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"Beyond hope he saved us": Trinitarian analogies in The Lord of the Rings.

ALTHOUGH THE THEOLOGICAL UNDERPINNINGS of his Middle Earth involve a mythology of his own devising, J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings makes use of the Trinitarian analogies that lie at the heart of medieval Catholic views of the structure of the world. The novel's three books correspond to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, providing a structure that supports the redemptive sacrifices of the main characters. At a deeper level, these main characters, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo, embody the qualities of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. An examination of these characters in light of the Trinitarian analogies reveals the essential Catholicism that lies at the heart of Tolkien's novel.

Although Tolkien specifically rejects any attempt to read The Lord of the Rings as allegorical, he also unequivocally states that it is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." (1) Rather than including specific doctrines or theologies, he declares that "the religious element is absorbed into the story." (2) In reflecting on Tolkien's Catholic imagination, Thomas Smith observes that Tolkien's belief "hold[s] that there is an ongoing relationship between God and the world, wherein the divine abundance at the heart of the Trinity sustains and is manifest in the order and beauty and goodness of the cosmos around us. To look at the world through this lens entails believing that everything and everyone we encounter is a vehicle or a go-between for divine presence." (3) One way we can discern this absorbed religious element and the manifestation of the Trinity in the world is in Tolkien's use of threefold structures at various levels of the narrative.

At the most obvious level, the story is a trilogy, divided into three volumes. Each volume has its own name and theme, but, like the Holy Trinity, they are of one essence. The first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, centers on the development of the small community of the nine walkers who will support Frodo in his quest to destroy the ring. Faith is the theological virtue that underlies this book and is at the heart of the fellowship. This community begins with the four hobbits, who are bound together by family ties and/or long years of affiliation. Although Frodo intends initially to set off with only his servant Sam as a companion, when his younger cousins declare their intentions to accompany him, he accepts their offer, even while expressing his reluctance to lead them into danger. When he first realizes that they have been conspiring to discover his plans, he asserts, "But it does not seem I can trust anyone." (4) Merry's response indicates the trust that is the foundation of their fellowship: "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin--to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours--closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo ... We are horribly afraid--but we are coming with you" (103). To the best of their ability the hobbits remain faithful to that declaration, and their faithfulness is the nucleus of the fellowship that is built up through the rest of the first book.

The first outsider to join their fellowship is Aragorn in his persona as Strider. When Frodo first sees him in the inn, he is suspicious of Strider's rough outward appearance and cryptic comments. In their first encounter Frodo "felt far from comfortable under the stare of those keen eyes" (153), and later Strider himself says, "I have a rather rascally look, have I not?" (161). The hobbits respond cautiously to his advice and offer of guidance. Strider agrees to answer their questions, but he wonders "why should you believe my story, if you do not trust me already?" (163). The arrival of Gandalf's letter affirms Strider's identity, although Sam remains skeptical. Frodo declares, "I believed that you were a friend before the letter came" (168), and the trust begins to build between them. As Strider proves his trustworthiness, the hobbits' suspicions are overcome until, when they arrive in Rivendell, Frodo asserts that "it was Strider that saved us. Yet I was afraid of him at first. Sam never quite trusted him, I think, not at any rate until we met Glorfindel" (214). Strider, revealed as the Heir of Elendil, joins Frodo and Gandalf at the center of the fellowship until the fellowship is broken by Boromir's betrayal.

In keeping with the first book's central theme of faith, all the other members of the fellowship contribute to the growth of faith. The members of the fellowship, all from the different races of hobbits, men, elves, and dwarves are initially only bound by their common commitment to help Frodo in his mission to destroy the ring. It is during the hardships of the journey that their trust in each other grows, emanating from Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo, and overcoming the suspicions engendered by the history of previous encounters between the races. It is clear that the suspicions are a sign of evil at work in the world, as Haldir explains before they enter Lothlorien: "Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlorien ... that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land" (339). Lack of faithfulness threatens the world, and the faith and trust of the fellowship serves as a force to begin renewing faithfulness in the world. After Gandalf falls into the abyss in Moria, Aragorn takes over as leader, but with the fall of Gandalf and the attempt of Boromir to take the ring, the fellowship is dissolved. The seeds of faith have been planted, and, although separated, the remaining companions remain faithful to the mission, aiding its accomplishment through their varied efforts.

