A Bestseller in Vanity Fair – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien


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Books and movies were my idols. I wrote fantasy and fairy tales, and lived inside a kind of alternate reality made up of fantasies, mysteries, and romances. I enjoyed this book so much that I read most of Tolkien’s fiction and his biography. When Peter Jackson made his film adaptations, my husband and I became Jackson/Tolkien fans. Now we have let these things go, and here is why: 

1 John 2:15-17

King James Version

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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The Lord of the Rings continues to be a huge hit in the City of Vanity Fair (this world). So why do Christians claim that it is a Christian fantasy written by a Christian writer? Didn’t the Lord explain to us that the world loves its own? 

John 15:19

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” 

Is The Lord of the Rings a Christian book?

To determine whether it is a Christian work, we need to notice what Tolkien included in and omitted from his story about the rescue of the fantasy realm known as Middle Earth. 

First of all, the rescue is temporary and partial – Middle Earth is not saved. In this story, there is no mention of the Son of God, the Cross, the atonement, the redemption.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t even hinted at. (I’m glad this is so, for it’s terribly wrong – blasphemy – to make the Lord a character in fiction, something which many Christians don’t yet understand.)

The only “deities” in this story are:

1)  a kind of Fate, which Gandalf alludes to, which moves the characters to accomplish its goals; and,

2)  Elbereth, a female entity, who is entreated in times of trouble, much as the Mary of Catholicism is entreated. (Elbereth is one of the Valar, male and female beings who framed Tolkien’s cosmos, and who are said to be the Nordic gods reinvented.)

The most revealing fact about the story is that Middle Earth is rescued by a character who is wicked. The one who destroys the evil ring of power is Gollum, a pitiful wreck of his former self, a lying, sneaking, cringing, conniving “Stinker”, whose wickedness is used by the invisible Fate to do this. Other sinful and weak creatures are used in the rescue, principally the hero Frodo, a Hobbit (halfling, smaller person) who is commissioned to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom in which it was forged.

Gollum once had possession of this object, which he calls his “Precious”, and he tries to steal it from Frodo. When he fails to, Frodo forgives him and allows him to go on the quest with him and his loyal friend, Sam. Along the way, Gollum’s selfish agenda resurfaces in attempted murder, and Frodo and Sam go on without him. Reaching Mount Doom, and standing before its fires, Frodo finds that he is incapable of destroying the ring. Gollum shows up and fights him for it. Gollum wins, and gripping his “Precious”, begins to leap with glee. He ends up falling off a precipice into the fires, where he and the ring are consumed.

Rescue accomplished – but by the wicked, through a happenstance.

Rescue accomplished – but no salvation from the sin through which the ring came into being.

Expert storytelling – but no truth about the characters’ most urgent need.

Evil is centered outside of the characters, whether they are human, hobbit, or elf. Yes, the ring arouses the lust for power in each of them, but evil itself resides chiefly in the ring. It is the ring then, that needs to be destroyed – destroyed so that hobbits can go on just as they were before the mess began, merrily tippling and overeating, hiding in a selfish dream world that insulates them from the suffering in the larger world around them.

It’s only fair to say that none of the characters involved in the quest to rescue Middle Earth go on just as they were before it began. However, they rescue Middle Earth so that it can go on as it is – and what it is, is a pagan world.  

Frodo certainly doesn’t go on just as he was when the quest began. Forever changed and wounded by evil, he sails for an island where the Valar dwell. In his retreat from the world and its evils and temptations, and in the Valar themselves, Tolkien’s Catholicism is evident. Frodo’s escape is a monastic retreat, and the Valar are the revered ones of Middle Earth – its saints. These things are not Christian but Catholic.

Tolkien admitted that the “‘Third Age’ [the epoch in which the story occurs] was not a Christian world.” So why then, do Christians continue to claim that his story is Christian? Tolkien knew better. He said that his story was Catholic (see the quotes further down). I believe that Christians no longer make the distinction between “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3) and Catholicism, and also that they are somehow joined to their idols – as my husband and I were. They love the world which is passing away. They are good citizens of Vanity Fair.

