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The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings

Q: Is there a symbolic Marian figure in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings?

A: The late Father Eamon Carroll, long-time IMRI Professor and MSA member, found material in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which show Galadriel as such a figure of Mary (See below, especially in bold).

142 To Robert Murray, S.J.
[Father Robert Murray, grandson of Sir James Murray (the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary) and a close friend of the Tolkien family, had read part of The Lord of the Rings in galley-proofs and typescript, and had, at Tolkien's instigation, sent comments and criticism. He wrote that the book left him with a strong sense of 'a positive compatibility with the order of Grace', and compared the image of Galadriel to that of the Virgin Mary. He doubted whether many critics would be able to make much of the book--"they will not have a pigeon-hole neatly labeled for it."]

December 2, 1953
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford

My Dear Rob,

It was wonderful to get a long letter from you this morning. ... I am sorry if casual words of mine have made you labour to criticize my work. But, to tell you the truth, though praise (or what is not quite the same thing, and better, expressions of pleasure) is pleasant, I have been cheered specially by what you have said, this time and before, because you are more perceptive, especially in some directions, than any one else, and have even revealed to me more clearly some things about my work. I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded. The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However, that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it.

Certainly I have not been nourished by English Literature, in which I do not suppose I am better read than you; for the simple reason that I have never found much there in which to rest my heart (or heart and head together). I was brought up in the Classics, and first discovered the sensation of literary pleasure in Homer. Also being a philologist, getting a large part of any aesthetic pleasure that I am capable of from the form of words (and especially from the fresh association of word-form with word-sense), I have always best enjoyed things in a foreign language, or one so remote as to feel like it (such as Anglo-Saxon). But that is enough about me.

I am afraid it is only too likely to be true: what you say about the critics and the public. I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at. I think the publishers are very anxious too; and they are very keen that as many people as possible should read advance copies, and form a sort of opinion before the hack critics get busy. ...

I was sorry to hear that you are now without a 'cello, after having got some way (I am told) with that lovely and difficult instrument. Anyone who can play a stringed instrument seems to me a wizard worthy of deep respect. I love music, but have no aptitude for it; and the efforts spent on trying to teach me the fiddle in youth, have left me only with a feeling of awe in the presence of fiddlers. Slavonic languages are tor me almost in the same category. I have had a go at many tongues in my time, but I am in no ordinary sense a 'linguist'; and the time I once spent on trying to learn Serbian and Russian have left me with no practical results, only a strong impression of the structure and word-aesthetic. ...

Please forgive the apparent unfriendliness of type! My typing does not improve. Except in speed. I am now much faster than with my laborious hand, which has to be spared as it quickly gets tired and painful. I have no doubt that you will also be hearing shortly from Edith.

With much love to you,
Ronald Tolkien.

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