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  1. #1
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    Meanings and Symbolism in the Lord of the Rings.

    Recently someone tried to say that Tolkien himself didn't put any religious meaning into his works by quoting the following from the forward of the trilogy:

    "for any inner meaning or message, it has in the intentioin of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical."

    However in a letter written Robert Murray on 2 December 1953 he says:

    "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision"


    how is this possible? Tolkien viewed himself as a bystander and just a historian of Middle Earth. He believed the story existed outside himself and came from somewhere else.
    Once he read his own story and understood it, he recognized it as a Catholic work and made it so in the revision. Tolkien believed he didn't make the work a Catholic one, but that the story itself is that way from its very essence.

    Taking one thing Tolkien says out of context without considering all his writings can lead to wild unsubstantiated conclusions about his works.
    For those who would complain that this is a religious discussion, it is not. I am just quoting what Tolkien says about his own writings. It is important that the record be set straight on this point for the sake of the man's memory and what he stood for.

  2. #2
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    No, Tolkien didn't think the story came from somewhere else. He was quite aware that he was the one making it all up - although sometimes unconciously rather than intentionally.

    That much of the world is built based on a Catholic view of the world does not mean that the story has a religious meaning as such.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by ertr View Post
    No, Tolkien didn't think the story came from somewhere else. He was quite aware that he was the one making it all up - although sometimes unconciously rather than intentionally.

    That much of the world is built based on a Catholic view of the world does not mean that the story has a religious meaning as such.
    can you provide a single quote from any of his writings to back this up? Otherwise it is without any support

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by TiberiasKirk View Post
    can you provide a single quote from any of his writings to back this up? Otherwise it is without any support
    "“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

    He loathed other writers who wrote stories with the intention to bash a reader over the head with allegorical exposition.

    Lord of the Rings was not intended to be allegorical, however such did develop over time due to the nature of readers associating symbols and themes to other works. In essence, there is an unconscious reflection of JRR himself as a person (hence Catholic imagery), despite the direct intention to *NOT* make it a religiously preaching piece.

    As elaborated in one of his letters, if it was allegorical in anyway, it would be for an allegory for power.

    "Of course my story is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power." -The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #186

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by OMG_PEANUTS View Post
    "“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

    He loathed other writers who wrote stories with the intention to bash a reader over the head with allegorical exposition.

    Lord of the Rings was not intended to be allegorical, however such did develop over time due to the nature of readers associating symbols and themes to other works. In essence, there is an unconscious reflection of JRR himself as a person (hence Catholic imagery), despite the direct intention to *NOT* make it a religiously preaching piece.

    As elaborated in one of his letters, if it was allegorical in anyway, it would be for an allegory for power.

    "Of course my story is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power." -The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #186
    Exactly.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by OMG_PEANUTS View Post
    "“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

    He loathed other writers who wrote stories with the intention to bash a reader over the head with allegorical exposition.

    Lord of the Rings was not intended to be allegorical, however such did develop over time due to the nature of readers associating symbols and themes to other works. In essence, there is an unconscious reflection of JRR himself as a person (hence Catholic imagery), despite the direct intention to *NOT* make it a religiously preaching piece.
    That still does not make it allegorical in any way, although it certainly has a lot of applicability.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ertr View Post
    That still does not make it allegorical in any way, although it certainly has a lot of applicability.
    No, it doesn't (in terms of writer's intention).

  8. #8
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    My original post didn't claim he was intended the work to be to contain allegory but upon reflection he realized it did and it in upon reflection it's a Catholic work and it's revision he claims that he intended to revise it to reflect Catholic thought through symbolism woven into the story. Not with overt discussion of religion.

  9. #9
    I'm what people colloquially refer to as a "lapsed Catholic". I went to a strict Catholic primary school in the 1960's and had all the religion that a child could reasonably tolerate drummed into me on a daily basis, so despite the fact that I'm no longer practicing, I believe I understand as well as most people what would constitute a "Catholic work", and apart from all the obvious religious symbolism in the Silmarillion, I've never seen the Lord of the Rings as a particularly "Catholic work".

    I guess it comes down to definitions, certainly there is a heavy emphasis throughout the books on what some people, especially in Tolkien's era, would refer to as "Christian values", but isn't that what the rest of us call morals and decency anyway?

    Certainly there isn't a whole lot of organised religion in the books, I mean the elves regularly invoke the spirit of this or that Valar when they're afraid or in danger, and there is the scene in Henneth Annûn where the Rangers of Ithilien face West in reverence before their meal, but there is very little mention of things like churches of temples in Middle-earth. There were plenty of temples to the bad guys in the Second Age, but I'm pretty sure that's not what you're looking for

    To me, apart from the morals which, as I said, are hardly restricted to people of the Catholic persuasion, I can't see where the good professor was going with that particular quote.

