THE LORD of the Rings trilogy is undoubtedly one of the greatest box-office hits of all time. Everybody’s mentioning the name J.R.R. Tolkien, but few know details about the man behind the epic saga.

Directed by Peter Jackson, the Lord of the Rings III: Return of the King was the last of a trilogy based on John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s epic, which was written in a span of 14 years. For half a century already, Tolkien’s works remain to be all-time best sellers and his trilogy was voted in worldwide polls as “the greatest book of the 20th century.” But what was behind the mind that captivated the imagination of millions?

In his biographies, it was Tolkien himself who insisted that the most significant element in his work was the fact that he was a Roman Catholic and he could not have written his saga if he were not a devout one. His Lord of the Rings trilogy is so full of Catholic imagery that he called it “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” Tolkien’s life revealed how much his faith had influenced him.

Tolkien became Catholic at eight when his mother, widow Mabel Tolkien, from whom Tolkien inherited a love of languages and legends, converted to the Church. This conversion brought Mabel’s Protestant family to disown her and leave her to care for her two sons, John Ronald and Hilary, in a tiny rented room in a postman’s cottage. Mabel died of poverty, and was regarded by Tolkien as a “martyr…to ensure us keeping the faith.” The children were adopted by Fr. Francis Morgan in the Birmingham Oratory, which Tolkien remembered as his “good Catholic home.”

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In a letter to one of his sons, Tolkien confided his life-long source of inspiration: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…there you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that,” he wrote.

Tolkien promoted “the philosophy of myth” which characterizes his works and brought to conversion his atheist friend, C.S. Lewis, the Oxford literary critic who authored “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Lewis had always believed that myths are lies and worthless and Christianity is no different from the pagan myths of dying and rising gods.

Tolkien said that not all myths are lies, and that “savior myths” prove man’s religious instinct and need for the real Savior. “There was a man named Jesus,” Tolkien declared, “and plenty of literature that was non-Christian testified to this and to much of what he was like—the myth that became real.”

Salvation history themes thus became Tolkien’s framework. “The Silmarillion,” which recounts the origin of Middle-Earth, is an analogous retelling of the Creation and the Fall. The Creator-God is Eru, and Satan’s counterpart is Melkor, who had his agent Sauron to create the ring. The ring symbolizes the forbidden fruit, for which man and the world have fallen. Tolkien dates the climactic attempt to destroy the ring on “a twenty-fifth of March,” the feast of the Annunciation.

The carrying of the ring—the emblem of sin—is Tolkien’s allusion to the carrying of the cross. Frodo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, and Aragorn, each embody the three aspects of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. A hobbit is made for a hero to embody the Christian belief in God exalting the lowly. Signifying the resurrected Christ is Gandalf, who “descends to the lower parts of the earth,” and rises again and appears to his followers Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, who like Jesus’ disciples, were at first unable to recognize their master. The “waybread” or lembas of the Elves, is the bread of life which according to Tolkien, “had a virtue without which Frodo and Sam would have already died.”


Equally notable is the Marian aspect of the story. In giving life to the character of Galadriel, the elven Queen of Lothlorien, Tolkien owed much to Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary the Blessed Virgin. It was Galadriel’s phial of light that helped Frodo and Sam defeat the spider-demon Shelob in the dark tunnels leading to Mordor. The story ends in triumph, pointing to the hidden Divine Providence at work in the course of the Middle-Earth.

Toward the end of his life, Tolkien labored for his faith, when the constant source of his sorrows was his children’s complacency. One of his children was lately accused as a serial pedophile-priest, and is losing the family’s inheritance for legal indemnities.

Nevertheless, tragedies and all, there is no question that the man who gave us Middle-Earth and Hobbits and Ents will continue to shine brighter than the Silmarils of his fiction. J.R.R. Tolkien will always be remembered for having raised a generation that embraces his secret faith in goodness that prevails. With copyright sources from


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