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Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings Symbolism (Vanity)
Greg F | 12/17 | Greg F

Posted on 12/17/2007 11:09:50 AM PST by Greg F

I watched the movie versions of Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" over the last three days and tried to sort out the symbolism in Christian terms. Here's what I came up with, would love the insights of any regarding.

Hobbits: Your home and hearth Christians. Humble and happy, not seeking power and acclaim to the same extent as others, perhaps, and content with small things.

Elves: Angels. They are superhuman in their understanding and abilities and they can choose to leave middle earth unlike the other races.

Orcs: Demons. They are a race of elves abused, corrupted and changed by Sauron.

Men: Men.

Dwarves: ?

Sauron: Satan.

Gandolf: The Holy Spirit (?). Gandolf can be seen as a Christ figure, but most often he is advising men, hobbits and elves, and acting through them. That said, he does act directly as well, and at the end of the movie he sails away with the elves (does this end correspond to the book?). If he were a Christ figure I think his actions would be much more definitive. He would be the actor that saves and no army would stand before him.

The Ghost Army: Tolkien was a Catholic. Souls in purgatory given a chance at redemption.

The Ring of Power: Temptation. Only the humble Christian (Hobbit) can withstand the temptation. The lords and kings cannot.


TOPICS: General Discusssion; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: lotr
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1 posted on 12/17/2007 11:09:51 AM PST by Greg F
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To: Greg F

Dwarves: Wayword souls - they brought about their own destruction, at least the ones living in the mountains, because they ‘dug too deep’.


2 posted on 12/17/2007 11:12:30 AM PST by Catholic Canadian ( I love Stephen Harper!)
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To: Greg F
I found myself doing the same thing you did. Gandolf died & was resurrected.
3 posted on 12/17/2007 11:12:53 AM PST by GoLightly
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To: Catholic Canadian

Thank you! Good insight.


4 posted on 12/17/2007 11:15:55 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F
Elves: Angels. They are superhuman in their understanding and abilities and they can choose to leave middle earth unlike the other races.

Orcs: Demons. They are a race of elves abused, corrupted and changed by Sauron.

If you go by the books, Maiar and Valar == angels. Known examples in Middle Earth are Gandalf, Saruman, Radugast, Sauron and maybe the Balrog.

Sauron: Satan.

Morgoth == Satan

5 posted on 12/17/2007 11:16:23 AM PST by Lee N. Field ("Dispensationalism -- threat or menace?")
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To: Greg F

If you viewed it on TV you missed a lot. Lots of editing to fit the TV run time.


6 posted on 12/17/2007 11:19:12 AM PST by PeteB570 (Guns, what real men want for Christmas)
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To: Greg F

Tolkien denied any allegory or symbolism in LotR, but I’m sure his worldview permeates it.


7 posted on 12/17/2007 11:21:30 AM PST by Chanticleer (I want God, I want Poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.)
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To: GoLightly

Gandalf is the hardest I think. If Christ he is too weak for my understanding, if the Holy Spirit perhaps more directly acting than I envision, if a man led by the Holy Spirit, perhaps, but then what of the resurrection, not of his own power but by Eru, and if the Holy Spirit then what of his sailing away with the elves and leaving men?


8 posted on 12/17/2007 11:23:49 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F

You may be interested in reading:

“Christian History Corner: J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, a Legendary Friendship”
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/augustweb-only/8-25-52.0.html


9 posted on 12/17/2007 11:24:07 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: Chanticleer

His symbolism is less direct and calculated than most symbolism in novels I think. That’s what makes it really fun.


10 posted on 12/17/2007 11:24:59 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F

The ring of power is a pretty obvious exemplar of the sin of pride, putting oneself above God, or supplanting God.


11 posted on 12/17/2007 11:27:49 AM PST by Argus
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To: Greg F
There are three Christ figures in The Lord of the Rings. Prophet (Gandalf), Priest (Frodo), and King (Aragorn).

Gandalf dies for the Fellowship (representatives of all the peoples of Middle Earth) and is Resurrected and given new powers. He even rides a white horse, wields a sword, and leads an unlooked for host of warriors in the Battle of Helms Deep.

