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Christian Symbolism in LOTR
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arphen
The Shire


Jul 22 2008, 12:16am

Post #1 of 125 (996 views)
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Christian Symbolism in LOTR Can't Post

Hey!
Help me build on this. I am looking for parallels in the characters (quotes or actions) of the Bible and of LOTR that Tolkien (as a devout Catholic) might have written about.

Obviously, Aragorn/Jesus.
Gandalf as an angel.
Saruman as a fallen angel of Satan/Sauron

Thanks and let's have some fun with this!

Mín Brannon cuia!


ShadoFaxs
Rivendell

Jul 22 2008, 2:23am

Post #2 of 125 (464 views)
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Oh dear...JRRT generally... [In reply to] Can't Post

...disdained obvious symbolism in his writings, chhristian or otherwise, and was critical of fellow inkling C S Lewis for his christian allegory in the Narnia books. Tolkien wouldn't have been seeking anything so obvious as to parallel characters in LOTR with biblical counterparts. You could as well cite heroes and tales of the Norse and Icelandic sagas. Archetypes of good and evil will tend to be similar but there would be nothing so direct as Aragorn as Jesus. I see as many or more parallels to the principals of the classic quest stories that appear within myths worldwide. Certainly the angelic aspect of the beings Middle Earth called "wizzards" (the Istari) is obvious, although I wouldn't like to carry that too far.

This isn't to say LOTR was not informed by Tolkien's Catholicism. It was, profoundly. But subtlely.

This will have to be very very brief, since I have actual work to finish tonight. I'm sure others will chime in.

My opinion is that LOTR was influenced by Tolkien's Catholic faith, but mainly in terms of ideas and philosphy rather than in specific characterisations. Besides being deeply moral, there are several underlying ideas in LOTR that are core Catholic values - the importance of free will and choice, the possibility of redemption, self-sacrifice, and not giving into despair. *This last was especially prominent in the the character arcs of Boromir and Denethor).

This is a fascinating subject, that has garnered much past discussion in the Reading Room. I'm sure some kindly soul will provide us a link ere long. Whole bookshave been written on the subject. It is a fertile field for discussion, but not in a simplistic, reductionist way.


(This post was edited by ShadoFaxs on Jul 22 2008, 2:29am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 2:46am

Post #3 of 125 (454 views)
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Tolkien: "Gandalf is an angel". [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Certainly the angelic aspect of the beings Middle-earth called "wizards" (the Istari) is obvious, although I wouldn't like to carry that too far.


Tolkien was explicit on Gandalf's nature in a note on a draft of LotR dating from the early 1940s. And after LotR was published, he wrote in a letter that the events at the Cracks of Doom could be interpreted in light of the Lord's Prayer. But you're right: the finished text is never so clear on these or any other connections.

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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 2:47am

Post #4 of 125 (447 views)
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"Obviously, Aragorn/Jesus." [In reply to] Can't Post

Could you elaborate on what is not at all obvious to many readers?

Also, regarding "Satan/Sauron", what about Sauron's boss, Morgoth?

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We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

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weaver
Half-elven

Jul 22 2008, 2:53am

Post #5 of 125 (426 views)
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see link inside... [In reply to] Can't Post

Here's a link to a theologian's review of FOTR (book).

http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/...gs_fellowship_01.htm

To me, the interesting thing about LOTR is how many different things people find in it -- feminism, medievalism, Catholicism, even racism -- depending on what particular lens you look through. I rather think he wrote a universal tale, given how many peoples and cultures have embraced it. But if you want to look at LOTR, as well as a lot of books and films, through a very Biblically based lens, the source I linked has that kind of perspective.

I think you are new(er) so I'll also say welcome to TORn! You'll find find lots of viewpoints on Tolkien around here to explore.

Weaver



Elizabeth
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 7:19am

Post #6 of 125 (415 views)
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You won't find them... [In reply to] Can't Post

...at least, not on the level of Aslan/Jesus in the Narnia tales. As N. E. Brigand pointed out, Tolkien abhorred this kind of facile, literal symbolism. There are Christ-like features not only in Aragorn, but also in Frodo (an innocent sacrificed), and even Gandalf. But nothing at all obvious. He studiously avoided that kind of obvious allegory because his primary purpose was to tell a good story, and as soon as you become unable to see the characters because you're distracted by "what they represent" the storytelling is lost.

