Lord of the Rings: True Mythology?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has inspired more commentary, creativity and following than arguably any other modern-day work of art or literature. The successful film adaptation of the first book and highly anticipated release of the second, The Two Towers, has kept the fires of interest alive. Surprisingly, this classic has also been interpreted by--and, thus, embraced by--the adherents of such wildly divergent philosophies as neopaganism and evangelical Christianity. Just what is it about these mystical, mythical and monumental books that spurs whole communities of devotees to create Web sites, Internet browsers, countless graphics, fonts and articles, take on the nomenclature and Tolkien-created languages for their own use and wait in panting anticipation for the celluloid interpretation of their beloved epic?

In this collection of resources, we explore the meanings of the mythology--myth, Tolkien argued, is not by necessity false--as they stem from the author's past, pain and a deep-seated Catholic faith. A master of languages who saw language as intrinsically creative (not simply useful to label reality but to imbue it), Tolkien's created universe and tongues stand alone in the history of literature. Many critics have scorned the trilogy as mere escapism, but Tolkien saw it as discovered reality, that his mythmaking was an attempt to uncover what is real in the clearest way possible: "true myth." (This idea profoundly affected his close comrade C.S. Lewis and his decision of faith in Christ). Biblical imagery, many claim, abounds within the tales--which actually contain no explicit mention of God, Christ or worship.

This seeming ambiguity has left much room for neopagans and others to point out the abundance of gods, spirits, sprites and other mythical and pagan characters in the text. Many in this camp claim as much prominence for their worldview regarding Lord of the Rings as do Christians. We explore the books and author, as well as his worldview with mentions of the movie and related topics in our Special Focus, which we hope you enjoy and share with others.

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Feature Articles:

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: A Book for Our Time of Terror
Professor Ralph Wood
Dr. Wood, a literary expert on Tolkien, briefly outlines a lecture he gave to Logos Academy in Dallas, Texas. Although very terse, these notes offer deep insight to readers of the trilogy in their present form. Plans call for the audio copy of this lecture to be online at LeadershipU soon.

Looking For God in The Lord of the Rings
Jim Ware
"[The idea] that God uses small hands to accomplish great deeds -- could almost be called the heart and soul of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites all over again. But the mission of Frodo and Sam isn't just your typical 'underdog' story. It's something much more."

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: A Christian Classic Revisited
Professor Ralph Wood
Professor Ralph Wood's passion for The Lord of the Rings shines through this insightful examination of the fantasy epic's meaning and importance. He is amazed that, in a day of passive entertainment, this complex book that spans from time immemorial to the end of the world, remains so popular. Perhaps, he seems to say, readers are grasping at something eternal, transcendent. A sample: "Tolkien's work is imbued with a deep mystical sense of life as a journey or quest that carries one, willy-nilly, beyond the walls of the world. To get out of bed, to answer the phone, to open the door, to fetch the mail--such everyday deeds are freighted with eternal consequence. They immerse us in the river of time: the 'ever-rolling stream'."

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
Professor Ralph Wood
Tolkien expert Ralph Wood deeply examines the life of the great author and linguist from his youth, through early manhood and into the "mature years." A picture emerges of a sad, but affable man, brilliantly gifted in language and resolute in his faith.

J.R.R. Tolkien's Take on the Truth
ZENIT interview with Author Joseph Pearce on "Lord of the Rings"
Interview with Joseph Pearce, author of 'Tolkien: Man and Myth" and "Tolkien: A Celebration." Discusses Tolkien's Lord of the Rings regarding pagan issues, whether there is any danger to children in its content, the author's intentions, values it offers and what the trilogy may teach us about today's mass media.

Tolkien's Cosmogony
Professor Ralph Wood
Intimately familiar with Tolkien's views and imaginative creations, Dr. Wood lays out his cosmogony, i.e., his account of God and the divine powers and the world's creation. This defines the hierarchy of characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Book Review: A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie
Professor Ralph Wood
Professor Ralph Wood reviews the book, A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien's Road to Faërie by Verlyn Flieger. He concludes that, "Flieger is right to contend that Tolkien shared their neo-gnostic critique of our century's decadent and violent materialism. Yet she fails to see that Tolkien also resists what is spurious in the attempt to have God without incarnation or cross or resurrection-in short, to have God without God."

