A Journey of Recovery: Natural Theology in “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien in Three Parts

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“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”[1] 

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”

G.K. Chesterton wrote that when it comes to speaking to our modern world about Christianity, “we have to react against the heavy bias of fatigue” in which “it is almost impossible to make the facts vivid, because the facts are familiar; and for fallen men it is often true that familiarity is fatigue.”[2]  Sometimes we are too close to something to be able to objectively assess its merits or defects.  In his book The Everlasting Man, Chesterton wrote that “it is well with the boy when he lives on his father’s land; and well with him again when he is far enough from it to look back on it and see it as a whole.”[3]  But we in the modern world are in a horrible “intermediate state”, for we have “fallen into an intervening valley from which” we cannot see clearly.[4]  We need to go on a journey far enough away so that our vision can be cleared.

In an essay titled “On fairy-stories”, J.R.R. Tolkien referred to such a journey as an act of “recovery”, and he wrote of the same fatigue, calling it “the penalty of ‘appropriation” in which things take on a triteness when we think “we know them”.[5]  This is ever the problem of our modern, scientific age in which we are continually laying our hands on things, “[locking] them in our hoard” of scientific knowledge. [6]   When categorized, we no longer have eyes to see them as they really are. The shadow of familiarity has obscured their light.

One of those dimmed realities is the law of good and evil that is said to be written in our hearts, and another is the natural world with its trove of revelatory riches that points us to a loving Creator who imbues creation with His eternal power and divine nature.[7]   In addition to these, we have lost belief in a Divine Providence that works alongside our free-will choices to achieve good and perfect ends.  Our world is in desperate need of a journey of recovery.

With The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien offers readers such an opportunity.  He created a fairyland such that, when we enter in, we catch a “sudden glimpse” of these truths that have been lost in ours.[8]  As sub-creator and “Man, the refracted Light”, he filled this land “with Elves and Goblins … dark and light … and dragons”, all in accordance with “the law in which [our world was] made.”[9]  In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a “monotheistic world of ‘natural theology’” is felt as a “magic … that’s right down deep”, and it resonates with those truths that are written on our hearts.[10]

The Journey:

Part One:  Natural Theology in “The Lord of the Rings”  – “Through what has been made” –  For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.  Romans 1:20

Part Two:  Natural Theology in “The Lord of the Rings”  – “Written on their hearts” –  For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them .. Romans 2:14-15

Part Three:  Natural Theology in “The Lord of the Rings”  -Divine Providence in Middle-earth

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Notes:

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories: Expanded Edition with Commentary and Notes, ed. by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014), 27.

[2] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, (Tacoma, WA: Angelico Press, 2013) 10, Kindle.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories: Expanded Edition with Commentary and Notes, 67.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Romans 1:20, 2:14 NET.

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-stories: Expanded Edition With Commentary and Notes, 77.

[9] Ibid., 65.

[10] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), loc.7520, Kindle.

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One thought on “A Journey of Recovery: Natural Theology in “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien in Three Parts

  1. Pingback: MBA Episode #20: I was an Atheist Until I Read Lord of the Rings - Mama Bear Apologetics

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