The Lord of the Rings has many characters with aspects reflecting a Christian worldview. In this Part II of Christianity in The Lord of the Rings, we’ll be exploring various allies of the Threefold Office (Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo) covered in Part I. Some bear similarities to prominent Christian figures, while most demonstrate the qualities of a Christian archetype.
Missed Part I? See it here: Part I: The Threefold Office
1. Galadriel and the Elves
As is hinted at in The Lord of the Rings and is more explicit in The Silmarillion, elves at large represent something approximating a more perfect man. Elves are fairer, wiser, less corruptible, magical, and more in tune with the natural world. Tolkien’s elves call to mind both what man was supposed to be and what man should be. The first is to suggest that elves are like mankind before the Fall, mankind in the Garden of Eden. The second is to link the elves with the saintly calling of man. We are all called to be saints, to be more perfect versions of ourselves.
Galadriel is one of the mightiest of the elves in The Lord of the Rings, and represents a Mary-like nature. The Marian overtones of Galadriel are most explicit in her many names: “The Lady of Lorien”, “Lady of Light”, “The Lady of the Wood”, “Lady Galadriel”, or simply “The Lady”. All these names have in common “lady” which is a name bestowed upon Jesus’ mother in various ways. Catholics often refer to her as “Our Lady”, particularly in reference to some apparition, like that of Lourdes. She is thought to be the greatest saint, much like Galadriel was possibly the greatest elf left in Middle Earth.
“In Dwimordene,in Lorien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever,long and bright.
Clear is the water of your well;The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
White is the star in your white hand;
Unmarred,unstained is leaf and land
In Dwimordene,in Lorien
More fair than thoughts of Mortal Men.”
2. Sam Gamgee
Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s gardener and trustee sidekick, represents the faithful Christian. He is one of few who never wavers from his mission, and despite his fears, Sam is willing to go with Frodo to his own doom. He steadfastly supports Frodo in the journey to destroy the Ring and often puts his master’s needs before his own.
Sam is the sole companion who follows Frodo (Christ) to Mount Doom (Golgotha or the cross). This is not to say Sam represents Mary or John or Simon of Cyrene – those present during Christ’s crucifixion. Rather, Sam represents the faithful Christian who suffers trials and tribulations on Christ’s account, who follows in the steps of Christ, as 1 Peter 2:21 calls all Christians to do:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”1 Peter 2:21
This Biblical “following in his steps” is put again in terms of a journey, a walking, with Christ in 1 John:
“But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”1 John 2:5-6
As any fan of The Lord of the Rings knows, there is indeed a lot of walking! Sam is the faithful Christian who walks with Christ no matter the difficulty. Further, as any Christian must fundamentally be, Sam is the supreme optimist in contrast to the solemnity of Frodo.
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”Sam Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings
Sam recognizes the greatness of their mission and keeps faith that “even darkness must pass” and that “a new day will come”. To be a faithful and hopeful Christian, then, is to be a Sam Gamgee.
Faramir may be a bit of a surprise here, as his role in the Peter Jackson film adaptations is somewhat diminished from his prominence in the books. Faramir represents the convert. Overshadowed by his brother Boromir, the favorite of their father, Lord Denethor of Minas Tirith, Faramir enters the story steeped in despondency. When news of Boromir’s death reaches Minas Tirith, Denethor demonstrates little care for his now only son Faramir, virtually sending him to his death in battle. Faramir accepts this impossible mission to retake ground gained by the orcs at Osgiliath with despair.
When Aragorn heals Faramir after the siege of Gondor and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Faramir is healed of more than simply his bodily wounds, but also his spiritual wounds caused by the broken relationship he has with his father. During this healing by Aragorn, Faramir exemplifies the Christian response to Christ’s (Aragorn’s) calling:
Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. “My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?”
“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”
“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”p. 899, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Aragorn, acting in the manner of Christ, calls Faramir to “walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” to call him from his despair into the light of the Christian worldview, where hope is born by Christ’s sacrifice. Aragorn then further resembles Christ by his request that Faramir “be ready when I return”, a clear nod to Christ’s second coming:
“Watch therefore–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”Mark 13:35-36
Faramir’s response is a simultaneous affirmation of both his assent and his recognition of Aragorn’s rightful kingship: “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?” This is the Christian response to Christ’s calling – a submission to his will and readiness for his return. Hence, Faramir’s journey from despair to joy and honor mark him as a symbol of the convert.
Lastly, Boromir, the older brother of Faramir, was another complex character, plagued by two flaws. The first and most obvious of Boromir’s sins was the attempt to sway Frodo into taking the Ring to Gondor for purposes counter to those of the council’s. Boromir, a noble yet headstrong one, thought it best to use the Ring against Sauron, and, when Frodo refused, attempted in his distress to take it from the hobbit. However, as Boromir lay dying after a valiant effort to protect Merry and Pippin from the attacking orcs, he repents through his confession to Aragorn:
“I tried to take the Ring from Frodo…I am sorry. I have paid.”Boromir to Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Peter Jackson’s version of this scene is quite different in terms of dialogue, and wittingly or unwittingly, his Boromir exudes a Christian interpretation even more explicitly, as Boromir says to Aragorn:
“I would have followed you, my brother… my captain… my king.”Boromir speaking to Aragorn in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Here, Peter Jackson’s Boromir gives up his denial of Aragorn’s right to the throne of Gondor and submits himself to his will, calling him “my king” in a final conversion of heart. Thus, Boromir is an archetype of the deathbed repentant, emphasizing the value of turning our hearts even in the last moments of our life. In this way, Boromir remained high in the memories of the Fellowship, despite his sins against Frodo and the Ring.
Galadriel, Sam, Faramir, and Boromir embody a small fraction of The Lord of the Ring’s hidden Christian themes through their roles, actions, and words. These four figures yield further insight into the mind of Tolkien and the Christian framework of his greatest work. Galadriel’s Mary-like status, Sam’s faithfulness, Faramir’s conversion, and Boromir’s repentance all exemplify how such secondary characters hold more significance than might be first imagined, with each character representing an archetype that transcends the world of Middle Earth.
Part III: Evil in Middle Earth
Books to Read
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