The heady days of my English degree are now long behind me, but I just chanced upon an incomplete (and reference bereft) draft of my dissertation entitled 'The Lord of the Rings: A Christian Epic?'. For those who are interested, I shall cut and paste the first 7000 words here below - happy reading.
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is the best selling fictional book of all time, with an estimated 150 million people having read the author's work. It is an epic 1200 page story that has fascinated readers world wide since its publication in 1954. Tolkien himself was a devout Christian; a fact that he believed could be deduced from his writing. Whilst many Christian readers have received the book positively, there are some who question its religious connections, believing, as one 1950s Sunday Times reviewer did, that the book has 'no religious spirit' (cited in Carpenter, 1995:223). Whilst critics may argue over the supposed Christian content of the work, it must be agreed that 'The extent of Tolkien's…public avowal of Christianity forces us to ask about the Godly character of [it]' (Hartt, 1981:21).
Before beginning my analysis, it is important to clarify the historical context of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's epic is set in a pre-Christian world . In this sense there can be no direct reference to Christ or his life and teachings. Duriez, (2001) writes that because of this, The Lord of the Rings 'can't express the full hope of Christianity, only prefigure it' (Duriez, 2001:157). However, as Tolkien wrote the book after Christ's Earthly ministry, he was able to infuse 'his pre-Christian epic fantasy with Christian convictions and concerns' (Wood, 2003b:28). It is my firm belief, with this in mind, that I will find numerous themes in the text that are fundamentally Christian, although no direct reference to Christ Himself.
I believe that The Lord of the Rings is a profoundly Christian book, and yet it is intriguing to see that it has been shunned by many Christian readers. The reasons for this are summed up by Bruner and Ware: 'Many hard-line believers have been hesitant to embrace a creative work that includes mythic figures, magic rings, and supernatural themes' (Bruner, Ware, 2003:x). In this chapter I shall examine three of the most prominent areas that I believe have caused some Christian readers to reject the work. The first of these is the use of the fantasy genre, in which Tolkien has set his tale. Secondly, I shall examine the positive portrayal of the wizard Gandalf in the book, which has inflamed some Christians abhorrence of witchcraft. Thirdly, I shall examine Tolkien's use of Norse mythology. As it is Pagan in inception, this mythology has caused some Christians to avoid the work. It is my firm belief that each of these elements, once examined thoroughly, will be easy to assimilate into a Christian reading of The Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of the Rings undoubtedly falls into the genre of fantasy, with many critics citing Tolkien as the greatest influence within the genre . As Bruner and Ware's quote highlights, many Christians struggle with the genre and all it entails. I believe this is an inaccurate response on the part of some Christian readers, and that Christianity and fantasy need not be opposed.
In his article Fantasy and the Tradition of Christian Art, Gene Edward Veith argues that the fantasy genre has Biblical origins. Veith quotes the Ten Commandments given by God in the book of Exodus in the Bible, bringing particular attention to the commandment 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth' (Exodus 20:4-5). Veith argues that many Hebrews took this commandment literally, whether they were meant to or not, and so 'refused to countenance any representational art' (Veith, 1988:34). The Hebrews therefore 'undermined the principles of art as mimesis (or imitation) and in so doing nourished the idea that art need not be tied to objective reality, a concept which encouraged the development of fantasy' (Veith, 1988:34). As evidence of Veith's claims, he explains that the Jewish scribes and Christian monks whose vocation was to copy the sacred scriptures by hand, can be seen as the first noted creators of the fantasy genre:
In these manuscripts...there appear what may be the beginning of fantasy. In the midst of the sacred text appear plants with human heads, two headed dogs, fanciful dragons and sea monsters.
Whilst Veith's suggestions seem a little adventurous, it does raise an interesting question: why would some puritanical Christians who dislike The Lord of the Rings do so, when a puritanical interpretation of one of the Ten Commandments, encourages the creation of new and 'fantastical' art. Whatever the answer, there is more to enforce the Christian use of the fantasy genre than simply arguing that the genre has Christian origins. I believe that Tolkien himself intentionally used the genre to portray a fundamentally Christian message.
In his article Re-enchanting the world: education, wisdom and imagination, Albert
Raboteau's argument is simple: as we grow older in life 'our amazement at the wondrous quality of the world dims' (Raboteau, 1995:1). Raboteau's article is concerned with the usefulness of story, in particular mythical stories, for presenting powerful truths that have become dulled in our lives:
The path to re-enchantment lies in recovering wisdom, wisdom made most readily accessible to us in story. Stories, particularly in the form of folktales, myths and legends, convey to us the collected wisdom of the human race.