It is heart-stirring to see the ring destroyed, especially set to an amazing film score, and Gollum’s death seems so real and sad that it is heart-wrenching. But Gollum isn’t real and Frodo isn’t real. None of this is, especially Tolkien’s worldview, for he demonstrated that he believed that people save themselves and their world, with some help from friends and the unseen realm. His view then, truly “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). He replaced the Cross of Jesus Christ with the schemes and plots and struggles of characters who, in trying to possess a powerful and evil object, destroy it unwillingly and unintentionally.

Certainly the Lord uses the wicked to accomplish His purposes, men such as Nebuchadnezzar. But the wicked cannot destroy evil, and people cannot save themselves – not the ruined Gollums of this world, nor the well-intentioned but weak Frodos, nor even the loyal Sams. Only the Lord can save a world from evil and sin and death, and He has done this. Watching characters trying to do this for themselves certainly fits the category of fantasy! From what I’ve read, Tolkien planned to “reinvent” the Incarnation for Middle Earth. I’m glad he put off doing this.

I haven’t dealt with Sauron, the wicked being who forged the ring, the wizards (!) who are so important to the story, or the dazzling elves and heroic yet fallen men. My intention was to show that for Tolkien, the rescue of Middle Earth was mostly in the hands of creatures, and a kind of invisible Fate, and the reinvented Nordic gods who sometimes lend a little help.

Is any of this Christian?

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Christian, or Catholic? Pertinent Tolkien quotes

“As he told a Jesuit friend, The Lord of the Rings ‘is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.’”

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth, by Bradley J. Birzer (Author), Joseph Pearce (Foreword), ISI Books, Wilmington, DE, Chapter 3, p. 45.

“In the true, though exiled, kingship of Aragorn we see glimmers of the hope for a restoration of truly ordained, i.e., Catholic, authority.” 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth, Forward, p. xii.

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I need to acknowledge the administrator of husky394xp YouTube Channel. He read the above book (I didn’t) and offered these two quotes in a detailed exposé. Because of his presentation, my husband and I cleaned house, throwing away all of the books and dvds by and about Tolkien. (A disclaimer: I don’t agree with all of husky394xp’s views.)

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16 thoughts on “A Bestseller in Vanity Fair – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. Wow, what a great review! I used to read the trilogy as a teenager and didn’t really see what all the fuss was about even when it was just a book. But I like you, got deeply into the films and to my shame involved my children in this as well. We left the cult at around the time the films came out, so we used them as an escape. Unfortunately they opened the door to all the other occult films such as Harry Potter and the Twilight series, not to mention Narnia and the Golden Compass et al. We saw them all. Then the Lord put His finger on it all, and we had to have a big talk with our family about what we had done and why we had done it.

    I might just mention ‘Doctor Who’ here. It’s probably not as big in the States as it is here and in Britain. As a TV series last century it was just a badly made but fun adventure. The new 21st century version has turned ‘the Doctor’ into a Christ figure and made a terrible and blasphemous mockery of resurrection, salvation and the defeat of terrible demonic beings. I was more hooked on this show than all the others it being something my whole family watched as a child. But the same issues that you have talked about apply to this programme too.

    Thanks for this, it is very exciting to see that the Lord is working in His people the same way around the world and in hidden places. God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Glad you’re here, Anita! About the book, on first reading it, about thirty years ago, I was captivated – and yes, I did find Christian symbolism in it, that is, in The Return of the King. Reading it years later, after the movies came out, I found it lacking – the style wasn’t that great, though the dialogue was, and though it had some great moments. And of course the amazing poetry is very good.

      After what you went through, it’s no surprise that you escaped in this way and that you brought the children with you. Books and music and art really take us away, to other places, and as long as those places are good, this is okay at times. We have this freedom in the Lord, though it may not be truly that edifying, there is this liberty.

