It’s hard not to see the religious allusions in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Although it is not as boldly obvious as it is in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, the allusions are nonetheless present in Tolkien’s Legendarium. The most obvious is the opening book in The Silmarillion the Ainulindalë (the Music of the Ainur). It is the creation myth of the world and universe of Tolkien’s future tales of Middle-Earth. However I would like to centralize on The Lord of the Rings, particularly how Gandalf the Grey is the most obvious Christ-like figure in the epic tale. By no means is this a thorough analysis of the works, but simply a quick overview of the most obvious allusions.
I will not discount that Frodo and Aragorn both display Christ-like attributes, but I want to focus on Gandalf because…he’s Gandalf, that’s why. One of the main, but perhaps more subtle allusions is how Gandalf arranges and gathers the fellowship to go on the quest to fulfill their destinies. In this respect it [LOTR] is similar to The Hobbit, in that Gandalf is the leader of the parties. I guess you can say that in both books the fellowship and the company of dwarves are Gandalf’s disciples. He tries to teach them wisdom along the way, and regardless of the situation they always turn to him for guidance.
A second and also quite subtle reference is when Gandalf leads the fellowship through Moria. You can look at it more symbolically in such a way that Gandalf is leading the company through the dark. He is helping the Fellowship to overcome their fear of the unknown, and lending a helping hand to guide them safely to the light.
Now of course there is my favourite and perhaps the most famous allusion, the confrontation at the bridge of Khazad Dum. This is where Gandalf sacrifices himself to kill the Balrog (“a demon from the ancient world”).
At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.
With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”
It’s plain to see that Gandalf sought no regard for his own life. He’d rather fall when he could have saved himself, but he chooses to pursue the Balrog because he could not allow such evil to linger in the world. This of course is an act of great selflessness, but is it allegorical to Jesus? Not entirely. It is what happens to Gandalf during and after his fall that is a remarkably clear allusion to Christ. Gandalf describes it as such:
[seeing Gandalf alive] “It cannot be. You fell.”
GANDALF THE WHITE :
“Through fire and water. From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth. Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside. Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead and everyday was as long as a life-age of the earth. But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back until my task is done.”
So as you can see Gandalf fell to the lowest dungeon, which can be interpreted as Hell or the underworld and then on the highest peak, the heavens. There, on the highest peak, he was given the power to strike down the Balrog, but in the process he himself fell. But as he says it was not the end “I felt life in me again”. So Gandalf in essence went to the underworld then to the highest peak in the world, slew the demon and was brought back to life as a Gandalf the White.
The resurrection is perhaps the most obvious Christ-like allegory, and is my favourite part in both the books and the films. There are many more instances in which Gandalf symbolizes Christ, but perhaps Ill keep that for a later date. I urge you to leave your thoughts in the comments below, and remember, Keep On Reading.
- What Would Gandalf Do? [Infographic] (dailyinfographic.com)
- Gandalf vs. Balrog Art (YOU SHALL NOT PASS!) (sleeplessthought.wordpress.com)
- The Christian Liberal Arts as Tolkienesque Quest (pietistschoolman.com)
- Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part I (atolkienistperspective.wordpress.com)
- Memorable confrontations in Film and Literature: Part II (atolkienistperspective.wordpress.com)
- In Defense of The Silmarillion (merelyinquisitive.com)