Raboteau explains that as we grow older we lose our sense of amazement at things. With this principle in mind, I believe that The Lord of the Rings presents us with many Christian messages and themes which people may have become desensitised to, in a new and exciting way. This is also something that Kath Filmer examines in her article An Allegory Unveiled. Filmer writes of how The Lord of the Rings is a kind of "mooreeffoc" of Chestertonian fantasy. Filmer quotes Tolkien himself writing on this subject:
Mooreffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle.
(Cited in Filmer, 1987:21).
When the mundane world is clothed with myth or fantasy, we are permitted a new, fresh vision of that world and are able to see in ordinary things the qualities of the marvellous and the wonderful. When Tolkien gives us a picture of the wayfaring Christian set in the fantastical world of middle earth, we see that it is an image of ourselves and our own world that he is holding up to us. He shows us our fallen selves and the effects of evil in the world about us, and shows us how strength, comfort and finally freedom might be found.
It now becomes clear that The Lord of the Rings being a work of fantasy literature should not distress Christian readers, as fantasy can be seen as a God ordained genre, and Tolkien is using the genre to portray Christian truths in a new and fresh world that otherwise readers may be desensitised to. The Christian messages found in The Lord of the Rings will be examined in the oncoming chapters of this dissertation.
One of the greatest problems with The Lord of the Rings for many Christian readers is the positive presentation of the wizard Gandalf. Many Christians associate this character with witchcraft, and the Bible is clear on this subject: 'Let no-one be found among you who…practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells' (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Whilst many works of Christian fiction contain wizards and witches as negative characters, i.e. the white witch in C.S.Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, it is unheard of for a Christian writer to employ a wizard as a hero character, as Tolkien does with Gandalf.
To help us understand the role of Gandalf, we must first examine The Silmarillion, Tolkien's pre Lord of the Rings work that examines the history and creation of Middle Earth, in which The Lord of the Rings is set. Examining The Silmarillion strongly enforces the Christian themes throughout the work of Tolkien. In short, we read of Eru (an almost exact representation of God) who creates a world and everything in it. He also creates the Valar, of which Gandalf is one (Duriez, 2001:144). The Valar, or Istari, are guardians of Middle Earth. In his book Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, Colin Duriez explains that the wizards are, in all but name, angels. Duriez believes that for:
Imaginative force and freshness he [Tolkien], like Bunyan and Lewis, avoids the term, 'angel' and uses the terms Valar and Maiar…The Valar are more like intermediaries between God (Iluvatar) and the beings of middle earth.
Evidence of Tolkien's own intention for wizards as angelic beings is found in another of his works on middle earth, Unfinished Tales, where he writes: 'They [the Istari] were all Maiar, that is persons of the 'angelic' order' (Tolkien, 1998:510). With these insights in mind we can see that Tolkien, like many Christian authors before him, used angelic beings in his work, but did not call them angels. The Istari, or Wizards, were the names chosen by Tolkien. Even with this is mind it is difficult to understand how the Christian Tolkien could choose the label 'wizard' for his creation, albeit if they were supposed to be angelic in nature. Tolkien again makes comment on this in Unfinished Tales:
The translation [wizard] (though suitable in its relation to 'wise' and other ancient words of knowing)…is not perhaps happy, since the Heren Istarion or 'Order of Wizards' was quit distinct from the 'wizards' and 'magicians' of later legend.
In this passage Tolkien himself admits the choice of the word 'wizard' as a label for Gandalf, is 'not perhaps happy'. Tolkien then states that the Wizards of his tales are different from the 'wizards and magicians of later legend'. Without breaking from his role of narrator, Tolkien is informing readers that what we consider a wizard, is not what they were thousands of years ago in the Middle Earth of his tales. There is yet more information on Tolkien's wizards that encourages the idea of them as angels and dispels the idea of them as modern satanic magicians. In his book The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter published hundreds of Tolkien's personal letters relating to his work. In one of these letters we can read an important description of Tolkien's wizards: 'The use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but its an inherent power not possessed or attainable by men'. (Tolkien, 1981:200). This small fact is essential in a Christian reading of Tolkien's work. The wizards had an inherent power, and this power was not attainable by men. Here again, Tolkien is reminding readers that his wizard characters are not the wizards of modern understanding, but non human beings who have been given the powers they possess by Eru, to help the creatures beings of Middle Earth. As Tolkien was a Catholic, it is important to consider the option that Gandalf not only reflects angelic characteristics, but also those of a Saint.
