His family and friends called him by his second given name, Ronald, but his first name was John, in honor of his patron saint, John the Evangelist. And when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Books that have now spawned The Movies, his work was deeply colored by the convictions of his Roman Catholic faith.
Wheaton College (IL) professor Clyde Kilby once sent Tolkien a paper by a professor in New South Wales that argued, "At every point, the human dynamics of The Lord of the Rings are drawn from the tradition ascribed to Christ's redemptive activity." Tolkien wrote back to Kilby that this was true, though not always conscious on his part. Later Tolkien wrote to a friend of his, a priest, "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision."
But when Christian History recently polled readers of our website on how "Christian" Tolkien's writing seemed to be, some just didn't see it. "Although I have no question that Tolkien was a devout Christian, and I thoroughly enjoy his works," said one, "I have no idea how anyone can suggest they are 'Christian.'" Another agreed: "I still don't really see a Christ-like figure portrayed or anything that clearly outlines the Gospel of salvation."
Some even worried aloud that attempts to read Christian meaning from Tolkien's stories might have harmful results: "Tolkien's masterpiece … should not be pored over by overly-tolerant Christians out to discover its supposed spirituality. Mythology has its place, but it is not theology, and the two should never be confused." Or again, "I just hope that parents and teachers/leaders are wise enough to teach all those who they influence, to recognize that reality and truth are ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more