December 5, 2001
2:21 PM   Subscribe

If you were expecting the Lord of the Rings movie to receive as much if not more scrutiny from Conservative Christians as Harry Potter did you’re in for a surprise. Despite LOTR being filled with violence and intense fantasy imagery few churches or religious watch-god groups will be condemning the fantasy epic like they did the occult heavy, yet kid-friendly Harry Potter flick.

The reason is simple: Tolkien was a devout Christian.
In fact, Tolkien persuaded C.S. Lewis, who himself later wrote several Christian classics, to become a Christian. The two are credited with paving the way for a new genre of devotional literature, influencing authors like Charles Williams, T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesteron and Dorothy Sayers.

Fortunately for most Tolkien doesn’t let Christian imagery dribble into his stories the way C.S. Lewis did. So expect religous LOTR friendly reviews from all with the possible exception of the ChildCare Action Project. One has to wonder though - if Harry Potter author, J. K. Rowling, was more publicly religious would her books be as controversial?
posted by wfrgms (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
(a) Good (and humorous) post on this topic on a friend's blog. (b) Long FPP metatalk.
posted by sylloge at 2:45 PM on December 5, 2001

Kevin Smith is a devout Catholic. Didn't really help Dogma much, with some exceptions.
posted by Sinner at 2:46 PM on December 5, 2001

Ahem. The "good (and humorous) post".
posted by sylloge at 2:46 PM on December 5, 2001

Agreed, very much a crusade type thing. To back you up, the original NYT reviews of the books were by WH Auden, no stranger to these things himself, and can now be found again at Tolkein Today (reg req), though he doesn't mention this aspect. Atheist and all, I did enjoy them in my teenage years and can't honestly say it's bothering me, but that crusade/grail/ring thing is there. I'll have to see the film and have another take on the subject.
posted by Zootoon at 2:47 PM on December 5, 2001

Salon also has a long, two-part essay analysing the books and their origins, including Tolkien's Christian beliefs.
posted by mattpfeff at 2:48 PM on December 5, 2001

that crusade/grail/ring thing

Crucial difference: in LOTR they're trying to get rid of the ring. Hardly analogous to the grail then.
posted by walrus at 2:59 PM on December 5, 2001

I would not expect bible-thumpers like the Childcare Action Project to care much about the fact that Tolkien was a christian. For all we know, JK Rowling might be too, but clearly neither of them are/were the benighted, Salem-style christians that CAP is.

In any case, a little delving in the Peter Jackson's track record (from slasher-classic Dead Alive, to x-rated muppers Meet the Feebles, to art-house teenage murder in Heavenly Creatures) and they have a nice large target.

Also, this movie is going to be really good, I promise. I love Peter Jackson (we can forgive him for his one Frighteners mistake)
posted by malphigian at 3:00 PM on December 5, 2001

Tolkien was Catholic. Certain benighted Christians wouldn't think very highly of that.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2001

Yes Walrus, that's true,a major difference, maybe even one that Tolkein thought about, and I know rings have long roots in Celtic mythology, both as good and bad symbols, but it's still an object of conflict between "good" and "evil", and this is what brought me to think about it, even if Indian Jones wouldn't have reconciled with his father over it. I have to admit that it's been a few years since I read it and the Crusade thing may be too much but let's remember it's one of the basic plots in all this genre. Then again, he invented the genre in its modern clothing so there's loads to be read into this and nothing. Still and all, I'd love to see this thread bringing in some opinions on the subject. Cheers.
posted by Zootoon at 3:11 PM on December 5, 2001


As an agnostic who thinks the Narnia series is top-shelf, I don't understand why people consider it overburdered with Christian sentiments. My favorite part of the series is that is is exactly the opposite - no one is cast into hell or otherwise degraded for their beliefs. While it's clear to anyone that Aslan is meatn to symbolize Jesus, if one did not know a thing abuot Christianity, I doubt they would know a thing more by reading the books.

(Though I do agree with the author of the link you posted that perhaps he is a bit racist in his treatment of the Calormene...though the Tarkheena in A Horse and his Boy is one of the heroes, and she's of Calormene origin, I believe. Also Emeth in the Last Battle)
posted by Kevs at 3:19 PM on December 5, 2001

A article from the London Review of Books, long Reasons for Liking Tolkien.

A good article, it talks about how it is possible to be one of the literary cognoscenti and still like an amazing story like LOTR. Also deals with all sorts of excellent analyses of the story with a particularly enlightening (for me at least) view of Tolkien as Gollum. Well worth a cup of tea and a look.