In the Silmarillion, Tolkien presented an entire mythology for Middle Earth, including a creation story, Eru/God, the Valar ('gods', lower-case), angels, saints, etc., but all done so subtly that if you weren't looking carefully you wouldn't see the relationships.





Sunset, July 3, 2008

Elizabeth is the TORnsib formerly known as 'erather'


hatster
Rohan


Jul 22 2008, 10:30am

Post #7 of 125 (399 views)
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Here is a pretty heavy discussion from the old boards [In reply to] Can't Post

So much depends on how you define "symbolism" and "allegory." Here is a discussion on the old discussion boards that I found particularly useful. Note that the thread responses are backwards--the oldest responses are at the bottom of the thread. You'll find some discussion of both symbolism and allegory

http://archives.theonering.net/...EBBF5C000012CEF.html


In the end I think the best description of Tolkien's idea of symbolism and allegory is best encapsulated in this quote:

Quote

In a larger sense, it is I suppose impossible to write any 'story' that is not allegorical in proportion as it 'comes to life'; since each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.


So, my sense of it is that because of Tolkien's religious belief, he understands all of us as playing out our role in that larger Christian story that is always a smaller, less complete version of the original (there are some other quotes that support that thinking) and thus, any story that rings "true" is in some way allegorical, but on in a second hand sort of way.

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.


a.s.
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 11:55am

Post #8 of 125 (390 views)
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some links [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree that Tolkien's Catholicism influenced his writing, quite profoundly, but disagree strongly that there is any kind of one-to-one allegorical "stand in" for either the Christian story itself or any of the characters. Elbereth is not the Virgin Mary, for instance, not in any kind of one-to-one correspondence; but the symbolism used for her and the hymns sung to her were strongly patterned on Marian themes.

We once had an interesting discussion in the RR about "What if Tolkien Wasn't a Catholic?", found here.

You might be interested in Stratford Caldecott's "Lord and Lady of the Rings", found here.

Or Ralph Wood's "Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: A Christian Classic Revisited", found here.

There is an entire web site called "Mythic Truth" devoted to a Catholic's interpretation (vs. a "Catholic interpretation") of Tolkien, found here. I haven't read all of the articles there, and would disagree with viewing the entire work as "Catholic" or even Christian in theme by intent (as opposed to simply the viewpoint of the writer of the story, who was a Catholic Christian and saw the workings of the universe from that perspective).

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Pooh began to feel a little more comfortable, because when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.


orcbane
Gondor


Jul 22 2008, 12:53pm

Post #9 of 125 (394 views)
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Tolkien's view [In reply to] Can't Post

Reading his (Tolkien's) letters I see his attitude towards Christian symbolisim shifting around, under the double influence of readers/critics/fans and his own strong personality.

He starts, I think as a idealistic kid, with a inflated view (like a lot of kids) of his own purpose. I can not flesh out what he thought this purpose was, but a religious element is present, although not dominant.

By the time of the writing of LOTR, he seems to be decidedly against any religious meaning to his stories, and wants them to be, just what they are, his fantasy stories.

Later, under a kind of constant assault of fans for more, and for meaning, he returns a little (at times) to his original ideas about what he has done, perhaps being in fact guided to some degree and that there was more religious meaning then he had first realized. He usually shifted back to his view it was just fantasy, and that was the dominant idea he held. But it is interesting that he would even consider a possibility of 'inspiration' to his writings.



An Ent juggling spikey things ?


weaver
Half-elven

Jul 22 2008, 12:57pm

Post #10 of 125 (382 views)
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loved that old RR link and the Buddhist nun too! [In reply to] Can't Post

That entire discussion was fascinating -- the RR at its finest.

And buried in there was this excerpt:

Found in local newspaper ... from an interview with Buddhist nun, the venerable Yeshe Chodron:
“Books are wonderful but I do think there comes a point when you have to seek a living tradition – go out into the world. Books remind you to live your ideals in the world so the world becomes a better story, not a violent nightmarish one. Life becomes a story too, so make your own life an inspiring epic.
I don’t read many non-Buddhist books. It’s not exactly kosher to see a Buddhist reading Mills & Boon. Occasionally I indulge myself and re-read Lord of the Rings but there are so many levels to that book. The Ring is like the Ego and whoever has it will be miserable. Frodo is like the Every-Person, struggling to dissolve the great burden of delusion. Gandalf is the Guru – the spiritual guide. Aragorn is like the Bodhisattva, the being who is selfless and noble and strives for the good of all beings. Galadriel is like Dakini – the female wisdom being – part spiritual guide, part muse.”


