par Gelydrihan

Tolkien’s more or less conscious inclusion of various aspects of myths into his account of Middle-earth’s story has a profound effect on the reader. Such mythical themes as love, fate and death fundamentally deal with timeless universal challenges and play an important part in the functioning of the human spirit. This is the reason why they have the power to enchant and terrify after a dreamlike fashion. In fact, recurrent symbols of worldwide mythologies sometimes resurface spontaneously in dreams [1]. Without a doubt this partly explains the readers’ enthusiasm for such books as The Lord of the Rings.

Be as it may, the universe Tolkien develops in his literature allows him to illustrate very personal ideas and concepts, the Christian inspiration of which is beyond doubt. In this manner, the god he places at the head of his sub-creation recalls, in many respects, the Lord of the Bible. Although his world is pre-Redemption, and inhabited by Hobbits, Ents, Elves, Men, Dwarves and Orcs, its mythical truths are essentially Christian in character. As explained earlier, it is the goodness of Ilúvatar’s creation, the freedom of the will, the Fall, the battle against evil, the contribution of the humble to this battle and the redemptive value of suffering which constitute the background of Tolkien’s chronicles. Furthermore, it is no more Eru than God who lets the seeds of evil germinate, but the weakness of Man, and it is only when the world comes to an end that good will eternally triumph over evil, just as mentioned in the Bible. Tolkien’s work obviously presents many aspects to which Christians can relate, but the author leaves a certain number of questions unanswered, possibly out of respect for his religion. For instance, the reader learns very little about what will happen on Arda’s Judgement Day [2].

One has to keep in mind that Tolkien never intended to be the same sort of Christian apologist as his friend Lewis. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien indicates how powerfully the books he wrote generated a multitude of interpretations which promoted many varied reductive conclusions from his correspondents [3]. However, it is religion which has anchored in our mind the notion of the boundless power of love making all sorts of things possible. Consequently, the writer’s inclusion of Christian elements in his books is something that the reader is legitimately bound to ponder on at some stage. In any case, the massive welcome given to his most famous pieces of work and the many attempts of readers to articulate their meaning suggest that Tolkien has hit some kind of mysterious human need [4]. It is a remarkable sign of success that his work has been appreciated by many who share its author’s real beliefs, but by even more who do not [5]. In this respect, Tolkien can be compared to other Christian authors who left true landmarks on the landscape of English literature. For example, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress “was the favourite of the people” [6] and Tolkien was recently elected “author of the century” by popular vote at the occasion of a poll organised by the BBC [7].

Tolkien’s work has hidden depths which many may overlook because the author is so fond of cutting the ground from under his readers’ feet. For example, we are quite happy to return to the Shire with the Hobbits at the end of The Lord of the Rings, only to be confronted with the puzzling revelation that their names are not the ones we know [8]. Indeed, the familiarity of their comfortable English consonance disappears with the explanations with which the reader is provided in the appendices. The subliminal associations we make while reading the characters’ names are comparable with the underlying Christianity in Tolkien’s work. The author exposes us to a maelstrom of references which make the story sound familiar even though very often, one cannot quite put one’s finger on why this is so. Without a doubt, Tolkien’s work includes images and ideas drawn from an impressive range of worldwide myths, legends and traditions. As for the Christian myth itself, Tolkien’s literature could be associated with it in many other respects than the ones examined in this analysis. For example, the very style which the Oxford professor uses is quite often reminiscent of the Bible in form. Furthermore, the Arthurian legends and Beowulf present many points of comparison with The Lord of the Rings which would also fit in the scope of a study similar to this one.

Nonetheless, although Christianity bears a profound influence on Tolkien’s literature, an impressive array of other cultures have to be taken into account to fully understand the man’s work. In fact, distinct features of Greek and Irish mythologies have also been included in his sub-creation. Concurrently, much could be said about how Tolkien “recycled” features of Germanic and Scandinavian mythologies. However, far from moving Tolkien’s stories away from Christianity, this pot pourri of influences places the author’s creation even more distinctly in the midst of the Christian ideals of sharing and opening.

[1] Bruno DELAROCHE, Mythologie et Inspiration Chrétienne chez Tolkien, Université de Nantes : thèse de doctorat, 1985, p. 412.

[2] Ibid., p. 417.

[3] Charles MOSELEY, J.R.R. Tolkien, Plymouth : Northcote House Publishers, 1997, p. 77.

[4] Ibid., p. 78.

[5] Tom SHIPPEY, J.R.R. Tolkien, Author or the Century, London : Harper Collins Publishers, 2000, p.187.

[6] John BUNYAN, The Pilgrim’s Progress, (introduction), London : Fisher, son, and co., (first published 1678), 1838, p.viii.

[7] SHIPPEY, op. cit., p.1.

[8] MOSELEY, op. cit., p.25.

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