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J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes on Christianity and Literature

With Rings of Power catching the attention of millions of viewers, there couldn't be a better time to look at J.R.R. Tolkien's words about his work, faith, and friendships.

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Sep 20, 2022
J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes on Christianity and Literature

This year marked 132 years to the day that J.R.R. Tolkien was born, and next year will mark 50 years since his death. He couldn’t have seen that his books would not only be read today but be some of the best-selling books in recent history. A recent estimate states that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sales have surpassed 600 million, making Tolkien probably one of the 10 bestselling authors of all time.

Now that Amazon’s TV show Rings of Power has arrived, many readers are returning to his books and reexamining what is known about him. Most people know that he was a good friend of C.S. Lewis and a major member of the Inklings. Tolkien not only shared early drafts of his work with the Inklings but also encouraged and influenced members who were exceptional authors in their own right.

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Few people know that Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic who gave insightful answers about faith and how his beliefs influenced his writings. His advice—especially regarding how faith can stand in the face of Christian scandals—remains relevant today.

Even fewer people know that Tolkien wrote some exceptional nonfiction, including a groundbreaking Beowulf study and a seminal study on fantasy literature. His insights changed literary studies in crucial ways, making him both a great writer and a great scholar.

Let’s look at some of Tolkien’s many insightful quotes about faith, books, friendship, and his writing career.

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes On Christianity

“… the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification.”—1941 letter to Michael Tolkien

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soulmate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstances do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances).”—1941 letter to Michael Tolkien

“All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success—in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout. So it is in general, and so it is in our own lives… But there is still some hope that things may be better for us, even on the temporal plane, in the mercy of God.”—1944 letter to Christopher Tolkien

“And though we need all our natural human courage and guts (the vast sum of human courage and endurance is stupendous, isn’t it?) and all our religious faith to face the evil that may befall us (as it befalls others, if God wills) still we may pray and hope. I do.”—1944 letter to Christopher Tolkien

“It is one of the mysteries of pain that it is, for the sufferer, an opportunity for good, a path of ascent however hard.” — 1948 letter to C.S. Lewis

“In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation—as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but it arouses. It is inconvenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanently repeated final act…” — 1963 letter to Michael Tolkien

“If you do not believe in a personal God the question: ‘What is the purpose of life?’ is unaskable and unanswerable. To whom or what would you address the question?”—1969 letter to Camilla Unwin

hobbiton, jrr tolkien quotes about the hobbitPhoto Credit: Getty Images/Evgeniy Ivanov

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes about The Hobbit

“Most of O.U. [Oxford University] will take no interest in such a story, and the part that will is already clamoring, and indeed beginning to add The Hobbit to my long list of never-never procrastinations…” –1937 letter to publisher Allen Unwin

“I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits…. But I have only too much to say, and much already written, about the world into which the hobbit intruded. You can, of course, see any of it, and say what you liked about, and when you wish. I should rather like an opinion, other than that Mr. C.S. Lewis and my children, whether it has any value in itself, apart from hobbits. But if it is true that The Hobbit has come to stay and more will be wanted, I will start the process of thought…”—1937 letter to Allen & Unwin about whether he could write more hobbit stories

“I think ‘Oxford’ interest is mildly aroused. I am constantly asked how my hobbit is. The attitude is (as I foresaw) not unmixed with surprise and a little pity. My own college is I think good for about six copies, if only in order to find material for teasing me. Appearance in The Times convinced one or two of my more sedate colleagues that they could admit knowledge of my ‘fantasy’ (i.e. indiscretion) without loss of academic dignity.” — 1937 letter to Stanley Unwin

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes On The Lord of the Rings

“Would you ask Mr. Unwin whether his son, a very reliable critic, would care to read the first chapter of the sequel to The Hobbit? I have typed it. I have no confidence in it, but if he thought it a promising beginning, could add to it the tale that is brewing.” — 1938 letter to Allen & Unwin

“I have seriously embarked on an effort to finish my book, and have been sitting up rather late: a lot of re-reading and research required. And it is a painful sticky business getting into swing again.”—1944 letter to Christopher Tolkien

