In Tolkien’s own words, “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”
This year, on September 2, lovers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will celebrate the author of those works, J. R. R. Tolkien, by commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death. Is this an anniversary that Catholics should also celebrate? Is there anything about Tolkien or the works he authored that are worth celebrating from a Catholic perspective?
Speaking personally, as an individual Catholic, I will be celebrating not merely as an admirer of Tolkien but as one who owes him a great deal for the part he played in my own journey to the Church.
I first read The Lord of the Rings back in 1986, three years before my reception into the Church, and I can state that it played no small part in my conversion. When I first read it, I had no clear idea of the deeper religious, Christian, or Catholic elements. I was too ignorant of the Faith I was yet to profess to see its presence in Middle-earth. But I did see what others see. I did see what his millions of readers see, whether they are Catholics or Protestants, or Jews or atheists. I saw that this was a story set in a world in which self-sacrificial love was the only way of growing in virtue and that such acts of self-sacrifice were the only way that the power of evil could be defeated.
I’m not sure when I came to know that Tolkien was a lifelong practicing and devout Catholic but, once I did come to know this, I was intrigued to discover whether there was a connection between the Faith that Tolkien professed and the stories he told. Such interest was enflamed when I read Tolkien’s own words that “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”
Desiring to know more, I began to read more deeply. My research led to the writing of my book, Tolkien: Man and Myth. I have since written two more books, one of which is on the Catholicism of The Hobbit and the other on the Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings.
There is a deep connection between the Fellowship of the Ring and the Faith of our Fathers. It is a connection which is worth celebrating which is why I will be raising a glass to the happy memory and living legacy of J. R. R. Tolkien on September 2.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.