Light for the Last Days

JR Tolkien, CS Lewis and the power of the myth.

Written 2003

As Tolkien’s epic fable, ‘Lord of the Rings’ hits the big screen and becomes a box office blockbuster, many claims are being made to its underlying message.  According to Professor Ralph C. Wood, a foremost expert on Tolkien, ‘The unrestrained quality of mercy is what makes the ‘Lord of the Rings’ an enduring Christian classic despite its pagan setting.’  

‘Direction’, the official magazine of the Elim Pentecostal Church took up this theme in its February 2003 edition stating that Tolkien ‘was a British academic who led CS Lewis to Christ’.  Its Deputy Editor, Andrew Halloway, wrote about the underlying Christian theme of his work.  ‘Lord of the Rings is a story of good overcoming evil through Christ like self-sacrifice.  … Tolkien’s book is about the struggle of right and wrong, about the belief that good will triumph over evil, about courage.  … That was the end of our hero Gandalf the Grey, or so it seems.  In part 2 he is resurrected as Gandalf the White, which is one of the reasons he has been compared to Jesus.   In fact he is transformed, his hair and clothes now turned almost completely white from his experience of death and resurrection – reminiscent of Jesus’ transformed body after the resurrection or the dazzling whiteness of his appearance at his transfiguration.’

At the same time Terry Donaldson, Founder of the London Tarot Training Centre, has no problem putting Tolkien’s myth into an occult context.   He sells a gift box entitled: ‘The Lord of the Rings Oracle: A Mystical Pack with Middle-earth Cards, Map, and Ring for Divination and Revelation.’ The back explains: ‘The realm of the Middle Earth lies within each of us, so cast the gold ring over the map, and foretell the future through the cards. The Lord of the Rings Oracle is a new and extraordinary divinatory system based on the best-selling Lord of the Rings… a story laden with mysterious magic.’  Surrounding the gift box were Harry Potter books and a multitude of more recent publications on witchcraft, palmistry, tarot cards and spell casting.

So who is right?  

Tolkien himself was a staunch Roman Catholic and a brilliant intellectual and linguist.  His main area of study was Nordic and Celtic mythology.   He was a man of some contradictions.  On one hand he said that ‘the Lord of the Rings’ was ‘a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.’  On the other hand he wrote, ‘There is no allegory — moral, political, or contemporary — in the work at all. It is a fairy-story written for adults’.  

He wrote in a letter that the chief purpose of life is ‘to increase our knowledge of God’ but the idea of God contained in his writing is one which is very different from the Biblical revelation of God.   Dr. Ralph C. Wood, an expert on Tolkien’s work, described his concept of God as a remote supreme being who rules the universe through ‘lesser gods’ or ruling spirits, an idea much closer to Norse and Celtic mythology than the caring personal God of the Bible:  ‘At the top stands Ilúvatar, the All-Father, corresponding roughly to the One whom Christians call God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. From him all things proceed, and to him all things return. He is the beginning and the end, the One who shapes all events to his own purposes. He… only rarely intervenes in his Creation, preferring instead to work through… fifteen subordinate beings’.   

This idea is close to the pagan view of many gods ruled by one all-powerful god. Berit Kjos compares it to the ‘hierarchy of ‘devas’ or ‘angels’ and ascended masters in the elaborate spiritual system called Theosophy or ‘Ancient Wisdom.’ Founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky, this blend of Hinduism and Western occultism received its doctrines from ‘ascended masters’ or spirit guides such as ‘Djhwal Khul’ who channelled his messages to the medium Alice Bailey. Tolkien acknowledged something outside of himself guiding him to write the books:  ‘The thing seems to write itself once I get going.’

Tolkien believed that mythology and Christianity were closely intertwined.  He wrote,  ‘In making a myth, and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.’   

CS Lewis was strongly influenced by Tolkien, also believing in the connection between Christianity and mythology.  As a teenager Lewis had abandoned Christianity but he changed his mind on the night of September 19, 1931, when he invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, a teacher at Reading University, to dine. By the time Tolkien left Magdalen at 3 a.m. Lewis had reconciled in his own mind the relationship between Christianity and paganism.

A month later, Lewis wrote the following letter: ‘If I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it.  Again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in the Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even though I could not say in cold prose what it meant.  Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.  One must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths; i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of the poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’ namely, the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.’  C.S.Lewis letter to Arthur Greeves, 18/10/31.

