As I mused about being misled to read Lewis and Tolkien in our early homeschool years, I concluded that if I could go back and change anything, I would not have included the Chronicles of Narnia, nor the Lord of the Ring series in our studies. I have completed my 5-part series on why Bible-believing Christians should not read any of C.S. Lewis's books. Now, I will look more closely at J.R.R. Tolkien.
I'm not as vehemently opposed to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a Roman Catholic and always held himself out as such. He was a writer of many fantasy books, but he is most known for his Lord of the Ring series. Today, Mr. Tolkien is not known as a voice for the Christian faith or revered for his practical theology like C.S. Lewis. I'm highly skeptical of C.S. Lewis because he was subversive about his unorthodox Christian beliefs, but I'm not as guarded against J.R.R. Tolkien because he was honest about his Roman Catholic beliefs.
I also hold C.S. Lewis up to a higher standard because, as part of the Anglican Communion of the Church of England, he was a Protestant. However, as I showed in my series, he did not hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. In reality, C.S. Lewis's beliefs of purgatory, transubstantiation, and praying for the dead were more in-line with the traditions of Roman Catholicism. Despite today's persistent ecumenical movement, Roman Catholicism is a works-based religion and does not promote the biblical Gospel, which says that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not of works, lest any man should boast, (Eph. 2:8-9); therefore, it is not a part of true Christianity.
Currently, Mr. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series is recommended reading because of his engaging writing style and "Christian" undertones or symbolism. I agree that elements of Tolkien's Roman Catholic faith are seen in his Lord of the Rings series, but I will show that the elements presented are not in-line with Scripture. Thus, I would advise Bible-believing Christians to read J.R.R. Tolkien with discernment. I still would not have studied his books for their "Christian" elements in our homeschool, but with guidance and daily discussion, I would have allowed my boys to read his books; I would not say the same about C.S. Lewis because as a Protestant, he undermined biblical Christianity with his unorthodox beliefs.
To facilitate my analysis, I searched for a book that looked at Tolkien's beliefs using primary sources. I found The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (copyright 1981, ISBN 0-395-31555-7). In this post I will examine Tolkien's use of magic and wizards in the Lord of the Ring series and compare it to what the Bible says. If you are unfamiliar with this series, The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook: A Concise Guide to His Life, Writings, and World of Middle-Earth by Colin Duriez (copyright 1992, ISBN 0-8010-3014-5), says: "The Lord of the Rings is a heroic romance, telling of the quest to destroy the one, ruling Ring of power, before it can fall into the hands of its maker, Sauron, the dark lord of the title. This great tale of the Third Age of Middle-earth is written in six parts," (p. 160).
First, let's look at what God says about witchcraft in the Old and New Testaments (emphasis mine):
"When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall be not found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do," (Deut. 18:9-14)."O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," (Gal. 3:1, 5:19-21).
God is very clear that witchcraft, wizardry, necromancy, divination, magic (the practice of using charms) etc. are all detestable to Him. The Bible never speaks of good wizards or good magic.
Despite biblical evidence that witchcraft and magic are not and can not be good, Mr. Tolkien still sets up a false dichotomy where the good use of magic is pitted against evil in his story. It is highly important to remember that the One True God of the Bible is not scheming and warring to overcome Satan because they are not on equal standing. God is sovereign; He is in control of all things--including Satan. Tolkien's "fantasy" world conditions people (including Christians) to accept, and even embrace, the abominable things detested by God. Christians can become desensitized to the biblical warnings and deceive themselves by accepting the "good" side of evil.
Here are a few of Mr. Tolkein's quotes taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien regarding his use of magic and wizards. He also explains how he views Middle-earth:
"But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia. Galadriel speaks of the 'deceits of the Enemy'. Well enough, but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goeteia bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides use both, but with different motives...Anyway, a difference in the use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such," (p. 200, To Naomi Mitchison (draft) 25 September 1954)."But 'wizards' are not in any sense or degree 'shady'. Not mine...The istari are translated 'wizards' because of the connexion of 'wizard' with wise and so with 'witting' and knowing. They are actually emissaries from the True West, and so mediately from God," (p. 207, To Robert Murray, S.J. (draft) 4 November 1954)."There is no 'embodiment' of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology. Gandalf is a 'created' person; though possibly a spirit that existed before in the physical world. His function as a 'wizard' is an angelos or messenger from the Valar or Rulers," (p. 237, To Michael Straight [drafts] January or February 1956)."I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world...The theatre of my tale is the earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary," (p. 239, Notes on W.H. Auden's review of The Return of the King probably written in 1956).
"Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth' -- which is our habitation," (p. 244, Notes on W.H. Auden's review of The Return of the King probably written in 1956).
Mr. Tolkien blurs the line between his good magic and bad magic by basing it on a person's motive, rather than a person's character. This pragmatic view continues to erode the biblical view that all magic is profane. Despite the Bible's continued warning to turn away from and not seek after wizards, (Lev. 19:31, 20:6), Mr. Tolkien portrays wizards as wise and describes them as angels. In addition, he doesn't think Middle-earth is imaginary, which is more telling when you consider this quote from The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook: A Concise Guide to His Life, Writings, and World of Middle-Earth: "Tolkien went so far--some may say too far and too fancifully--as to suggest that a writer's creations might actually become, in some sense, part of God's greater Creation," (p. 9).
Finally, I was disturbed to read Mr. Tolkien's account of how he was inspired to write this series:
"The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), 'that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named', (p. 253, From a Letter to Amy Ronald 27 July 1956)."I am not a model of scholarship; but in the matter of the Third Age I regard myself as a 'recorder' only," (p. 289, To A.C. Nunn (draft) [Not dated; probably late 1958-early 1959.].
He is describing the occultic practice of automatic writing. Today, God speaks to Christians through His written Word alone. Therefore, since Mr. Tolkien cannot be talking about God as the "Other Power", he must be relating his experience with a devil. This gives me pause as I think about my earlier statement to allow my boys to read his books, but in reality, nothing is neutral. You are either with Jesus or against Him; there's no middle ground.
Therefore, Christians should not divorce their spiritual life from their entertainment. We are not to "give place to the devil," (Eph. 4:27), nor have "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them," (Eph. 5:11). J.R.R. Tolkien is not a Christian, so I don't expect his writings to be biblical; and they aren't. However, I do think that it's prudent to look at what he's promoting and how he produced it to make sure that I'm being a good steward of the time that God has given to me and to my children. As with anything of the world, Christians need to be discerning.
In my next post on J.R.R. Tolkein, I will look at what he said regarding Protestantism and Catholicism.
"And he [Manasseh] built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger," (2 Chron. 33:5-6).