As the first book ends, Frodo and Sam set off alone to bring the ring to Mordor. Although Frodo doubts that he will ever see the others again, Sam offers a note of hope: "Yet we may, Mr. Frodo. We may" (397). This note of hope provides a transition to the theme of the second book The Two Towers. As Linda Greenwood asserts, The Lord of the Rings is a book where "hope without hope becomes hope" (5) (171). The locus of hope in the second book lies in Gandalf.The quest as a whole relies on the plan developed in the Council of Elrond to destroy the ring. Although some see this as a "path of despair" (262), Gandalf articulates the hope that lies at the heart of the plan: "It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope" (262). Hope is distinct from despair and from false hope in believing in the possibility of success and pressing forward in spite of uncertainty. Gandalf becomes the model of hope when he falls in Moria. As Frodo explains, "When our escape seemed beyond hope he saved us, and he fell" (346). Gandalf's self-sacrifice turns despair into hope.

The events in Rohan gain their impetus from the hope generated by Gandalf's return from death. When Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli finally recognize him, Aragorn exclaims, "Beyond all hope you return to us in our need" (484), and that return from beyond hope characterizes Gandalf's actions throughout the book. He reminds them that "hope is not victory" and bids them, "Go where you must go, and hope" (489). He leads them to Edoras, where a guard at the gate expresses the situation the Rohirrim face when he declares, "Do not hope too much! These are dark days" (498). Gandalf begins to dispel the fears of the people and the malaise of the king when he shows Theoden a glimpse of clear sky in the midst of the darkness and affirms, "Not all is dark ... No counsel have I to give to those that despair" (503). The effect of Gandalf's presence is to turn despair into hope as the people of Rohan confront the power of Saruman. At the heart of this positive turn is the knowledge Gandalf has of Frodo's mission. He assures Theoden that "The enemy is strong beyond our reckoning, yet we have a hope at which he has not guessed" (505). The essence of his plan for saving the world lies in this unexpected hope, as he explained earlier at the Council of Elrond. As the time for action approaches he confirms, "Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while" (505). Gandalf's healing of Theoden and the decision to directly confront Saruman enable the Rohirrim to express their hope through action.

The battle of Helm's Deep provides a pattern for the operation of hope throughout the book. As Theoden and his army ride out to engage the forces of Saruman, word comes of the defeat of the Riders in the first confrontation. The messenger declares that "there is no hope ahead" (515), but the realization that the king has come to lead the armies inspires a sentinel at Helm's Deep to exclaim that "this is good tidings beyond hope" (518). The battle itself involves shifting fortunes, with the possibility of victory passing back and forth between the armies. The overwhelming numbers of Saruman's forces threatens to overcome the courage of Theoden's men, but Aragorn asserts "Yet dawn is ever the hope of men" (524). As the battle turns against Theoden and it seems that all is lost, Gandalf returns "in the hour of need, unlooked for" (530), as Eomer puts it. Despair followed by hope, help unlooked for, the return of good beyond hope occur again and again throughout the book, and Gandalf is the catalyst for this pattern, in particular in moving beyond hope (for "hope that is seen, is not hope"). (6) After the defeat of Saruman, Gandalf continues as a bearer of hope, racing toward Minas Tirith with word that the army of Theoden will come to the aid of Gondor. His final words of the first half of The Two Towers are "hope is in speed" (586). The energy of hope in the world sets in motion actions that can turn hope into victory.