Frodo takes the Ring (the sins of the world) onto himself and suffers and sacrifices all that he loves for the world.

Aragorn is the forseen King who establishes his domain on (Middle-)Earth and sets up a rule of peace and tranquility.

There are also some other interesting insights into Tolkein's Theology. I am personally in awe of his reconciliation of "grace and works" in the story. The "works" of destroying the ring are essential for the "grace" to take effect. Frodo cannot destroy the ring of his own choice, it is left to Providence to destroy it. But that hope of Providence had to be brought about by works.

Without the works, the grace was empty. The Ring would have sat at Rivendell as Sauron overwhelmed Middle-Earth with evil.

Without the grace, the works were empty. Frodo would have been taken by evil and would have become the new Dark Lord, overwhelming Middle-Earth with evil.

12 posted on 12/17/2007 11:29:07 AM PST by Anitius Severinus Boethius
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To: Greg F
Gandalf is the hardest I think. If Christ he is too weak for my understanding, if the Holy Spirit perhaps more directly acting than I envision, if a man led by the Holy Spirit, perhaps, but then what of the resurrection, not of his own power but by Eru, and if the Holy Spirit then what of his sailing away with the elves and leaving men?

Leaving Middle Earth with the elves may be a statement about the free will of men in an environment where evil has been destroyed.

13 posted on 12/17/2007 11:33:30 AM PST by GoLightly
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To: thackney

I’m a great fan of both Tolkien and Lewis. Thanks.


14 posted on 12/17/2007 11:33:53 AM PST by Chanticleer (I want God, I want Poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.)
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To: Chanticleer

I also enjoyed this study. We used in a Sunday School Class a couple years ago.

http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Tolkien-Visions-Middle-Earth/dp/0664226108


15 posted on 12/17/2007 11:37:45 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: Greg F
Two comments:

Tolkien did not like allegory, and emphatically denied that LOTR was such. Any attempt to draw 1:1 correspondence between entities in the Real (Christian) world and Tolkien's fantasy will be problematic. His work was certainly informed by his Christian faith, but is not a Christian Allegory.

Only the humble Christian (Hobbit) can withstand the temptation. The lords and kings cannot.
Neither can the Hobbits. At the end, Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it as his own. Gollum then bit Frodo's finger off, tripped, and fell into the volcano. Tolkien wasn't into Pelagianism (even in an alternate universe).

16 posted on 12/17/2007 11:39:13 AM PST by ArrogantBustard (Western Civilisation is aborting, buggering, and contracepting itself out of existence.)
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To: Greg F

Gandolf: wears a white robe, leads the people, custodian of tradition, carries a staff, probable summer residence in Gandolf Castle (Castel Gandolfo)=THE POPE


17 posted on 12/17/2007 11:41:28 AM PST by Petrosius
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To: Anitius Severinus Boethius

Thank you for your insights. If prophet, priest and king then the Fellowship may also represent in some form the trinity acting with angel and man.


18 posted on 12/17/2007 11:43:05 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F
In his own letters, JRRT makes an association between Elves and Jews.

He also says that Elves are like humans but without their limitations - they do not die of natural causes, but can be killed, have greater wisdom, etc.

19 posted on 12/17/2007 11:49:11 AM PST by ikka
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To: Greg F

Actually I was likening it to WW2, with the 2 wizards as Chruchill and Hitler, the peoples being the allies and axis powers, the ring being supreme dictatorial power, etc.


20 posted on 12/17/2007 11:52:27 AM PST by theDentist (Qwerty ergo typo : I type, therefore I misspelll.)
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To: ArrogantBustard

Make that “endure for long” rather than withstand, regarding Frodo’s ability to withstand the ring while others quickly succumb. Frodo ultimately tried to claim the ring (as a post above said, only grace allowed him to ultimately succeed in the task). I also agree that there is no 1:1 correspondence in Tolkien like you will find in Lewis’ works. That’s why it’s more fun to talk about than the allegory of Lewis’ works. Lewis’ are straight line. There is definitely allegory and a Christian worldview in the LOTR and I don’t blame Tolkein for taking himself out of that discussion . . . it would be boring and end the discussion and thought . . . and sometimes the writer is acting as an artist not a theologian or philosopher . . . and so he says more than he realizes as he produces the work.


