Now that I’ve started writing about Christianity in contemporary entertainment, I’d like to set down my apologetics for The Lord of the Rings, once and for all. I have talked to more than a few Christians who either refuse to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or say they watched it but didn’t see anything Christian in it at all.
To which my first reply is, “Great–read the damned book!”
However, many of the Christian elements of The Lord of the Rings successfully survived translation into film (even when other story elements were destroyed). People no longer recognize that J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century. This is odd, since, as a member of the Inkings, he was a close friend of C. S. Lewis, whom few would deny was a staunch Christian apologist.
The problem arises because Tolkien despised direct metaphor. He thought it too simplistic for adult writing–so, unlike Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings has no single character that one can point to and say “That’s Jesus.”
Tolkien rather divided the Christ-attributes between three characters: Aragorn, the King who Returns, who entered the Land of the Dead and returned to pass judgement on the living and the dead, and who healed with his hands; Gandalf, the wandering miracle-worker, who cast down demons, who fell into darkness and returned to his followers in a flash of light such that they could not at first recognize him; and Frodo Baggins, who was wounded terribly and carried a great burden toward certain death to redeem the evil of the world.
Hey, maybe I could start performing services for Unity Christian Church!