Frodo and Sam's journey to the borders of Mordor make up the narrative of the second half of The Two Towers. Gandalf is not with them except in Frodo's memory of his words. In an unconscious echo of Gandalf's words, Frodo reminds Sam, "What hope we had was in speed" (590), and their adventures are a series of setbacks that lead them to the brink of despair, only to be buoyed up by unexpected hope. Gollum brings them to the Black Gate, and they see the impossibility of entering it unseen. Sam, realizing that Frodo intends to approach the gate anyway, reflects that "he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning, but being a cheerful hobbit, he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed" (624). Sam's attitude provides a method of dealing with the absence of hope, paradoxically becoming an expression of hope, since he continually takes practical action toward preparing for the aftermath of their quest, even though he has little hope of success.

Gollum helps postpone the despair at the Black Gate by offering to show them another way. Their sojourn in Ithilien provides them a respite from their cares, and the interlude of the herbs and stewed rabbit suggest a possibility of peace and fulfillment beyond the dangers of their mission. The encounter with Faramir reveals him as an unexpected ally who offers help and guidance. Although he asserts, "I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun" (678), his friendship provides hope to Frodo and Sam. Frodo comments, "Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good" (679). The transformative power of hope enables Frodo and Sam to continue moving toward their goal. At the crossroads to Minas Morgul, the sight of the carven head of the old king lit by the sun and crowned with flowers leads Frodo to exclaim, "They cannot conquer forever" (687). These flashes of hope sustain them through the difficult passage to the top of Cirith Ungol. Sam's decision to go on with the ring after he believes that Frodo is dead is a choice of hope over despair. He engages in an internal debate as he sits next to what he believes is Frodo's corpse, as he feels impelled by the belief that "I have something to do before the end" (714). Although he considers suicide briefly, his determination to "see it through" (715) means that he must choose an action of hope. He considers the outcomes of his various choices: to wait until he is found, to go back, or to "take It and go" (715) and chooses to continue the quest on his own. He has no expectation that he can succeed, but hope moves him to fight despair. The Two Towers ends with Sam learning that Frodo is still alive, offering him hope mingled with despair at the difficulty of rescuing him. In the end it is his love for his master that will enable him to go on striving.

Love becomes the central theme of the final book, The Return of the King. This love is most clearly present in Frodo and the other hobbits. As mentioned earlier, the younger hobbits join Frodo's quest out of love for him. Later Merry is motivated by love to swear allegiance to Theoden: "Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. 'May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap, Theoden King?' he cried. 'Receive my service, if you will!'" (760). This service based on his love leads him to arrange to ride secretly to war with the king and gives him the strength to strike the Lord of the Nazgul, enabling Eowyn to destroy the Ringwraith. Pippin also saves Faramir out of love and concern. When he first sees Faramir, "his heart was strongly moved with a feeling that he had not known before" (792), and he understands "why Beregond spoke his name with love" (792). Later when Denethor proposes to burn himself and Faramir alive, Pippin calls on Beregond to choose between his orders and his love for Faramir, while bringing Gandalf to rescue Faramir from Denethor's suicidal plans. The actions of the young hobbits, the product of their love, contribute to the successes in the battle for Gondor.

Frodo and Sam achieve their success through the strength of the love they have for each other and for those they hope to save. Sam recognizes the power of this love when he observes Frodo asleep in his exhaustion. A light seems to shine within him. His "face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiseling of the shaping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden though the identity of the face was not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: 'I love him. He's like that and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no'" (638).

Sam recognizes and responds to the love he sees in Frodo, and it enables him to provide the support Frodo needs to struggle against the power of the ring and to complete the arduous journey to Mount Doom. Later, after Frodo is captured in Cirith Ungol, Sam again is able to overcome his fear when "his love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts" (879) and he enters Mordor to rescue Frodo. As Frodo and Sam struggle through Mordor, Sam's responsibility lies in taking care of their physical needs, while Frodo fights internally to complete his mission. As they near Mount Doom, Frodo reaches the end of his strength, and Sam offers to carry the ring for him. Frodo refuses, unable to resist the power of the ring over him as he explains to Sam, "It is my burden, and no one else can bear it. It is too late now Sam dear. You can't help me in that way again. I am almost in its power now" (916). In the end, Sam's love gets them to the Cracks of Doom, but Frodo nearly fails, being claimed by the power of the ring before he can destroy it. Only Gollum's attack releases Frodo and destroys the ring. Frodo acknowledges his failure and declares his forgiveness for Gollum. In the end, Frodo most fully displays his love through his sacrifice. Beyond the physical and mental suffering he experiences--the wound to his shoulder, the poison of the spider, the loss of his finger, and the dark shadow that lingers in his mind--Frodo gives his life to redeem his people. He explains to Sam as he prepares to go to the Gray Havens and sail into the West: "I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them" (1006). This final act of love draws to it the faith and hope that guided his choices throughout his quest and offers them as a gift to his people.