21 posted on 12/17/2007 11:54:41 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F

I see the destruction of 19th century romaticism, the destruction of the rural lifestyle, and the evil of runaway industrialization in that tale.

Those elves represent the thinkers of the classic world, rennaisance, and 19th cent. romanticism.

The immortality of the grey havens represents the fame of great people—thinkers or doers—after they die.

The departing of the elves represents the change from a more pastoral life and way of thinking to the dog-eat-dog industrial twentieth century.

Gandolf represents science used rationally.

The bad wizard represents runaway industrial science (shown by the destruction of natural beauty, the forests, to fuel and be replaced by those underground factories.

The “resurrection” of Gandolf represents how one can be changed by the experience of war into someone of great inner strength, with a matured view of the meaning of life and death. It also reminded me of those people who come back to life after having almost died, and who remember death as so pleasant an experience that they no longer fear dying (expressed by Gandolf in his White Shores talk to the hobbit).

When Aragon enlists the dead in that mountain, that represents how those who accept their own death in a struggle (represented here by war), are those most likely to survive that struggle—they, like Aragon, take death as an ally.

The red glow and various lights of Mordor on the horizon represent the explosions of distant modern warfare on the horizon.

The Ents represent how the natural world can destroy those who carelessly damage it through rampant industrialization (as global warming today threatens our industrial lifestyle?).

I could tell more if I had the time.


22 posted on 12/17/2007 11:56:22 AM PST by Age of Reason
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To: theDentist

The LOTR books were written during and after World War II. ‘37 to ‘49 was the period in which Tolkein wrote it and then editing and publication in 1954 as three volumes. Hobbit published 1937. So definitely influenced by WWII.


23 posted on 12/17/2007 11:58:44 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Lee N. Field; Greg F

If you go by the book, it’s Gandalf, not Gondalf.


24 posted on 12/17/2007 12:02:12 PM PST by Xenalyte (Can you count, suckas? I say the future is ours . . . if you can count.)
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To: Age of Reason

In a Christian context I thought the Ents may have represented some form of good territorial principality.


25 posted on 12/17/2007 12:04:20 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Xenalyte

Yah, Gandalf, not Gandolf. Typo.


26 posted on 12/17/2007 12:05:08 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Xenalyte
"If you go by the book, it’s Gandalf, not Gondalf."

If you go by The Sting, it's Gondorf. Harry Gondorf.

27 posted on 12/17/2007 12:07:01 PM PST by joebuck
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To: Xenalyte
And if you go by the other book, it's "Goodgulf".

We Boggies are a merry folk
who like to eat until we choke
loving all like friend and brother
and hardly ever eat each other

28 posted on 12/17/2007 12:09:38 PM PST by Lee N. Field ("Dispensationalism -- threat or menace?")
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To: Petrosius

No, the Pope was definitely Gollum.


29 posted on 12/17/2007 12:14:57 PM PST by ichabod1 ("Self defense is not only our right, it is our duty." President Ronald Reagan)
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To: Anitius Severinus Boethius

“There are three Christ figures in The Lord of the Rings. Prophet (Gandalf), Priest (Frodo), and King (Aragorn).”

...And inderectly, a reference to the Christian Trinity.


30 posted on 12/17/2007 12:16:25 PM PST by Biggirl (A biggirl with a big heart for God's animal creation, with 4 cats in my life as proof. =^..^=)
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To: Greg F

Men are just men, but Hobbits are Christians?


31 posted on 12/17/2007 12:18:37 PM PST by stuartcr (Everything happens as God wants it to.....otherwise, things would be different.)
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To: stuartcr

I think so, the men were all over the map in moral terms and in their interests. The hobbits were for the most part “good” and humble. Their differences were minor squabbles and cliques.


32 posted on 12/17/2007 12:22:42 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F
The Ghost Army: Tolkien was a Catholic. Souls in purgatory given a chance at redemption.

Good analysis. Can't add much. Unlike "Narnia," "Rings" isn't meant to be an exact metaphor for Christian belief. I think Tolkien's idea was to create another Creation, or "sub-Creation," or something like that. At least that's what I've read.

