Tolkien's Middle-Earth: A Christian World

The book has spawned hundreds of imitations which unfortunately do not share its Christian world view.
Updated Jan 03, 2023
Tolkien's Middle-Earth: A Christian World

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was reading an old Saxon poem "The Crist of Cynewulf" when a phrase leapt off the page. "Hail Earendel brightest of angels, over Middle Earth sent to men." Middle Earth is an ancient expression for our world which lies between Heaven and Hell. For years Ronald had been studying languages, inventing his own and making up stories set in a mythical past. Eventually he combined all this material into a world called Middle Earth.

Authors create their work according to their view of the world. Ronald's was a Christian view and his books show it. Christianity appears in the ideas and symbols of his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

Ronald said, "The gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essences of fairy-stories." The essence of the gospel and of fairy-tales is a surprising, hopeful turn in all man's despair and sorrow. Joy is the result, a brief glimpse of intense delight springing out of unexpected good news.

When Ronald's good creatures think about good and evil, predestination, history, freewill and grace, mercy, providence, judgment and redemption, they follow their maker's Christian mind. For instance, when an elf says, "But whereas the light perceives the very heart of darkness, its own secret has not been discovered," he echoes the Apostle John who said, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1:5).

Ronald, who lived through both world wars and spent time in the trenches, knew first-hand about light and darkness. His views of light required him to be obedient and he was-- to the point of almost losing the girl he loved. He lost both parents at a young age. Father Francis Morgan took over his upbringing. Observing that sixteen-year-old Ronald was becoming too friendly with Edith Bratt, a nineteen-year-old girl, Father Morgan commanded him to break off the relationship until he turned 21. Ronald obeyed.

Fortunately, Edith forgave him. They married before he went to war. Once, while he was based at Hull, Edith and he were able to spend time together. She danced for him in the woods and this was the inspiration for his tale of Beren and Luthien. He saw himself as Beren, and Edith as Luthien. During the war, he acquired trench fever and had to be sent home to recover.

As is well known, Ronald became a close friend of C. S. Lewis. His wisdom pointed Lewis back to Christianity. The two were founding members of one of history's most famous literary groups: the Inklings.

SPECIAL OFFER: Enroll in this free online course on C.S. Lewis today! 

Ronald had difficulty getting The Lord of the Rings published. The publisher expected to lose money on it. Instead, it was such a success that by Ronald's death on this day, September 2, 1973, he was moderately wealthy. The book has spawned hundreds of imitations which unfortunately do not share its Christian world view.


  1. Auden, W. H. "Good and Evil in The Lord of the Rings." Critical Quarterly 10 (Spring/Summer 1968) pp 138-42.
  2. ------------ "A World Imaginary but Real." Encounter 3 (November, 1954) pp. 59-62.
  3. Callahan, Patrick J. "Animism and Magic in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings." Riverside Quarterly, Volume 14 No. 4 (March 1971) pp. 240-250.
  4. Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1979.
  5. ------ J. R. R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
  6. Glover, Willis B. "The Christian Character of Tolkien's Invented World," Criticism 13 (Winter 1971): pp 39-53.
  7. Kocher, Paul Harold. Master of Middle Earth; the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972.
  8. Meisel, Sandra L. "Some Motifs and Sources for The Lord of the Rings." Riverside Quarterly 3 (March 1968) pp. 125-8.
  9. -------------"Some Religious Aspects of The Lord of the Rings." Riverside Quarterly 3 (August 1968) pp. 209-213.
  10. Miller, David M. "The Moral Universe of J. R. R. Tolkien," The Tolkien Papers, ten papers prepared for the Tolkien festival at Mankato State College (1966) pp. 51-61.
  11. Pfotenhauer, Paul. "Christian Themes in Tolkien." Cresset 32 (January 1969) pp. 13-15.
  12. Sale, Roger. "England's Parnassus: C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J. R. R. Tolkien." Hudson Review 17 (Summer, 1964) pp. 203-225.
  13. Stimpson, Catherine R. "J. R. R. Tolkien." Columbia Essays on Modern Authors #41. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
  14. Tolkien, J.R.R. "On Fairy Stories," in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, edited by C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973, p.83.
  15. ---------The Lord of the Rings. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969.
  16. "Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921-1996.
  17. Urang, Gunnar. Shadows of Heaven: Religion and Fantasy in the Writings of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1971.

Last updated June 2007.

Tolkien Expert Talks about His Christian Themes Tolkien Experts Talk About His Christian Themes from crosswalkcom on GodTube.

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

“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

“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

“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 

“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

(Excerpted from “J.R.R. Tolkien Quotes on Christianity and Literature” by G. Connor Salter)

Further Reading:

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

10 Things You Need to Know about J.R.R. Tolkien

Christian Elements and Symbols in Tolkien

Tolkien and the Long Defeat

Does The Lord of the Rings Have Christian Themes?

A Tolkien Biography for Lovers of Legend

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Amandine BATAILLE


Christianity / Life / People / Tolkien's Middle-Earth: A Christian World