At least Lewis does say that the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection really happened which is more than can be said for many church leaders today.  But he is quite wrong to say that ‘the story of Christ is simply a true myth.’  Here we see the real danger of the whole attempt to Christianise mythology and to claim that pagan myths prefigure the Gospel account of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This goes right back to the problems encountered by the early church.  Christianity began to lose its way when it absorbed Greek and Roman mythology and philosophy and placed them alongside the New Testament.  In doing this they were moving away from the vital teaching of Romans 9-11 that the church must draw from its roots in the history and teaching of the Jewish people found in the Old Testament (Tenach).  

The roots of our faith are to be found in the events of Israel’s history in which God called out a nation through whom he would reveal his Torah (Law) and to whom he would prophesy the coming Messiah.  Especially in the event of the Passover and Exodus, we see vivid types of our exodus from the slavery of sin through the blood of the Lamb of God shed at the time of the Passover so that we can ‘pass over’ from death to life.  These were events which really happened in space and time, as did the events of the Gospels, through which God was demonstrating that he is not a remote powerless deity, but is actively involved in his creation and able to move in history and establish a living relationship with people on the earth.  

By contrast pagan myths never really happened.  They are the product of human imagination influenced by demonic powers which far from leading people to understand the true God, oppress them by evil spirits and create a barrier of confusion and unbelief.   In this confusing world ‘good’ or white magic is pitted against ‘bad’ or black magic, but in God’s word all magic is condemned.  

Today we see that many people are denying that the events of the Bible really happened and as a result not just liberal churches but many supposedly Bible believing churches are wobbling in their commitment to the historic truths of the Bible.  We see also that many charismatic churches are placing emphasis on experience rather than doctrine and on what appears to work rather than on what is true.   As a result they become incapable of separating truth from error.  

The danger of this comes out in a comment on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film by a reader of Elim’s ‘Direction’ magazine already referred to.  He writes:  ‘In a strange way the film made me think more highly of my Christian faith.  When I saw Gandalf wrestling the Balrog deep into the earth’s core, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus, a lone figure of purity diving into the depths of hell to wrestle away the keys of death.’

According to Tolkien Gandalf is a wizard who ‘is able to wield potent magic’ and use ‘spellcraft to do battle with the forces of darkness’.  The Lord Jesus is the sinless Son of God who laid down his life as a sacrifice for sin.  Tolkien’s world includes the possibility of re-incarnation for characters who have done good and so Gandalf’s re-appearance as Gandalf the White with transformed body and clothes has much more in common with the non-Christian idea of re-incarnation than the resurrection of Jesus.  

It is also entirely wrong to describe Jesus as ‘a lone figure of purity diving into the depths of hell to wrestle away the keys of death.’  Jesus never ‘dived into the depths of hell’ to take away the keys of death from Satan.  Jesus defeated Satan once and for all by shedding his blood on the cross in fulfilment of clear prophecies like Isaiah 53.  He did this at the time of the Passover which is the true event prefiguring Jesus’ death and resurrection.  His word from the cross, ‘It is finished’, meant that no further suffering or sacrifice was needed in order to redeem us.  

The idea of Jesus ‘diving into hell’ is a mythological idea which has come into the charismatic movement through the erroneous teaching of Kenneth Copeland and the so-called ‘faith movement’.  This teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough to atone for sin, but that he had to spend ‘three horrible days and nights’ in hell being tormented by the Devil before he could be ‘born again’ and resurrected, bringing the keys of death with him.  There is not a word about this in the Bible, but it ties in very much with the mythological world of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the influence of paganism on contemporary Christianity, which is having disastrous results on the spiritual life of many Christians and churches.   

From the point of view of New Testament Satan is not at present in hell anyway.  He is the ‘prince of this world’ (John 12.31) now ruling the fallen world system through the powers of darkness in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6.12).  This is not of course the same as heaven where God is, but is the invisible realm, from where Satan now exercises power on the earth.  He will only be cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne judgement at the end of the world (Revelation 20.10-15).  Since that is the place of eternal punishment for the wicked, it is blasphemous to suggest that the Lord Jesus could ever have entered that place.

In conclusion a comment from an article posted on the Internet by Joseph Chambers is apt and to the point.   ‘No writer has ever portrayed the blending of pagan myths with distorted Christianity more cleverly than Tolkien.  These books can be and are being heralded by the liberal Christian world and the pagan world at the same time.  The Christian bookstores and many ministries speak of Tolkien’s great message of espousing values and even some hidden form of the Messianic hope.  The pagan world promotes it right in the middle of witchcraft and occultic ideas.  It is a perfect pattern for the ‘global spirituality’ of the coming One World Government and One World Church.’

Much of the information for this article is taken from ‘Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:  Truth, Myth of Both?’ by Berit Kjos. To view this article:

Tony Pearce

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