As we have seen, the tripartite structure of the novel places one of the theological virtues as a focus for each book and locates that virtue in one of the three main characters. These characters are not allegorical, in that they do not only personify a given virtue; they all exhibit qualities of faith, hope, and love, as do many other characters. For example, Aragorn's connection to hope is displayed in the message Arwen sends with the banner she makes for him: "Either our hope cometh, or all hopes end" (758), a play on his childhood name, Estel, meaning "Hope." His conversation with Eowyn shows his relationship to hope and love when he tells her he must travel the Paths of the Dead because "Only so can I see any hope of doing my part in the war against Sauron ... Were I to go where my heart dwells, far in the North, I would now be wandering in the fair valley of Rivendell" (766). His love for Arwen and for the people of Middle Earth motivates all the actions of his life, and he claims his kingdom as a means to gain the woman he loves. Gandalf displays his connection to faith and love in his claim of stewardship. He explains to Denethor, "The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?" (741-42). Stewardship entails faithfulness to the master served as well as love and care for the objects guarded, and Gandalf's existence focuses on his task of tending Middle Earth. Frodo shows his faithfulness when he promises, "I will take the Ring ... though I do not know the way" (264) at the Council of Elrond, and he brings the promise to completion. In doing so he embodies the hope of salvation for all of Middle Earth. Greenwood observes that "in Tolkien's work, love motivates faith to reach beyond the boundaries of the known, to rekindle hope in the midst of the uncertain. Love turns death into a gift and transforms defeat into victory" (7) Faith, hope, and love are integrated into the nature of reality through the qualities of the main characters. In a similar tripartite pattern, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo can be associated with the appropriated attributes of the three persons of the Holy Trinity: Aragorn with the Father, Gandalf with the Son, and Frodo with the Holy Spirit. Medieval theology demonstrates how these attributes function in the world, and a similar operation can be seen in The Lord of the Rings.

Several critics, beginning with Neville Coghill, discuss the connections between Tolkien's work as a medievalist and the religious nature of The Lord of the Rings. Jared Lobdell structures his essay around the "theological tension" (8) that arises from the influence of the concept of Y magynatyf found in Langland's Piers Plowman on Tolkien's role as a subcreator. Charles W. Nelson concludes that "in the tradition of Gower, Langland, and Chaucer, then, Tolkien did indeed 'reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth' in an effort to foster virtuous behavior as some medieval writers did." (9) Following this line of inquiry, we can gain insight from an examination of medieval Trinitarian theology found imbedded in Langland's work. In his analysis of Langland, Lawrence M. Clopper provides a detailed description of medieval Trinitarian theology, including a summary of some of the key formulations from the patristic and medieval fathers. He goes on to point out that "many Fathers of the patristic period as well as later medieval theologians associated particular attributes with each of the Persons, the most common being those of power (potestas) with the Father, wisdom (sapienta, scientia) with the son, and goodness (benignitas, caritas) with the Holy Spirit." (10) In addition to the appropriated attributes, some theologians also linked the persons of the Trinity with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. (11) Clopper also discusses how the human estates and their functions of fighting/judging, praying/teaching, and laboring/loving can be seen to correspond to the persons of the Trinity. (12) This Trinitarian theology provides structure for all of medieval society, embedding an order and purpose in all human interactions. If we examine the three main characters in The Lord of the Rings, we can discern this same medieval Catholic structure in their interactions.

Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo can clearly be related to the three medieval estates. Aragorn, a man of royal blood of the Numenoreans, reveals himself as the Heir of Elendil and completes his quest to reclaim his crown as king of Gondor and Arnor. Gandalf does not perform the cultic function of a priest, but, as a Maiar, one of the spiritual beings who help create and tend the world, he is a bridge between the human and spiritual world. Frodo, a simple hobbit from an agricultural community, is a member of the commons, although at the upper level of his small society. They clearly correspond to the medieval estates of nobility, clergy, and commons.

Not only do their positions in life delineate their relationships to medieval social structures, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo also fulfill the functions of their respective estates. The functions of the nobility are fighting and judging. Aragorn is "Captain of the Host of the West ... wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle" (946). It is his prowess as a warrior throughout the book that achieves the victory over the enemies of the kingdom and forces of evil. After his coronation "the King sat on his throne in the Hall of the King and pronounced his judgements" (947). He pardons Beregond and assigns him to the service of Faramir, enabling Beregond to [perceive] the mercy and justice of the King" (948). Aragorn is warrior, judge, and healer and in his role as a member of the nobility maintains an ordered society where the other two estates can flourish.

The role of the clergy is to pray and teach. Gandalf functions primarily as a guide and teacher. At the Council of Elrond all look to Gandalf for counsel and answers to their questions about the ring. Elrond declares of "these things it is the part of Gandalf to make clear; and I call upon him last, for it is the place of honor, and in all this matter he has been chief" (243). At his coronation, Aragorn affirms Gandalf's position, asserting that "he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory" (946). As he parts from the hobbits as they return to the Shire, Gandalf makes it clear that part of his task has been to prepare them for their own roles in society. He explains that he will not come to the Shire to solve the problems there: "You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set this to rights nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now" (974). His words make clear both that his job has been to be a guide and teacher, a solver of problems, but also that his work has been successful, so that his pupils can continue without him. He makes the same point earlier to Aragorn (950). In this way Gandalf's knowledge and wisdom enable him to fulfill the clerical role.

Loving and laboring are the functions of the commons, and Frodo demonstrates them in his fulfillment of the quest. He shoulders the burden of destroying the ring, and his journey with Sam through the dangers of Mordor is torturous: "All the last day Frodo had not spoken, but walked half-bowed, often stumbling, as if his eyes no longer saw the way before his feet. Sam guessed that among all their pains he bore the worst, the crushing weight of the Ring, a burden on the body and a torment to his mind" (914). Frodo provides the physical labor of carrying the ring, as well as suffering the physical and mental pain needed to destroy it. In showing mercy to Saruman in the scouring of the Shire, Frodo demonstrates the love called forth by the commons. He prevents the hobbits from killing Saruman, declaring that "It's useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing" (995). Even after Saruman tries to stab him, Frodo reiterates, "Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his care is beyond us, but I would still spare him, in the hope he may find it" (996). He makes clear the way the commons serve for the greater good of all society. In particular, he delineates the distinction between the different estates that also serves to make society function smoothly. Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo each perform the role of their estate in order to achieve the final victory and to rebuild their society.

In addition to their associations with the virtues of faith, hope, and love and the estates of nobility, clergy, and commons, Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo manifest the appropriated attributes of the Persons of the Trinity--power, wisdom, and goodness--and generate the corresponding responses in those around them. According to Clopper, the proper response to the power of the Father is awe, to the wisdom of the Son is knowledge, and to the goodness of the Holy Spirit is love. (13) Each character displays the attribute and calls forth the response, providing further evidence of the Catholic thought at the heart of Tolkien's work.

Aragorn in his first appearance seems an unsavory and dangerous character. As we have seen, the hobbits don't trust him at first, and their faith in him grows gradually as he leads them through the wilderness. Even in their first meeting, however, Aragorn reveals some of his hidden power. As he declares his true identity, "In his eyes gleamed a light, keen and commanding" (168), and similar flashes of power occur with increasing regularity throughout the tale. In particular his power is associated with the images of the kings of the past. As their boats approach the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings, with its giant carvings, the size of the images and the dangers of the waters cause Frodo to be afraid until he hears a voice telling him not to fear: "Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weatherworn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn, son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skillful strokes, his hood was cast back and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land" (381). In this moment of epiphany, Aragorn reveals himself as a man of power and skill, a guide and comforter. Frodo's feeling of awe is the appropriate response to such a manifestation of power. The persona of Strider is a cloak that masks the power within Aragorn.

