Return to the Rings
The readers ring in with their interpretations of the symbolism and analogies in J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful Trilogy "The Lord of the Rings"
We've had many e-mails about our editorial Tolkien the Prophet!. We had asked you to share your takes, what you saw and indeed several have. Let me share with you what some have perceived. Of course some ideas that have been stuffed into Tolkien's pipe will motivate you to ask what were they smoking, but all's fair in love and war. Therefore, the feedback:
Michael Cain, editor
If you remember I had equated the character of Denethor to a combination of Paul VI and John Paul II. Well, Donald Remerz weighed in that he saw the Pope in the character of King Theoden.
He pointed to the scene in "The Two Towers" where Theoden is hunched over and old, clueless to what seems to be happening.
"His posture reminded me more of the Pope than Denethor. He was trapped by the 'spirit of Vatican II' greatly depicted in the wiles and deceptive whisperings of Wormtongue, who also was called Grima and always at his side. He exiled Eowyn's brother at Wormtongue's promptings. I also found that we could see the evil Saruman had possessed his body, his mind and soul for quite some time. This was made clear when Gandalf the Gray revealed himself in the court as Gandalf the White and exorcised the demon (Saruman) from Theoden. This was verified when Saruman was sent sliding across the floor similar to Christ casting out the demons and into the swine. We can only hope and pray that the Holy Father will be exorcised of the demons of Vatican II that torment him so and he will become the grand warrior king Theoden became in 'The Two Towers' and 'The Return of the King'"
Another reader, Gayle Johannsen, saw Gandalf as Christ in the fact of his descent into the abyss with the Balrog.
"Like our Lord descending into hell (Apostles' Creed) while he was three days in the tomb, so also Gandalf did in destroying the beast. I saw the great, almost bottomless pit within Moria as the tomb of Christ. The Orcs who clamored for the death of Gandalf and His 'apostles' were like the Jews and Romans who persecuted and called for His death, summoning the beast. His falling into the pit, including the whip lashing at Gandalf to pull him down was likened to Christ's Passion. Falling was both Gandalf's crucifixion and death, but he was reborn as Gandalf the White. The halo and glow around him hint at this. Like Christ he descended the mountain and led the charge down the hill, the light of heaven (the sun) blinding the evil army that had gone out to meet the men of Rohiirim. That represented Christ as the Light of the world."
Yet another reader Grace Steadman, agreed with the similarity of Gandalf to Christ, from the fact of his 'Transfiguration' to his riding into Minas Tirith.
"When Gandalf stood in the light the three men - Aragorn, Legolas and Gimlet [Gimli] to me it represented when Jesus was transfigured before the three Apostles Peter, James and John...then when Gandalf rode into Minas Tirith to right the wrongs of Denethor, he was like Christ reclaiming His church for Gandalf knew Denethor was not a true 'king' but a pretender. He was a 'steward.'
Thomas Gonzalez saw the Transfiguration in a different part of the epic:
" When Frodo observes Gandalf, Elrond, and another elf called Glorfindel sitting together and speaking with each other, Frodo thinks that they "were revealed as lords of dignity and power." What else could this be but an allusion to the Transfiguration. I'm sure there are countless more to be revealed in Tolkien's pages as well."
John Framicino saw in a similar light Gandalf as Christ. He wrote:
"Gandalf's second coming as Gandalf the White is like Christ coming again and purifying those of faith against the wickedness and snares of the devil. He has come to lead the angels and saints against all those who have rejected Christ. The ending scene is reminiscent of what will happen to the souls of the damned in the final days. Those who are saved will be spared this as was so beautifully shown in the finale 'The Return of the King' when the fire from the black gates swallow up the damned."
Conversely Margaret Miller, most evidently a neo-Catholic with Voice of the Faithful leanings, sees Gandalf as 'Pope John Paul the Great':
"Gandalf exhibits all the greatness of our Pope John Paul II. Once Gandalf was grey and when he took on the white garments then he was like a Pope. Like our Pope, he reached out to all for I saw the different races as different nations and religions who unite under the Pope to fight the poverty and injustice in the world which is the Orks and Urakai. Only by being in unity can we fight these evils. The Pope just as Gandalf did, is fighting these evils and trying to rally others to fight with him for the gates of hell will not stop him. There are others close to him who are doubtful and are afraid but they are encouraged by Gandalf. In the same way our beloved Pope does the same thing telling them not to be afraid and that women have just as many rights as men."
I must admit that is a real stretch, but I asked for it by requesting feedback. Brenda Gryniewski saw the nine members of the Fellowship as angels:
"I think the nine fellows represented the choirs of angels. You could say the loveable Pippin was like a cherubim. Merry like a seraphim. Sam like the dominations since he made sure Frodo was safe and dominated his life with protecting his friend. Frodo was thrones for it was to him the responsibility - that of a king - would be given. Then I see Legolas as virtues and Gimli as powers with his mighty ax. Baromir is principalities because he was the son of a king. I see Aragorn as an Archangel, much like St. Michael, and the angel of them all as Gandalf - the highest of angels who directs the others."
Thomas Gonzalez brought up some interesting insights in that same vein about angels, with, I think a little more insight than the previous. He wrote:
"The Elves, fair strong and beautiful, are like the angels while the orcs are their very opposites: cruel, ruthless, grotesque i.e. the demons. In the books and the movies the Orcs constantly search for Frodo and the other hobbits throughout Middle-Earth like the demons "who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls" Not to mention the whole Exorcism of Theoden by Gandalf which Peter Jackson did amazingly. "
I had equated Samwise Gamgee to Saint Paul, but Gonzalez saw him as another:
"Another one is Sam as symbol for St. Peter. Sam is stubbornly loyal to Frodo and is highly rash. He always refers to Frodo as Master (many more times in the book) and physically attacks anyone who threatens or seems to threaten Frodo like Peter attacking the man in Gethsemani."