Related Articles and Reviews:

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: Truth, Myth or Both? NEW
Berit Kjos

Kjos calls into question the basis of this collection--that mythology can be true and that Tolkien's mythology is, at base, about truth and reality--in part by heavily critiquing this very feature (first edition published online in 2001). She concludes that, by his use of non-specific imagery presumably based on a Christian worldview and his use of pagan myth and occult elements--which Kjos views as out of bounds for Christians in any manifestation, even as literary device--that Tolkien actually obscures God's truth as revealed in Holy Scripture. "Like the serpent's temptation in the garden, Tolkien's illusions of truth appeal to human feelings and may lead to deception," she warns.

Tolkien's Orthodoxy: A Response to Berit Kjos NEW
Professor Ralph Wood

Litererature and Religion Professor and Tolkienite Wood takes to task Berit Kjos, whose criticism of the entire basis of a biblical view of Lord of the Rings appears here. Dr. Wood accuses Kjos of bad literary criticism and worse biblicism, correlating her viewpoint with some of evangelicalism's worst traits.

Tolkien the Movie NEW
Professor Ralph Wood
Tolkien expert and literature professor Wood, in a review of Fellowship of the Ring (the first of three films based on Tolkien's beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy) credits director Peter Jackson's with exciting special effects, concentration on faces and pacing. But he faults the cinematic adaptation for several important omissions (among them, the transcendent religious element of Tolkien's books) and inaccuracies (the chief Hobbit characters played young actors).

God, man, hobbits & Tolkien
Terry Mattingly
Tolkien saw himself as a subcreator, his created world of Middle Earth a mere copy of a pre-Christian reality. In fact, his avoidance of explicit religious practice sprang from a conscious effort to stay doctrinally true to his Catholic Christian beliefs. The movie inspired by the epic may not be so true to the author's intent, that is, the True Myth Tolkien attempted to create may not resemble the film version.

Tolkien's Impact in Literature and Life
Patrick W. Curles
Tolkien saw himself as a hobbit in every way but in stature.

Get A Myth: Inventing Stories To Live By
Charles Colson
Cultural commentator and author Colson sensed a resurgence of the myth in society when, among other things, the film The Highlander was released. Myth and fantasy, properly used as by Tolkien, Lewis and others, can help us all--especially kids--understand truth and aspire to ideals communicated by story.

Interactive: Virtual sub-creation
Mark J. P. Wolf
Popular computer games Myst and Riven were created in the mystique of and were inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Still Ringing True
Gene Edward Veith
Reading The Lord of the Rings--this time as an adult--remains an overwhelming experience.

Other Sites and Resources:

Official Site for Lord of the Rings Film

Barrow-Downs Discussion Forum

Angels & Elves
Fashioned in the geography and feel of the work itself, this site claims to be "he one and only online guide to the epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, based on the classic books by J.R.R. Tolkien. Our purpose is to provide teens with a healthy resource so that they might unlock the secrets behind the film and books' deeper meaning.... Whether you're a fanatic or a skeptic, you've come to the right place. We'll set your fears at rest concerning the 'magic' in Middle-earth, and open your eyes wide to the epic adventure that has captivated generations for half a century."

Christianity, Paganism and Literature
Steve Hayes
Discusses Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams--the Inklings--and their remythologizing influence during a time when Christians in some circles sought to demythologize Christianity and the Bible. He draws on what he sees as common ground between neo-pagans and Christians that foster popularity in both camps of Tolkien's trilogy, although he fails to explicate this common ground here.

The book of the century
Andrew O'Hehir
Although its popularity is unparalleled, intellectuals dismiss "The Lord of the Rings" as boyish fantasy. Now one scholar defends J.R.R. Tolkien's "true myth" as a modern masterpiece. First of two parts. Philology, the study of languages and their development, is discussed.

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