Tolkien described The Lord of the Rings as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” and declared, “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories).” Yet he insisted his writings were not allegories, and Middle-earth is loved by millions who do not share his religious beliefs.
How were his faith and his fiction related? Holly Ordway answers this question biographically, focusing on Tolkien’s spiritual development, a dramatic story that previous accounts of his life have left largely unexplored.
Here we find Tolkien’s faith was hard-won. His Anglican upbringing was overturned when his mother converted to Catholicism. Soon afterwards, she died, leaving Tolkien under the guardianship of a Catholic priest, who forbade him for three years to see his Protestant sweetheart; he eventually married her nonetheless. The Great War, in which most of his close friends were killed, deepened Tolkien’s reliance on his faith, but then, for nearly a decade, he “almost ceased to practise” his religion. Friendship with C.S. Lewis and success with The Hobbit were followed by another war and by turmoil in the Church that sternly tested Tolkien’s commitments.
The challenges and triumphs in his religious life are reflected in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, that epic tale of endurance against the odds. As Ordway shows in her expertly researched and richly illustrated study, Tolkien’s faith and Tolkien’s fiction are intimately related, though in subtle and complex ways. This long-overdue spiritual biography gives new insight into his works by shedding fresh light on their author’s deepest-held convictions.