Christian Perspectives in 'The Lord of the Rings'

Diane Speed


'The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion”, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.'

This is a quotation from a letter written by Tolkien on 2 December 1953 to Robert Murray, S. J.1 Tolkien had sought Murray’s comments on galley-proofs and typescript of some parts of the text before its first appearance in print in 1954 and 1955. Murray had replied that he discerned “a positive compatibility with the order of Grace”, and compared the image of Galadriel to that of the Virgin Mary. In other words, if we follow Murray’s lead, we may decode the narrative of The Lord of the Rings to find an overall representation of the central Christian discourse of salvation through divine grace, or we may find suggestive similarities to individual figures, or perhaps moments, in the Christian story on which that discourse is based. On the same occasion, however, Murray had also expressed his doubts about what critics would be able to make of the book, because he thought it defied classification. Murray’s comments and Tolkien’s statement bring to the reader’s attention important questions about the meaning of The Lord of the Rings and the ways in which the author has proceeded to construct that meaning. How is it possible to discern Christian reference in a book that deliberately denies explicit Christian reference? And what kind of Christian reference is it that may be found there? These are the focal matters to be addressed here.

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