j.r.r. tolkien, the influence of christianity, and ...dlynx. ?· j.r.r. tolkien, the influence of...

Download J.R.R. Tolkien, the Influence of Christianity, and ...dlynx. ?· J.R.R. Tolkien, the Influence of Christianity,…

Post on 15-Sep-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • J.R.R. Tolkien, the Influence of Christianity,

    and Symbolism in The Lord of the Rings

    Michelle Morris

    Department of Religious Studies Rhodes College

    Memphis, Tennessee


    Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree with Honors in Religious Studies

  • ii

    This Honors paper by Michelle Morris has been read and approved for Honors in Religious Studies.

    Dr. Stephen Haynes

    Project Advisor


    Dr. Mark Muesse

    Second Reader


    Dr. Leigh Pittenger

    Second Reader


    Dr. John Kaltner

    Department Chair


  • iii

    Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge the contributions of all those who helped me

    accomplish this paper. First, I am most grateful to my faculty reader and sponsor for this

    work, Dr. Stephen R. Haynes, whose guidance gave me both a sense of freedom and

    clarity throughout this project. Second, I acknowledge both of my secondary readers, Dr.

    Mark Muesse and Dr. Mary Leigh Pittenger, whose comments and encouragements

    contributed to the crucial editing process. Next, I thank Matthew Blessing, the head

    archivist of the Marquette University Archives who guided me through the Tolkien

    Collection during my research visit to Marquette and offered supplementary reading

    advice. I would also like to thank the entire faculty of the Religious Studies Department

    of Rhodes College for their generous support that provided me a research grant to begin

    my honors work. I acknowledge my religious studies senior seminar study group, Cori

    Frazer, Jen Kotrady, and Tom Monsor, who provided additional comments for revising

    my draft. Last, I would like to thank my unofficial primary reader, Zach Wolfe, who

    endured hours upon hours of listening to me formulate my argument and read every page

    I wrote as it was written, providing invaluable encouragement throughout this process.

  • iv

    CONTENTS Signature page ii

    Acknowledgements iii

    Contents iv

    Abstract v

    Preface 1

    Previous Scholarship on J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings 4 J.R.R. Tolkien 9

    The Role of Roman Catholicism 12

    Tolkien on Myth 16

    Christ through the Lens of Roman Catholicism 19

    The Lord of the Rings Basics 23

    The Context of The Lord of the Rings 26

    Gandalf and Frodo According to Tolkien 29

    Gandalf as an Embodiment of the Divine Aspect of Christ 31 Frodo as an Embodiment of the Human Aspect of Christ 43 Conclusion 57 Bibliography 60

  • v


    J.R.R. Tolkien, the Influence of Christianity, and Symbolism in The Lord of the Rings


    Michelle Leigh Morris

    My project focuses on Christological symbolism in J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of

    the Rings. I investigated which figure in the story embodies Christ. In order to build my

    case, I researched Tolkiens life and the impact religion had on him. Tolkien was a

    devout Catholic and his religious beliefs impacted several of his key relationships: with

    his Mother, his wife, and his best friend and fellow author, C.S. Lewis. By exploring

    Tolkiens life, I emphasize the importance of religion to both his upbringing and his

    overall perspective, demonstrating how his beliefs could have infiltrated his fantasy


    Though Tolkien claimed any symbolism in The Lord of the Rings was

    unintentional, I argue that Catholicisms subconscious effect on his world perspective led

    him to unconsciously create a story that strong reflects Catholic Christian themes.

    Through exploring Catholic doctrine, the conclusion I have come to is that Frodo and

    Gandalf are both Christ figures. The emphasis in Catholicism seems to me to be

    asserting the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus. Frodo would be representative of

    the fully human aspect of Jesus and Gandalf would represent the fully divine.

  • vi

    My paper concludes with a detailed comparison of Christ with both of these

    characters. I show how each character is Christ-like not only in their actions, but also in

    their character traits and relationship to other characters in the story. I further highlight

    how these similarities show Frodo to be the human representation of Christ and Gandalf

    to be the divine.

