Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
What with today's being the feast of the Annunciation, I figured it would be as good a day as any to post an excerpt from this article by the ever interesting Joseph Pearce, who explains why, despite the persistent protestations of some skeptics, The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work — which, I suppose, is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, since Tolkien himself said LotR is, you know, "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work."
If, however, Christ is never mentioned by name in The Lord of the Rings, how can we discern his invisible presence?
The most obvious parallel between Tolkien's myth and the Christian truth it reflects so faithfully is in the nature of the quest which constitutes the principal animus of Tolkien's story. The journey of Frodo and Sam into the very heart of Mordor in order to destroy, or unmake, the Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom is emblematic of the Christian's imitation of Christ in carrying the cross of sin.
At its most profound level, The Lord of the Rings is a sublimely mystical passion play. The carrying of the ring — the emblem of sin — is the carrying of the cross. This is the ultimate applicability of The Lord of the Rings — that we have to lose our life in order to gain it; that unless we die we cannot live; that we must all take up our cross and follow him.
All of this would be deducible from the story itself but Tolkien makes the parallel even more explicit. "I should say," he wrote, explaining the final climactic moments on Mt. Doom, "that within the mode of the story [it] exemplifies (an aspect of) the familiar words: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.'"
As if this were not enough to silence those skeptics who obstinately refuse to acknowledge the overriding Christian dimension in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien makes it even more unmistakable, and unavoidable, in the fact that the climactic attempt to destroy the ring, and in consequence the Dark Lord who had forged it, occurred on "the twenty-fifth of March."
The significance of this date will not escape the attention of Catholic scholars, though it is certainly overlooked all too often by Tolkien's non-Christian admirers. Tom Shippey, an Anglo-Saxon scholar and Tolkien expert, states in his book, The Road to Middle Earth, that in "Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25 is the date of the Crucifixion." It is also, of course, the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the absolute center of all history as the moment when God himself became incarnate as man.
A Catholic and an Oxford don, Tolkien was well aware of the significance of "the twenty-fifth of March." It signified the way in which God had "unmade" the Fall, which, like the Ring, had brought humanity under the sway of "the Shadow." If the ring that the hero wants "unmade" at the culmination of Tolkien's quest is the "one ring to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them," the Fall was the "one sin to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them." On March 25, the one sin, like the one ring, had been "unmade," destroying the power of the Dark Lord.