Weaver



Morthoron
Gondor


Jul 22 2008, 2:02pm

Post #11 of 125 (385 views)
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Quite true... [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that to rely on Tolkien's letters to definitively single out the Christian symbolism in the books is a trap, because Tolkien did indeed like to 'over-expound' on certain issues given whatever audience with whom he was having a dialogue. That is not to say that Catholicism did not play a profound part in his literature, on the contrary, it did; however, when he later wrote that ithe symbolism was 'subsumed' in the works, at first unconsciously and only later evident, I would venture a guess that, given Tolkien's penchant for critical analysis and re-editing of his own works, such symbolism was only evident after the works were completed, and not necessarily during the writing process (or at least, a piece of the puzzle and not the puzzle itself). This is particularly true considering Tolkien's avowed dislike for allegory.

Really, Tolkien was a synthesizer, and his mythology integrates a vast compendium of material he loved and studied carefully. The masterful combination of all elements, including, but not exclusive to Catholic Doctrine, is what makes his sprawling epic such a masterpiece. Tolkien's work is as much a treatise on philology as it is a reiteration of Icelandic Eddas and Sagas, the Finnish Kalevala, Norse and Germanic folklore and biblical traditions; hence, the mythos Tolkien created appeals to a much wider audience than if it were constrained to Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis pun intended). Such a synthesis is readily discernible in the Akallabêth which has elements of the biblical flood and Plato's Atlantis (or in Tolkien's clever twist of the tongue, Atalantë). In addition, there is a scrupulous disregard or minimalizing of formal religion in Middle-earth (or cast wholly in the negative, as in the Cult of Morgoth in Numenor), and whether this was purposeful or subliminal is open to conjecture.

Remove a piece, and it lessens the whole.

THE EARL OF SANDWICH: "Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"
JOHN WILKES: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
John Wilkes (1727-1797)


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 2:44pm

Post #12 of 125 (351 views)
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Very nice! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Annael
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 3:10pm

Post #13 of 125 (402 views)
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I am not a Christian [In reply to] Can't Post

so may be way off base here, but the one thing I found difficult about LOTR is the pessimism about the future - the idea that things were much better in a short-lived golden past and have been slowly getting worse ever since - "the long defeat" as Galadriel calls it. And I wondered if this reflects just Tolkien's experience with war and with watching beloved places get turned into ugly developments, or if it is a deeper reflection of a Christian attitude that, after the Fall, no matter how good people try to be the world will just get worse and worse until Armageddon?

Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.
- Tom Robbins
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967


weaver
Half-elven

Jul 22 2008, 3:20pm

Post #14 of 125 (368 views)
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I have a problem with that aspect of Tolkien, too... [In reply to] Can't Post

I was raised Catholic, but find the focus on "the fall" to be pretty depressing.

If I look at it more from the perspective of the reality of Death, more than on the Christian fall idea, I can embrace that aspect of the tale better. To me, then the tale is more about doing the best you can in the time that is given you, and of recognizing that you owe a debt to those who came before you, and have a responsibility to those who come after you.

Weaver



weaver
Half-elven

Jul 22 2008, 3:21pm

Post #15 of 125 (349 views)
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mods up! [In reply to] Can't Post

As FFH said, very nice!

Weaver



Arwen's daughter
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 3:28pm

Post #16 of 125 (350 views)
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I love this! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for pointing out that excerpt, weaver! It's a great example of how many different faiths find parallels in Tolkien's work.



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arphen
The Shire


Jul 22 2008, 3:38pm

Post #17 of 125 (368 views)
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About Aragorn/Jesus and Satan/Sauron... [In reply to] Can't Post

Aragorn is like Jesus in many ways...
The third and last part of the trilogy, the Return of the King, even
has this allusion in its title. Aragorn is in essence the saviour of
Gondor. The people have been waiting for a king for a long time,
just as Israel was waiting for a Messiah, Jesus. Another example is
his humble leadership, though other characters express that, too.
He is the one that heals Eowyn and the others in the Houses of Healing,
with his hands. This is just what Jesus did. There are many other examples,
but I don't have time to name them all.

As with Satan/Sauron, good point N.E. Brigand.
I guess that Sauron might be placed better with being parallel to the Antichrist,
and Morgoth as Satan. I don't know. I am not really familiar with the story of Morgoth, so I am not sure. And the story is not fully parallel to that of the Bible
by any means, so there is room for anything else.

Mín Brannon cuia!