      I can see how you moved from this to Potter, etc. About Rowling’s books and the movies: The Potter experience is pretty powerful in its attraction. I found the first book – the only book I ever read any of – childish, which is natural because that’s what they’re supposed to be; and gross, because it pandered to kids’ giggling over bodily functions, etc. The movies? I think I watched two. They were seductive – I was afraid to get hooked, so I stopped watching these.

      For a while, I participated in a blog/forum for Christians who read and wrote fantasy and sci fi. There was a recurring debate there about whether we should read and enjoy Potter, even about how Christian it was. Anyone who objected to reading and watching this was put down hugely by a very skillful person.

      About C.S Lewis and Narnia. Just as you watched Dr. Who with your family, I read Lewis cause my Mother took me to the library (my Mom was a reader) where I found one of them and searched for more. Totally captured me – me, a little girl who seldom finished a book. Now, sadly I find that Lewis was disingenuous, that he was probably not what he seemed to be. I find this difficult and sad, and don’t want it to be true.

      As a writer interested in fantasy, mature Christians who also wrote – and some who didn’t write – always asked me “Why fantasy?” I’ve put this behind me. If anything good came out of my writing this genre, the Lord knows, but it isn’t for me now, and with this post I hope to show that we shouldn’t be so terribly gullible and ignorant about what we like and indulge in.

      Dr. Who! The old version is on a channel here called “Retro TV”. Tom and I haven’t watched a whole episode yet, but when it’s on we watch a few minutes and chuckle at it. The present day version sounds awful. It’s like the corruption of everything is now all through things – like the leaven of sin.

      So glad to read your words again! Lord bless you!

      Maria

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    • You wrote: “… it is very exciting to see that the Lord is working in His people the same way around the world and in hidden places…”
      It is! Let’s take heart in this – it is amazing and encouraging.
      Rev. 19:7

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    • Yes, it is sad, Clarence! We seem to want to “Christianize” the things of the world so we can enjoy them with a clear conscience. As a result we’re starving, as you said, either not growing up at all and or very weak both in our understanding and our service for the Lord.
      God bless you – I’m grateful for your visits!
      Maria

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  2. Very good review.

    Husky’s channel is a blessing to the body of Christ, and I started watching his exposes of lord of the rings. It’s amazing how pretty much all of it is based on Norse mythology and witchcraft.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved Tolkien because his book The Hobbit and his Trilogy gave me an escape during a painful childhood. After I became a believer I was so happy that he was a Christian, since he apparently led Lewis to salvation. I was thrilled when the movies came out. Then the Lord Jesus Christ opened my eyes to the deception that I had been under. Lewis was not a believer, his children’s fictional works were greatly influenced by the occult, and Tolkien was a Catholic. Now what came out of the truth about these so-called heroes of mine was a greater love and devotion to the hero of all mankind, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. He alone deserves our praise and adoration. His Word alone is the message of salvation. No work by any human can in anyway come close to the glory, beauty and power of the Bible applied to the human heart by the Holy Spirit. God bless you and thank you so much for sharing this:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eliza, my story is similar – nearly the same, and you’ve summarized the journey out of holding onto such things and the delusion of them well. But I became so taken with them that I wrote a fantasy novel. Recently, I threw out the last of my books. It didn’t even hurt. My hurt has been a feeling of separation from the Lord due to my double-mindedness and love for the world’s things. They’re all passing away. All of this is very serious – the Christian life is not a fantasy. We will stand before Him and He will deal with us without partiality – no excuses will appease Him, only trust and faith and His imputed righteousness. I praise Him for delivering me, for letting me see without pain what these men were doing. I feel sad for them but know that if they repented, the Lord received them in His goodness. The only pain really is to feel any separation from the One Who loved us and purged our sins.
      You’ve made me happy by your visit. I thank God for you. Where God has brought you to, to simplicity of devotion, and single-heartedness toward Jesus, has blessed me.
      We will press on and be a help to others!
      In His joy,
      Maria

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