The Ghost Army: Tolkien was a Catholic. Souls in purgatory given a chance at redemption.

Not exactly. Every soul that enters purgatory is bound for heaven. Purgatory represents a state of purgation or cleansing prior to heaven. Purgatory does not represent a "second chance."

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.


33 posted on 12/17/2007 12:24:11 PM PST by Aquinasfan (When you find "Sola Scriptura" in the Bible, let me know)
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To: ichabod1

Let us keep this civil. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Please leave your polemics elsewhere.


34 posted on 12/17/2007 12:32:30 PM PST by Petrosius
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To: Aquinasfan

Grin. You agreed and then disagreed. I think you are right in both cases because Tolkien is not using direct theologically precise symbols or direct allegory but may have created more than he realized in a Christian context. When Lewis gained Tolkein’s agreement to write direct allegories of Christianity, Lewis as Science Fiction, Tolkien as fantasy, Lewis promptly wrote the Perelandra series. Tolkien promptly wrote . . . nothing. I think Tolkein used up what he had to say in LOTR, he exhausted his imagination with that eruption, whether he knew it or not.


35 posted on 12/17/2007 12:47:42 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: theDentist

The story is also heavily influenced by Tolkien’s experiences as a WW1 soldier.
He is Frodo. Keeps losing ones around him. He keeps feeling alone. This is how Tolkien felt ehen his friends would fall to German bullets.
The scene at the marsh where you can see the dead in the river is allegory to his seeing dead bodies after a big battle.
Also, the machines and the forests being destroyed by the “war” machine. That was allegory to Germany’s rapid build up of its military in WW1.
My info is from the extras on the dvd set. They had a great bio on Tolkien.
Him being a devout Christian is evident by characters influenced by Chrustianity.
Gandalf is Christ like, as is Frodo, carrying the burden for man.


36 posted on 12/17/2007 12:48:07 PM PST by Larebil (My name is liberal backwards, since they backwards thinking)
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To: Aquinasfan

Above I said Tolkein agreed to write fantasy . . . I think it was actually time travel in a Christian context that Tolkien agreed to write about . . . Lewis about space travel . . . Lewis wanted to take two sci-fi genres and put them in a Christian literature. Anyway, same point, Tolkien didn’t do it while Lewis was very excited about it.


37 posted on 12/17/2007 1:09:09 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Larebil

So in LOTR, when the trees themselves take part in the war in reaction to the destruction of their own, probably comes from Tolkein seeing what happened to nature on a battlefield.


38 posted on 12/17/2007 1:12:32 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F

You could definately say that.
But there was more emphasis on the fear of a dark army making weapons and getting bigger.
I remember in the dvd extra talked about the scene mainly showed the destructive force growing.
Similar to the German military machine, churning out weapons and getting bigger.
Mind you all influence is from Tolkien’s military experience in WW1.
The story starts out happy for the first few pages and is dark all the way to the end.
The loss of hope in a long bloody war.
Jackson perfectly captured the emotion of the novels and put them into the silverscreen.


39 posted on 12/17/2007 1:17:26 PM PST by Larebil (My name is liberal backwards, since they backwards thinking)
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To: Greg F

Where does God fit in?


40 posted on 12/17/2007 1:33:00 PM PST by shekkian
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To: Greg F
But Tolkien didn't write "just" The Lord of the Rings, he created the whole of Middle-Earth.

The genesis of Middle-Earth came about as a way of making a concrete history to place his created languages in, and then just kind of took on a life of its own.

His histories and short stories of Middle-Earth can be found in not just his three novels (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Children of Hurin), but in The Silmarillion, The Book of Lost Tales, and The Histories of Middle-Earth edited by Christopher Tolkien.

Lewis created the World of Narnia in his novels. Tolkien set The Lord of the Rings in Middle-Earth, a completely constructed world outside of that one story.

And that is why Tolkien's theology is infused in the story in a more subtle, and yet thorough, way than Lewis could have accomplished.