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 3:41pm

Post #18 of 125 (365 views)
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I don't think the "long defeat" [In reply to] Can't Post

is particularly Christian. It's part of the mythology of a "Golden Age" which goes back at least as far as the Greeks and Romans, and seems to have been a common theme in medieval heroic romance (Arthurian legends, etc.) A particular version of this kind of pessimism, in which the most important thing is to endure even when you know there can be no good outcome, seems to have been an important part of the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon worldview too.


In Reply To
...if it is a deeper reflection of a Christian attitude that, after the Fall, no matter how good people try to be the world will just get worse and worse until Armageddon?



In fact, the Christian story is about redemption, so if anything, it goes against the idea of a long defeat, and its basic premise is one of hope.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 3:51pm

Post #19 of 125 (363 views)
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Is that a quote? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Tolkien: "Gandalf is an angel".



Are you not oversimplifying here, in much the same way that you suggest the initial poster might have done? Or is this an actual quote from the Professor?

From everything I've read in the Letters, Tolkien is much more nuanced than this about Gandalf's 'angelic' nature. Firstly, he often refers to the Greek root, 'angelos'='messenger', suggesting that it's in this aspect only that Gandalf is 'angelic'. Secondly, he almost always puts 'angelic' in quotes, and stresses that he's talking about a parallel mythology in which the nearest analogy is the 'angel'. He never (as far as I can see) suggests that Gandalf actually is an angel as we know them. And thirdly, he seems to make it very clear that this is indeed 'mythology', even within the story. Any resemblance with a Christian angel, he seems to be saying, is purely coincidental. Unless you've found a quote I've never seen, 'Tolkien:"Gandalf is an angel"' sounds more like a tabloid headline than an accurate representation of Tolkien's own thoughts on the matter!

Wink

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Morthoron
Gondor


Jul 22 2008, 4:09pm

Post #20 of 125 (344 views)
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Hmmm... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Aragorn is like Jesus in many ways...
The third and last part of the trilogy, the Return of the King, even
has this allusion in its title. Aragorn is in essence the saviour of
Gondor. The people have been waiting for a king for a long time,
just as Israel was waiting for a Messiah, Jesus. Another example is
his humble leadership, though other characters express that, too.
He is the one that heals Eowyn and the others in the Houses of Healing,
with his hands. This is just what Jesus did. There are many other examples,
but I don't have time to name them all.

As with Satan/Sauron, good point N.E. Brigand.
I guess that Sauron might be placed better with being parallel to the Antichrist,
and Morgoth as Satan. I don't know. I am not really familiar with the story of Morgoth, so I am not sure. And the story is not fully parallel to that of the Bible
by any means, so there is room for anything else.



In conjunction with creating a mythos for England (ostensibly one of Tolkien's main purposes for starting his epic), the character of Aragorn seems to me more indicative of King Arthur (that notable Briton) -- Hic jacet Arturus, rex quondam, rex futurus -- the once and future king with the sword Excalibur, come to set England aright when he is most needed (just as Aragorn saved Gondor with Anduril). You see? If one attempts allegory, one can arrive at more than one plausible notion regarding Tolkien's characters. You see Aragorn as Jesus, but I have heard plausible arguments made that Gandalf (with his messianic preaching, his death for the Fellowship and his ressurrection) as a Jesus figure, as well as Frodo and his sacrifice being one also. That seems more impressing one's faith on a character rather than the character imbued with the faith. I could just as easily say Aragorn was not a Jesus figure, because there was no turning of the cheek, and he went into battle more like a King David (whereas Frodo more precisely mirrors Christ's compassion, mercy and pacific nature).

I don't mean this to be demeaning, but more instructive: since you have little experience with the character Morgoth (and I would say he would be more akin to Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost than his servant Sauron), I suggest you read more extensively Tolkien's earlier works (like the Silmarillion, for starters), and get a grasp of the wider implications of Tolkien's cosmology. There is more to the works than meets the eye.

THE EARL OF SANDWICH: "Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"
JOHN WILKES: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
John Wilkes (1727-1797)


Sunflower
Valinor

Jul 22 2008, 5:47pm

Post #21 of 125 (340 views)
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I think, though... [In reply to] Can't Post

that that is another reason why Tolkien has such an enduring appeal in this day and age. We no longer believe in certain forms of Progress...unlike, say, a century ago....and to see someone with such a (seemingly, on the surface) pessemistic worldview bespeaks to us of someone who was a Realist. He certainly does not, at first glance, seem to have much faith in human nature, and even his Elves are beings torn apart by long centuries of fratricide. This is what continues to anger me when I read crticisms of Tolkien: that his works are imbued by a simplistic portrayal of good vs evil, his characters are one-dimensional, etc. But, as usual, they miss the point because they do not dig deeper, they do not find the kernels of wisdom that he sprinkles through the work like so many particles of diamond dust strewn along the floor of the mine.

