Earlier this year, I had one of the happiest days of my life.
Three friends and I spent the day watching all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films. That’s a total of 683 minutes (11 hours, 23 minutes) of Middle Earth.
It was glorious. And it got me thinking about LOTR again.
See, I’ve been a huge fan of Tolkien’s works since I was about… 13?
I had attempted the books when I was 8 or 9, but struggled through the first five parts and eventually gave up; I’d seen the movies when they came out and enjoyed them, but hadn’t grasped the depth – I just saw them as fun action movies. When I was 13, my grandparents gave me an old copy of LOTR and I decided that the time was ripe for another attempt. I devoured the books. I loved them. I finally got them, understood that there was more than just a story or an event here. I suppose I was beginning to see them in the way Tolkien had hoped for them to be seen: as myths.
Since the books alone weren’t enough, I then purchased Anduril (Aragorn’s sword) and other assorted memorabilia before getting my hands on a copy of the Extended Edition DVDs. I set aside a day and started at 7am, finishing around 8:00pm (I didn’t take many breaks!). That viewing cemented me as a LOTR fan for life. To be honest, I think that the worldview presented in LOTR may have helped my conversion to Catholicism – I’ll have to ask the Lord when I see Him.
Over the eight years since I first watched these Extended Edition films, I’ve watched them at least another ten times each – but I’d never done another 683-minutes-in-one-day viewing. I’d tried with friends over the years, but no one had ever been keen enough. We’d start, get about 3 or 4 hours in, but then call it a day. But now, after years of searching and waiting, it has happened.
Admittedly, it did take us about 14 hours to get from Galadriel’s opening monologue to Sam’s hopeful and settled “Well, I’m back.” But when you factor in toilet stops, people coming and going, two meals, running around outside while screaming and holding a sword (we needed exercise, OK?), and discussing finer points of Middle Earth mythology, I think that’s understandable.
Something that came up very strongly with this viewing of LOTR was the depth of Catholic thought that is within Tolkien’s world. Every time I watch the films or read the books, I’m reminded of this – but I end up forgetting about it! So after watching the films (and discussing these Catholic ideas and themes with my mates), I turned to google to help me find what others were saying about this. I found some awesome stuff. Here’s a collection of my favourites:
- The best, undoubtedly, is Dr Peter Kreeft’s book The Philosophy of Tolkien, where Dr Kreeft uses the world of Middle Earth (and Tolkien’s other writings) as a springboard to explain and discuss philosophy, reality and virtues. An awesome read.
- CatholicEducation.org has a few good articles on this, particularly 20 Ways “The Lord of the Rings” Is Both Christian and Catholic.
- There’s a series of four articles from the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, written by Timothy O’Malley. They were originally given as a single talk but have been broken up into four separate articles for ease of reading. The series is titled The Catholic Imagination in the Lord of the Rings, and the first article can be found here.
This is just a tiny selection of the wealth of info on Tolkien and his Catholic worldview for Middle Earth. But what do you think? I know heaps of LOTR fans who avidly deny that the stories are religious. Of course, to see Tolkien’s writings as allegory is foolish (he explicitly said they’re not), but he also explicitly said that they are Catholic.
So that’s that.