I'm not sure where, but I remember seeing some letters between CS Lewis and Tolkien about the representation of god, myth and Christianity in works of the imagination. They were really, really good. Well argued amazing stuff. As a Christian myself they were the sort of people I would look to, not the CCAP.

p.s. Go Inklings!
posted by nedrichards at 3:32 PM on December 5, 2001

Great post.
posted by UrbanFigaro at 3:45 PM on December 5, 2001

The beliefs of the authors of the books almost certainly won't hold much weight for the authors of the religiously-inspired reviews and commentaries. Nor do the contents of the books themselves. Jack Chick's comics declare that the works of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are occult and should be burned alongside your more mundanely naughty role-playing games, rock'n'roll records and charms ("Dark Dungeons" page... um, near the end; it also mis-spells Tolkien's name). And for some Christian fundamentalists all dragons, particularly red ones, are symbols of Satan. Which is bad news for everyone in Wales.
posted by Hogshead at 4:13 PM on December 5, 2001

Wow, thanks for the Jack Chick link...i've never seen it before, and being a Catholic, it cracks me up from all the *crap* he writes. How Catholics aren't Christians, i will never understand.
posted by jmd82 at 4:33 PM on December 5, 2001

Dear "wfrgms",

Let's take a look at the other posts you have so generously graced us with:

"Will members of the religious right pass on smallpox vaccines in the event of an attack?"

"Evangelist Franklin Graham, stands by his statements that Islam is 'wicked, violent'..."

"Bibleman receives Death Threats"

"Focus on the Family likes watching bad TV."

"Focus on the Family says ABC’s The Drew Carey Show propagandizes 'the idea that men enjoy watching lesbian sex.'"

I can assure you, we make many mistakes. Christ made none.
posted by aaronshaf at 4:35 PM on December 5, 2001

Having looked at the Salon article in greater depth it seems that it is also talking about this book: JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century, by Tom Shippey.

As for the fundementalists, I'm content to wait until the final judgement where I'm sure they'll be cosying on up with those red dragons and CS Lewis. For vengance is mine sayeth the lord. (or words to that effect)

btw. that was a very, very weak joke
posted by nedrichards at 4:37 PM on December 5, 2001

I can assure you, we make many mistakes. Christ made none.

posted by rushmc at 4:55 PM on December 5, 2001

I think the main reason that the fundies are not so down on the LOTR film is that there's a clear dichotomy between good and evil. Not so in the Harry Potter flick, where magic and witchcraft are presented as a normal part of childhood.
posted by groundhog at 5:05 PM on December 5, 2001

wtf does "Troll" mean? i see it posted from time to time here on MeFi and i'm always clueless.
posted by jmd82 at 5:08 PM on December 5, 2001

I can assure you, we make many mistakes. Christ made none.

Let's see:
-Judas Iscariot, not the best choice of disciple
-Getting everybody pissed on bad wine before revealing miracle working changing water into Rothschild 1927bc
-letting his parents run away with the gold, incense and myrhh, or however it's spelt
-being usurped by Brian
-not deciding that his divine intervention only meant white smoke for Italians (practically) until his last mistake these last couple of decades.
-not getting crucified
-not beatifying assholes like fellow drunken Irishman (though I haven't drunken in my lifetime what that mental case drank every day before he started whipping himself for Jesus) Matt Talbot
-not defending his ethnicity (see all Christian art)
posted by Zootoon at 5:10 PM on December 5, 2001

As I was posting, I see you refer to him as a troll, rushmc. Always had a problem with the term but let them slide. Hearing this shit on a thread about Tolkein, which is a good thread, makes me agree with you, whatever it means.
posted by Zootoon at 5:13 PM on December 5, 2001

What means troll?
posted by dhartung at 5:37 PM on December 5, 2001

wtf does "Troll" mean? i see it posted from time to time here on MeFi and i'm always clueless.

A posting designed solely to provoke hostile reactions from whatever community you post in, usually trying to make them look stupid. Traditionally, being a troll meant someone was usually posting something particularily inflamtory, and with no real interest in participating in conversation. Eg. Right now in alt.pets.rabbits there is a guy posting rabbit recipes. More recently its been used to describe people who are posting their beliefs, but are either phrasing it in a particularily inflamatory way, or in a way that is simply baiting attacks rather than looking for debate.

Not sure if the post here was trolling, mind you, I'd say not (low order flame-bait, maybe).

