Was J.R.R. Tolkien a Christian?

Diane Dew

Many in even the Christian media have described Tolkien as a Christian writer. 
According to his authorized biography, by H. Carpenter, Tolkien was a Catholic (pp. 24, 25). His mother (and, consequently, her children) converted to Catholicism when Tolkien was 8 years old. (p. 31)
We all know that not everyone who goes by the name of Christ is, in fact, a true believer, according to what Jesus said. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the author's other writings, to see what he beleived about magic, etc.
Many of Tolkiens letters were collected and published in book format. 
In Letter #155 "Concerning Magic," the author makes the following comments about magic:
"I do not intend to involve myself in any debate whether 'magic' in any sense is real or really possible in the world." 
"...the distinction between 'magia' and 'goeteia'... Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se)"
(goeteia = the Greek equivalent of goetia; the English form Goety is defined in the O.E.D. as 'withcraft or magic performed by the invocation and employment of evil spirits; necromancy.)

In Letter #131, Tolkien calls the fall of the angels a "Christian myth."

Tolkien repeatedly qualified his claim to Christianity by quickly adding that he was Catholic:

In Letter #195 Tolkien writes, "Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic. 
In Letter #213, he writes: "I am a Christian... and in fact a Roman Catholic."

Tolkien's Authorized Biography states the family remained devout Catholics throughout their lives.

Tolkien also wrote illustrated letters to his children as if from Santa Claus - published in a book.

Tolkien had a deep love of Northern mythology, an interest in magic, etc. The elves and dwarves of Lord of the Rings are creatures out of northern mythology. 

In his essay "On Fairy-Stories," Tolkien states that "escape through fantasy literature is... a desire for finding a better world than the one we live in. In fantasy - the world of Faerie - dragons, wizards, and enchanted forests often are more appealing, and far less evil, than our own world with its bombs and machine guns." 

Interesting note: The literary group (The Inklings) met in a pub. They threw around their ideas while drinking beer.

Other letters also deal with Tolkien's thoughts on Christianity, magic, etc. I thought I'd share just a bit here.

By the way, the differing views on the MAGIC in Tolkien's works is not new. "The Lord of the Rings had mixed reviews from the start.

Miscellaneous Notes

A 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers chose "The Lord of the Rings" as the greatest book not merely of the century but of the millennium. ("Gone with the Wind" was runner-up. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" won fifth place.)

J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy "The Lord of the Rings" had been voted the greatest book of the 20th century in a readers' poll conducted by Britain's Channel 4.

T.A. Shippey, professor of Old English and medieval literature, has dubbed Tolkien "Author of the Century" (title of his book published by Houghton Mifflin

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1st Ed Letters of Tolkien Lord of the Rings (1984, Houghton Mifflin Co.)

Book Jacket Text:

The Book of Lost Tales was the first major work of imagination by J. R. R. Tolkien, begun in 1916-17 when he was 25 years old and left incomplete several years later. It stands at the beginning of the entire conception of Middle-earth and Valinor, for the Lost Tales were the first form of the myths and legends that came to be called The Silmarillion. Embedded in English legend and English association, they are set in the narrative frame of a great westward voyage over the Ocean by a mariner named Eriel (or AElfwine) to Tol Eressea, the Lonely Isle, where Elves dwelt; from them he learned their true history, the Lost Tales of Elfinesse. In the Tales are found the earliest accounts and original ideas of Gods and Elves, Dwarves, Balrogs, and Orcs; of the Silmarils and the Two Trees of Valinor; of Nargothrond and Gondolin; of the geography and cosmography of the invented world. 

The Book of Lost Tales will be published in two volumes; this first part contains the Tales of Valinor; and the second will include Beren and Luthien, Turin and the Dragon, and the only full narratives of the Necklace of the Dwarves and the Fall of Gondolin. Each tale is followed by a commentary in the form of a short essay, together with the text of associated poems; and each volume contains extensive information on names and vocabulary in the earliest Elvish languages. Further books in this series are planned to extend the history of Middle-Earth as it was refined and enlarged in later years, and will include the Long Lays of Beleriand, the Ambarkanta or Shape of the World, the Lhammas or Account of Tongues, annals, maps, and many other unpublished writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.