J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings ranks near the top of almost every “favorite book” or “book of the century” list. Yet few readers know that Tolkien was a devout Catholic who infused his Middle-earth stories with Catholic themes and symbolism. In fact, the author stated, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

In this episode, Fr. Blake and Brandon discuss these Catholic features, including Providence, the sacramentality of Middle-earth, three Christ figures, the Marian dimension, the philosophy of evil, and the eventual victory of goodness and beauty.

Links

Quotes about Lord of the Rings

“This book is like lightning from a clear sky. . . a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. They will know that this is good news, good beyond hope. To complete their happiness one need only add that it promises to be gloriously long. . . As we read we find ourselves sharing their burden; when we have finished, we return to our own life not relaxed but fortified.”

C.S. Lewis on “The Fellowship of the Ring

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.”

J.R.R. Tolkien on the Eucharist

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and symbolism.”

J.R.R. Tolkien on “The Lord of the Rings”

“…there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

Gandalf explaining to Frodo the significance of the evil Ring being discovered by his uncle Bilbo, a humble hobbit

“I think it is true that I owe much of this character (Galadriel) to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary. . . [On Mary] all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded.”

J.R.R. Tolkien on the Virgin Mary

“Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western seas!
O light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!…
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western seas.”

Elves singing hymn to Elbereth (Marian figure in “Lord of the Rings”

“[Lembas] had a virtue without which [Frodo and Sam] would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”

Tolkien’s description of lembas, the waybread of the Elves, given to Fellowship in Lothlórien

“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

Prophecy about the true king of Gondor (Aragorn)

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Sam’s vision of beauty in “The Return of the King”

18 comments

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  • Brandon, I just got your email on The Lord of the Rings podcast you have made with your friend Father Blake. Thank you both for these podcasts. They are very informative in a relaxed setting. I especially enjoy watching the deep friendship between you.

  • Such a great analogy. Just wanted to share I saw a theatrical performance of the Hobbit here in Toronto. Was awesome!! Definitely thankful for you both, will check out the resources and now have to re read the book. Thanks Brandon and Fr. Blake. 😀

  • It’s sad to admit, but I’ve never been able to read anything Tolkien wrote without falling asleep (I’ve tried The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and his essay on Beowulf). I think it must have something to do with his writing style because I’ve really enjoyed adaptations and discussion about Tolkien’s writings even though I’ve never been able to finish them myself.

    That said, you’ve convinced me to try again. It’s been about a decade since I last tried so hopefully things go better for me this time lol.

  • I love the Burrowshire podcast. I learn more from Brandon and Fr. Blake than I did attending Catholic school. They are a joy to listen to. 2 happy guys explaining our faith in a way that is not only interesting but you walk away feeling better and smarter.

    P.S. Now I have to read Lord of the Rings

  • Another great episode, and about my favorite book no less! But it was too short — you could do a whole series about LotR and Tolkien, as far as I’m concerned. Thank you for all the links — what a gift! God bless both of you.

  • Splendid!!! I pulled the car over when I saw that you released this podcast because I couldn’t contain my excitement. I love these books but you guys make me love them even more. And your deep love for books and literature in general is simply contagious. You drive a desire in me to to want to read more and more because it’s where I find that I meet and understand Christ and life in the clearest ways. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. Absolutely fascinating! You guys speak to my heart!

  • Loved this podcast. I read Silmarillion some years ago and now want to read it again. There are so many rich and deep fictional authors who embed some great Catholic theology in their writings. Thank you both for all you do!!

  • Wow! I’ve read Lotr many times since I was 14, but many years have gone by since last time I read it. After listening to your podcast I feel super excited to return to middle-earth once again! What a blessing to listen to you guys.

  • I very much enjoy your Podcast. I loved The Lord of the Rings series and have watched it a number of times. I guess it is time to dive into the books. God bless you.

  • Thank you for articulating beautifully how Tolkien subtly imbued the LOTR with Catholic themes and virtues, forgoing overtly allegorical figures. Some people quote his dislike for allegory as evidence that he wasn’t influenced by his faith, and that simply isn’t the case.

    I wish that you at least briefly discussed Faramir. Tolkien has mentioned that out of everyone in the LOTR, he identified himself most with Faramir. I’m one of those people who feel that the movies slightly shortchanged his character. They didn’t even include his great quote (“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”), which eloquently touches on the just war theory in an epic story rich with battles. Furthermore, he remained faithful to the common good and as steward, graciously stepped aside for the king. In “The Eternal Galilean,” Fulton Sheen wrote, “Humility, which is common to the simple [Shepherds] and the wise [Wise Men], is the condition of discovering Wisdom.” …and to me, that sentiment captures the essences of Sam and Faramir as saint-like characters in the LOTR.

    I greatly enjoy your podcasts, and I appreciate how fun, faithful, and informative they are… especially coming from fellow Millennials! Thank you, and please keep them coming!

  • I love The Lord of the Rings and I love Burrowshire podcast. This was an excellent show on why LOTR remains one of the greatest stories of this modern era. What are your takes about Amazon creating an original series that covers the time period of pre LOTR. Could we hope they keep the integrity of Tolkien’s original work?

  • Thanks for mentioning one of my favorite scenes, the redemption of Boromir (so beautifully depicted by Sean Bean in the movie). I’ve read LOTR many times, not time for another reread!

  • So based on this podcast I bought the extended version of all three movies and we watched an hour each Sunday with my older three children for our family “Sunday night movie.” They loved it, begged to watch more each week. It was so much fun, but we just finished the last movie and are not sure what we are going to do! I think The chosen series is the next up, but seriously how do you top LOTR night?!?!

    Thank you guys!!!

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