Grace Steadman saw Saint Peter not as Aragorn whom I likened him to or Sam above, but as another character in the epic:
"Could Treebeard represent St. Peter as the head and the rest of the Ents as all the Popes of the Church? I agree with you that they could be the Fathers and Doctors of the Church but I can also see them as the successors of the first apostle for Treebeard was the oldest. They were content in passing down the traditions of the Church and seemingly comfortable in 'thinking' it would continue after their deaths. When they discovered that the faith has been changed, they became enraged and revenged the wrongs by Saruman who I think could represent Vatican II."
On Vatican II, Troy Bozier weighed in that he sees in Gollum the Second Vatican Council:
"Smeagol as a Hobbit had good intentions originally, but greed and the power of the ring changed him. He murdered his friend in the boat. Then his features changed. So many didn't think Vatican Two would change the church, but over time it has taken on a hideous appearance. Why? Because Vatican II and its Popes have murdered the liturgy and the teachings. They have created a monster which looks uglier than ever and is like the character Gollum. He struggles with its conscience in going back to what was always taught - the good. But he is so set in his ways to forget his past that he continues to pursue that which he can't possess. The ring. Like Jesus Christ has promised he falls into the fire because he didn't bear any good fruit. In the same way Vatican Two should eventually perish in the fire of oblivion because their ambition to be more like the world will consume them."
Lang kai Hushei sees Saruman as "Rothschild and Freemasonry" while Robert Madison saw the Uruk-hai as "the merchants of Freemasonry and Modernism."
Dominic Rutterham thought we were crazy and that it in no way should be attributed to Catholic identity for "Tolkien didn't proselytize." Rather, as Rutterham elaborated:
"This is the story of England and her history. England is the great middle-earth. The kings and queens of old are the Ents, Treebeard the royal sceptre. Gandalf was Winston Churchill whom Tolkien greatly admired. Look at Hobbiton. It is the typical English countryside that Tolkien remembers as a youth; all the innocence of yesteryear. Now it has been lost thanks to World War I and the Kaiser and Hitler in World War II. Will there ever be peace in Middle Earth - God save the Queen. Arwen is the Queen to whom Aragorn is loyal in the manner of the chivalrous Knights. Theoden represented to me the Prime Ministers other than Churchill who were merely stewards, not truly concerned for the welfare of England. Edoras represents the Teutonic tribes that invaded the British Isles and eventually melded with the population. The Norse, very Viking motif bears this out, sir. You will also note Helms Deep is very much like the White Cliffs of Dover. The enemy throughout history from the Goths to the Teutons to the French and Spanish and then German Nazis attacking our beloved shores. The Pelannor Fields is much like the finale of the War of the Roses on the Field of Bosworth. The evils of Adolph Hitler are definitely represented in what Sauron stands for and personified in Saruman for he stirred up hate and eradicated those not loyal to him just as Hitler eliminated so many Jews. The winged Nazgul was a definite reference to the Luftwaffe that constantly threatened London and all of England. I think you've misread too much into Tolkien. He was merely a teller of mythology, not religiosity. You see too many things in a tale that is simply not there, sir."
Well, we could stop writing now and attribute anything the devout Catholic Tolkien wrote as meaningless and totally devoid of Catholicity, but I truly think Mr. Rutterham, Esquire no less, is in a denial world all to himself, for indeed Gary Morella refutes Rutterham's conclusions:
"What is the 'army of the dead' in Return of the King but Purgatory? The "Dimholt" was the place, the mountain wherein the army of the traitorous dead were given a last chance to fulfil their oath and make final the reparation for their sins. There are many Catholic analogues in Tolkien's work. Glad you're pointing them out."
On the Middle Earth being England, Mallory Sullivan saw the
Hobbits as the Irish, and how, in their emerald habitat they were so happy:
"Does not the Shire represent the olde sod? Think about how happy they are in their simple life, but they choose to go out to bring goodness (the Gospel of Christ) to all nations and so they become missionaries like Frodo, Sam, Merry and Peregrin Took. Think of all the Irish priests that came to America and other nations to bring the reverence of the True Faith. I think Tolkien had a special place in his heart for the Irish and depicted them through the Hobbits, even to their big feet and big hearts. Like leprechauns in the good sense."
Of course, Margaret Miller saw in Eowyn the "liberation of women in the new nuns who go forward to fight the good fight without being shackled by the old, outmoded rules that denigrated women so much." Please, Ms. Miller, get a life.
Dennis Merrill saw in the Tower of Mordor not so much the crescent moon of the infidel Moslems, but "the definite horns of Satan, glowing with all the fiery evil it could emanate." He definitely has a point there.
These then, are just a sampling of the first response to further analogies surmised from Tolkien's masterpiece. Many commented that they will definitely see it again, for indeed they didn't expect so much contained in Tolkien's work. One reader, Thomas Ouimet made me chuckle,
"I thought 'Moby Dick' had a lot of symbolism. Are you sure Tolkien wasn't a student of Herman Melville's?"
No, Thomas, I think he was more a student of the Word and the works of the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas and the uncompromising Saint Thomas More and, in recent times, the excellent works of his countryman Cardinal John Henry Newman. As I stated last week, Tolkien was truly a prophet - one who used his God-given gift of storytelling to express the Faith in a way that will not die. To those who have weighed in with their opinions - whether secular, liberal or Traditional in viewpoint - thank you. Because of their input, I will call this column today a Return to the Rings!
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