41 posted on 12/17/2007 1:35:03 PM PST by Anitius Severinus Boethius
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To: Greg F

As others have oberved, Tolkien rejected all attempts to view the LOTR as an allegory. Also, though Tolkien was a Catholic, the LOTR is has more in common with Norse and British mythology than Christian scripture. The completeness of Tolkien’s cosmology is staggering. Read the Silmarillion.


42 posted on 12/17/2007 1:38:10 PM PST by JayWhit (Always keeping it real.)
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To: shekkian
Where does God fit in?

To the extent that there is metaphor of Christ that is God.

John 1

The Word Became Flesh

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

43 posted on 12/17/2007 1:40:44 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: shekkian
God in Middle-Earth is Eru Iluvatar. The first section of The Silmarillion deals with the creation and Eru is definately viewed as the Creator of all. It tells the story of the fall of Melkor and his angels, the Creation of Middle-Earth, and the Creation of the people of Middle-Earth; Elves, Dwarves and Men.

Some very interesting insights into his views of God and Creation.

44 posted on 12/17/2007 1:44:06 PM PST by Anitius Severinus Boethius
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To: Anitius Severinus Boethius

Makes sense, thanks for the insight. I just finished the Lewis space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet,Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) which was theologically very interesting. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it. I think Tolkien’s theology permeates LOTR in a more organic, less intentional way than Lewis’. I’m not sure that makes it more thorough, but it might.


45 posted on 12/17/2007 1:49:42 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Anitius Severinus Boethius

Sam Wise. Frodos disciple. When Frodo leaves, he is his representative on Earth.


46 posted on 12/17/2007 1:54:32 PM PST by mware (Americans in arm chairs doing the work of the media.)
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To: Petrosius

Gandalf was raised from the dead or the depths of hell though and can act directly with immense power against the evil supernatural forces which is more Godlike or Angelic. Could be Pope but then where are the bishops, priests and the structure of the church? I think Tolkien may have intentionally left the church as an overt entity out of his world in order to keep the book open to all rather than purely sectarian.


47 posted on 12/17/2007 1:59:50 PM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Greg F
I last read the Space Trilogy about two years ago I think, and it is heading towards the front of my rotation again. Lewis had an more obvious outlet for his Theological and Philisophical musings than just his fiction pieces. Although his fiction is very strong in spelling out his beliefs. Read his retelling of the myth of Psyche (Till We Have Faces) if you want a real deep look at the role that sin and shame play in our daily lives.

Tolkien's work is by nature not Theological or Philisophical. It's more mythical, and as such his views come through when you look at the broad canvas much more clearly than trying to examine the stitching. It's the fact that it is so engrained that make me view it as much more thorough than Lewis' Narnia or Space novels.

48 posted on 12/17/2007 2:02:14 PM PST by Anitius Severinus Boethius
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To: Chanticleer
Tolkien denied any allegory or symbolism in LotR, but I’m sure his worldview permeates it.

Tokien said that he didn't write allegory. He didn't like allegory because the personificatins and symbols are reduced to one meaning only, the meaning that the author specifically intended.

He said that he wrote myth, and myth can be interpreted in many ways. Each generation will have its own interpretation, as will each individual. Here is the way C.S. Lewis puts it in his review of Tolkien's book:

What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to a specifically theological, or political, or psychological application. A myth points, for each reader, to the realm he lives in most. It is a master key; use it on what door you like.
So, interpret it as you please. The book is rich in mythic imagery and invites the reader to find his own meaning.
49 posted on 12/17/2007 2:18:25 PM PST by stripes1776 ("I will not be persuaded that any good can come from Arabia" --Petrarca)
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To: Anitius Severinus Boethius
Frodo takes the Ring (the sins of the world) onto himself and suffers and sacrifices all that he loves for the world.

Frodo does suffer a great deal to return the ring into the fire from which it came. But when that moment comes, he desires to keep the ring for himself. His friend Sam steps forth to throw the ring into the fire. Sam was there to serve and protect Frodo. But he didn't carry the weight or the temptation of the ring. Frodo did that for him. And at last Sam overcomes his fear and must throw the ring in the fire for Frodo who has succumbed to temptation after all his efforts to resist it.

50 posted on 12/17/2007 2:28:44 PM PST by stripes1776 ("I will not be persuaded that any good can come from Arabia" --Petrarca)
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