As The Two Towers progresses, Aragorn reveals his power in a series of encounters. The first revelation is to Eomer in the fields of Rohan, when he names himself and asks Eomer to choose to help or hinder him.

The observers note that "He seemed to have grown in stature while Eomer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of old" (423). He continues to reveal himself to larger and larger audiences, first at Edoras, then through his prowess at the battle of Helm's Deep. Having openly proclaimed his title, Aragorn demonstrates his power to claim kingship when he reveals himself to Sauron in the palantir and then forces the power of the Seeing Stone to do his will, explaining, "I had both the right and strength to use it" (763). With these revelations of his power, those who witness them are filled with awe, the appropriate response to this attribute. The passage of the Grey Company through the Paths of the Dead is accomplished only by "the strength of his will" (769), and, on the journey to Pelargir, Aragorn leads his men and the Dead Oathbreakers, "and only his will held them to go on" (722). The triumph of the battle of Pelennor Fields is a victory of Aragorn's power and kingship. The final sign of his power is his ability to heal those wounded by the power of darkness, fulfilling the words of the wise-woman of Gondor: "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known" (844). The power of healing, as well as strength of will are the signs of Aragorn's identity as king. Just as medieval nobility possess the appropriated attributes of power, Aragorn demonstrates that he is analogous to the first person of the Trinity.

The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, possesses the attribute of wisdom. The wisdom of Gandalf's character is openly manifest from his identity as a wizard, one who uses knowledge and magic to accomplish his purposes. He describes in detail the research he did to determine the origin and nature of the ring and proposes the solution to the problem of what to do with it. His wisdom opens the gates of Moria and leads the company through it. After his return from the abyss, he uses his knowledge to bring the forces of the Ents, the Riders of Rohan, and the armies of Gondor and the Wet together to achieve the victories at Helm's Deep, Isengard, Minas Tirith, and the Black Gate. His direct intervention and counsel assure the defeat of the forces of evil and restoration of the kingdom. In addition Gandalf seems to possess a wisdom that can guide Frodo across space and time. When Gandalf first tells Frodo the history of the ring, he explains the role that Gollum played in the past. Frodo reacts negatively, declaring, "What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance! (58). Gandalf points out that it was Bilbo's pity and mercy that helped Bilbo to escape unharmed from the power of the ring. Frodo cannot understand this thinking and asserts that Gollum "deserves death" (58). Gandalf's response points out that such judgments are difficult to make: "For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when it comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many--yours not least" (58). Gandalf's wisdom, which comes from his heart, gives him hope of some chance for Gollum's redemption. Months later and hundreds of miles away, Frodo, alone with Sam after Gandalf's fall in Moria, finally meets Gollum, and the words of Gandalf speak in his mind. He answers out loud as though Gandalf could hear: "Very well ... But still I am afraid. And yet, as you see, I will not touch the creature. For now that I see him, I do pity him" (601). Guided by Gandalf's wisdom, Frodo takes Gollum as a guide, and in spite of Gollum's treachery, comes at last to the Cracks of Doom. There, when he should cast the ring into the fiery pit, Frodo falters and claims the ring as his own. At that instant Gollum attacks Frodo, bites off his finger, and, in his frenzy at recovering the ring, steps off the edge of the cliff, taking the ring with him to its destruction.

Frodo nearly fails in his mission, but Gollum unwittingly completes the quest and saves them all. Frodo at that moment reminds Sam, "But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something to do yet? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over" (926). With Gandalf's wisdom guiding him, Frodo has grown in understanding, the proper response to the wisdom of the Son. He recognizes his own failure and forgives the failures of others. The undefined knowledge that Gandalf first articulates becomes an accurate prediction of the future and confirms the wizard's analogy to the Second Person of the Trinity.

