On December 14th moviegoers across the globe will be rushing to theaters to see the first installment of the The Hobbit trilogy, which is a “prequel” to the very successful Lord of the Rings series. What is most significant is not the billions of dollars that these movies will generate, but that these blockbuster films are based upon works penned by a devout Roman Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien.
In Love with the Eucharist
A philologist by profession, J.R.R. Tolkien lectured at Pembroke College of Oxford during the mid 20th century. His immediate family converted to the Catholic faith when he was young and were persecuted by his Anglican relatives. Raised by a devout mother, Tolkien took to heart his Catholic faith so much so that in a letter to his son he wrote, “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning – and by the Mercy of God have never fallen out again.”
Infused with Catholicism
Tolkien wrote in one of his letters that, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” He goes on to say that even though there are no references to “God” or any form of organized religion, “the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” Therefore, instead of being overtly Catholic in his writings, Tolkien decided to infuse the Catholic faith into his fiction.
Why the Popularity?
Many continue to be baffled by the craze over hobbits, wizards and elves. It seems strange that a fantasy story could captivate the whole world as much as the Lord of the Rings series has. Yet, it does make sense, for the word “catholic” means “universal.” Since Tolkien deliberately infused Catholicism into his works, the fiction he wrote has an everlasting and universal appeal. In the end, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit speak to the hearts of men and women everywhere and show the ultimate victory of good over evil while also capable of being applied to our everyday lives.
Tolkien and the New Evangelization
That is why the increase in popularity of Tolkien’s works could not have come at a better time. Nations everywhere are entrenched in wars, violence and political oppression. Even in our own country we see an increase in persecution of the Catholic Church and a rising disregard of morality. And it is quite possible that God has chosen to use Tolkien as a vital part of the New Evangelization, using his works of fiction as pathways upon the road to Truth.
His realm of Middle-Earth is meant to prepare the way for the Gospel by disposing the hearts of many to the truths that are universal to us all. Tolkien even admitted this motive in a letter, where he relates that in writing his myths his goal was “the elucidation of truth and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments.”
It is no coincidence that the movies are being released during Advent. The Lord is perhaps showing us that Tolkien’s fiction is preparing the way for Christ by introducing society to a Catholic worldview in a veiled and mythological way. In the end, many will be drawn closer to the Truth by diving deeper into the world of hobbits, for at the center of it all is a man who sought to share his love of a God Who hides Himself under the appearance of bread.
To conclude, there is an oft-quoted line by classic author Fyodor Dostoevsky, in which he proclaims, “Beauty will save the world.” This phrase can be adapted to our own times in light of Tolkien and we can ask, “Will hobbits save the world?” I think they will.