A Christian Perspective on the Lord of the Rings

El Señor de los Anillos lecturaHere is an interesting look at the Lord of the Rings books from a Christian perspective:

https://pilgrimsprogressrevisted.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/a-bestseller-in-vanity-fair-the-lord-of-the-rings-by-j-r-r-tolkien/

Personally, I do not have an issue with reading certain literature written by non-Christians as long as one can read with discernment.  I tend to take a “plunder the Egyptians” approach to things produced by the unbelieving world.  The above review provides insight into the Lord of the Rings that helps with that plundering.

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10 thoughts on “A Christian Perspective on the Lord of the Rings”

  1. Meg, yesterday I went to a website that maintained the view that fantasy lit is really an entranceway or invitation to hell. All I know is that to walk the narrow way, I had to leave my writing and reading enjoyment of this kind of work behind. It’s back there somewhere. May God defend me! Because as you probably know there are many enemies that appear/reappear along this way and are pretty potent.

    I’ve never thought of plundering the Egyptians, probably because I was one. Not really sure what I think of this idea. For me it was escaping or being sucked into it forever.

    My other keen reading interest was mystery fiction/movies, especially Christie, Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Poe. I’ve written a few mystery stories but they flopped. My affinity was for fairy tales. After leaving this, I discovered that my sort of imaginary hero Louis Le Grand, the Sun King, whose era inspired a lot of fairytale, was an enemy of the Church and revoked the Edict of Nantes under the advice of his Jesuit confessor, as an act of atonement for Louis’s own sins.

    Oh, I’ve thought about all of these things a lot. Maybe I will write about my love of mysteries and why I watch them very sparingly (freedom but no edification usually).

    Hope you’re very well!

    Maria

    1. I generally don’t watch a lot of movies as I prefer books when I am well enough to read them. I am just wary of the view that all fiction or fantasy is evil in and of itself because I believe that stories can be a way of expressing and exploring truth (cf Jesus’s parables). I’m talking literature here and not mere popular fiction, though — books that take part in the “Great Conversation” and have “something underneath” them, as some would say.

      While I don’t think the LOTR is reflective of a Christian society, I still think the books contain much food for thought, such as when Frodo is dismayed at his situation and says, “I wish the ring had never come to me…I wish none of this had happened…” and Galdalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” That, to me, is true and touches on the human condition. I think a good many people in Nazi Germany must have felt the same way.

      Or take The Hunger Games. That also is written by a Catholic and is not reflective of a Christian worldview. Yet, the books contain an interesting commentary on the state of modern society, sort of like how Gulliver’s Travels does. Dystopian fiction also acts as a kind of warning about the depths of human depravity — when we try to remove God from the picture and try to build the perfect society, it always becomes a horror show. We should learn from that mistake but unfortunately we never do.

      As for fairy tales, there is a huge debate amongst homeschoolers on their use. I tend to lean toward the view that fairy tales help to awaken a child’s moral imagination because I know they did that for me. I’ve actually found that a lot of fairy tales are reflective of a Christian worldview and can easily be related to Bible verses. For instance, the Three LIttle Pigs can be used as an illustration of Proverbs 22:3/27:12. For consideration, here is a link to a discussion of fairy tales from one homeschooling resource that I frequently take ideas from:
      Ambleside Online Christians, Charlotte Mason, and Fairy Tales.

      All that said, I do think each person has to know what is good for him or herself. If I found that reading too much of a certain type of book was negatively affecting my thinking and drawing me away from God, I would definitely stop reading such books or at least severely limit my exposure to them (If your right hand causes you to sin and all). Also, I do discard any book that contains swearing or other objectionable material so I am not advocating rushing out and reading anything and everything. I once read a trilogy because a family member bought it for me. Here is the one good thing I could take from it: Gamekeepers of Ideas.

      As for mysteries, I was a Nancy Drew nut when I was younger!

      1. Meg, I have to stand with what I’ve written about Tolkien’s work because of not wanting to go off onto any byways again but to continue determinedly walking the narrow way that leads to life. It’s crucial and as you get older I pray you will see this.

        Please take a second look at Wendi’s advice at Ambleside. Her tone is derisive and mocking toward Christian literature, and gives only two things to choose from for your children’s learning: fine non-Christian lit or poor Christian lit.

        “Some Christians on the other hand, are puzzled by these selections, because they have learned to consider Elsie Dinsmore as the standard for ‘fine Christian literature.’ (smile) I believe that we need fine literature for Christians, rather than fine Christian literature. The former places the emphasis where it belongs, on the quality of the writing. The second leaves us dependent upon the morals the author tacks on to the story.”

        If I had children to raise, I wouldn’t go to Wendi for ideas to help with their education. Her approach is unBiblical. I found nothing helpful in her words. Her reasoning is Jesuitical and similar to speeches given by wayward nominal Christians whom Christian of Pilgrim’s Progress encounters on the narrow way – they are from the broad way. Look at this:

        “Perhaps we are so made that the heroic which is all heroic, the good which is all virtuous, palls upon us…”

        Essentially, Wendi is saying that we must eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to judge and enjoy what is good. And she probably has no idea that this is her mindset.

