Additionally, Ordway said her extensive research for the book included a look at the anti-Catholic climate of the time in order to accurately paint a picture of just how consequential Tolkien’s conversion was.
“Recognizing exactly how anti-Catholic English culture was when he was growing up makes it all the more remarkable that he was incredibly generous-spirited towards other traditions,” she commented.
Father Francis Morgan, a priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London, would later take on a major role in Tolkien’s life as a substitute father figure. Tolkien wrote proudly of his Catholic faith, including his love for the Eucharist, and was strengthened in his Christian convictions by his friendship with C.S. Lewis, a highly renowned Christian author in his own right.
Tolkien is very clear in his writings that “The Lord of the Rings” is not a Christian allegory, contrasting the “Narnia” books by his friend Lewis. He nevertheless described “The Lord of the Rings” as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”
Ordway said it is clear that Tolkien’s Catholic worldview is infused in his stories.
“There are Marian figures, there are Christ-like figures … what he’s imbuing into the story is the fundamentally religious element. I think he chose that word carefully … fundamentally at the fundamentals, at the roots. So things like his understanding of good and evil, and he has a very clearly Catholic understanding of that,” Ordway said.
“He says, ‘I don’t believe in absolute evil, but I do believe in absolute good.’ So he’s explicitly rejecting a dualistic view of the world and he’s affirming the fundamental Catholic view. God does not have an ontologically equivalent opposite. God is the supreme, and evil is parasitic.”
Tolkien also prizes in his books the virtues of pity and mercy, which are “fundamentally Christian concepts,” Ordway said. “The Lord of the Rings” also strongly proffers the idea that suffering — while real and painful — can also be redemptive.
“I think that is a message that is profoundly Christian, profoundly Catholic, and profoundly meaningful. It speaks to people even if they don’t know that it has any connection to the Christian faith,” Ordway said.
“Even if you don’t recognize the fact that these elements are Christian, I think people are still responding to the reality of it. They’re still experiencing the beauty of goodness and the sordidness of evil and wanting goodness to prevail. And that’s a big deal in today’s world, to recognize something as fundamental as the reality of goodness,” she continued.
“By the time someone who’s not a Christian, by the time they get to the end of [my] book, first of all, they will know a lot more about Christianity and Catholicism than they did before … they’ll see that whatever Tolkien believed, it wasn’t simple or trivial or foolish. It was something substantial. It meant a lot to him. And that opens the door for them to say, ‘Maybe I should look into this some more.’”
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