Two moments stand out for me: the Star over Mordor (of course), and Legolas' saying to Gimli: "Seldom do they fail of their seed." And in the end, that is the only real hope we have...and Tolkien recognized it: each generation that screws up the world, nevertheless plants the possible seeds of its salvation and redemption. Only in our children can we find real hope, that is the only hope we really have. And faith in a God that might see and give blessing to at least this divine act, the act of creation, for only in those divine moments do we really touch the true essence of the Creator, when we create ourselves (the Star.) And when we perform little selfless daily deeds, which are just as important as great and heroic ones, if they change someone's life in a postive way. Ugh, this post is bordering on the schmaltzy, I'll stop now.

I guess this is why Tolkien had Sam have such a large family...

What remains a miracle to me is that two such seemingly diametrical and opposing worldviews--the despairing and the hopeful--could have been so successfully combined in one work (or two), and that they do not contradict each other in that aspect, and work so well. Can we have such a dual human nature--to be "realists" and yet guarded optimists at the same time. One can't successfully co-exist without the other....because we know that he is grounded in "realism", that appeal of that other is so enduring and powerful. Anything else is shallow and facile fantasy.


(This post was edited by Sunflower on Jul 22 2008, 5:52pm)


a.s.
Valinor


Jul 22 2008, 6:30pm

Post #22 of 125 (327 views)
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a piece of the puzzle and not the whole [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
however, when he later wrote that ithe symbolism was 'subsumed' in the works, at first unconsciously and only later evident, I would venture a guess that, given Tolkien's penchant for critical analysis and re-editing of his own works, such symbolism was only evident after the works were completed, and not necessarily during the writing process (or at least, a piece of the puzzle and not the puzzle itself).




I agree for the most part. However, there are hidden Christian symbols or allusions consciously written in, well prior to subsequent letters (after publication). For example, the dates that the Fellowship leave Rivendell (Christmas Day) and the date of the fall of Sauron (the traditional date for both the Crucifixion and the New Year's Day, called Lady Day). These were intentional. The name of lembas isn't "waybread" by accident, it just can't be. Tolkien took communion daily at some points in his life. He knew the word "viaticum".

He had at least some intent to include some Christian allusions, but I totally agree the book is not Christian allegory or apologetics of any kind.

a.s.

"an seileachan"

Pooh began to feel a little more comfortable, because when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.


Annael
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 6:41pm

Post #23 of 125 (313 views)
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true [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
It's a great example of how many different faiths find parallels in Tolkien's work.


And that's a testament to how well it is written.

I just came across a quote from Jung to the effect that if you see the world through a Christian perspective, every myth will seem to you to be about Christ. You could turn this on its head and say that the story of Christ is itself another example of the Hero myth.


Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.
- Tom Robbins
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967


Annael
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 6:45pm

Post #24 of 125 (321 views)
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I would have thought Frodo was the Christ figure [In reply to] Can't Post

he's the one who willingly sacrifices himself to save the world. Aragorn gets to be King and marry the princess and found a dynasty.

Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.
- Tom Robbins
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
NARF and member of Deplorable Cultus since 1967

(This post was edited by Annael on Jul 22 2008, 6:46pm)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jul 22 2008, 6:51pm

Post #25 of 125 (329 views)
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Yes, I think so. [In reply to] Can't Post

Unfortunately I haven't got The Treason of Isengard at hand, and the last time I quoted this from memory, dernwyn couldn't find the quote. (She did find Tolkien calling Gandalf an "incarnate angel" in a later letter.) But I remember citing Tolkien's words, chapter and verse, in a discussion in the old Reading Room, and when I get home, I'll find it for you. However, even that note could be interpreted in the same way as you suggest for "angelic" reference to Gandalf in the Letters. And as I said, even though Tolkien seems to have privately decided that Gandalf was an angel by the early 1940s, he does not make that clear in LotR itself.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
We're discussing The Lord of the Rings in the Reading Room, Oct. 15, 2007 - Mar. 22, 2009!

Join us July 21-27 for "The Window on the West".
On Aug. 4, sign up for the RotK discussion.

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