In his book A Treasury of Saints, Malcolm Day (2002) highlights how Catholic 'devotees have sought comfort and guidance from these holy embodiments of virtue [Saints]' (Day, 2002:6). As a Catholic, Tolkien believed that Saints were intermediaries between God and man, just as Gandalf, as one of the Maiar, is an intermediary between Eru and the creatures of Middle Earth. However, there is more to suggest Gandalf being a Saint of Middle Earth than simply his role as an intermediary between Eru and mankind. The Roman Catholic doctrine of canonization, whereby a person is labelled a Saint, depends on one criteria. Day (2002) explains that canonization will only take place upon the production of a miracle. In terms of The Lord of the Rings, it is possible to see the 'magical' work of Gandalf as a Catholic miracle of the Sainthood. So when, for example, Gandalf creates fire on Mount Caradhras, simply using 'a word of command' (Tolkien I:381), this can be seen as a sign of the miraculous, attainable to his role of Saint, and not as a sign that he is an instrument of evil. It is quite clear that, rather than an evil sorcerer, Tolkien intended Gandalf to be an Angel or Saint, or perhaps a mixture of both. For those Christian readers who may still not be convinced, it is important to examine who the magical power of Gandalf is attainable to. In Middle Earth there is one source of pure evil, and that is Sauron. Gandalf is unashamedly at war with Sauron, and uses all of his power to aid the destruction of the One Ring, and defeat Sauron. There is no doubt that Gandalf's powers are used for good in the books, and so this raises another important question. If Gandalf is an evil character, how can he use his power to battle evil in The Lord of the Rings? This question draws to mind another Biblical reference. In Mark 3:23-27, Jesus is accused by religious leaders of being under Satan's powers. His reply is very fitting for the question of whether Gandalf the Wizard is an anti-Christian character: ' "How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, the kingdom cannot stand…If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand". Jesus' words offer the final justification of Gandalf's goodness: if he is evil, how can he battle evil? As a powerful opposition to evil, Gandalf is undeniably good.
From all of this evidence, we can clearly state that the wizards of Tolkien's world were angelic beings, or Saints, ordained by Eru, the God of Middle Earth, to protect mankind. Their power is attainable to good, and their sole purpose is to defeat evil. They are not themselves human, and the modern interpretation of wizards is not one that should be associated with them. I shall now examine Tolkien's use of Norse mythology in The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien's work is infused with Norse Mythology , of which Tolkien was a huge fan from childhood . Again, some Christian readers feel that a work that encompasses such mythology should be avoided by Christians . It is true that Tolkien uses Norse mythology in his work. Hakan Arvidsson, in his article The Ring, an essay of Tolkien's mythology, states that 'Tolkien's mythology of Middle-earth is intentionally rooted in northern European mythic traditions' (Arvidsson, 2002:45). For example, the burial of Boromir, as described in The Two Towers, has strong Viking references:
Taking his axe the Dwarf now cut several branches. These they lashed together with bowstrings, and spread their cloaks upon the frame. Upon this rough bier they carried the body…they laid Boromir in the middle of the boat that was to bear him away.
This is just one of many examples of Norse mythology used by Tolkien. William Ready highlights another, in his belief that 'the decision to struggle on when defeat seems inevitable is the true glory of man that Tolkien has brought forward again from the great Norse ideal' (Ready, 1969:57).
So how can Tolkien justify using this mythology as a Christian writer? Colin Duriez (2001) explains that Tolkien 'wished to capture the imaginative vitality of the Old Norse or Olympian gods, yet to portray beings acceptable to someone who believes in 'The Blessed Trinity'. (Duriez, 1995:154). In fact, Tolkien, again in his now published letters explained the subject further: '[I] Meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods' of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted - well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity' (Tolkien, 1981:146). It is clear now what Tolkien intended to do, but how did he do it? In his article Frodo's Faith, Ralph Wood gives one prominent example of how Tolkien avoided elements of Norse mythology that were unacceptable to Christian belief:
According to the warrior ethic of the ancient North, the offering of a pardon to enemies is unthinkable: they must be utterly defeated. For Tolkien the Christian, by contrast, love understood as mercy and pity is essential: "you have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy,' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt 5:43 - 44)
Wood highlights an intriguing example, a Christian portrayal of mercy that contrasts the non-forgiving warrior ethic of Norse mythology. Other examples of this are rife throughout the work, for example the Norse concept of fate is refused 'with a passionate portrayal of free will' (Duriez,1995:157). This issue of free will shall be examined later in this dissertation.
We can see that, although Tolkien, through his own passion of Norse mythology, wishes to capture some of its vitality in his work, he refuses to embrace those mythological elements that would contrast his Christian faith.
In conclusion, we can see that three of the main reasons why many Christians avoid The Lord of the Rings; the use of the fantasy genre, the positive portrayal of wizards, and the use of Norse mythology, are all, in fact used by Tolkien in a way acceptable to a Biblically based Christian doctrine. Having now examined those areas that perhaps call into question the Christian status of The Lord of the Rings, I shall now look at some of the main Christian themes in the book.
The principle narrative in The Lord of the Rings concerns the One Ring of power. If regained by Sauron, Middle Earth will be covered in a darkness too powerful to break, and if destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, Sauron himself will fall, and a great evil be removed from the Earth (Tolkien II:178). The One Ring is clearly an essential item to examine in any in-depth study of the book, and I shall now look at what the ring symbolises.
In the context of the story, the One Ring represents the strength and power of Sauron, but what is its meaning in a symbolic context? Tolkien wrote to a fan of The Lord of the Rings in a letter which included one simple sentence concerning what the One Ring represents: 'the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power' (Tolkien, 1981:151). Tolkien's intention is that the ring represents power, but what sort of power? To examine this further I shall look at Sauron and Saruman, the two characters that are attempting to find the ring, and what they plan to do with it.
In his book Master of Middle-Earth, the achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien, Paul Kocher examines what it is that attracts Sauron to the ring: 'Sauron's whole appetite is for command of other wills' (Kocher, 1974:56). Kocher then looks at Saruman, the 'secondary' evil character in the book, and examines his motive in desiring the ring: 'Saruman is more like Sauron than he realizes. They believe in the same thing, supremacy through absolute power' (Kocher, 1974:63). Kocher is in agreement with Tolkien, that the ring symbolises power, more specifically power to dominate others. However, those familiar with the book will know that it is not just Sauron and Saruman who are tempted by the ring. Many of the other characters are tempted by it: Gollum, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn and Boromir are just some of the other characters tempted, although all but Boromir and Frodo resist the temptation to yield it. In her article An Allegory Unveiled, a reading of The Lord of the Rings, Kath Filmer examines the temptation of the ring to those who desire it: 'All those who are tempted by the ring are tempted in terms of… the notion of unlimited power' (Filmer,1987:20). An example is seen in Saruman's lusting for the ring: 'We must have power, power to order all things as we will' (Tolkien I:340). From the Kocher and Filmer readings, we can agree with Tolkien's original intention that the ring symbolises power, and more specifically a power to dominate others. This is the overriding characteristic of evil in the books. So why does Tolkien present dominating power as such a negative trait, and how does this relate to a Christian interpretation of the text? The answers can again be found in The Bible. Just as Sauron, the evil of Middle Earth, desires to have power to dominate mankind, Satan, the Biblical presentation of evil, also desires the very same things. At the heart of the issue is the fact that the power Sauron desires is a God-like power. The power that Eru has. The same is true of Satan, who desires the power that God has. In terms of their desires there is a strong resemblance between Sauron and the Biblical depiction of Satan who, along with his demons, wants to control the people of Earth . We can clearly see that the symbolic meaning of the One Ring refers to Satan's desire to dominate and control mankind, and this is another Christian theme found in the books.
If the bad characters desire power to dominate, then how are the good characters in The Lord of the Rings represented?. Again, it is crucial in an analysis of the book to look at what the good characters symbolise. I believe the three most important good characters in the book are Aragorn, Gandalf and Sam, and I shall now briefly examine each of them. I will also examine the presentation of Boromir, the only member of the Fellowship of the Ring that actually dies in the book. I shall examine why he died, and what separated him from the other good characters.
Although a mighty warrior, a healer , and the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn's major characteristics is his humility. Throughout the story, Aragorn is a powerful heroic figure and yet he claims no glory for himself. He is repeatedly looked down upon by others: 'Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names' (Tolkien I:325), and yet chooses to seek no revenge or to prove his true identity. In her article Christianity and Kingship in Tolkien and Lewis, Caroline Monks states that 'Aragorn shows true humility at his crowning' (Monks, 1982:7). When Aragorn refuses to put the crown onto his head himself, he symbolically acknowledges that his ascension to kingship is not all his own doing: "By the labour and valour of many I have come into my inheritance…let Mithrandir [Gandalf] set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory' (Tolkien III:296). This humility is the overwhelming characteristic of Aragorn, one that can be found within his character throughout the whole story.
Gandalf, as one of the Maiar, is a powerful being who was sent to Middle Earth to encourage the resistance against Sauron . Knowing his own power, he too remains humble like Aragorn, choosing to spend much of his time in the Shire with the simple Hobbits who know nothing of his legacy other than that he can create attractive fireworks . With such power and importance he could easily become proud and self interested, and yet, in the battle with a Balrog in the Mines of Moria, Gandalf, knowing only his own power could battle the creature, sacrifices his life to save his companions: 'fly! This is a foe beyond any of you. I must hold the narrow way'. (Tolkien I:433). Ralph Wood (2003b) comments on this event: 'Gandalf saves his companions from sure death. To do so, the wizard himself dies and descends into a hellish abyss. Yet Gandalf is miraculously resuscitated' (Wood, 2003b:29). And so, with all of his powerful and divine attributes, it is self-sacrifice that most deeply characterises Gandalf. In laying down his life, Gandalf 'gave up (as he thought) the chance to play a central part in the resistance to Sauron' . Here Gandalf models not only self sacrifice, but also humility, in 'bowing out' of the great battle. Colin Duriez (2001) argues that it is not only Gandalf who models self sacrifice: 'The Lord of the Rings is a tale of redemption in which the main characters overcome cowardly self-preservation to model heroic self sacrifice' (Duriez, 2001:xii).
Sam Gamgee is another 'good' character of great importance in The Lord of the Rings. Although Sam can easily be considered only a subsidiary character, Tolkien himself referred to him as the undoubted hero of the book . Sam, a lowly gardener, dismissed by Gollum as a 'Silly Hobbit' , has only one strong characteristic: his servant hood to Frodo. Sam personifies servant hood and selflessness. Servant hood; putting another before yourself, is the key point to the character of Sam Gamgee. It is what transforms him from being a fairly plain and dull subsidiary character in the book, into the 'hero' that Tolkien labels him.
Boromir is, like Aragorn, a mighty warrior, a well-respected man, a strong man, and a man of rank and title, yet he dies an early death in the book whereas Aragorn finally becomes King. The fact that, as mentioned, he is the only member of the Fellowship of the Ring to die, warrants a studious look at his character. There is one key difference between Aragorn and Boromir, one that shows itself throughout all descriptions of Boromir, appearing even in the physical description of the man at the council of Elrond where he first appears: 'Boromir stood up, tall and proud' (Tolkien I:321) Boromir stands proudly, When he speaks, it is also with pride: 'answered Boromir proudly' (Tolkien I:324). Everything he does is marred with pride. Colin Duriez (2001) writes that 'his 'fatal flaw' is pride…Because of his pride he was unable to overcome his lust for the ring, and in madness, tried to kill Frodo' (Duriez, 2001:80). Boromir dies because of his pride. He has many admirable qualities, but his pride is enough to warrant his death in Tolkien's work. Pride, the exact opposite of humility, is being shown by Tolkien as a great sin.
It is clear that in opposition to the negative characteristic of a consuming desire for power and domination, as well as any sense of pride in oneself, Tolkien sets qualities of servant hood, self sacrifice and humility in all of his 'good' characters. These morals are undoubtedly another strong Christian influence in The Lord of the Rings, with each having strong Biblical foundations. The Bible, through the life of Jesus, shows a direct code for living:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition…but in humility consider others better than yourselves…Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…humbled himself…and became obedient to death.
This scripture highlights the importance of humility, servant hood and self sacrifice, all key aspects of the character of Jesus Christ, which Tolkien has imbued on his heroic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn and Sam. The fundamental message of Christianity, according to the Bible, is to love and serve God and others . This, surely, is the difference between good and evil in Middle Earth. The good in Aragorn, Gandalf and Sam seeks to serve others in humility, even to die for others, whilst the evil of Sauron and Saruman seeks to gain power and domination over all. In this we can again clearly see how Tolkien has enriched his narrative with fundamentally Christian themes.
