A couple of years ago I was visiting England and was invited to celebrate Mass for a friend at his parish. I happened to know that Priscilla Tolkien–J.R.R. Tolkien’s only daughter was a parishioner there, so I asked the sacristan if she was likely to be in attendance.
“Oh yes, Miss Tolkien is there in the second row.”
So I had the privilege of celebrating Mass with her in attendance. After Mass she stopped and commented on my homily and I had the chance to chat with her for a few moments. I was kicking myself that my phone and camera had dead batteries so I missed the chance of a photo with her.
I said how much I enjoyed her father’s books and that I considered him to be the greatest lay evangelist of the twentieth century. She looked surprised and said she had never heard him called that and why did I think so?
I answered because he baptized the imagination of so many by introducing them to a world that was structured according to a Catholic worldview. The moral universe of the Lord of the Rings is a Catholic universe. The plot line and development of characters follows the inner dynamic of the gospel.
I explained that there is faith, hope and charity woven into the deepest structures of the story and through the story the ideas of Divine Providence, truth, beauty and the necessity of sacrifice are kept alive in the world. These ideas are presented not just as abstract true ideas or doctrines to be believed, but as truths that are foundational–truths that are woven into the world as they are woven into the story. These true and Catholic ideas are therefore not up for discussion–they are simply the way the world IS.
This deep, implicit and undeniable goodness, truth and beauty in Lord of the Rings is therefore a great accomplishment and the greatest work of evangelization for it keeps alive in the culture an understanding of a moral universe that priests and apologists and theologians might argue for when all along these are the foundational assumptions that should not need to be argued for because they are as obvious and undeniable as the sun rising and water running downhill.
Miss Tolkien was very polite and I think she pretended that she had never heard such ideas about her father’s work before. The English are quite good at that sort of thing…pretending that your ideas are new and interesting. They do it to make you feel good. Very nice.
These are some of the themes of Stratford Caldecott’s book, The Power of the Ring- the Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings.