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I have long been a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien, and have enjoyed his works from an early age. I am aware that he was raised by a Roman Catholic priest, and remained a deeply religious man his whole life.

I'm wanting to pin down some of the major christian symbols and undertones in his works that are a byproduct of his Catholic world view. I would particularly like to know who or what symbolizes Christ in The Lord of the Rings.

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For analysis of fantasy fiction, you might like to try the Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange where many Tolkien questions are asked and answered. – James T Aug 9 '13 at 0:24
Does anyone have to? Tolkien very specifically said he did not write his books to be allegorical in any way. – wax eagle Aug 9 '13 at 0:34
Fun fact of the day: Tolkien translated the Lord's Prayer, Ave Maria, and other prayers, into Quenya. PDF here. – James T Aug 9 '13 at 0:45
Providence is certainly a significant theme in LotR ("bad" and "chance" events result in the Ring's destruction). Temptation and the connection of means and ends are other significant aspects. Gandalf's resurrection and Aragorn's return to kingship might be echoes of the Great Story (some argue that Truth unavoidably leaks into good literature). However, as wax eagle stated, LotR is not allegorical, so any typology would be rather limited. – Paul A. Clayton Aug 9 '13 at 0:54
I would call this primarily opinion based, unless you specify that you want someone's particular interpretation. Tolkein's is the only one that really matters in my opinion. – fredsbend Aug 26 '13 at 19:24
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Tolkien always denied that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory, let alone a Christian allegory. While many people have searched for Christian symbolism, the author did not intend that there should be any. Specifically there is no character who corresponds to Christ. There are of course strong themes of good and evil, of destiny and of guiding and creating spirits, sacrifice and nobility.

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"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." - Tolkein – fredsbend Aug 9 '13 at 18:58

While Tolkien made the statement that there was no implied allegory in LOTR, I did pick up the following things:

  1. LOTR can be read as an allegory of WW2.
  2. LOTR can be read as an allegory of the industrial revolution of the West (Saruman's "mind of metal and wheels", the endless smoke from Mount Doom) and all the evil it entails for rural man (the hobbits).
  3. LOTR can be read as an allegory of the history of Christendom. It helps if one has read The Silmarillion. The Silmarils being analogues for the light of Christianity.

As for catholic allegories, ones that jumped out at me were:

  1. Gandalf is an archangel and a keeper of the sacred fire (the word of God being an all-consuming fire).
  2. The other wizards can also be seen as angels, Saruman being Azazel, one of the fallen.
  3. Elves are ante-deluvian man with their extremely long life spans and the knowledge such a long life makes possible.
  4. The most obvious one for me: Aragorn is Jesus whose Kingdom will be established when evil has been conquered forever.
  5. Sauron is Satan, the corruptor and enslaver. Again, a very obvious one.

It also helps if one has read the Apocryphal Texts. Most notably the two books of Enoch which seems to have served as a strong influence for The Silmarillion.

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Frodo's self-sacrificial trip to Mount Doom to "destroy power" has allegorical similarities to Christ's incarnation and "descent to Hell".

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