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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
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    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
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    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
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    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
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    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. – fгedsbend Aug 26 '13 at 19:24
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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 – fгedsbend Aug 9 '13 at 18:58
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    As I recall, when people cite the (true) claim that Tolkien disliked allegory and denied the LOTR was allegory, they fail to appreciate the particular meaning ascribed to allegory when Tolkein is using it. In other words, it doesn't exclude all symbolism. – eques Oct 12 '20 at 14:38
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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 (along with Norse mythology).

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DJClayworth's answer, while based on Tolkien's own words of disdaining his work being interpreted as strict allegory (he preferred the term "applicability"), is based on a false notion of not relating to Tolkien's religion. As fredsbend stated, Lord of the Rings and related works set in Arda are all fundamentally Catholic in character. The Lord of the Rings is basically Catholic theology in narrative form with the dressings of Norse and Celtic myth.

Gandalf is Christ the prophet. Aragorn is Christ the King. Frodo is Christ the priest, the lamb, the redeemer.

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    A few sources that support your analysis (which I have seen before, I just don't have sources indexed) would improve your answer sufficiently to keep it from being deleted. Welcome to Christianity.SE. Please see how to write a good answer at this link. Also, please see how we are different from other sites – KorvinStarmast Apr 6 '17 at 14:25
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    You may wish to support this answer with a Tolkien quote, for example his aphorism "Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world." (From On Fairy Stories) or some other point Tolkien made regarding story telling. – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 '17 at 18:06
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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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Elements of Christ's life and ministry were distributed across many characters, not focused in one.

  • Tom Bombadil represents the incorruptibility of Christ. He held the ring yet did not covet it.

  • Gandalf was stung by the whip of the Balrog. The whip is the snake that bites the heal.

    And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

  • After risig from death, Gandalf the Gray was transfigured into Gandalf the White, like Jesus was transfigured on the mountain

  • Aragorn is Christ as the Great Physician ("the hands of the king are the hands of a healer"), king, as the one who descends into Hell to rescue the souls held captive there (the paths of the dead), and prince of peace

  • Frodo shows pity to Gollum, rescuing him is showing love for his enemies

  • Frodo is Jesus in Gathsemane, offered a terrible cup and drinking it (the burden of carrying the ring)

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Who symbolizes Christ in J. R. R. Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings”?

First of all, the meaning of Christ in Catholic thinking means the anointed one.

Ultimately, the Return of the King gives us the greatest of clues.

We are aware that Tolkien was not a fan of allegory, but preferred the term *applicability instead.

We read in The Return of the King (Book 6 Chapter 4) that Gandalf states to Frodo and Sam:

The fourteenth of the New Year, or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin on the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King.

Thus Frodo symbolizes Jesus Christ. As Jesus saved mankind from their sins; Frodo saved Middle Earth from the powers of Sauron.

Did Tolkien have any particular reason for choosing this date for Sauron's fall and Frodo's rescue out of the fire of Mordor, either allegorically or otherwise?

I personally believe he did so.

March 25th

Not only that, but in Catholic tradition, the date for the first Good Friday, the day of Jesus's crucifixion, is March 25. It is true this is primarily the date of the Annunciation, but it is also connected in legend to his : Did the Annunciation and Good Friday coincide?

Though Tolkien did not like obvious allegory, he frequently uses themes and symbols that are analogous to real world ideas, concepts and history. The Messianic theme in The Lord of the Rings is impossible to miss. The title Return of the King itself hints at this as well as the recurring prophetic symbolisms such as the reforging of the sword and the details around the White Tree (sadly lost in the movies). So though Tolkien may not have intentionally or even consciously included them, allegory does exist, by Tolkien's own admittance.

Conclusion

So while Gondor was saved on the 14th of the new year, that they later historically shifted from 14th of first month to a fixed date in their own calendar would be nearly perfectly analogous to Christianity's fixing of Easter's date apart from the old Jewish calendar. It being placed on the 14th of the new year AND March 25th is simply too great a coincidence to ignore for an educated Christian mind (which Tolkien certainly had).

Further more, Tolkien also marks this as the beginning of a new Fourth Age of Middle Earth, much like the Christian calendars understood post Christ history as a new era.

I am not the first to make this connection to the Catholic day of Christ's death, either: J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, By Tom Shippey

Tolkien's reasons for this cannot be known for sure, if they were even known to him, but it certainly reinforces the Messianic theme of salvation and the defeat of evil and likely was a small and perhaps private homage to his Catholic faith.

If I was forced to guess, I would say it started unconsciously or coincidentally, but, upon realization, was later developed within his own calendar system to allow the event to synchronize in Middle Earth calendars and to parallel our Earth's calendars as the precision of it all defies coincidental or subconscious means.