As we have seen from the example of his matured understanding of the need for pity and mercy, Frodo reflects the appropriated attribute of the Holy Spirit, goodness, in his capacity to love, while the love that he calls forth from Sam demonstrates the return of love that is the correct response to that attribute. Frodo's goodness is best exemplified, as has already been discussed, in his willingness to sacrifice himself to complete the quest. He has no open or overt power, but again and again he calls forth a response of love from the people he meets, including Elrond, Galadriel, and Faramir, who all willingly offer him aid and express their admiration for his labor. The power of Frodo's love is so strong that it even generates a return of love from Gollum. As they approach Cirith Ungol, before Gollum betrays them, Frodo and Sam fall asleep, with Frodo resting his head on Sam's lap and a peaceful look on their faces. When Gollum sees them, "A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up toward the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo's knee--but almost the touch was a caress" (699). At the sight of the love Frodo and Sam have for each other, Gollum's impulse is to return love. He reaches out, desirous of joining their community. Sam's startled response to being awakened suddenly disrupts the bond, and the opportunity passes. The key, however, is the response generated in Gollum. He sees the love within Frodo, just as Sam does, and wants to return it. Gandalf had foreseen this earlier. In Rivendell as Frodo is recovering from his wound, Gandalf notices a kind of transparency around him and thinks, "Still that must be expected ... He is not half through yet, and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can" (217). Frodo's goodness becomes a kind of grace that emanates from him and imbues those around him.

It is essential to remember that, although the appropriated attributes are associated with the distinct persons of the Trinity, Clopper observes that "the distinction was mental and that power was not only in the Father, but also in the Son and Holy Spirit," (14) thus Father, Son, and Spirit also all possess the attributes of wisdom and love. In the same way we can see that Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo each possess all three attributes, although one dominates. Aragorn proves himself a wise guide and master of knowledge, as well as one who can call forth love in those who follow him, as Eowyn declares when she tells Aragorn that his men will follow him to the Paths of the Dead "because they love thee" (767). Gandalf uses his power to strike down the Balrog and to defeat Saruman. Merry observes that Gandalf has changed after his return from death: "He has grown, or something. He can be both kinder and more alarming, merrier and more solemn than before, I think ... But think of the last part of that business with Saruman! Remember Saruman was once Gandalf's superior: head of the Council, whatever that may be exactly. He was Saruman the White. Gandalf is the White now. Saruman came when he was told, and his rod was taken; and then he was just told to go, and he went!" (576). Gandalf also generates love in those who know him, as is evident from their sorrow at his death and their joy at his return. Frodo too displays his power when he binds Gollum to his will: "For a moment it appeared to Sam that his master had grown and Gollum had shrunk: a tall stern shadow, a mighty lord who hid his brightness in grey cloud" (604). Later he makes it clear that he will use the power of the ring to make Gollum keep his promise. In addition Frodo shows his wisdom in his use of good judgment in his interactions with all he meets. He recognizes that Galadriel possesses a ring of power and convinces Faramir to spare Gollum's life. In dealing with Gollum's trespass in the pool of Henneth Annun he tries "to keep faith, as near as might be, with both sides" (673), balancing conflicting needs and trusting Faramir to follow the just course. Power, wisdom, and goodness can be found in all three of the main characters.

A final characteristic that unites the three characters is their experience of death and resurrection. Critics such as Stratford Caldecott and Peter Kreeft have already argued for the three characters as "Christ figures who undergo forms of death and resurrection," (15) but, as Anne C. Petty asserts, it is not necessary to conclude that Tolkien "modeled scenes from his fiction on specific biblical events." (16) For Tolkien the patterns of death and resurrection are embedded in creation and manifested in his subcreation. Gandalf's experience is the most obvious and literal. He dies when he falls in the abyss while fighting the Balrog and is "sent back" (491) to complete his task in Middle Earth. Aragorn's death is more figurative. He travels through the White Mountains on the Paths of the Dead, emerging on the other side to lead the Army of the Dead to victory at Pelargir, on his way to save Minas Tirith. Frodo also endures a kind of death in his journey across Mordor and nearly dies as the cataclysms caused by the destruction of the ring engulf him. He rises from that near death, but finally leaves Middle Earth and passes into the west, exhausted by his sacrifice. All three characters sacrifice themselves for the good of the world and the destruction of evil.

