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Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmitting Catholic norms


Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmitting Catholic normsBorn in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 3rd of January 1892 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is the renowned writer of The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings written between 1954 and 19...Read More


~Posted on May 2019

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Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmitting Catholic norms

Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmittin...

Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmitting Catholic norms

Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 3rd of January 1892 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is the renowned writer of The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings written between 1954 and 1955. Other than being the author of bestselling literature, J.R.R Tolkien was a philologist who specialized in old and Middle English. Just like other writers of his time, Tolkien is famed as a Platonists of his days despite his work being of fundamentally religious and Catholic informed. However, this could be interpreted from the perspective of his bringing up. After his father’s death in 1896, they went back to England from where South Africa and her mother became a Roman Catholic which only meant that he would also follow the Catholic teachings together with his younger brother (Doughan).

Tolkien’s mother was diagnosed with diabetes in 1904, and since there was no insulin to manage the disease, she succumbed to death later that year leaving her two sons orphaned. Due to close relation with the priest, he took care of the children’s needs both spiritual and materialistic. Tolkien, throughout his life from a tender age had been raised in the Roman Catholic faith, and therefore it would only be fair to say that his work was based on the teachings he was taught (Pearce). The society one is brought up in shapes an individual's thinking and therefore needless to say it was the same thing for Tolkien. In proof of this, there are some aspects of the story which are not religious or close to this but show that various elements in the writings are based on how he grew up. For example, the vivid description of Rivendell and the Misty Mountains could be based on his own life in 1911 when he was invited to a walking holiday party that involved walking in Switzerland (Pearce). Although not intentionally at the beginning, Tolkien’s work was religious informed and therefore a huge part of it transmitted the Catholic norms to the large crowd of readership that it attracted. A more profound explanation with various examples from the book will help in elaborating this stand.

Lord of the Rings was a sequel to The Hobbit, however by completion of the first chapter, Tolkien in his letter to the publisher feared that he had changed a lot of the Middle Earth he had first created in The Hobbit. Tolkien also felt that the sequel would not be targeting the young audience as he had introduced something darker and scary in the name Black Rider. The story was written a time when Britain was struggling with the world war II. It is only understandable if the everyday life living in Britain shaped the tone of the story even though it was not the inspirational at first. It would also play part considering that Tolkien’s son Christopher was taking part in the war(Pearce).  Critics regarded Tolkien’s book as an allegory of the world war II but he denied this citing that the last two books might have been written between 1944 and 1948, but the idea of the book had been developed years before the world war, and that means the books were not a product of the war. The world war II was a fight of good against evil. In a letter to his son Christopher, Tolkien cites Gandalf from his book when referring to the good and the evil sides of the war. He seemed to have a strong opinion against the unified front that called for the extermination of the Germans. To Tolkien, the Allied front was dangerous and evil and was about to succumb to the evil that the German people had portrayed hence turning to become evil themselves (Doughan). Just like how the warnings made to Frodo, that he should take care not to let Sauron evil take control of him (Tolkien, J. R. R, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Shadow Of The Past).

The world war II could have in a way shaped Tolkien’s consciousness in the process of writing the story, but his Roman Catholic teachings took the most of it. The lessons had been in him since the development of the story up until the finish. Tolkien shaped a character that would represent Jesus in his fantasy world. The character would save the people of Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron by sacrificing himself. It is what Jesus Christ did in the bible, he sacrificed Himself and died for the sake of humanity and save them from death and sin. The concept can be understood by a quote from the book where there is a prognostication of Frodo accepting to take up the responsibility of the ring, which means that the life Frodo lived was a fulfillment of a prophecy. “Seek the Sword that was broken:/In Imladris it dwells;/There shall be counsels taken/Stronger than Morgul-spells./There shall be shown a token/That Doom is near at hand,/For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,/And the Hafling Forth shall stand” (Tolkien, J. R. R, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Council Of Elrond).

Tolkien describes the ring becoming a burden to Frodo on his journey. “In fact with every step towards the gates of Mordor Frodo felt the Ring on its chain about his neck grow more burdensome. He was now beginning to feel it as an actual weight dragging him earthwards” (Tolkien, J. R. R ,The Two Towers, The Passage Of The Marshes). The description brings to mind Jesus’ suffering as he carried the cross which becomes heavier as He took it to His crucifixion.

Tolkien has had a definition of his work, and according to him, his work is not allegory and therefore cannot be put in the same class as that of Lewis. On the other hand, the same work cannot be compared to that of Phillip Pullman. Pullman is a self-proclaimed Church of England atheist, and if we were to judge who included more religion in his work, Tolkien word is the one as he offers his truth and reality hidden in the fantasy that originates from his Catholic background.





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Tolkien’s Universal Tale Succeeded in Transmitting Catholic norms