  • 1


    From the many works on J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings I have read, it

    seems as though the scholar who researches in this field does so out of a deep love and

    personal connection with Tolkiens creation; my case is no different. I became

    enraptured with the world of Middle Earth after my first reading of The Hobbit in the

    sixth grade and with the help of Peter Jacksons film adaptations. The Lord of the Rings

    was a constant point of conversation and obsession in my small group of friends. More

    than any of my peers, I was completely taken by the depth of the world Tolkien created

    with its many races of mythical creatures, new languages, histories, and dynamic

    characters. My fascination with Tolkiens work has carried on for many years and been

    revealed in my academic work.

    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was profoundly religious, a trait I like to think we

    share although he was much more adherent to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic

    Church than I am of my own denominations. Though he was not necessarily vocal about

    his faith, religion played a key role in his personal development and many of his

    relationships. When he did share his religious opinions, they often came out in his beliefs

    about myth and writing. Tolkien said that the stories seemed to write themselves; he did

    not consider himself to be the inventor of these stories but merely their recorder (Letters

    231). Perhaps he believed his work was divinely inspiredaccording to Bradley Birzer,

    Tolkien believed his stories were written by God (25). While Tolkien did not

    consciously intend religious symbolism in many of his works, one could argue that his

    religion is subconsciously reflected through his character and story developments.

  • 2

    With this frame of reference in mind, I began my research into Christian

    symbolism in The Lord of the Rings. Simply reading through the novels, one may notice

    many of the events and overall themes of The Lord of the Rings bear similarities to the

    Gospels and the larger Christian epic. Even particular characters in the work seem to

    parallel Christian figures. For example, Gandalf the wizard is resurrected from the dead

    after sacrificing himself just like Christ is resurrected after his sacrifice. In consideration

    of the two stories similarities, I wanted to find out which character embodies Christ. I

    have been trying to determine which character is the Christ figure of this story for 8 or 9

    years. I sought for any evidence in Tolkiens letters, essays, and manuscripts that he was

    subconsciously creating Christ-figures. Whatever Tolkiens true intentions, I was

    prepared to argue my case that Christian symbolism, specifically a Christ-figure, is

    present in The Lord of the Rings. His imagery and character descriptions pointed me in

    several directions. All I had to do was find a persuasive argument for why a particular

    figure was actually the Christ of the story.

    The answer came to me by way of Tolkien himself. In his letters, Tolkien

    discusses Gandalf frequently in relation to his divine, incarnated nature. While he clearly

    asserts that Gandalf is not God, he repetitively says that Gandalf had to take on the

    temptations of the flesh in order to help Middle Earth (Letters 202, 203). He also affirms

    that although Gandalf is one of several incarnate beings, he is the only one who can and

    does ultimately resist the temptation of sin; Gandalf succeeds where all others have

    failed. Frodo, on the other hand, is marked by his sincere humanity. Tolkien describes

    hobbits as being the closest relatives to humans and frequently portrays Frodo as humble,

  • 3

    pure-hearted, and selfless. Tolkien emphasizes the importance of Frodos sacrifice and

    confirms that Frodo undertakes his journey out of love for the world of Middle Earth.

    By considering their individual story lines, I saw that the Christ figure became

    quite evident: both Gandalf and Frodo have a part to play in representing Christ. My

    evidence for this case will constitute a large part of this paper. First, however, I will

    begin with a brief overview of how scholars have previously approached Christianity and

    The Lord of the Rings. Next, I will explore Tolkien as an individual: his early life, his

    family and friendships, his participation in the Inklings, his religion, and his writings.

    Using his letters and biographical information, I will highlight the historical context in

    which he wrote The Lord of the Rings and his opinions of both his own work and others

    critiques. I will then briefly explore Roman Catholicism and its Christology. Finally, I

    will use all of this b