LOTR Readalong: The Two Towers April post

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I feel like the last few posts for the read-along have, for me at least, not been the greatest because I wasn't sure what to say. I mean, this is a masterpiece of literature, the standard to which all other fantasy novels are held. The book is plot-directed and slow-paced with a lot of description, which isn't always conducive to good analysis. So, for this month's post I thought I would write a few questions that have popped into my mind about the first part of The Two Towers. You are welcome to discuss any or all of these questions in your April post, or to go in a different direction.

Things to consider:
* Gandalf's transformation. What mythological or symbolic significance does this have? Why do you think that Tolkien chose to have Gandalf go through a death-type experience to emerge stronger and more powerful?
* The Ents. Do we have any equivalents to this in mythology? Do you like reading about the Ents, or do you find their slowness irritating?
* The Rohan. This is the first group of Men that Tolkien spends much time wit
h. What do you think of their customs and their traits compared to those of the other races, the hobbits, elves, dwarves, and Ents?
* Do you like all of Tolkien's attention to place and location, or is it distracting to you?

For my post, I just want to focus on Gandalf's Transformation - I think this is a really interesting element showing parallels to either biblical translation (such as when Moses and Elijah didn't die, but were taken straight to the presence of God. They would have had to go through
a physical change to abide the presence of God, sort of like Gandalf's transformation from grey to white) or Christ's death and resurrection. I know that Tolkien was a close friend of C.S. Lewis, whose Christianity was well known and often transmitted through his literature, but I don't know exactly what Tolkien's beliefs were. One of these days I need to read a biography of Tolkien, because my curiosity about him has increased ever since I took a C.S. Lewis class for my literature credit in college.

Okay, I just checked wikipedia (intelligent researcher that I am) and it brought some things to my memory. Tolkien was actually a huge factor in Lewis' conversion to Christianity, and now that I read that I remember reading some of Lewis' musings on how long talks with Tolkien led him to a belief in God. Tolkien was a devout Catholic (in case you're interested, Lewis belonged to the Church of England). So there is a possibility that there are religious undertones in his work. I'm sure anyone who has studied The Lord of the Rings in depth knows more about this, but as I am a literary amateur it would be news to me!

And actually, my husband is reading this over my shoulder and told me that today he'd seen an article on our university's webpage about this very topic. *Pauses to read article* So, apparently Tolkien is much like Lewis in that he will never say his works are allegories (this being, I think, because things do not perfectly correlate in every way) but that it is a "fundamentally religious work" (quoting the article directly, not Tolkien). The article also says that Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn all have Christ-like qualities, in that they are all making certain sacrifices to save the world.

To get back to the topic at hand - now that I have skimmed the surface a very infinitesimal bit on the religious qualities of LOTR, I think it is quite likely that Tolkien was thinking of Christ and his resurrection when he wrote Gandalf's transformation. I think it is very interesting that Gandalf had to descend into the depths of the earth with the Balrog - which I think, as a fiery, dark creature, could definitely be termed a representation of the devil, or sin, or some other evil entity that we battle on the earth - only to re-emerge as a more perfect being with more power than before, able to rescue his confused comrades and direct their course. I agree that this is not a direct allegory - what is Saruman? Is he Lucifer? Who is Sauron? etc. Apparently there is a book being published by one of the authors at BYU called The Ring and the Cross. Sounds sufficiently nerdy - I'd like to look into it but it is $64 on Amazon. *sigh*

Anyway, these are my more directed thoughts about this month's reading. Please comment below and I will link up to your April post. You are welcome to follow any of the random reading prompts I listed, come up with your own, or just update your general progress in the book. We're nice and flexible here.

Other participants:


  1. Great post! These are important issues you raised.

    Tolkien was indeed a devout Catholic and we can certainly draw parallels not only to Christianity but also to the WW II era when he was writing LOTR. Tolkien himself, however, "cordially disliked allegory in all its manifestations" (Tolkien in Foreword to the second edition). Nevertheless, I do believe Tolkien beliefs of which moral standards people should aim at are reflected in LOTR.

    I might write more about it some time next week and post it on my blog (can't promise anything - time issue), but for now, here is my April follow-up post: http://beyondstrangenewwords.blogspot.com/2011/04/looking-forward-to-two-towers.html

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog, and have a few things that I have to say about Tolkien and Gandalf...

    Tolkien was indeed a Catholic. And was indeed a friend of C.S. Lewis and played a large part in him becoming religious. However, Tolkien disliked that Lewis became a member of the Church of England rather than the Catholic Church. And he hated allegory - so much that the Narnia books were a huge reason - if not the reason - why Tolkien broke off his friendship with Lewis.

    As for Gandalf - yes, you could say his resurrection makes him a Christ figure. But really, this is not his story. To be technical, it's not anyone's story, but if the story does belong to anyone, it's Frodo, who also has his fair share of Christ parallels. Gandalf is the caretaker and later the general of Middle Earth. Tolkien's life's work and passion was as a scholar of of old Norse and old English, and Gandalf bears far more resemblance to the war god of Norse mythology, Odin, than anyone else. If you're interested, I've written a paper on Gandalf. Though I would finish the trilogy, if you haven't, before reading that paper.

  3. @Pepca - I liked your post format. Even though you didn't do any reading this month you still had lots of interesting things to say. Thanks for always participating!

    @Laura - Thank you for your insights! As I mentioned in the post, I do not know much about Tolkien as a man or much beyond the story of LOTR so it is good to have some new perspective. I am intrigued by Tolkien being angry about Narnia being an allegory, as Lewis repeatedly pointed out that it wasn't an allegory (although I'll admit it often sounds like allegory to me). I enjoyed reading your paper and have been wanting to get into Norse mythology, so this parallel increases my interest. And I definitely think there is no single Christ-parallel in Lord of the Rings. Frodo seems to be the best candidate, but I find it interesting that he almost fails at the end. There is a similar sort of instance in Lewis' Perelandra, where one man is responsible to keep an Eve-figure on another planet from succumbing to temptation the way Eve did. There is so much out there - sometimes it makes me wish that I had studied literature in college. Oh well. This reply is getting excessively long, so I'll just repeat that I appreciate your insights. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Here is my review

    I never knew either that Tolkien and Lewis were friends, although I do think their books are very similar. Not in plot etc, but in feel of the book if that makes sense.
    I am not sure if you have read Robert Jordans Wheel of TIme series. There are so many similarities in the two series to my mind, but not the same if that makes sense. 1)One character, pulled out of obscurity who has to save the world. Taken away by "outsiders" his friends all go with to help. Powers/strengths that the characters all display that you would never have known were there.
    2) A strong magic influence which is never quite trusted by the people
    3) The lost king
    I can even relate some of the evil characters to each other. The books are very different but I always feel that WOT must have been influenced in some way by this series.

  5. @Tracy - Those are some interesting comparisons! I have heard of the Wheel of Time but am reluctant to start them because there are so many and they are so long. One of these days I will have to give them a try. I feel like a lot of fantasy shows hints of LOTR.

  6. Hey Lor-
    Dr. Kerry, the professor who authored/edited that book is the teacher who convinced me to go to grad school! He's brilliant. That is all. hah. Also, I just found the thank-you note I wrote you from my wedding... three years ago... maybe someday it will make it's way to you.



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