Tolkien's dismissal of dominating power is perhaps best shown through his presentation of Iluvatar, the 'god' of Middle Earth. Iluvatar is only mentioned once in The Lord of the Rings, and that is in an appendix , yet the influence of a higher power is seen constantly throughout the book. I believe that Tolkien's presentation of Iluvatar in the book is meant to mirror his own Christian perception of God. Tolkien, again, uses his book to present Christian truths, and in this case examines the difficult subject of free will vs. providence.
If domination of others is unacceptable in Middle Earth how can Iluvatar (translation: father of all) work in the lives of his creation? Before attempting to answer this question, I shall examine when Iluvatar, or his providence, appears in the book. Tolkien, referring to The Lord of the Rings, once said that he had written a book about God without even mentioning him . In any Christian examination of the book it is essential to look at where God, or a representation of Him, appears.
When telling of Bilbo finding the One Ring, Gandalf points out 'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring' (Tolkien I:74). When Frodo meets Gildor the Elf, he is told 'In this meeting there may be more than chance' (Tolkien I:112). These situations appear throughout the book; amazing incidents that arise and dramatically help the Fellowship in their adventures. Tolkien is stepping into mirky water theologically and philosophically with these instances. These happenings could just be chance, or could be accounted to a mythological conception of fate, or they could be providential offerings from God. I believe Tolkien understood that he needed to make it clear where these situations came from, and so he uses his characters, often Gandalf who, as already ascertained, is a saint-like intermediary between God and Man, to point readers in the right direction. Firstly, when discussing the fact that the One Ring was found by Bilbo when Sauron was driven out of Mirkwood, Gandalf calls it 'a strange chance, if chance it was' (Tolkien I:328). Here Gandalf is questioning the idea of these situations being down to mere chance. I believe the authorial voice of Tolkien is coming through, and that he, aware that many readers may think these happenings just pure luck, is guiding us to question this. When the Fellowship of the Ring find themselves together at the council of Elrond, although none were specifically called there and none knew others would be there, Elrond comments: 'You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered' (Tolkien I:317). Here Elrond dismisses chance, and states that the Fellowship were ordered to be there, the obvious question arising: who or what ordered it? When Frodo discusses with Aragorn the strangeness of the fact that he of all people has the One Ring, Aragorn says 'It has been ordained that you should hold it'. (Tolkien I:323). The use of the word ordained gives religious undertones to this sentence, suggesting there is a link between Frodo's role in doing good and battling evil, and that of an ordained priest, set apart by God for his work. By piecing all of these situations together, I believe Tolkien is clearly pointing out that it is not by chance, not by fate, but by the providential action of a higher power, that the dozens of amazing situations the characters find themselves in arise. As Paul Kocher (1974) points out, Tolkien 'surrounds each high point of the action in The Lord of the Rings with convictions and opinions expressed by the participants as to its possible place in some larger plan under execution by greater hands than theirs' (Kocher, 1974:35). Some higher power is definitely at work, and Tolkien has clearly explained in The Silmarillion that the higher power in Middle Earth is Iluvatar, a figure that mirrors the Christian God of the Bible in almost all ways . By specifically explaining the creation of Middle Earth and all involved in The Silmarillion, Tolkien is showing that the only higher power is Iluvatar. It is impossible to credit anything else, such as a mythological idea of fate or providence, with the events. Here we are faced with the original question: if Iluvatar is making these situations happen, surely he is dominating the characters, something he is supposedly predisposed against. This leads on to one of the most singularly Christian themes in the book, one of the most important aspects of Christianity, that of free will.