“I managed to go into ‘retreat’ in the summer, and am happy to report that I succeeded at last in bringing the ‘Lord of the Rings’ to a successful conclusion. Also, it has been read and approved by Rayner Unwin, who (the original reader of The Hobbit) has had time to grow up while the sequel has been made, and is now here at Trinity. I think there is a chance of it being published though it will be a massive book far too large to make any money for the publisher (let alone the author): it must run to 1200 pages.” — 1948 letter to Hugh Brogan

“It was a great moment yesterday when I received the advance copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. The book itself is very presentable indeed.”—1954 letter to Allen & Unwin

open book with fairyland coming out of it, fantasy booksPhoto Credit: Getty Images/HiddenCatch

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes about Fantasy Literature

“… the presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what gives this imagined world its verisimilitude. A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.”—1937 letter to Stanley Unwin about The Hobbit

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” — “On Fairy-Stories”

The Lord of the Rings is of course fundamentally a religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously so in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” — 1953 letter to Robert Murray, S.J.

“The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn”… this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist,’ nor fugitive. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be countered on to recur.” — “On Fairy-Stories”

C.S. Lewis, New movie to tell the story of C.S. Lewis conversion to ChristianityPhoto Credit: ©Getty Images/John Chillingworth/Stringer

J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes about C.S. Lewis

“Mr. C.S. Lewis tells me that you have allowed him to submit to you ‘Out of the Silent Planet.’ I read it, of course; and I have since heard it pass a rather different test; that of being read aloud to our local club (which goes in for reading things short and long aloud). It proved an exciting serial, and was highly approved. But of course we all rather like-minded.”—1938 letter to Stanley Unwin

“I saw the Lewis bros. yesterday, and lunched with C.S.L. [C.S. Lewis]: quite an outing for me. The indefatigable man read me part of a new story! But he is putting the screw on me to finish mine. I needed some pressure, and shall probably respond…”—1944 letter to Christopher Tolkien

“[C.S. Lewis] warned me long ago that his support [for The Lord of the Rings] might do me as much harm as good. I did not take it seriously, though in any case I should not have wished other than to be associated with him—since only by his support and friendship did I ever struggle to the end of the labor. All the same many commentators seem to have preferred lampooning his remarks or his review to reading the book.”—1954 letter to Allen & Unwin

“C.S. Lewis is a very old friend and colleague of mine, and indeed I owe to his encouragement the fact that in spit of obstacles (including the 1939 war!) I preserved and eventually finished The Lord of the Rings.” — 1961 letter to Mrs. E.C. Ossen Drijver

“I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis’ death on the 22nd has preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as one of his intimates. Alas! That has ceased to be so some ten years ago… But we owed a great debt to each other, and that tied with the deep affection that it begot, remains. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded obituaries only scraped the surface, in places with injustice.” — 1963 letter to Michael Tolkien

“C.S.L. of course had some oddities and could sometimes be irritating. He was after all and remained an Irishman of Ulster. But he did nothing for effect: he was not a professional clown, but a natural one, when a clown at all.” — 1964 letter to Anne Barrett

Note: Quotes taken from Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

Five books stacked on table next to notebook with paperPhoto Credit: Unsplash/Debby Hudson

20 Great Books on J.R.R. Tolkien

Here are some great books for learning more about J.R.R. Tolkien, either individually or in association with his friends.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey

2. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez

3. The Christian World of the Hobbit by Devin Brown

4. Tolkien’s Modern Reading by Holly Ordway

5. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

6. The Gospel According to Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood

7. The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer

8. J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts edited by Ned Bustard and Melody Green

9. The Fellowship by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

10. A Hobbit Journey by Matthew Dickerson

Further Reading: 

10 Things You Didn’t Know about J.R.R. Tolkien

10 J.R.R. Tolkien Stories You Haven’t Read Yet

Who Were the Inklings Besides C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien?

10 C.S. Lewis Books You Haven’t Read Yet

20 Surprising C.S. Lewis Quotes and 10 Facts You Didn’t Know

Photo Credit: Public Domain photo, via Wikimedia Commons.

Connor SalterG. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.

This article is part of our larger Inspiring Quotes resource meant to encourage and strengthen your faith. Visit our most popular quotes by well known Christians and theologians to find more inspiration. Remember, the Holy Spirit can work through us when we have faith and share it with others! Please pass along any quotes that touch your heart because you never know light you’ll shine on someone else’s dark day! 

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