Any fanatic of J.R.R. Tolkien knows that he was a Roman Catholic, but the question has been raised about how this was portrayed, if ever, in his fantasy epic.
An initial glance at “Fellowship of the Rings” indicates that the world of Middle-Earth is polytheistic if not atheistic. The Elves sing praises to Elbereth Gilthoniel (also called “Varda”), an Ainur partially responsible for the overseeing of Middle Earth. The Ainur appear to be modelled in part after the Norse deities, though they have no innate form and probably no “real” names.
However, though at first glance the mythos of Middle-Earth is polytheistic, the Ainur are not gods. The Silmarillion best described as a “Bible” for Tolkien’s works describes them as being the product of the thought of Iluvatar, distant and rather quiet supreme deity. In a word, God.
Initially, Tolkien was intending to create a pantheon of deities similar to that of the Norse gods, but eventually became uncomfortable with a created belief system that was so opposite his own. Thus, he created a Judeo-Christian deity in the Silmarillion and associated works, to oversee the angelic, fallible creatures that sang the world into being and the creatures that they oversee.
Ethics and morality are also attuned to the Judeo-Christian belief system, in a manner sufficiently subtle that the reader does not often notice what is being shown to them. Among these themes are temptation, sin, potential repentence and resulting punishment for and often because of the fall involved. Among the causes of such things are pride in oneself, actions without intelligent thought, and the determination to keep the pressures of evil to oneself without sharing it with others.
Tolkien also appears to have been a staunch believer in the words of Christ: “You must be like a little child…” Relatively immune to the malevolent powers of the Ring are the Hobbits, with their simple pleasures, short-term life plans and relatively humble ambitions. Compare to the Men of Middle-Earth, who often desire political power more strongly tempted and thus succumb depending on their individual personas. Gandalf, an angelic Istar, is both immensely tempted by the Ring’s power and intelligent enough to know what the consequences would be even if he
used it for good. With the exception of the Elves, who are half out of Middle-Earth already, the Ring’s influence appears to be stronger with heightened ambition and the pride that comes from it.
Perhaps the strongest example is also in the Silmarillion, in which more Judeo-Christian themes arise. In a similar manner to Lucifer and similar angelic beings, such angelic beings as Morgoth and Sauron were corrupted into demonic figures. It illustrates the theme: “Pride goes before a fall.”
A more clear example is Boromir. His pride and intentions lead him to attempt a theft of the Ring. The ripple affects of his action Frodo’s subsequent flight and the searching of the hobbits result in Boromir’s death, though Tolkien also used the event to illustrate true penitance and reparation.
Tolkien was not of the warm-and-fuzzy school of redemption. As in real life, many people corrupted by the Ring succumb, and are sufficiently in thrall to it to a degree that they are unable to break free. Though the hideous Gollum shows signs of rebellion, when able to communicate naturally with others, he ultimately is too weak to rebel completely. His choice to regain the Ring ultimately results in his death.
Though the presence of Judeo-Christian ethics and worldview are not immediately clear, and are often debated, careful study and comparison show the strong, possibly unconscious influence in Tolkien’s fantasy works.
You can email L.A. Solinas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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