Guest / Limited Access /
Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings
Our Rating
not rated  
Book Title
Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings
Brazos Press
Release Date
October 1, 2003

Given the number of books already published on Tolkien (the last three years have been boom times), one might wonder whether Matthew Dickerson's Following Gandalf is a necessary addition to the field. After all, others have already produced fine treatments of the religious and literary background of Tolkien's work. Just how many studies of Tolkien did we really need?

Answer: at least one more. Following Gandalf is a timely and relevant exploration of how military conflict illustrates the profound inner conflict of moral responsibility. Its basic argument is that Tolkien's restraint in describing battles exalts heroism, not violence; and that heroism is an image of the universal human need to strive for moral victory, which is made possible by real freedom.

Tolkien was reluctant to discuss moral theological matters in his fiction, and had a "cordial disdain" for allegory and heavy-handed literary treatments of religion. He even went over his manuscripts before publishing them in order to remove explicit religion from Middle Earth. His reason for doing so? Not, as we might expect, to expunge religion and morality from Middle Earth, but to give them pride of ubiquitous place. In a letter written in 1953, Tolkien wrote that

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work … . 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.

A casual observer of Peter Jackson's recent films might be excused for missing the religious element and for surmising that Tolkien's world is one where the dominant forces are occult magic, intrigue, and military ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Browse All Book Reviews By:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedThe Hidden Purpose of the Hobbit's Adventure
The Hidden Purpose of the Hobbit's Adventure
Gandalf promises Bilbo Baggins a "profitable" quest, but the wizard has a different sort of treasure in mind.
TrendingFive Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.
Editor's PickWatch and Wait
Watch and Wait
Tarrying with Christ and the fearful dying.
Leave a Comment

Use your Christianity Today login to leave a comment on this article. Not part of the community? Subscribe now, or register for a free account.

hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

February 2004

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.