Why does no-one in LOTR have a religion?

Discussion in 'Annals of the Eldanyárë' started by Justin Swanton, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. Justin Swanton

    Justin Swanton New Member

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    They don't have to of course. Plenty of fantasy stories exclude religion as simply out of context. But there is a theology in Middle Earth, made very explicit in the Ainulindalë and hinted at in LOTR, when Galdalf tells Frodo: "I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it.".

    Why in that case do all the protagonists in LOTR have no religion whatsoever? Did Tolkien have the idea he was writing for a secular public and consciously excluded religion so as not to annoy them (which I find hard to believe) or was there some other reason?
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
  2. CirdanLinweilin

    CirdanLinweilin The Wandering Wastrel

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    This could all be summed up in the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien believed in "applicability over allegory", and that he "detested Allegory in all its manifestations."

    Tolkien did infuse his work with his Catholic Faith, but thought it better that his audience take what they want and what they read and gather from the work, hence, "applicability".

    Hope this helps.
    CL
     
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  3. Azrubêl

    Azrubêl Drúadan

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    I have wondered this myself!

    I find it curious that Tolkien actually does describe religion in Arda in a few places in detail in his texts.

    For example, in Númenor, they maintain the sacred hill where they offer praise to Ilúvatar, until Sauron comes and corrupts this and yet even he doesn't dare desecrate the space.
    Additionally, in The New Shadow, religious cults worshiping the Dark Lord appear to be at the forefront of the plot, from what we have of it.

    It appears to me that in some places, cultural traditions of different societies in Arda bleed into religious function, such as the Dwarves great secrecy of language and lineage, in some sense comparable to indigenous cultures that exist in the world today.

    I think it is clear however, that the Elves, being the type of beings that they are, would not have religion in the same way men do. One clear supporting fact to this is the differences in the after-lives of the two races: men appear to have some sort of relationship with Ilúvatar that is private, some sort of communion or "contract" or something else, which appears to differ from the elves, which are more like angels, in direct contact with the Valar. I think this theme is actually woven into Tolkien's work in a number of complex ways.


    SO, that all being said, it SURE puzzles me why Tolkien touches upon such important themes so briefly.
    I think CirdanLinweilin's point is true, that Tolkien believed it would fundamentally undermine his mythology (an act of sub-creation pointing back to the One Creator) if he were to infuse his Catholic faith into it directly. Perhaps this is really true! I mean, his mythology is so organic and grown from so many different places into what it became, that it would REALLY clash to somehow go back and make it all Catholic. And alternatively, if he were to just "make up" religions for his world, it seems like that could also prevent his work from properly functioning as the sub-creative mythology that he intended it to be, as basically an act of self-expression AND of worship to the One.

    Great post!
     
  4. Justin Swanton

    Justin Swanton New Member

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    Tolkien had an aversion for allegory, sure, but - to give your example - you could have a complete religion in Middle Earth without any trace of allegory or Catholicism (any LOTR religion would not be New Testament or even Old Testament so naturally would not remotely resemble Catholicism). Númenor had a perfectly functional religion from the fantasy POV because Tolkien successfully transplanted God and angels/demiurges into a fantasy context which made them work as part of a fantasy story. I doubt anyone claims that Ainulindalë fails as fantasy because its principal characters are lifted from a monotheistic, and specifically Christian monotheistic, theological outlook.

    That being the case, there must be some other reason why Tolkien excluded a Númenorean religion from every single race in the Third Age. Personally I can't see how such a religion would spoil the story. How would it compromise self-expression?

    My own hypothesis, for what it's worth, is that by not having a religion the different races were more tightly bound up with Middle Earth. All they have is Middle Earth and their conduct - without the supernatural guidelines of a religion - centres around preserving the social order of that world. The Hobbits are for the Shire, the Elves for Rivendell or Lothlorien, the Rohirrim for Rohan, the Gondorians for Minas Tirith. It's a bit like how the prewar Japanese viewed Japan and their emperor. One's nation is one's religion. There's a sort of exception to this in the elves whose hearts are drawn to the West, but their knowledge that they will one day cross the sea to Valinor isn't religious. Valmar is a city on Earth, ruled by incarnate Valar, and Eru is absent. It's not heaven as understood in a religious context - the First Age makes that clear.

    Christianity to a certain extent detaches the individual from the world by telling him that the next life is what matters. In fact every religion does that; they all have four things in common: 1. there is a supreme being, 2. this life is a temporary journey, 3. the next life is the real deal, and 4. what we do in this life affects our state in the next. By removing an active religion from Middle Earth the preservation of Middle Earth itself becomes of paramount importance, which ratchets up the drama of the Ring: it will decide the fate of everything.
     

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