Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has come to be my all time favorite work of fiction. It has all the elements of the perfect story, and now I’m certain of why: it is a symbolic retelling of the Bible. Tolkien himself said this on allegory:
“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
So, if this quote from Tolkien is to be taken seriously, then the Lord of the Rings cannot intentionally be written as biblical allegory. So what then? Am I reading too much into it? Perhaps I’m reading exactly what Tolkien himself, a professed Christian, would have read. Perhaps Tolkien would simply like to give the reader the freedom to see what he or she wants to see in the series. As for me, I simply cannot avoid the obvious correlations between the themes of the Trilogy and the Bible. What are some of these? In no particular order:
1) An ancient evil, sleeping for millennia, is reawakened to threaten the Earth one final time.
In the Trilogy, this element comes from the main evil character, Sauron.
Sauron was defeated by men long ago, but not eliminated. He lives on in the One Ring, waiting for his moment to return and win the final battle to control the planet. Where can we find this element in the Bible?
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.
(Revelation 17:8 ESV)
The Bible teaches that, at the end of history, an ancient beast will rise once more to threaten the world. This beast is (arguably) named by the Bible as Apollyon the Destroyer (Apollo). Remember, the Bible teaches that the ancient false gods were not fake or unreal, but rather they are demons pretending to be gods.
No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
(1 Corinthians 10:20-22 ESV)
The Bible teaches that the ancient Greek false god Apollo will return and wreak havoc on the earth. It may well be that Apollo, mentioned here, is one and the same as the Beast- the Antichrist.
They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
(Revelation 9:11 ESV)
Heh, yes, that’s speculation gone wild. Time will tell. Suffice it for now to simply note the strong connection between this biblical theme and the Trilogy.
2) A ruling elite give their power over to the Evil One.
In the Trilogy, Sauron tricks 9 kings into handing their power over to him by giving them 9 rings, but keeping the One Ring- which controls all the rest- for himself.
In the Bible, we find the same thing will happen at the end. Instead of 9, there are 10 kings who ultimately give their power over to the Beast.
And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
(Revelation 17:12-14 ESV)
3) Half-human ‘demonic’ hybrids
In the Trilogy, Saruman, a wizard who defected to the side of evil, created a hybrid of orcs, which are demon-like creatures, and men (or elves, depending on your source material). These hybrids were taller and stronger than men, but evil and demonic.
In the Bible we can find this type of thing really did occur in the days of Noah prior to the Flood.
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose … The Nephilim [giants] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
(Genesis 6:1-2, 4 ESV)
Some Christians, for whatever reason, resist the eerie and supernatural sound of this passage, and attempt to say that “sons of God” here just refers to some earthly kings. There are other ancient witnesses, such as the Book of Enoch, which testify to the idea that this passage is talking about fallen angels, or demons, producing hybrid offspring. As another proof of this, I would point out that in the ancient Alexandrine text of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), this verse reads “angels of God”, not “sons of God”, making the meaning completely clear. The fact that Christ said ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the coming of the Son of Man,’ has lead some to speculate that the Nephilim, or demon-giant-hybrids, may actually make a return appearance at the end. Again, time will tell.
4) An innocent, suffering savior
In the Trilogy, Frodo Baggins voluntarily chooses to take the tremendous burden and weight, the One Ring, upon himself and carry it to his own certain demise in order to save the world. Along the way he undergoes tremendous suffering, despite the fact that he had done nothing to deserve it. In the end, salvation comes to all people because of this self-sacrifice.
As will be obvious to anyone familiar with the most important message of the Bible, this parallels the sacrifice of Christ, the innocent Lamb who suffered died for the sins of the world so that we may be saved from destruction.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
(John 19:1-3 ESV)
So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.
(John 19:16-18 ESV)
5) Self-sacrificial death, followed by glorified resurrection
In another instance of the self-sacrifice theme, Gandalf, the wizard who guides the Fellowship, does battle with a giant demon and is ultimately killed in the struggle- but he takes the demon down with him and saves the Fellowship from certain destruction in the process.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
(John 20:19-22 ESV)
6) Savior riding a white horse defeats the evil hordes
At one point in the Trilogy, at the battle of Helm’s Deep, Gandalf the White wins the battle against the evil Uruk-Hai (demonic hybrids) by galloping down a steep hill riding a white horse.
This is mirrored in the Scriptures by the account of Revelation, where Christ returns on a white horse and does battle with the armies of the Beast.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
(Revelation 19:11-16 ESV)
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
(Revelation 19:19-21 ESV)
7) What Satan/Sauron intends for evil, God uses for good
One of the most powerful elements of the Trilogy’s story, to me, is this concept that all things work together for good– even evil! At the end of the series, Frodo finally makes it to Mt. Doom where he is to throw in the Ring and destroy evil once and for all. Yet the power of the ring winds up corrupting him and he decides to keep the Ring for himself.
It is at this point that Gollum, the evil, twisted being who has been following them up to this point, comes onto the scene and steals the Ring for himself. In the ensuing fight, however, Frodo knocks him off the ledge and the Ring winds up going into the lava anyway- exactly what they were supposed to be doing in the first place. And thus the story has a happy ending as a result of the actions not only of the good characters, but also the bad ones. Without the evil Gollum, the story would have ended in failure.
This illustrates the Biblical principle that what Satan intends for evil, God uses for good.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
(Genesis 50:20 ESV)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28 ESV)
8) The Return of the King, the marriage to the Bride
After Sauron is defeated, the rightful king of Gondor, Aragorn, is crowned and a great celebration ensues. At this time, the elf-woman Arwen, to which Aragorn was betrothed, is brought in and they are finally married.
This correlates to the biblical Return of the King- the Second Coming of Christ, where he will reign over the peoples of this earth. This also marks the time when the Bride of Christ- that is, symbolically, the Church- is married to Him.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Revelation 19:6-8 ESV)
And there it is. The more you look into it, the more correlations between the Bible and the Trilogy you find. I’m sure I’ve probably only begun to scratch the surface of it, but I think these are probably the biggest and most important examples. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you find other similarities. God bless you, and, if you haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings before (or in the last few months) go watch it now!