        “Miss Mason thought that the children should be introduced to whole books, to living books, to the thoughts and ideas of other minds and cultures, and that they should be introduced and allowed to deal with the material themselves, without the middle man of a teacher or a textbook telling them what to think. She believed the children were able to deal with books on their own, making judgments and drawing conclusions for themselves.”

        Miss Mason was discouraging parents/teachers from following this Biblical counsel:

        Deuteronomy 6

        “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: 5 and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7 and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”

        Wendi said this also:

        “…They [children at the right stage of life] are given wholesome food and parents let the body’s natural, God-given digestive properties take care of the digestion and nutrient extraction.

        “Just so with reading material, Miss Mason thought that real books were food for the mind. Stories told with vigor and imagination were the proper mind food for children–not distilled moral tales, bereft of any spark of life. The children would learn to deal with literature by being given literature–suitable to their age, and at times judiciously edited–but still literature. Given the proper food, she felt the child’s mind would act on it in the proper way, and the more of that proper food, the better the child’s mind would be able to deal with stronger meat.”

        This way of thinking is based upon the view that people (children) are basically good and when called upon will exercise discernment, with practice. But the Bible teaches that people are morally incapable, and before Christ saves them, dead in trespasses and sins. Children need to be led to Christ and nurtured in His Word, not left to themselves. There is Christian literature out there, well written and true (though flawed as all human endeavors are).

        I ask you as a student of the Bible and of literature, remember Pilgrim’s Progress and answer this: are we raising our children to abide in the City of Destruction and vacation in Vanity Fair, or to go on single-heartedly toward the Celestial City?

        Maria

      2. Maria, have you read any of the Elsie Dinsmore books? I would hardly consider them great literature, although we do have them for our children to read. In fact, I see very little quality Christian “literature” being produced today (as opposed to “fiction” that is mostly filled with unbiblical theology).

        I’m not sure how familiar you are with Charlotte Mason, but I’m not sure from your comment that you understand what some of the quotes of her materials were about. She advocated using real living books like Pilgrim’s Progress rather than dry boring textbooks to teach kids from. A lot of the comments are directed at the kind of Victorian morality tales that used to be given to kids that were dry and overly preachy. I actually have the book Christy’s Old Organ, and while it has its place, I would never give it to my children with the understanding that this is the type of quality literature Christians should be producing.

        I can assure you that Charlotte Mason believed in original sin and did not believe that children are inherently good. The comments on the posted article need to be read in reference to the rest of her philosophy, which is classically Christian in nature. Charlotte Mason lived over 100 years ago, so it is easy for modern readers to misconstrue some of her statements. She absolutely believed in strong religious instruction for children, which is something all Christians should believe in. Don’t confuse her comments about teaching literature with her overall worldview. A look at how she used the technique of narration might shed light on what she means by letting children grapple with the text on their own instead of telling them what to think from the outset. The point is about how to train a child’s mind to think and not just wait to be spoonfed like they do in the public schools.

        I was in no way trying to convince you to read the LOTR again. I was only pointing out that unbelievers can hit on truths even though they are unbelievers (common grace). Even the Apostle Paul quoted from a poem to Zeus in the Bible (Acts 17:28) because it reflected a truth he wanted to utilize in his argument. And even the Puritans’ Home School Curriculum, which is the strictest program I have found for reformed homeschooling, and which I also draw from, uses excerpts of all kinds of pagan works in its literature courses — all with the express purpose of inculcating a Biblical worldview and contrasting that view with humanism. True, we don’t want to read such works to the point of obsession and to the detriment of our thought lives, but we can also engage with them from a Biblical perspective and learn things by so doing. I fail to see how doing that means one is living in Vanity Fair. In fact, a teacher from the Christian school that my church operates once said that he could teach using any materials — even only government approved ones — because the object of the lesson would be to take what is said and subject it to the word of God. Every thought captive.

        I think the issue comes down to whether one takes more of a fundamentalist or a reformed approach to the world. The fundamentalist approach is to separate and withdraw, which in this society leaves less and less of a sphere for a Christian to operate in. The reformed approach engages with the culture and seeks to transform it to be more Christlike. I have a lot of posts on reformed education on my homeschooling blog that speak to this because reformed education very much uses the concept of antithesis. Accordingly, I do not teach my children only creationism as some homeschoolers do. I also teach them evolution and intelligent design and show them how each theory does and does not match up to what God says in his word. Truth can withstand scrutiny. So in my house, we don’t run screaming from a book just because it mentions “millions of years.” We either alter the book or talk about why certain parts of it aren’t true. And my older children read books like “Darwin’s Black Box” when they were still homeschooling. None of them have become ardent evolutionists by being exposed to what evolutionists believe.

