King of Kings and Lord of the Rings

Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn (all images copyright New Line Cinema).

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I realise my posts have been sporadic of late, what with getting married and going on honeymoon and now slowly getting back into work. I’m gradually returning to writing – loads of ideas, but putting figurative pen to figurative paper has been pretty sporadic thus far. (Somehow ‘putting finger to keyboard’ just doesn’t have the same alliterative punch). In the meantime, I’ll give a shout out to a great piece of writing from Decent Films Guide, exploring the Christian philosophical backdrop of what I consider the greatest novel ever written, J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkein, like his close friend and regular drinking buddy C. S. Lewis, was a Christian, but unlike Lewis he was skeptical of the use of allegory in narrative fiction. In contrast to The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkein’s sagas of the Middle Earth do not contain any direct allegory of the Christian doctrine. However, the author’s own philosophy and worldview are very much apparent in the fabric of the stories.

For myself, I would further argue that the extraordinary power of Tolkein’s novel comes from its ability to convey fundamental truth about the world in which we live, so it’s no surprise to me that such resonance with the true state of the world has very close parallels with the truth of the Christian doctrine.

If you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you should definitely check out the full article:

Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic, The Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson’s Film Trilogy.

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As a brief sample, consider the echoes of Christ in the three central heroes of the story:

Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn: Priest, prophet, king

In fact, Frodo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, and Aragorn each in a remote way embody one of the three aspects of Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet, and king. Each also undergoes a kind of sacrificial “death” and rebirth.

The priestly role belongs to Frodo, who bears a burden of terrible evil on behalf of the whole world, like Christ carrying his cross. Frodo’s via dolorosa or way of sorrows is at the very heart of Tolkien’s story, just as the crucifixion narratives are at the heart of the gospels accounts. As Christ descended into the grave, Frodo journeys into Mordor, the Land of Death, and there suffers a deathlike state in the lair of the giant spider Shelob before awakening to complete his task. And, as Christ ascended into heaven, Frodo’s life in Middle-earth comes to an end when he departs over the sea into the mythical West with the Elves, which is as much to say, into paradise.

Gandalf is the prophet, revealing hidden knowledge, working wonders, teaching others the way. Evoking the saving death and resurrection of Christ, Gandalf does battle with the powers of hell to save his friends, sacrificing himself and descending into the nether regions before being triumphantly reborn in greater power and glory as Gandalf the White. As with Frodo, Gandalf’s sojourn in Middle-earth ends with his final voyage over the sea into the West.

Finally, there is Aragorn, the crownless destined to be king. Besides being a messianic king of prophecy, Aragorn also dimly reflects the saving work of Christ by walking the Paths of the Dead and offering peace to the spirits there imprisoned, anticipating in a way the Harrowing of Hell. (The oath-breaking spirits Aragorn encounters on the Paths of the Dead, who cannot rest in peace until they expiate their treason, suggest a kind of purgatorial state.)

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Anyway, that’s enough from me – go check out the article already.

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Related posts:

Chesterton on Nature

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