In conclusion to this first part, it is apparent that Frodo symbolized Jesus Christ because he saved Middle Earth on March 25th or on the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning.

As for who symbolizes Mary, the Mother of Jesus in the Lord of the Rings that honour goes to Lady Galadriel!

Galadriel

Among many Marian traits, the Lady Galadriel acts as a powerful intercessor for the fellowship’s perilous quest, just as Mary is of ours. I find it interesting that her gift to Frodo of the glass phial contains the light of the star Earandil, because two of the most ancient titles for Mary are Star of the Sea, and Morning Star. This is because Mary’s mission is always to guide weary travelers to her Son. Frodo uses her phial in the moments of greatest peril “when all other lights go out,” and most especially “…at the hour of death.” It is used in resisting the ring at Minas Morgul, slipping past the Watchers at Mordor, and in fighting the spider Shelob. The strange language that flows from Frodo’s tongue when he uses the phial against Shelob translates from Elvish into “hail Earandil, brightest of stars!” Also, some friends have observed that the brown-green Elven cloaks Galadriel gives to the fellowship that “aide in keeping out the sight of unfriendly eyes” parallels the brown scapular Mary first gave to St Simon Stock to be a safeguard against the Enemy and assure her special maternal protection. There is surely refuge under our Mother’s mantle!Galadriel

Among many Marian traits, the Lady Galadriel acts as a powerful intercessor for the fellowship’s perilous quest, just as Mary is of ours. I find it interesting that her gift to Frodo of the glass phial contains the light of the star Earandil, because two of the most ancient titles for Mary are Star of the Sea, and Morning Star. This is because Mary’s mission is always to guide weary travelers to her Son. Frodo uses her phial in the moments of greatest peril “when all other lights go out,” and most especially “…at the hour of death.” It is used in resisting the ring at Minas Morgul, slipping past the Watchers at Mordor, and in fighting the spider Shelob. The strange language that flows from Frodo’s tongue when he uses the phial against Shelob translates from Elvish into “hail Earandil, brightest of stars!” Also, some friends have observed that the brown-green Elven cloaks Galadriel gives to the fellowship that “aide in keeping out the sight of unfriendly eyes” parallels the brown scapular Mary first gave to St Simon Stock to be a safeguard against the Enemy and assure her special maternal protection. There is surely refuge under our Mother’s mantle!> As a devout Roman Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien had a special love for both the Blessed Sacrament and Mother Mary. In a letter to a Jesuit priest, he describes how his novel’s leading female characters (namely Galadriel, Arwen and Eowyn) drew their inspiration “from our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.” A number of authors have already written on this, so I merely offer a summation and some of my own reflections here. My aim is to increase your love, knowledge and devotion to Our Lady through the characters you already cherish. I also believe that sometimes, personalities are best communicated through story and myth.

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Galadriel

Among many Marian traits, the Lady Galadriel acts as a powerful intercessor for the fellowship’s perilous quest, just as Mary is of ours. I find it interesting that her gift to Frodo of the glass phial contains the light of the star Earandil, because two of the most ancient titles for Mary are Star of the Sea, and Morning Star. This is because Mary’s mission is always to guide weary travelers to her Son. Frodo uses her phial in the moments of greatest peril “when all other lights go out,” and most especially “…at the hour of death.” It is used in resisting the ring at Minas Morgul, slipping past the Watchers at Mordor, and in fighting the spider Shelob. The strange language that flows from Frodo’s tongue when he uses the phial against Shelob translates from Elvish into “hail Earandil, brightest of stars!” Also, some friends have observed that the brown-green Elven cloaks Galadriel gives to the fellowship that “aide in keeping out the sight of unfriendly eyes” parallels the brown scapular Mary first gave to St Simon Stock to be a safeguard against the Enemy and assure her special maternal protection. There is surely refuge under our Mother’s mantle!

Gandalf symbolizes the Biblical Prophets of Old.

Aragon symbolizes the Biblical Kings of Old.

Sam symbolizes St. John the Baptist as he helped Frodo get to Mount Doom and ultimately destroy the Ring of Power (forces of evil).

Sauron symbolizes the Devil.

Saruman symbolizes the Pagan Prophets of Ancient Times.

Addendum: Fun note!

Lúthien symbolizes Tolkien’s wife, Edith Mary Tolkien.

Beren symbolizes John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, himself.

J. R. R. Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on Edith's tombstone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 months later on 2 September 1973 from a bleeding ulcer and chest infection, at the age of 81,nhe was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name. The engravings read:

enter image description here

  • Why not see Aragorn as also symbolising the triumphant returning messiah? Different aspects of Jesus's life and ministry can be allegorised by different individuals in one story. – curiousdannii Oct 12 '20 at 8:18

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