        Now I’m a bit curious about your recommendation of Pilgrim’s Progress. That would seem to indicate that you don’t believe that fiction in and of itself is inherently sinful. That was my earlier point: if someone feels that a certain book or genre of book is harmful for their spiritual life, then they should avoid it. However, someone else might not have the same spiritual difficulties with the same material. I simply don’t want to lay down a blanket law where the Bible does not do so, absent, of course, clearly sinful materials like pornography.

        At the same time, I would not go so far as to say that Christians can only read books that overtly or covertly share the gospel. Can we not read books like Swiss Family Robinson, which is full of God-honoring ideas but isn’t meant to be a gospel tract? Or what about Black Beauty, which teaches the evil of animal cruelty and also upholds the keeping of the Lord’s Day? Or Heidi, which says some beautiful things about prayer? Those are the types of books I use in my homeschool and I see nothing wrong with them. And yes, when my children are older, they may read the LOTR, at which point we would analyze the books for how they measure up to what the Bible says. All things for Christ and for His glory.

      3. Meg, I think we would understand each other better in person than online. Someday we will meet in person. In writing about Tolkien as I did, my desire was to show that his work is not Christian and that he shouldn’t be considered Christian and enjoyed as if he is. He was an enemy of truth. To an extent I achieved what I hoped to do. I wish we hadn’t gotten into other things. I enjoy your blog because of finding a like-minded blogger in terms of our understanding of Biblical prophecy as it relates to Roman Catholicism and historicism, but the page over at the link you sent me to appalled me. (I realize that this is only one resource you use.) I guess I would rather be a fundamentalist and bear the onus of this than not. I come from a completely Catholic family, by the way, and my Mother who loved to read and read literature read and enjoyed Elsie Dinsmore so much.

        Of course literature matters but I’m inclined to think that in this world, which we are told not to love, that nearly all of it either belongs to Vanity Fair or is a tremendous distraction on the narrow way. This is not a world we are intended to remain in, and we can’t behave as if it is. This doesn’t mean I don’t read it or watch it. I guess I just don’t want to be watching an Agathie Christie or reading Hunger Games when the Lord returns at the time we don’t expect.

        Maria

      4. Maria, I totally agree that conversation works better in person! I apologize if I haven’t come across as gracious. I am very ill at the moment but that’s no excuse.

        And I totally agree with your assessment of Tolkien and how his work should be treated. That’s why I linked to your post because I appreciate the many insights in it. I am also not a C.S. Lewis fan for similar reasons.

        I will have to give Elsie Dinsmore another look. It is recommended by the Robinson Curriculum (another curriculum I draw from) but mostly as optional reading. I will probably have to keep it that way, though, because I don’t think my 3 youngest boys would enjoy those books.

        I was just wary of implying that it would be a sin to even read any of Tolkien’s work. If that were the case, many Christian parents would be unable to homeschool their children depending on the laws of their state because most homeschooling curriculum uses the LOTR at some point. I am blessed to live in a place where I have a lot of flexibility in what my children study, but many parents aren’t so fortunate.

        I also totally agree that we don’t want to be distracted or stuck in Vanity Fair. One of my great frustrations in struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum is that it puts me in a state where I cannot handle doing much of substance. I’m talking about where even a “worldly” TV show on YouTube is too much for me much of the time right now. A small section of the Bible is the most I can handle reading on many days. I truly feel like I am trapped in Vanity Fair at this moment, though I am not there willingly. As I regain my strength, you can bet I’ll be away from “worldly” things or “fluff” as fast as I can be. I generally don’t watch much TV or movies, so I am very very bored at the moment. I am trying to get back into blogging as a way to do something more productive and rebuild my strength and energy.

        In any case, I love your blog and the insights you put on it. I don’t come from a Catholic background, but I was raised as an Anglican, which is pretty close in many ways. I will have to rely more on your posts on Catholicism since you have an insider’s view!

  2. Dear Meg, you are more than kind. And I believe that how you feel is an excuse for not writing exactly what you’d write when you’re in better health. But I can be hard to deal with. May the Lord give you the strength for the last of your ordeal in this pregnancy, and wisdom for all of your life.
    You’re right, reading these kinds of things isn’t sin. We do have freedom – didn’t the apostle Paul say that we have freedom but that not all things are edifying? I was so involved in those things, so out of God’s will with them for a while, that I am adamant. Guess He wants me that way or it wouldn’t be so. It is late, hope you can understand this. Will try to be worthy of Him, that you will find something helpful at my blog.
    God bless you!
    Maria
    P.S. Have you read Rev. David Silversides booklet transcribed from his sermon, “The Antichrist: A Biblical and Confessional View”? If you are the one who recommended it, you’re allowed to laugh at me. It is also on audio here:
    http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?m=t&s=1170494544

    1. Dear Maria,

      I don’t remember if I’ve read the booklet or not but I’m sure I’ve listened to the sermon before. I shall have to listen to it again. Rev. Silversides makes excellent sermons!

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