Although Tolkien eschews allegory, he creates a world and a text that are fundamentally Trinitarian. His text reflects an idea C. S. Lewis describes in The Allegory of Love concerning "the opposite of allegory ... which I would call sacramentalism," suggesting "that our material world ... is the copy of an invisible world" and that "to see the archtype [sic] in the copy, is what I mean by ... sacramentalism." (17) What Tolkien creates is a world that shows the archetypes in the copy. Tolkien's subcreation is Trinitarian because his Catholicism reveals to him that the true world is Trinitarian. The Lord of the Rings contains Trinitarian analogies at the level of structure, plot, and character. Through the eyes of Tolkien's faith we can see a world that points us through the copy to the real, through analogy to the truth.


(1.) Quoted in Thomas Smith, "Tolkien's Catholic Imagination: Mediation and Tradition," Religion & Literature 38, no. 2 (2006), 73.

(2.) Ibid., 74.

(3.) Ibid., 75. As Jason Boffetti points out in his article "Catholic Scholar, Catholic Sub-Creator," in The Ring and the Cross: Christianity and the Lord of the Rings, ed. Paul E. Kerry (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011), "Tolkien always affirmed that his works taught good morals and would, over the long run, direct his readers to the Catholic faith. While Tolkien's Middle-earth does not instruct in Catholic moral theology, the moral tectonics of Middle-earth are distinctly Catholic" (203). David Critchett offers another perspective on this point when he asserts in his article "One Ring to Fool Them All, One Ring to Blind Them: The Propaganda of The Lord of the Rings," Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 38, no. 1 (1997): 36-56 that "myth views the world and the spirit as one. Man, nature and supernature are simultaneous and unified; and the language used to describe all three both signifies and is a part of this unity" (37). This layering of myth and theology is often at the heart of discussions concerning the religious nature of Tolkien's texts. For an extensive survey of the scholarship related to this topic, see Paul E. Kerry, "Introduction: A Historiography of Christian Approaches to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings," in The Ring and the Cross: Christianity and the Lord of the Rings, ed. Paul. E. Kerry (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2011): 17-53.

(4.) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. (Boston: Houghton, 1994): 103. All subsequent citations of the novel will be from this edition with page numbers in parenthetical references. All italics are in the original.

(5.) Linda Greenwood, "Love: 'The Gift of Death.'" Tolkien Studies 2, no. 1 (2005): 171.

(6.) Romans 8: 24. The Holy Bible Douay-Rheims Version (John Murphy Company, 1899). DRBO.ORG, 2001-2013.

(7.) Greenwood, "Love," 171.

(8.) Jared Lobdell, "Ymagynatyf and J. R. R Tolkien's Roman Catholicism, Catholic Theology, and Religion in The Lord of the Rings," Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien's Work, eds. Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011): 79.

(9.) Charles W. Nelson, "The Sins of Middle Earth: Tolkien's Use of Medieval Allegory," J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle Earth, eds. George Clark and Daniel Timmons (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000): 94.

(10.) Lawrence M. Clopper, "Langland's Trinitarian Analogies as Key to Meaning and Structure," Medievalia et Humanistica 9 (1979): 88.

(11.) Ibid., 94.

(12.) Ibid., 96, and an unpublished 1986 lecture handout entitled Trinitarian Analogies.

(13.) Clopper, Trinitarian Analogies.

(14.) Clopper, "Langland's," 88.

(15.) Kerry, "Introduction," 33-34.

(16.) Anne C. Petty, "Reflections of Christendom in the Mythopoeic Iconography of Middle-earth," Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien's Work, eds. Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011): 65.

(17.) C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1958): 45.
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Author:Scott, Carolyn F.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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