    Perhaps you could give us some quotes from the actual Lord of the Rings text to show us what you mean?
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    In a world without God, Jesus, nor priests, it is difficult to claim that The Lord of the Rings could possibly be a Catholic allegory.

    Even then, Catholic themes are pretty hard to pick out. Sanctity of life is the big one: Denethor's suicide is seen as a heinous crime. Gandalf's great speech against Gollums obvious well earned death is another, which is eventually followed by his necessity in sparing Sam from having to throw Frodo bodily into Mount Doom (it is likely as beyond him as throwing the Ring is beyond Frodo).

    The sanctity of marriage is equally certain in Middle Earth, although this isn't made as clear until publication of the Silmarillion* and the unbreakable marriages of the elves.

    * It isn't clear if the Professor or Christopher and his ghost writers cribbed so much and so obviously from various apocryphal works in the Silmarillion. It certainly qualifies as allegory.
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  11. #11
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    The whole deal with Iluvatar and Melkor is almost directly parallel to the pre-creation myths in the monotheist religions.

    If there is a God of the kind described in Christianity, then everything is derivative of God, and the meta-narrative of his creation. At the very least, why would we expect that someone who believes this is the case to not derive his fictional works on the same narrative themes?

    I'm no scholar on the subject, but I think its a safe gamble to say that they have been the most powerful literary themes in western history.

  12. #12
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    Lightbulb

    I recommend Dr. Ralph Wood's work on the subject, such lectures as this



    as well as his published material.

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Constrictions View Post
    The whole deal with Iluvatar and Melkor is almost directly parallel to the pre-creation myths in the monotheist religions.

    If there is a God of the kind described in Christianity, then everything is derivative of God, and the meta-narrative of his creation. At the very least, why would we expect that someone who believes this is the case to not derive his fictional works on the same narrative themes?

    I'm no scholar on the subject, but I think its a safe gamble to say that they have been the most powerful literary themes in western history.
    I agree with you completely.
    Tolkien himself admitted that his work is a Catholic one and therefore has many themes that are consistent with his faith.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Constrictions View Post
    The whole deal with Iluvatar and Melkor is almost directly parallel to the pre-creation myths in the monotheist religions.

    If there is a God of the kind described in Christianity, then everything is derivative of God, and the meta-narrative of his creation. At the very least, why would we expect that someone who believes this is the case to not derive his fictional works on the same narrative themes?

    I'm no scholar on the subject, but I think its a safe gamble to say that they have been the most powerful literary themes in western history.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the Silmarillion is full of parallels with the Christian Bible, particularly the creation myth, but the original poster (and by extension, Tolkien) were talking specifically about the Lord of the Rings. It's important to remember that at the time Tolkien wrote that letter (and right up to his death in fact), the Silmarillion had not been published, so almost everyone who read the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit were completely oblivious to those myths.

    My contention is that there is very little in the narrative which can be said to be specifically about or concerning religion, certainly not organised religion anyway. As I said in my earlier post, and you allude to above, there is plenty of what people in the Western World often refer to as Christian values, but to those of us who are not religiously inclined, those values are seen simply as common decency.

    I'm not about to second guess Tolkien, and I have no doubt at all that he meant what he said about the book being a Catholic work, but I honestly can find very little, apart from the Christian values mentioned above, to mark it as such.

    I repeat my request from my earlier post, if either the original poster, or anyone else for that matter, can point to some passages from the Lord of the Rings which make it stand out as a Catholic work (morals aside), them please quote them here, I'm genuinely interested in hearing about it.
    “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Urwendil View Post
    I recommend Dr. Ralph Wood's work on the subject, such lectures as this



    as well as his published material.
    That is a nice video, I do recommend people watch it as it is quite illuminating

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfhelm View Post
    I repeat my request from my earlier post, if either the original poster, or anyone else for that matter, can point to some passages from the Lord of the Rings which make it stand out as a Catholic work (morals aside), them please quote them here, I'm genuinely interested in hearing about it.
    It's now been two full weeks since the original poster posed this interesting conundrum, and there have been several replies, but no one yet has really attempted to give any examples from the original text of the Lord of the Rings as to why Tolkien would have considered his master work to have been "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work", as he put it.

    I've asked the original poster, twice now, if he could give some examples, from the original narrative, as to what exactly might define it as such. So far there has been nothing but silence. I hasten to add that I'm genuinely intrigued by the question, and have been since I first read that quote from Tolkien many years ago.
    “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
    - Will Rogers

 

 

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