The Lord of the Rings’ Christian message decoded in online talk
Published on 9 November 2022 3 minutes read
The influence of its author's Christian faith on the world's most popular fantasy novel will be highlighted in a talk in person and online tomorrow evening.
Dr Nathan Hood, who is currently the Hope Trust Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, has been a fan of JRR Tolkien and his fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, ever since his father took him to see the movie adaptation of the final part of the trilogy, Return of the King, when he was eight.
For Dr Hood, whose father Rev Adam Hood is a Church of Scotland minister in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Tolkien's themes and inspiration have an added interest.
He will be discussing them in his talk, The Spirituality of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, at his father's church, St Andrew's Wallace Green and Lowick Church, at 7.15pm tomorrow, Thursday November 10th.
The talk will also be available online for those who cannot attend in person.
Dr Hood, who has a PhD in the history of Christianity, points out that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and viewed The Lord of the Rings as an explicitly Catholic work.
"When you analyse the story and themes, you can see that his mythology was shaped by distinctly Christian ideas," Dr Hood said.
"For example, Tolkien's world does not feature 'absolute evil', but rather creatures who have fallen - villains are those who started out good but chose a path of evil. The moral framework of his writing was strongly influenced by his Christian faith."
Two decades after Peter Jackson's film trilogy dominated the box office, Tolkien's fictional universe is finding a new audience with the recent release of Amazon Prime's The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power, the most expensive television series ever made.
Dr Hood believes newcomers to Middle Earth will be introduced to many Christian ideas in a concrete and tangible form.
Though there are many lessons which can be drawn from the story of The Lord of The Rings, Dr Hood believes one of the most important is the self-destructive effect of evil.
"When creatures choose to do what is wrong, they become diminished," he said.
"This is seen in the Ringwraiths: they make a bargain with the Dark Lord Sauron, pledging their allegiance for power, and in turn they wither away into ghosts, existing in a twilight world. Augustine argued that evil is a privation of being: as creation was created good by God, it follows that evil is a kind of non-being. Tolkien's works visually demonstrate this reality for us."
Stewardship is another central theme in Tolkien's work, with each character a steward of their own domain, whether it be a garden or a kingdom.
Dr Hood added: "They need to look after those under their care, whether it be a community or the environment. When they don't, when they exploit those under them for personal gain, it decimates communities and nature.
"For example, the Wizard Saruman, in his lust for domination, turns the green grove of Isengard into a desolate military-industrial complex. Tolkien is showing us the impact when humans don't take seriously their responsibilities as stewards appointed by God."
Myths made real
Tolkien was not alone in using fantasy as a vehicle for his spiritual beliefs. His close friend CS Lewis did something similar for a younger readership with his Chronicles of Narnia.
"Tolkien actually helped Lewis to become a Christian in light of their conversations about the place of mythology," Dr Hood said.
"Tolkien argued that all mythology has the ring of truth about it, that it points to something important about the world. The ancient legends find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who Tolkien and Lewis would describe as 'the myth become fact'.
"All mythology and fairy stories, to greater or lesser extent, provide a glimpse of the Gospel. So, this means that mythology and fantasy can be a means of mission, a vehicle for engaging people with the true, the good, and the beautiful."
Dr Hood's talk will be streamed online here.