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The Lord of the Rings: Religious Symbolism and Christian Characters

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The Lord of the Rings characters in an article about Christian symbolism

For many people, Lord of the Rings is the ultimate, epic high fantasy adventure story. Even among critics, J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s film trilogy are both critically acclaimed and award-winning. It’s easy to see why Lord of the Rings is a near-perfect series. This complex story contains men, hobbits, elves, dwarfs, and villainous creatures such as orcs, Uruk-hai, balrogs, and Nazguls.

Besides the magical creatures that inhabit the world of Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings’ story is one of bravery, courage, determination, and friendship. It’s a story that will never become outdated and one that lives on in the hearts of its fans. The Lord of the Rings brings out the best in all its characters and teachers us that even the smallest of creatures, a hobbit, can make all the difference and save the world. This message speaks hope to its viewers and dares us to embark on unexpected adventures to achieve the near impossible.

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The Lord of the Rings trilogy exists because of the brilliant ideas of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973), commonly known as J.R.R. Tolkien. J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist and specialized in the study of languages, which was why he was able to create his own language of Elvish, for the series. In addition to being a gifted writer, poet, philologist, and linguist, Tolkien was also a devout Catholic throughout his life. While his books are not overly religious and can be enjoyed by readers from all walks of life, both believers and non-believers, Tolkien’s books are enriched with religious themes and symbolism. A phrase Tolkien wrote, voiced by Bilbo Baggins, has been used by believers for decades now, and is appropriate for this discussion of The Lord of the Rings:

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

One thing that is often present among Christian fiction books and movies with Christian allegories is some kind of representation of Jesus Christ. A well-known example of this is Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis was a Christian and a good friend of Tolkien’s, so it makes sense that he would include a Jesus Christ figure in his books.

In The Chronicles of Narnia series, Aslan the lion is the perfect representation of Jesus Christ as he does not sin and even sacrifices himself to save others much like Jesus sacrificed himself by dying on the cross. However, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, he does not have one representation of Jesus but rather three: Gandalf, Aragorn, and Samwise Gamgee (perhaps representative of the Holy Trinity, the concept of ‘God in three persons’). Each of these characters symbolizes a different aspect of Jesus Christ.

Gandalf the Gray travels throughout Middle Earth seeking to help all those he encounters. Like Jesus, Gandalf has several names that mean different things. To the men of Gondor, he is Mithrandir, “the gray pilgrim.” Other names include Olorin, Incanus, Tharkun, and Lathspell. Perhaps the most notable thing Gandalf does is fight a balrog and sacrifices his life to allow the Fellowship time to escape the Mines of Moria. After his fight with the demon, Gandalf dies but is reborn (or resurrected) again as Gandalf the White, a much more powerful wizard than before. The Christian correlary is pretty obvious here.

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