“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
During college, I volunteered to earn extra money by working in the library during Christmas break. No one was on campus, and the entire building was absolutely deserted. To pass the time, I searched the shelves for something to read and came across The Hobbit. After reading through this in one day, I moved on to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Two weeks later, I had devoured the entire series.
Now don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you that I’m so obsessed with The Lord of the Rings that I taught myself how to speak Elvish, although I have friends who have done just that (they were in the Drama Club, so no surprise there). No series on classic literature would be complete, however, without recognizing J.R.R. Tolkien’s remarkable achievement with this trilogy and its accompanying books.
Tolkien didn’t just write a set of novels… he created a detailed history and language for all of the different races appearing in his work. This tremendous effort on his part resulted in the creation of Middle-Earth, a fictional world that feels real due to the author’s painstaking attention to detail.
Unlike his friend and companion, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien had no intention of creating a spiritual allegory when he wrote LOTR. In fact, he specifically denounced such claims by stating the following:
“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.”
Christian readers, however, often find great spiritual significance in many of the characters and symbols of this work. How can this be? Tolkien offered a history of a people, and both history and culture is always influenced by religion. Tolkien grew up in the Catholic tradition, and the influence of his religious upbringing is clearly present in his work, no matter how hard he tried to mask it.
With an epic work such as this, there is no way I could point out all the many elements that have made these writings such a success. I will, however, point out three powerful symbols from these books which have special significance for us today:
The One Ring – A Symbol of Power
The One Ring promises unlimited power to anyone who wears it, and opens the eyes of the ring-bearer to see things that no one else can see. This is highly reminiscent of the apple that the serpent used to entice Adam and Eve to commit the first sin in the Garden of Eden. He promised that they would “become like God,” and would have a knowledge and wisdom they had never known before.
No matter how strong or righteous a character might have been, not a single one was able to resist the power of the ring. This ring serves as a reminder that “there is none righteous – not even one” (Romans 3:10), and that sin and the desire to be in control of our own lives is something that infects the hearts of every human being.
Lembas – A Symbol of God’s Word
In the books the traveling companions begins to run out of food, and survive by eating lembas, a special bread given to them by the Elves. The Elves are very much like heavenly beings, since they are immortal and spend eternity in the stars. Their bread, then, can be compared to Scripture, which was given to us by God Himself.
Jesus told His disciples that “man must not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Just as our favorite characters survived their daily battles by receiving nourishment from this Elvish bread, you and I can survive the spiritual battles we must face each day by receiving daily nourishment from God’s Word.
Samwise Gamgee – A Symbol of True Love
Samwise Gamgee is one of the best characters ever to grace the written page. Though he cannot swim, he follows his friend Frodo into the sea and nearly drowns to avoid letting his friend travel alone. And when the burden of the ring becomes too much for poor Frodo to bear, Samwise places his friend on his own back and carries him up a steep mountain.
All of our hearts crave this kind of love and companionship… to have someone love us enough to give up everything and be willing to do anything for us. Jesus alluded to this when He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The great news is that Jesus is this kind of friend… He gave up His own life on the cross, so that we would not have to face eternity alone, but could spend eternity in Heaven with Him (John 3:16).
Any set of books which can illustrate these powerful truths in such a beautiful and adventurous way will keep its place on my shelf of favorites.
What do you love most about The Lord of the Rings?