Tolkien did not feel that overt religion had a primary place in the telling of fantasy or "the fairy story." This element was what bothered him most about the legends of King Arthur with their strong Catholic teachings. Fantasy can teach us moral lessons and important truths, but it is, after all, fantasy. Would imposing a Christian religious system on dwarves, elves, and hobbits really increase the credibility of the Scriptures?

No one on earth can know Tolkien's true relationship with God. However, his writings indicate that he took the Bible to be literally true; that he believed in creation; in the fall and depravity of man; in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and in the notion that belief in these things was necessary for a hope in heaven. In fact, C.S. Lewis, who hailed the novel as a great literary achievement, credited Tolkien with helping him to understand the role that Christ paid in the redemption of man.

The Lord of the Rings was written by an Oxford professor who spent nearly fifteen years in its creation. There is much of educational value in The Lord of the Rings because of the care with which it was crafted. Tolkien gathered most of his source material for the ideas in his book from the classical works that he studied and taught, such as the Greek and Roman epics, the medieval Arthurian romances, and the Old English poem Beowulf. He created two complete language systems which are used in the book and invented an impressive amount of imaginary history, poetry and literature as a backdrop for this incredible world. The book is intended for an intellectually mature teen or an adult to read and stretches the imagination as well as delights the soul.

Overall, the book is a masterpiece. There are one or two objectionable words in the last book spoken by Orcs (who are not nice creatures.) The discerning parent may wish to remove those. Otherwise, there is no objectionable material for the emotionally mature child or adult. There is however, plenty of joy and sadness and edge-of-your-seat excitement. Tolkien created a world of outstanding depth, pathos, and beauty rivaled by few novels. It would be a shame to miss the chance to visit Middle-earth.

Amelia Harper has a B.A. degree in English and has homeschooled for over 15 years.  She is a regular contributor to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, where this article first appeared. Her new book, Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, is due to be published in May, 2004. This one-year self-directed literature curriculum emphasizes positive character qualities, teaches literary terms and vocabulary, and introduces students to the classical sources for the book in a fun and purposeful way. For more information, please visit the author's website at Reprinted with permission.

Original publication date: November 14, 2003