[Disclaimer: Contains mild spoilers for the last book of Lord of the Rings]
This is my public confession: I am a cradle Catholic who did not see or read Lord of the Rings until I was 21 years old.
Yes, yes, I’ve heard it all from my friends. How could I not have grown up treasuring these books and loving the movies? Well, as a kid, I didn’t.
But this meant that my first experience with LOTR was as a well-educated adult Catholic. I watched the trilogy over back-to-back weekends with my then-fiancé and his two roommates.
If you’re familiar with the movie, you know it’s incredibly long. Add in how many times we paused it to discuss Catholic parallels … we were there eating popcorn for quite a while!
While I watched, I found that J.R.R. Tolkien constructed his story in an incredible way. The sense of good and evil, the value of life, the virtues of honor, and of course, the corruption of the ring, are all spot-on. For the longest time, though, I was so confused as to what the ring did. What made it special? What made it powerful? Why was Frodo hidden from everyone when he wore it? And why did it make the world a blur to him?
The truth is that we as the readers and viewers don’t know what the ring does. We just know that it corrupts anyone who touches it. When Frodo is dying on the way to Mordor, Sam refuses to take the ring from him, delivering instead the famous line, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!”
After reflecting on the nature of the ring, I came to this conclusion. The ring represents knowledge of good and evil: it’s a potent force that may lead to power or strength but always leaves corruption behind. When Frodo wears the ring, he represents a person living in sin; sin distorts how we see the world around us and hides us from our loved ones. Sam, the beloved disciple, is Frodo’s truest friend who remains by his side as he carries this tremendous burden to save all who fight in the war.
In line with these connections, Frodo could represent both Adam and Jesus: the man weakened by sin, but also the savior come to pay our price. But ultimately, Frodo fails. He succumbs to the ring. He allows human weakness to overtake him. Although Gollum nearly kills him, Sam—the faithful friend and sturdy shelter—saves his life.
The craziest thing about LOTR is that Tolkien did not intend these parallels when he wrote the book. Though he was a devout Catholic, he wrote this story for its own sake.
To me, this reveals that Tolkien was a man who knew how to see the world through the eyes of God. It was how he thought, how he wrote, how he understood. He knew where obsession for power leads, the pain dark secrets could cause, and what a true man’s follies are.
There is a reason everyone knows the name Tolkien or Lord of the Rings. It’s not because everyone approves of Catholic philosophy (goodness knows it’s quite the opposite). It’s because seeing the world through the eyes of God is the most compelling, most beautiful, and truest way to do so.