Summary: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is filled with Christian imagery (intentional or not). This message looks at four spiritual themes found in the first of the trilogy.
In just 3 days, the story will be complete. Actually, the story was completed 48 years ago, but in 3 days the final part of the trilogy will be released on the big screen. I’m talking, of course, about The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien released his first fantasy work called The Hobbit way back in 1937. It was a pretty straight forward fantasy-adventure book. But it spawned a work of much greater depth and complexity. And in 1954 and 1955, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was first published. It didn’t take long for the trio of books to achieve cult status, making Tolkien a star in pop culture. Particularly during the 1960s, people fell in love with the stories. A common graffiti of the day stated that Frodo Lives, and a popular T-shirt declared that “Tolkien in Hobbit-Forming.” Since then, the series has outlived it’s cult status and has become widely recognized as classic literature, among the best written in th 20th century.
The book series has always been popular, but that popularity has only been heightened over the past two years with the release of the trilogy in the theatres. The first of the films, The Fellowship of the Ring, now sits at 12th on the all-time domestic top grossing films. The second film, The Two Towers, sits at number 7. Internationally, they sit at numbers 6 and 4 respectively.
The final film of the trilogy will be released this Wednesday and I have plans to see it on Friday. And the hype over this final series is extraordinary. There’s even talk about Academy Awards.
But then, you probably already know how popular the series is. You’ve seen the commercials, you’ve heard the talk, you’ve discovered all of the toys and collectibles. In fact, I would expect most of you have seen at least one of the films. Many of you saw the second film as recently as yesterday. How many of you have seen at least one of the films?
So you know about the series. You know the films. But what you may or may not know is that the author was a devoted believer in God.
Over the years, there have been several debates about whether or not the series is an allegory for Christianity. Do the characters of Middle-Earth represent different Biblical people? Did Tolkien set out to captivate people with the message of salvation through a story about a Hobbit? According to Tolkien himself, no. That wasn’t what he was trying to do. Tolkien repeatedly denied that.
But the fact that there is still speculation that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for Christianity is interesting to me. Obviously people are seeing some Christian themes contained in its pages. Let me read you a few quotes:
“The Lord of the Rings is not, as some have suggested, a covert allegory of the gospel. Tolkien clearly denied that idea… Tolkien was telling a story, not proclaiming a message. Nevertheless, a message does come through—As with any artistic effort, what Tolkien believed was part of him, and that belief became part of what he created.”
~ Kurt Bruner in Discovering Timeless Truth among the Hobbits
“He wanted the mythological and legendary stories to express his own moral view of the universe, and as a Christian he could not place this view in a cosmos without the God that he worshipped.”
~ Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography; pp. 102-103
“Tolkien could not create from nothing. Only God can do that. But he was able to sub-create an entire world using his imagination, his beliefs, and his experiences in the world around him.”
~ Joseph Pearce
Tolkien himself explained…
“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien (in a letter)
Carpenter, Humphrey, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston , 1981; p. 172
And he added…
“God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves.”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
Okay, so even though it perhaps wasn’t the original intention to write a Christian allegory, several of the basic themes of Christianity can be found throughout the series. When I sat down to see what themes I could identify, I actually came up with 10 different themes. If we were to cover them all this morning we’d need an extra hour. But while I appreciate your attention span and your thirst for knowledge, I don’t want you to be “Tolkien” for granted, so I’m a-“Frodo”’ll have to limit us to four themes this morning. (Sorry, force of “Hobbit”).
Basic Themes of The Lord of the Rings:
1. The Trap of Temptation
In The Lord of the Rings, the Ring represents evil. And everyone in the story knows this. But throughout the entire epic, even the good characters struggle with the temptation to use the power of the ring for themselves. Not even Gandalf or the Elfish princess Galadriel is exempt from the temptation of the Ring.