Glancing back at some of the quoted situations from the book, we can see something else at work along with the divine providence of Iluvatar. When Gandalf informs Frodo that the ring he has is the One Ring, he tells him that it must be destroyed. He then tells Frodo that he was 'meant to have it' (Tolkien I:74), later adding 'You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have' (Tolkien I:81). However, Gandalf does not leave it at this, he adds, crucially: 'the decision lies with you. But I will always help you' (Tolkien I:81). Here Frodo is given free will to decide his own actions, assured by Gandalf that whatever he chooses, the wizard will help him. Later, when the Fellowship of the Ring forms, Elrond instructs each member 'Go with him as free companions…you may tarry, or come back, or turn aside on other paths' (Tolkien I:368). Although Elrond has already told the fellowship they were divinely appointed for this task, he sets no burden on them, telling them they have freedom of choice and can leave the group at any time. This pattern occurs throughout the book. Whenever something is arranged by Iluvatar providentially, those involved are given the choice whether to take it or not. Paul Kocher (1974) comments that: 'the forseen event will occur only if a creaturely will freely consents first' (Kocher, 1974:42). Kocher sums up the situation nicely: 'free will coexists with a providential order and promotes this order, not frustrates it' (Kocher, 1974:37). From this we can clearly see how Tolkien uses Iluvatar in The Lord of the Rings. The god of Middle Earth does not dominate his creation, like Sauron and Saruman ultimately desire to, but provides a destiny for each; situations that he knows will work for good, and gives each character the free will to choose whether or not to accept these divine appointments. Tolkien is, again, using Christian theology to instruct his writing. As I have mentioned, free will is a fundamental aspect of Christianity. God undeniably has a destiny and a path laid out for his followers: 'For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future' (Jeremiah 29:11), yet he does not force his will upon us, but lets us, with free will, decide whether we will live a life devoted to him or not. This is seen in the Bible, and in modern day life, where human beings choose to reject God, and live life by their own desires. God does not forcefully dominate them, but allows them this choice. This free will is crucial to Christianity, and we can see obvious parallels between free will vs. providence in The Lord of the Rings, instigated by Iluvatar, and free will vs. providence in the real world, instigated by God. As already mentioned, the desires of Sauron to control the beings of Middle Earth also parallels the desire of Satan to control humanity.
The good and bad characters in The Lord of the Rings are extremely detailed and developed characters. None of them are exact parallels of either Jesus or Satan; Tolkien was too much of a developed writer to make such simple allusions, but as I have shown, there are important parallels between the good and bad characters of The Lord of the Rings and the good and evil beings found in the Bible and inherent in Christian theology. Again, these are examples of the Christian themes found throughout Tolkien's writing.
I shall now examine the importance of fellowship in the book.
Tolkien often infuses his writing with Biblical language . One example is the name given to the nine who set out from Rivendell to destroy the One Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship is a strongly Biblical word. In Christian teaching, one of the most important aspects of fellowship is that it is 'mutual, depending on the unity of believers' . Rick Warren (2002) writes 'Real fellowship is…experiencing life together…unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, [and] sacrificial giving' (Warren, 2002:138). From this definition there are immediate links to the attributes of Sam, Gandalf, and Aragorn previously explained. Unity is another major theme in Tolkien's work, as I shall now examine.
When Frodo decides to embark on destroying the ring, he plans to set out alone. Gandalf, however, soon finds him a companion: 'Get up, Sam!' said Gandalf…'You shall go away with Mr. Frodo' (Tolkien I:85). Sam then accompanies Frodo throughout the entire book. Along the way Frodo and Sam meet Merry and Pippin, who join their company. Aragorn joins them at Bree, and at the council of Elrond the number is added to by Legolas, Gimli, Boromir and Gandalf . At the end of part one of the trilogy, the group is split into three. Frodo and Sam travel to Mount Doom, Merry and Pippin are captured by Orcs, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas hunt the Orcs to save Merry and Pippin. By this point Boromir is dead, as supposedly too is Gandalf. Even when the group is divided, each member of the Fellowship is still not alone, always having at least one companion. This unity remains throughout the text for the majority of the characters, with a triumphant reuniting at the end of all factions.
Each major act in the novel is never achieved by just one character. An example is seen in Frodo. Charged with holding and destroying the ring, Frodo soon comes under its power, and it is finally Gollum who destroys the ring . Frodo is denied the final victory as it would make him an independent hero character. It is only with Sam's help that Frodo got as far as Mount Doom itself, and so we can see that through unity there is victory. This pattern is repeated throughout the book. There is no heroic individualism in the story, all need help from others. Wood, (2003b) argues: 'Everywhere in Tolkien's work, authentic existence is always communal. Fellowship and friendship, companionship and mutuality, lie at the heart of Tolkien's Christian vision' (Wood, 2003:28). It is clear that unity and fellowship are highly important to Tolkien, and are intrinsically linked to success in The Lord of the Rings. Juxtaposing this unity are the evil Sauron and Saruman who stand alone, united to no-one, and finally meet their doom. Why is unity and fellowship so important to Tolkien? Again, the simple answer is that Christianity teaches the importance of these things. In The Bible, Paul writes: 'The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ' (1 Corinthians 12:12). Jesus himself prayed for unity among his followers: 'May they be brought to complete unity' (John 17:23). The good characters in The Lord of the Rings model unity and fellowship, just as it is taught in the Bible.
