Uncovering Catholicism in ‘Lord of the Rings’

TAYLORS—Catholics who enjoy the books of J.R.R. Tolkien may have a reason to read some of them again after hearing author and biographer Joseph Pearce’s comments on the renowned fantasy writer.

Pearce presented his case supporting the role that Catholicism plays in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to a group of around 120 people at Prince of Peace Church on Aug. 5.

Born in England, Pearce is a national speaker and the author of several books, including his autobiography, “Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love”; “Candles in the  Dark: the Authorized Biography of Fr. Ho Lung, Missionaries of the Poor”; and “Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life”.

He is director of the Center for Faith and Culture, writer-in-residence at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., and co-editor of The Austin Review. He has also hosted several EWTN productions.

In his lecture at Prince of Peace, titled “Unlocking the Catholicism of ‘The Lord of the Rings’,” Pearce said Tolkien himself characterized the book as “fundamentally a religious and Catholic work.”

Comparing Tolkien to C.S. Lewis, another English author of the same period whose works also followed Christian themes, Pearce said the Catholic influences in Tolkien’s writings are less apparent than those found in “The Chronicles of Narnia” and other Lewis  works, but are there, nonetheless.

Unlike other fantasy tales that offer an escape from the everyday world, Tolkien’s fantasy stories hold up a mirror to ourselves, Pearce said.

“I would say that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is actually an escape into reality,” he said.

In the novels, Tolkien shows his readers who we are as human beings, Pearce said. It tells the story of “man on a journey; a man on a quest.”

For each of us, the only purpose we have in life is to get to heaven, Pearce said, “and along that journey we are exposed to many dragons, many dangers.”

Pearce, who is a parishioner at Prince of Peace, said what Tolkien is showing readers through “The Hobbit”, which leads into the journey depicted in “The Lord of the Rings”, is that suffering during those dangerous moments is a part of that journey.

“We have to embrace the suffering,” Pearce said, even when the main characters resist what they’ve been called to do.

In “The Hobbit”, Pearce said, Bilbo Baggins doesn’t want to leave his home or his creature comforts. “In other words, he’s possessed by his possessions” and is reluctant go give up everything to head out on the journey.

Bilbo’s quest is to destroy a dragon and in the process overcome his addiction to his possessions, Pearce said.

In “The Lord of the Rings”, the journey is undertaken by another hobbit, Frodo Baggins, nephew of Bilbo. Frodo’s quest is to destroy evil in the form of a ring, which Tolkien uses to symbolize the cross, Pearce said. “Bearing the ring is bearing the cross,” he said.

“Bearing that ring, bearing that cross is a good thing. It’s what we’re called to do as Catholics.”

In a final parallel with Catholicism, Pearce points out that the ring is destroyed on March 25, the date of the Feast of the Annunciation.

“On that day, the power of sin was destroyed,” Pearce said. By choosing March 25, Tolkien made the ring synonymous with sin.

Pearce’s lecture topic attracted a wide range of listeners, both old and young. Clare Sadkowski, a 20-something parishioner at Prince of Peace, said she’s a fan of Tolkien and Pearce.

“I’ve enjoyed listening to his lectures at other events,” Sadkowski said after purchasing a copy of one of Pearce’s books following his lecture.

Angela Calabro, director of Catechesis and Evangelization at Prince of Peace, said the talk was one in a series of programs for adults aimed at enriching their faith formation.

The series is called “Ordinary Splendor: Renewing Culture through Beauty” and features events on art, music, literature, film and dance.

“We had our first event in February when the [Saint Thomas Choir School] came down from New York City,” Calabro said. “This is our second event, focusing on literature. I’m hoping we can have an event at least quarterly.”

Photo, Miscellany/Terry Cregar: Joseph Pearce signs a copy of one of his books for Clare Sadkowski following his talk on Catholicism and “The Lord of the Rings” held at Prince of Peace Church on Aug. 5.