J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” has been a beloved book series, and now movie series, for many years. Its intricate storytelling, character development, linguistic construction and world building are renown world-wide, and the film adaptations have pushed the cinema industry forward in breakthrough cases of special effects and realism. While the series’ symbolism is not as blatantly Biblical compared to such series as C.S Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Tolkien’s Middle Earth Trilogy has been widely read and understood to embody the story of the Bible.
Dr. Mario Melendez, Doctor of Biblical Interpretations and Professor of Old Testament at OBU – who has previously taught a class on Biblical interpretations of “The Lord of the Rings” – is hoping to offer a class on this very topic at OBU in coming years, but offered a bit of insight into his curriculum and research into how “The Lord of the Rings” portrays the Biblical story.
Dr. Melendez described the relevance of the Bible to “The Lord of the Rings” by explaining some of the symbolism that Tolkien uses to portray the Biblical narrative compared to his contemporary, C.S Lewis and his “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Dr. Melendez said both men “were literature professors who desired to find a way to tell the story of scripture in a captivating manner. When Narnia came out, Tolkien thought that it was a little too on the nose. After all, Aslan [the lion] is the Lion of Judah [Jesus]. Thus, Tolkien wrote ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and presented a story with much more depth, and complication for the story of scripture is quite complicated too.”
According to Dr. Melendez, while C.S Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ has a representative of the believer (Lucy), the traitor redeemed (Edmund) and Jesus our savior (Aslan), Tolkien’s trilogy has many more “characters portray[ing] a human struggle with sin, a type of Satan and a type of messiah.” Dr. Melendez elaborated on such characters.
“Elves equal Angels, Orcs equal fallen angels, Stuarts equal earthly kings like Herod, Aragon equals Christ, The Ring equals the greatest sin power like God, Gandalf the Grey equals Moses, [and] Gandalf the white equals John the Baptist,” Melendez said.
To illustrate the difference in the complexity of characters between “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings,” Dr. Melendez’s described the symbolism of his favorite character: Boromir.
Dr. Melendez explained the importance of this character by saying, “he is called to join the fellowship of the ring and has no clue who Aragon is at first. Thus, Boromir joined the fellowship for his own glory. He was indeed a good earthly leader and fighter. Once Boromir realizes who Aragon is, he is astonished and quickly yields to Aragon’s leadership and dies helping protect the hobbits who were helping win the ultimate fight against sin.”
This shows a more complex reaction to Christ that a reader could identify with as opposed to C.S Lewis’ simpler molds of ‘traitor redeemed’ or ‘believer.’
Dr. Melendez said “in truth, as an actual fighter, I relate to Boromir because many things I’ve done in my life were for my own glory. Inevitably I realized Christ is in these actions and His right to take control and the glory. I just hope that when I die, I’ll have such a beautiful response to my king [as Boromir had].
“Give me my sword (clasping it to his chest) …. I would have followed you. My brother. My captain. My king.””
The wide variety of characters in Lord of the Rings brings an increasingly inclusive representation of the human mind and attitude toward the Gospel, and in the case of Boromir, describes the correct way a like-minded reader should submit to Christ as Lord.
Although the characters in Tolkien’s trilogy are greatly varied and complex, they all face one major obstacle. Dr. Melendez said that he greatly loves to investigate the hamartiology (study of sin) in “The Lord of the Rings” and how it can help us understand the reality of sin as portrayed in the Bible.
One example of this is when the characters Gandalf and Frodo talk about the creature Gollum who had been twisted by the One Ring of Power which symbolized sin.
“Sméagol’s life is a sad story. Yes, Sméagol he was once called. Before the Ring found him… before it drove him mad,” Gandalf said. Frodo responded, “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance!”
To which Gandalf retorted, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?
Dr. Melendez explained how this kind of mercy is shown through the Gospel. “We all like Gollum can quickly fall prey to sin and deserve death, but grace shown to us by Christ permits us to live on and ultimately know liberation from sin,” Melendez said
By comparing the portrayal of the Biblical narrative by Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” to C.S Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Dr. Melendez shows how Tolkien creates a much more comprehensive group of characters that are meant to be both relatable and prescriptive to the readers in their response to the Gospel and to Jesus as Savior.
Dr. Melendez encourages further reading on this topic to students of all majors and religious opinion by looked at books such as Sarah Arthur’s “Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through The Lord of the Rings,” hoopla digital’s “Finding God in The Lord of the Rings” and Jim Ware’s “Finding God in The Hobbit.”