I believe that Tolkien's presentation of the Fellowship of the Ring in the book is meant to directly parallel the Christian Church. Tolkien is showing through his work that Christians must be united to succeed. Again, Jesus instructed ' For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them'(Matthew 18:20). The Bible teaches unity among believers, and Tolkien's own biographical history had made this a paramount issue for him.
(rest of dissertation, including references, sadly lost at this point).
Monday, 8 November 2010
For me, the Tolkien publishing history got particularly interesting when Harper Collins took over in 1991; not only does the introduction of Alan Lee's illustrative work add a sense of beauty, but the whole look is something I find quite satisfying. Indeed, the classic one volume LOTR illustrated by Lee, and the accompanying Hobbit, are two books I have liked for a long time. However, I vowed not to buy them as previous copies I owned suffered from leaning spines and crumpled dustwrappers (as much my own laziness in ownership as a 'fault' of the books themselves). Well, imagine my surprise and delight when I happened upon this little set on tolkienbooks.net: a boxed version of the editions! From that point on I was destined to own one, and little did anyone know in a recent ebay auction that I was willing to bid sky high to pick these up!
Released in 2000, this box-set is a bizarre release in that it simply took old editions of the book (1997 Hobbit and 1991 LOTR) and released them in this format. The reasoning behind this I don't know - did it have anything to do with the soon to be released Fellowship of the Ring film? Whatever the reason, it really is a lovely set.
First off the box: with full colour illustrations on front and back (taken from the covers of the books inside), and deep black on top, bottom and spine, the box looks majestic and luxurious - the gold lettering doing nothing to hinder this look too. The box is not particularly sturdy, as may be expected for something of this size, but it serves its purpose. It has a little cardboard insert inside to offset the much deeper Hobbit, thus making both seem the same size when placed within the box.
The Hobbit is the 1997 edition,7th impression, released to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the book. The dustwrapper was modified to match The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion illustrated editions. Most of the changes were to the text on the spine, but small changes were also made to the runic border.This one also features a price on the inner flap (£25) which is an indication that you own a later, modified edition. I much prefer this, as I once owned the older one and it just didn't seem to sit right next to the 1991 LOTR. These days, as a 'serious' collector, I would welcome the differences, but back then it just made no sense to me! With 22 full colour pictures, and a further 38 in pencil, it really is well illustrated by Alan Lee (more on that later).
The Lord of the Rings is the 1991 edition, 21st impression, produced to commemorate the centenerary of Tolkien's birth. The dustwrapper is distinctive to some others as it has the title in a black oval shape; a design introduced during the 11th impression. There are 50 full colour illustrations inside from Alan Lee, and you can't help but think how clearly his ideas impacted the soon to be released Peter Jackson movies. They truly are wonderful pictures, and much pleasure can be had through simply flicking through them from time to time. The full colour pictures are watercolours, and each one has clearly had much time and thought put into it.
Both books are printed on glossy, shiny paper. This makes them very easy to finger, but I can't help but think it also gives them the feel of a magazine or other somehow 'cheap' publication. At a published price of £75 for the set when released, it was never meant to be a particularly luxurious release, but I think the paper choice could have been better. It makes the illustrations look good, but the text filled pages a tad cheap in my view.
I paid £38 for my set on ebay, although I acquired a £10 refund due to the fact that the seller had imprinted my name and address onto the front of the box when he wrote it through the packing paper (the indentation is clear when it catches the light), so for £28 including delivery, I think this is a wonderful purchase. Because of its bulk I believe it would be hard to keep it from getting bumped or marked, and the glossy box does seem like it would be prone to highlighting any knock or scrape.Likewise the books are a tight fit into the box, so the tops and bottoms of the dustwrappers are a little crinkled. However, those pictures make the value alone, and it is certainly the best illustrated set I have yet seen. Not so much a standard reading set (for which I prefer the feel and thickness of paper on the folio sets), but certainly a great 'viewing' set to enjoy the pictures in.
Posted by Mr Bruff at 10:55