Joining the Fellowship: Catholic Lessons from Tolkien

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Ragged stuffed animal and hidden depression as my constant companions, I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien during my awkward preteen years. My father, although never an enthusiastic reader, had finished narrating the golden purrings of Aslan, constant mutterings of Puddleglum, and gallant chirpings of Reepicheep in The Chronicles of Narnia. My two sisters and I gathered around his chair before bedtime or attempted to blink our eyes open while lying in sleeping bags during camping trips in order to hear the ending of each novel. The bittersweet ending of The Last Battle seemed unconquerable by any following book. Plus, all three of us children were approaching the age where being read to was deemed “uncool” and “childish.”

Still, my father chose one last novel to read: The Hobbit. Instantly, I was transported to Tolkien’s world full of adorable hobbits, dangerous adventures, glistening treasures, and cranky wizards. My whole life seemed transformed. Instead of clambering into beaver dams in search of Narnia, I now schemed how to win a riddle match against a hungry creature, hid in the bottom of canoe in hopes of barrel riding, and longed for some mysterious visitor to call me away on a quest. Middle Earth provided me with a world for escape. Was it dangerous? Certainly, but life seemed richer, more exciting, and happier there.

That Christmas, my grandparents gave me one of my favorite gifts ever: The Lord of the Rings books. Since then, I have read the books over 15 times. Each time, a new literary connection or powerful inspiration is gleaned from Tolkien’s creation. His books are so full of information and depth that this is no surprise. As Pat Reynolds noted in “The Lord of the Rings: A Tale of a Text,” “The Lord of the Rings is a book which penetrates factions. It is a war story that is read by lovers of romantic fiction. It depicts the horrors of the twentieth century, it uses the language of myth. It is a galloping good read – it is, as we say in English, a page-turner, but it has great depths which can be reflected upon over many years.” This uniting of all types of readers means that everyone takes a new lesson from the story. Even Tolkien himself probably did not realize all of the truth in his writing.

Tolkien’s Catholic faith is one of the reasons for his novels’ depth. After his newly converted mother died eight years after her husband, Tolkien was left orphaned and raised with his brother by a Fr. Francis Morgan. This Catholic upbringing remained an important part of the author’s life as he reached out to and brought his beloved wife Edith Bratt to Christianity as well as his great friend C.S. Lewis. Obviously, Tolkien’s life showed his great love for God to others.

This deep devotion to Catholicism also bled into Tolkien’s writings, especially The Lord of the Rings. According to Joseph Pearce in “J.R.R. Tolkien: Truth and Myth,” “the power of Tolkien lies in the way that he succeeds, through myth, in making the unseen hand of providence felt by the reader. In his mythical creations, or sub-creations as he would call them, he shows how the unseen hand of God is felt far more forcefully in myth than it is ever felt in fiction.” Although Tolkien refused to label these novels as an allegory of Christianity, he did state that they were “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,” states Decent Film’s review of the films. Artists, like Tolkien, are not only mimicking God’s creative power but also showing their own deep convictions and beliefs. Thus, the fact that The Lord of the Rings has biblical truth shining from it is not surprising; it might not be explicitly Christian, but it is certainly grounded in that faith.

As mentioned before, you can always gain some new insight from these novels. However, here are some of the lessons that most inspired my faith journey. The list is centered on material from the books, but the movies also contain some great wisdom, if at the cost of many frightening images and intense battles.

Lessons from The Fellowship of the Ring

  1. All life is precious because only God knows how all things will happen. Gandalf philosophizes concerning Gollum: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” We should respect the life of every person.
  2. The devil wants to divides and cause fighting amongst. “Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement thatdivides all those who still oppose him,” an elf named Haldir states. This is sadly true in the Catholic Church and other denominations. We often fight each other instead of loving each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. Even the strongest Christian can stumble into temptation. Boromir is a powerful man physically with loyalty to his people and a longing to rid the world of evil. Yet, his desire for control overcomes him. We all fall into sin and fail God and others, even if our intentions are “good” as Boromir’s were.

Lessons from The Two Towers

  1. Friendship means not ever deserting someone. Sam refuses to let Frodo slip off to Mordor alone while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli all chase after Merry and Pippin. God calls us to show such dedication and loyalty to others.
  2. Evil is not always obvious; it can appear in numerous forms. Sam’s quote that “fair speech may hide a foul heart” states that point. Other examples in the book are Saruman, who look wise but turns to the folly of darkness, and Wormtounge, who deceives others through slippery lies. Evil in our world is also not easy to spot.
  3. Despite all of this life’s agony, we still have hope. Sam says this beautiful statement to Frodo at a dark moment: “There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” At my most difficult moments, the determination of the Fellowship motivated me to continue. God gives us hope for a better future instead leaving us alone and discouraged.

Lessons from The Return of the King

  1. We cannot go through life alone; support from God and others is needed. When Frodo collapses, Sam carries him up Mt. Doom. Christ often bears us through our difficulties or sends others to help us.
  2. Hope can come at the darkest of moments. “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn,” Legolas maintains. Christ’s death and resurrection is the best example of this. God will always triumph even when all appears lost. We are never left alone.
  3. Some pains change ourselves forever, but God still offers us peace. Frodo suffers so much that he is changed: “But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.” Still, he is able to go to the Grey Havens as a place of rest. God offers us extraordinary grace to get through this life despite our deepest wounds.
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3 thoughts on “Joining the Fellowship: Catholic Lessons from Tolkien”

  1. Pingback: Lord of the Rings – Teens for Christ (T4C)

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