Frodo’s Journey: The Hidden Meaning of the Lord of the Rings
© 2015 Joseph Pearce
Noting that Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy is rich with symbolism is rather akin to observing that the Pacific Ocean is big. The description is accurate, but weightless. Frodo’s Journey examines much of its symbolism in detail, chiefly elaborating on Tolkien’s observation that it was, “of course, a deeply religious work”. The religion is present not in the trappings of a Church, as with Asimov’s Foundation series, but in the epic’s core story of grace against evil. Pearce informs his argument by studying the details of the story in the context of Tolkien’s mythic background, drawing from the Simarillion. Although his focus is on Tolkien’s Christian symbolism, Pearce also touches lightly on Tolkien’s love for the language and lore of pre-Norman England.
In the Simarillion, Pearce writes, Tolkien establishes a celestial atmosphere not unlike the Christian one. There is one central deity, the Iluvatar, who creates the Cosmos by conducting music. One heavenly musician refuses to play in harmony, and is struck down to Middle-Earth, but is told that no matter how much discord he attempts to introduce, the grand master will always restore harmony.. Central to the story of the Lord of the Rings is, of course, the Ring, which is far different from the ring of The Hobbit. There it was a mysterious but powerfully helpful object; in the Ring trilogy, it dominates the minds and hearts of those who wear it, and exposes them to attack by dark forces. The ring, writes Pearce, is Sin – not only is it burdensome, but taking it on distances the wearer from the good world which was divinely created, and makes them more visible to the Dark Lord – Sauron, Morgoth’s chief servant. The coup de Grace: according to Return of the King, the ring was destroyed on March 25, the same day that Catholic tradition maintains was the date of the historic crucifixion. The whole story has the stamp of Providence on it, writes Pearce, for Gandalf muses that Bilbo was meant find the Ring, so that it might be destroyed. Although Pearce’s brief work shines a light on many of Tolkien’s other little allusions – the Charlemagne-like crowning of Aragon, the linguistic fun Tolkien has with the “far-seeing” stones that dispirit Sauron’s enemies and have the same etymological structure in Elvish as Television and Fernsehen do in English and German, the Christian connection is the most broadly developed.
This meaning is not nearly as overt as C.S. Lewis’ own Narnian chronicles, in which the Christ-figure Aslan announced to the children that he was known by another name in their world, but it definitely registers. Being as Tolkien was a practicing Catholic, some degree of the inspiration could have been accidental, like the Mary-like veneration of Galadriel, but the use of dates has the stamp of deliberation. For the Fellowship to have started out on December 25 (by Tolkien’s appendix) and triumphed on the same date of the first Good Friday makes clear that Tolkien was paying homage at the very least. While this is my first foray in reading books about the Ring trilogy, it won’t be the last, and I’m eager to see if other authors share or differ from Pearce. I’m sure the trilogy has tremendous depths to plumb!