Sep 3, 2014

Tolkien's Middle-Earth: A Christian World

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was reading an old Saxon poem "The Crist of Cynewulf" when a phrase leapt off the page. "Hail Earendel brightest of angels, over Middle Earth sent to men." Middle Earth is an ancient expression for our world which lies between Heaven and Hell. For years Ronald had been studying languages, inventing his own and making up stories set in a mythical past. Eventually he combined all this material into a world called Middle Earth.

Authors create their work according to their view of the world. Ronald's was a Christian view and his books show it. Christianity appears in the ideas and symbols of his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

Ronald said, "The gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essences of fairy-stories." The essence of the gospel and of fairy-tales is a surprising, hopeful turn in all man's despair and sorrow. Joy is the result, a brief glimpse of intense delight springing out of unexpected good news.

When Ronald's good creatures think about good and evil, predestination, history, freewill and grace, mercy, providence, judgment and redemption, they follow their maker's Christian mind. For instance, when an elf says, "But whereas the light perceives the very heart of darkness, its own secret has not been discovered," he echoes the Apostle John who said, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1:5).

Ronald, who lived through both world wars and spent time in the trenches, knew first-hand about light and darkness. His views of light required him to be obedient and he was-- to the point of almost losing the girl he loved. He lost both parents at a young age. Father Francis Morgan took over his upbringing. Observing that sixteen-year-old Ronald was becoming too friendly with Edith Bratt, a nineteen-year-old girl, Father Morgan commanded him to break off the relationship until he turned 21. Ronald obeyed.

Fortunately, Edith forgave him. They married before he went to war. Once, while he was based at Hull, Edith and he were able to spend time together. She danced for him in the woods and this was the inspiration for his tale of Beren and Luthien. He saw himself as Beren, and Edith as Luthien. During the war, he acquired trench fever and had to be sent home to recover.
As is well known, Ronald became a close friend of C. S. Lewis. His wisdom pointed Lewis back to Christianity. The two were founding members of one of history's most famous literary groups: the Inklings.

Ronald had difficulty getting The Lord of the Rings published. The publisher expected to lose money on it. Instead, it was such a success that by Ronald's death on this day, September 2, 1973, he was moderately wealthy. The book has spawned hundreds of imitations which unfortunately do not share its Christian world view.

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  9. -------------"Some Religious Aspects of The Lord of the Rings." Riverside Quarterly 3 (August 1968) pp. 209-213.
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  15. ---------The Lord of the Rings. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969.
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  17. Urang, Gunnar. Shadows of Heaven: Religion and Fantasy in the Writings of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1971.
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