Far more qualified individuals than I have elaborated on the wonder, beauty, and power of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien infused his world with Catholic understanding and perspective so rich that any Christian can find moments of great reflection and revelation within Middle Earth. Therefore, the question is not whether one should read The Lord of the Rings, but instead when one should read it. The time of the year par excellence? The season nearly upon us: Lent.
The purpose and structure of Lent is ideal for a reading of The Lord of the Rings. As the Fellowship travels toward the great Doom of their time and the passing of their age, so the Christian at Lent makes a pilgrimage toward the great Doom of the Cross and the changing of the world at the Resurrection. On that journey, there is time to muse upon both the beauty of things and their transience, the strength of men and their mortality, the evil of our times but also the good that can be done. The interwoven tales of Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn offer images of Christ as priest, prophet, and king for the attentive Christian. The quests of Lent and Tolkien are of one accord: they complement one another in suggestion and tone.
What’s more, the structures of Lent and The Lord of the Rings nearly perfectly align. We spend the days leading up to Lent’s beginning in the quiet confines of the Shire, coming to grips with the burden placed upon us and the journey we must take. We depart from Rivendell on Ash Wednesday, beginning our pilgrimage in fellowship and resolve. We wander through the forty days through the caves of Moria, over the plains of Rohan, and to the realms of Elves and Men, confronting our sins, testing our vows, and reflecting on the changing of the world. And we approach the slopes of Mt. Doom on Good Friday, as we recall the burden of the Cross on Christ’s shoulders. And then, finally: the hope of Easter, and the return of the King.
Whether a newcomer to Middle Earth or a faithful friend of wizards and hobbits, the time is ripe to join the Fellowship this Lent. The Lord of the Rings augments the rhythm and structure of these approaching forty days, providing opportunities for insight and imagination. Whether you read at your own pace or use a daily plan, I hope you will join me this Lent in the pages of Tolkien’s world. For in these tales of sorrow and joy, we might find aid in our search for the end of our worldly sorrow, and for the great Joy Beyond.
Michael Fischer is a graduate of Georgetown University and a high school teacher in San Jose, California. He is currently blogging reflections about The Lord of the Rings, which along with a daily reading plan for Lent can be found here.