I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films with my son over two days of our Christmas break. My son has long been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, and I myself had seen the first film and part of the second when they were first created by director Peter Jackson and released in 2001 and 2002. We viewers can, of course, enjoy these films on the level of a comic book-style struggle between good and evil that’s filled with visually striking clashes among creatures like elves, wizards, and witches. But when I read that Tolkien once described his story as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,” I decided to see this whole film series again to discover its deeper meaning.
Before you invest 9+ hours in watching this trilogy, have a look at one or more of the following explanations of its Catholicism: 1) the article “20 Ways The Lord of the Rings is Both Christian and Catholic,” 2) the article “Uncovering Catholicism in The Lord of the Things,” and 3) Joseph Pearce’s 2015 public lecture “Unlocking the Catholicism in The Lord of the Rings.” These authors’ ideas and information will greatly enhance your viewing experience.
Pearce says that Tolkien’s fantasy stories hold up a mirror to ourselves. For example, The Lord of the Rings can be seen as an allegory of our ongoing and often exhausting struggle against the evil that seeks to corrupt us every day. As one essay points out, the Ring is “a symbol of human obsession that represents the small and enormous, obvious and invisible, fleeting and ingrained obsessions that plague every one of us. Ours may not be rings of great power; rather, the things and behaviors that tug on us and draw us like magnets.” Our own lives may not as dramatic or glamorous as those of Tolkien’s characters, but they still feature a series of battles against an Evil that can continue to exist only by destroying what is good. Therefore, the story reflects our own experiences.
Tolkien believed in the power of “fairy-stories,” or fantasy fiction, to benefit both children and adults by providing “recovery, escape, and consolation.” By plunging us into another world, fantasy can — ironically — help us see our own realities more clearly. It also, according to an article that paraphrases Tolkien, “helps us to escape the limitations of space and time in order to reach the freedom that is to be ours after death, to where our thoughts are; to remind us that we have been made for other worlds.”
The Lord of the Rings reminds us to look behind and beyond the mundane of our daily existence to see the more important Truth that we are living.