“Far-off gleams of evangelium” : a study of how J. R. R. Tolkien’s The lord of the rings reflects the biblical “Kingdom of Heaven”
Master of Arts, English, Department of Languages, UNIVERSITY OF JYVÄSKYLÄ, May (2008)
The purpose of this thesis is to examine J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LOTR), comparing its elements and values to The Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual reality which Christ introduces in his teachings. Scholars generally agree that Tolkien’s Christianity can be seen implicitly in his work: for example, in its world view and values. However, Tolkien literature has not examined LOTR from the point of view of the Kingdom of Heaven, which reveals a rich well of parallels, common values, and symbolism. It can be said that LOTR is like a mirror that reflects the Kingdom, giving the reader “far-off gleams of evangelium,” which Tolkien said was one of the main functions of a good fantasy story. This study reveals that although LOTR is not an allegory, nor does it have a definitive message, Tolkien meant to give his reader, not only an impressive story, but also a literary experience akin to religious experience. Tolkien admitted that some of the Christian symbolism in LOTR was intentional.
In this work I first introduce Tolkien, along with people who were important to his writing, such as C. S. Lewis, without whom Tolkien said that LOTR would never have seen daylight. Because LOTR is part of Tolkien’s broader mythology, The Silmarillion, I present myth and fantasy as its literary context, and the events of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit as its narrative context. In the background information I also examine the theological foundations of what I propose is LOTR’ s parallel reality, the Kingdom of Heaven, and I further attempt to answer the questions: Did Tolkien have a mission? If so, what was it like, and how can it be seen? In the core analysis I first give the story-line of LOTR from the viewpoint of its most prominent “Kingdom-feature”, Providence. Then I examine how LOTR reflects central elements of the Kingdom, such as kingship and self-sacrifice. I look at the Kingdom as an organic community, and then I compare the core values of the Kingdom to LOTR. And finally I look at the battle between Good and Evil as LOTR and the Bible depict it.