Usenet jargon is full of great observations on people's debate techniques. Godwin's Law is a personal favorite.
posted by malphigian at 5:45 PM on December 5, 2001

If aaronshaf's post is "troll", then a LOT of what i read in pretty much and MeFi religious oriented thread is tolling. Many times I read posts that would pisses me off, but i choose not to respong b/c i know the person's only writing whatever to get a reaction from Christians or people of faith. Just like real life. Aetheists and Christians alike make stupid comments w/ NO evidence to back up their claims, just mostly ad hominem crap. Hell, calling someone a Troll could be considered Ad Hominem.
posted by jmd82 at 6:02 PM on December 5, 2001

The Flame Warrior's definition of
troll (called "troller" herein)
For more Flame Warriors, go
posted by Lynsey at 6:13 PM on December 5, 2001

Where was he at the weddings I've been at. Fair play to you Skallas.
All the same, I'd love to get this thread back on the tracks. I'd just like to admit that I teach kids of Harry Potter/ LOTR age and it's a terrible feeling siding subconsciously with the LOTR crowd (all girls I've found!!!). Is the symbol of the ring basically pagan/non-Christian or what?
posted by Zootoon at 6:22 PM on December 5, 2001

my fiance's mom Hates harry potter. She loves LOTR. why?

she grew up with LOTR, and while there are monsters and magic and enchantments and isn't occult so much as good guys and monsters--Fantasy. And it takes place in a fictional middle-earth rather than HP which obviously[hahaha] is trying to convince kids that modern day magic and witches and such are waay cool. There is No Satan/Devil per se in LOTR--just Evil. Perhaps its pre-christian setting gives it an exemption--like the old testament.

Like star wars. i've seen Church groups use the force as an analogy of the holy ghost vs. the influence of the Devil. [read it like the church lady. Dev-vil.] There isn't Chritianity to turn away from in SW or LOTR and so its safe somehow...that is my theory.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:39 PM on December 5, 2001

I'm a devout born-again Christian, and for me, Harry Potter is fine, Star Wars is fine, LOTR is fine, and I even played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. (Though I probably wouldn't now, unless my character could be an Elven Warrior-Wizard for Christ. With all attributes at 18. *grin*)

Read this interview from Chuck Colson's Breakpoint Ministry for a rational Christian outlook on Harry Potter which stands apart from the reactionary paranoia of the conspiracy-minded religious right. (Those of you who only remember Colson for Watergate might want to read his bio to get some perspective.)
posted by brownpau at 7:38 PM on December 5, 2001

Dang it, I'm sorry. I think I'm throwing the thread back to Harry Potter topicity rather than continuing in the LOTR vein.

Well, I don't see how LOTR could be misconstrued as anti-Biblical, considering how the whole novel series reads like a King-James Old Testament manuscript. (Except, perhaps, for The Hobbit.)
posted by brownpau at 7:41 PM on December 5, 2001

Nedrichards, thanks for the Turner link. It certainly points a middle way between the hagiographic Carpenter and Shippey, and the instantly dismissive critics.

However, I couldn't help thinking Turner is a, a, a big meanie. Damnit, I LIKED John Ronald Reuel, a man of great tenacity who in the end did something with himself above and beyond being a literary trainspotter.

Eunuchs in a harem, mate.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:33 PM on December 5, 2001

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane on LOTR:

"How tempting it is to follow Blake's reading of Milton, or, more recently, John Carey's black-edged take on Dickens, and to contend that Tolkien was, contrary to his own wishes, a pallid advocate of goodness but an inspired and intricate summoner of evil."
posted by muckster at 11:33 PM on December 5, 2001

"if Harry Potter author, J. K. Rowling, was more publicly religious would her books be as controversial?"

They would be, if she was openly Wiccan. Or Pagan, or Muslim. Hindu, Shinto or Buddist she could probably get away with.

This religion crap gets right up me sometimes.
posted by krisjohn at 1:17 AM on December 6, 2001

Just to add my 2 cents: the London Review of Books article linked by nedrichards above blows everything else mentioned here out of the water as an account of Tolkien's sensibility (religious, social, personal).
posted by Zurishaddai at 1:52 AM on December 6, 2001

More LRB-article discussion.
posted by rory at 6:06 AM on December 6, 2001

Why does the media even give time to people who are freaked by Harry Potter!? Can't we just assume they are crackpots and ignore them. I'm christian and think they're wacko so I imagine the teaming hordes of infidels think even less of them...
posted by revbrian at 6:06 AM on December 6, 2001

Here are some more resources on the subject.

They're not all "wacko"; a lot of them have a good reason.
posted by aaronshaf at 3:22 PM on February 6, 2002

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