Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, and Catholicism?

I’ve often heard that this great story (tlotr) has many similarities and influences regarding catholicism. I confess I don’t know much about Tolkien’s personal life but I heard he was a catholic.

My question is did Tolkien himself ever comment on the similarities of this story and his faith? Did he write it intentionally to be seen this way? Did he ever publically comment on the comparison of his book and catholicism? I know I have read that he was a language expert and kind of invented this “elvish” language and developed the lotr story from that? But what do we factually know about how his own faith may have influenced this story. Did he ever comment on this?

Okay, I don’t have a copy of Letters with the actual quote, but Tolkien actually said of his work something along the lines of “Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally Catholic book, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Once I heard this, it was pretty easy to notice some of the stuff.

*]Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn as Priest, Prophet and King
*]“Many who live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so quick to deal out death in judgement” -Gandalf admonishing the death penalty
*]“I will take the ring… though I do not know the way.” -Frodo Baggins, and I could have sworn I’d heard practically the same line in a hymn once (but I don’t think I did)
*]“For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.” -Galadriel on magic. IMHO, it could also apply to transubstantiation
*]The list goes on…

Very interesting :thumbsup:

Tolkien did not “kind of” invent Elvish. He actually DID invent the entire language, both written and spoken. He also wrote a history of Middle Earth, complete with all of its peoples and beings, their mythology, songs, ethos, etc. He invented an entire civilization and all the aspects that go along with it.

He said, when asked, that LOTR was not specifically Catholic, but that his own faith influenced the books in a very deep way.

Tolkien was a very devout Catholic who would never miss the Mass if he had not strong reasons for it.

The story itself is taking place before the birth of Jesus and is more focusing on the struggle between good and bad, rather than taking a religious stand.

I read somewhere (sorry, don’t have the reference) that he didn’t want people to think it was a Catholic metaphore of some kind. Although there are metaphorical elements, he wanted people to read it for the story, and not be analyzing it. Later, though, he admitted to a lot of it being metaphorical. I can see Gollum being fallen man, the Hobbits being the Hebrew people, Bilbo as Abraham, (leaving his homeland), and of course…


Also, Tolkien played a major role in his good friend’s (C. S. Lewis) conversion to Christianity.

While he didn’t want people to think that the Lord of the Rings was a Catholic allegory, he did intend it to introduce them to the Catholic worldview.

May I suggest this book?

Peter Kreeft has several talks that relate Lord of the Rings and Tolkein’s Catholicism at this site:

Well worth a listen!

I still enjoy the story of him bellowing out all the responses in Latin after Vatican II

Lewis became an Anglican, but his apologetics were very close to Catholic teaching. He and Tolkien were very close friends.

Hey I just noticed this thread. Can we merge? The other one is: Catholicism and the cultures of the Lord of the Rings and middle earth

Asking the moderator to merge them…:slight_smile:

Tolkien was a Catholic due largely to his late mother Mabel Tolkien who was received into the Church in 1900 and was from a Baptist background. Sadly many members of her family rejected her due to this, she died very young as she was a diabetic and insulin was not discovered for several decades after her death. She passed Tolkien’s guardianship to a priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan.

That is why I refer a lot of people to C.S. Lewis’ books as a starter course in apologetics. His crystal-clear logic and simple writing style make the subject accessible to many who would otherwise be more like this


while reading Catholic apologetics.

Also, to anyone who is a LOTR fan, you MUST go to England to truly understand Tolkien and put the books in their proper place. Middle Earth is England, especially the villages, especially Agrarian England. Tolkien was an anti-industrialist and felt that the English people were at their best when they were close to the land, not working in factories in cities like London. The Hobbits are the English people.

Visiting England really adds another dimension to the books.

As a point of interest it is worth noting that Tolkien’s oldest son was a priest who died in 2003 and gave the funeral mass for his father. To understand Tolkien you must definitely understand his connection with the English countryside and his views regarding that. Tolkien was a little bit staid in some ways as he was not fond of foreign foods or travelling. On the other hand while he was patriotic he was not by nature a jingoist and his vision of the British colonial system might be said to be similar to Faramir’s. views expressed about Gondor in the LOTR.

Had I lived at the same time as Tolkien in his youth I would no doubt given my own political outlook found myself opposing him in some areas whilst absolutely agreeing with him in many other more essential areas. As a point of Ttivia Tolkien served as one of the external examiners for University College in Dublin for many years. This been one of the major seats of learning in Ireland.

Yes, Tolkien was a strict Catholic. The books display Catholic morality within in themes

The ring is a symbol of power. What is a violation of the 1st Commandment? Worshipping false idols. This does not necessarily mean worshipping false Gods, but making our own idols that separate us from God. The ring symbolizes making an idol for ourselves, as people will covet power. Power is something that can lead people away from God.

Orcs and Ring Wraiths display what sin does to us. Ring Wraiths are filled with nothing under their hoods, as if to say they have lost their souls. Orcs show how sin deforms us. The same thing goes for Gollum. He was a hobbit but his sins have deformed him

Aragorn mentions evil, saying that there is no evil unless man brings evil, implication being evil is not a thing or a substance. It’s similar to Saint Augustine’s view of evil


LOTR shows Frodo as a Christ figure. In the days of Jesus, the people of Israel thought Jesus would come as a powerful force to defeat the Romans through violence. However, this was not the case and instead He came as an innocent person who defeated evil not by fighting it, but entering the world of sin and absorbing it all. This is what Frodo does. He enters Mordor, a land of evil, and destroys evil through non-violence.

The rings actually corrupt them so far that most of the Nazgûl can’t even stand the light of day

I have read *The Letters *and I can corroborate this paraphrase of a quote where Tolkien said essenitially this.

Where Tolkien discusses the difference between allegory/applicability is in the foreward of The Fellowship of the Ring. He admitted, in a letter, that the work was essentially Catholic, but in the foreward he reinforces his stance that the story should not be interpreted as an allegory. He didn’t want to force his interpretations on his readers, especially those who were not Catholic. He said with allegory, the meaning of a story lies in the hands of the author, while with applicability, where various symbols can be *applied *to certain interpretations/ understandings, the meaning of the story lies in the hands of the reader.

So yes, he admits it’s a Catholic work while concurrently demanding that we not see it as such. :rolleyes:

(I should have just quoted from the text. It’s too late for me to be paraphrasing.) :blush:

I am of the opinion that LOTR and the Hobbit are allegories, but Tolkien deliberately chose to conceal the real meaning, especially to Non-Catholics and Non-Christians.
This is similar to Jesus’ example, in which He told parables but often concealed the meaning from ordinary people.

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