Tolkien the Evangelist

Several people have written to me about a lecture on the web by a Catholic, a priest I believe, who attacks Tolkien’s work and attacks me (apparently) for claiming that Tolkien’s work is Catholic. I do not have the time or the inclination to listen to the lecture. I will, however, insist that it is Tolkien himself who claims that The Lord of the Rings is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. It is also Tolkien himself who states that his Catholic faith can be deduced from his work. My own works on the subject simply seek to show how the work is fundamentally Catholic and how such Catholicism can be deduced from the stories. 

I am also astonished by the claim made by this lecturer that nobody every converted because of The Lord of the Rings. I can state emphatically that Tolkien was a significant influence on my own conversion and I have met numerous other people who cite his influence on their conversion or his role in strengthening their faith. The most recent case of someone informing me of Tolkien’s role in their conversion happened only two nights ago, in Memphis, after I had given a talk in the city.
As I’ve stated, I have no desire to listen to the lecture, nor do I intend to expend any more time responding to it. I will, however, point people to Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s excellent post on the subject:  
Joseph Pearce
Joseph Pearce is a Catholic author and biographer who has written about subjects as various as GK Chesterton, economics, and Shakespeare. His latest book, Race with the Devil, chronicles his conversion from racial hatred to Catholicism. He is also the Director of the Center for Faith & Culture and Writer-in-Residence at Aquinas College in Nashville as well as the editor of St. Austin Review.

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  1. This is the kind of debate that I do not get pulled into.
    When you (and others) analyze The Lord of the Rings via standard literary analysis, you point to evidence. That’s the accepted scholarly method. I recall, after listening to your presentation several years ago in Savannah, I wrote to you to thank you and to point to something not part of standard literary analysis that marks the work as distinctly Catholic–recognizable to other Catholics but not to non-Catholics. That “something other” is *voice*. The work is Catholic, even without the evidence you show to prove that it is, because the voice is Catholic.
    This, however, comes very close to engaging in another tedious debate that crops up repeatedly: What IS Catholic fiction? I don’t go there.
    But I will say this regarding Tolkien’s fiction: The phenomenon of Tolkien’s universal popularity is fascinating. People, especially Tolkien-lovers, love to speculate about it (including me). The writer who criticized you and others for insisting (via evidence) that LOTR is a Catholic work does not know the voice that drew him. It wasn’t the story or the writer’s talent in telling it–it was *estel* in the voice–which is present only in Catholic fiction.
    If a critic is a lover of Tolkien and a hater of Catholicism, he will understandably deny what seduced him. (Underneath the adopted layers of the critic’s intellectualism, there is probably a Catholic soul in hiding.)
    This reactionary denial is a manifestation of the power of the scops and bards, poets and prophets. Despite all his secular personnae–Oxford don, writer, etc., Tolkien was one of them–an Ezekiel, a Homer, a Shakespeare, a Dante. I suspect at the end of his life, he knew it.
    Vigo Mortenson, who played Aragorn in Jackson’s film, is not a personality who appeals to me, but he said something once that makes me believe he is not completely that personality. Asked by an interviewer to account for LOTR’s amazing popularity, he replied “Because it’s a true story.” Yes, indeed it is. And all those who love truth recognize it when they hear it.