time in which we can do the work that was intended for us (implying that the time is given to us by God). Gandalf's time for his work is over; he is not meant to assist in the way that he did in the Third Age and earlier, as Sauron has been defeated. If Gandalf were meant to represent Christ the way that Aslan does in Narnia, I would probably agree with you about Tolkien's anti-supernaturalism regarding the Fourth Age (and, implicitly, our own times). But no one is directly a Christ figure in Tolkien's books, as you yourself mentioned.

Gandalf gives those words you quoted just before the hobbits return to the Shire. Given what follows (the scouring of the Shire), Tolkien's emphasis is on the maturity of the hobbits at this point rather than anti-supernaturalism. They have grown up and do not need Gandalf to handle everything for them; in the ensuing conflict, Saruman even recognizes Frodo's maturity (spiritual and otherwise). Rather than anti-supernaturalism being at work here, the more apt comparison is to a Christian growing beyond the need for a discipler (we're not talking about the Holy Spirit here, since Gandalf neither directly represents Christ nor the Holy Spirit) to help him or her fight battles. Catholicism possibly emphasizes more than other denominations how God wants Christians to grow up and will let them take more and more on their own (though always with the help of the Holy Spirit). For a non-Catholic thought along this line, remember that in The Screwtape Letters Lewis talks about how God intentionally seems to remove his hand from Christians (though He is actually always present) so that they will grow up and, to some extent, learn to stand on their own (though Lewis was not denying the presence of the Holy Spirit).

Everything we have seen in the novel earlier with its allusions to providence (God) in no way implies that the supernatural will stop working in the Fourth Age. The allusions at the Council of Elrond, Denethor's pyre, etc., imply that providence is always working personally in the world -- and mysteriously!

While your idea that Tolkien was using Middle-Earth to hash out his doubts on religious (and possibly other) issues is certainly possible, and it would not shock me, I still don't see the evidence for it. Instead, I see a vibrant faith that is full of hope. True, a good amount of melancholia is apparent: Tolkien bemoans certain trends in the world (e.g., industrialization, as clearly shown in the scouring of the Shire) and recognizes that in this life the faithful (e.g., Frodo) may suffer horribly and not receive healing until the next life. His faith (and the faith of many Christians and Christian denominations) is not triumphalistic concerning this life. (As a side note, interviews suggest that Peter Jackson and his writers are latching onto this sadness and theme of self-sacrifice for the movies, though not from a Christian perspective.) But providence is at work and will continue to work; despair is clearly condemned; hope that perseveres always is rewarded in the ultimate end; and Tolkien gives us an incredible eucatastrophe. He has incredible hope for the future in the long run (i.e., at the very least, the next life), even though this present life may not be a good one -- and God is the author of that hope. (Even Frodo finds peace when his dream is fulfilled at the first sight of the land across the sea!) This is most assuredly not "a Modernist Christianity ... [that] posits ... a post-Christian world," as you argue in the essay. (Obviously, I disagree with Robert Foster, who you cite for support a paragraph earlier.) I would argue instead that it is classically Christian, although not allegorical.

Consequently, I believe that The Lord of the Rings, understood properly, is a very beneficial book for Christians. Of course, it avoids allegory successfully enough that readers can go through without noticing anything Christian in it. It also has universal themes that appeal to just about everyone. But neither one of those facts lessens the value of the novel for Christians or others. (We all read things from the perspective of our worldview -- modernists normally read things from a modernist viewpoint, and postmodernists normally do the same from a postmodernist viewpoint. That's not a strike against Tolkien, and I strongly disagree with you that "The real danger of Tolkien's fantasy lies ... in the conviction that all spirituality is metaphysically barren!") Sometimes the best truths seep into us indirectly and unconsciously...

Peace of Christ!
Chip Webb

P.S. In your response to my last message, you said that "'universalism' never comes up in my analysis, much less a fear of it." In your essay, however, you say near the end that "for Tolkien, our spiritual past does not primarily lie in Christian models but in a more Universalist embrace." Maybe I misread it before I originally posted the last message, but I've reread your essay several times since then and can't avoid getting the impression that you believe that Tolkien, intentionally or not, comes close to universalism in his religious beliefs. If that's not your point, I suggest writing another essay or revising the first one to clarify things.

P.P.S. For a good recent (if too short) discussion of these issues, go to Courier Press.

Response:  Thanks for dropping in again, Chip!  You've contributed a lot to the discussion.  Your arguments have a lot of merit.  One question for you to maybe ponder, and contribute an answer:  do you feel that "Classic Christianity" has adequately conveyed to the world a truly Christlike view?  Many people, principally non-Christians, would argue that the Crusades, the Inquisition, forced conversions and the Holocaust are fruits of "Classical Christianity."  So it's possible that's not much of a commendation.  -Greg

Subject: Lord of the Rings
Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2001
From: Jim

When I first read Narnia & watched Tolkein's animated lord of the rings (I was unsaved), I saw nothing about God in them. After I got saved, I saw that so much of it carried a bad spirit with it that I dropped it. In fact, I found there was the same spirit to the animated lord of the rings that tried to force you to stay glued to the set when something evil was coming up, just like in surprise bad scenes on TV (also something I learned to avoid as a newborn Christian - quickly I just dropped those sorts of shows). And I wondered what would posess a priest to write such a thing as lord of the rings.

I saw a little bit of the gospel in narnia after I got saved, but only after someone told me it was in there. I didn't feel very blessed reading those books either. Same with Tolkein, except... well... worse.

In Lord of the rings videos, the characters were so opposite of any sort of biblical theme that I couldn't watch it any more (it didn't agree with the Spirit of God).

Again, If there was any gospel content, I would have to be told about it to see it. Any gospel in it was still completely invisible to non-Christians, esp. if they don't even know for sure who God is (many don't). To the unsaved, it's an fascinating and often ugly story. The newer ones (judging from the pictures on this site) seem more demonic than before. I didn't really need to see that.

In fact, before I got saved, Tolkein's series I would associate with dungeons and dragons. It got my family started on rated R movies involving dragons, and more middle-earth-content material. I'd say from the end result, it had the opposite effect than what was intended. There is too much interest in anything demonic anyway - it looks like from newer pictures that things are going further downhill. :-(

"PSA 101:3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me."
"TH1 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil."
"PHI 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

And weren't there verses about what to do with wizards and occult practices and the teachings of such in the O.T.?

Response: What? I do not think I understand the direction of your comment. Are you suggesting that people are eager to be demonic and join forces with Satanists? I do not think this is true. You seem to be drifting toward an extreme view. -David   (Also remember that there are verses about what to do with folks who disobey their parents.  Be glad that didn't happen to you!  -Greg)

Continue to Comments Page 4

The Lord of the Rings © 1999-2004 New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.