A Spiritual Biography
by Holly Ordway
Tolkien described The Lord of the Rings as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” and declared, “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories).” Yet he insisted his writings were not allegories, and Middle-earth is loved by millions who do not share his religious beliefs.
How were his faith and his fiction related? Holly Ordway answers that question biographically, focusing on Tolkien’s spiritual development, a dramatic story that previous accounts of his life have left largely unexplored.
Here we find that Tolkien’s faith was hard won. His Anglican upbringing was overturned when his mother converted to Catholicism. Soon afterward, she died, leaving Tolkien under the guardianship of a Catholic priest, who forbade him to see his Protestant girlfriend, whom nonetheless he eventually married. The Great War, in which most of his close friends were killed, deepened Tolkien’s reliance on his faith, but then for a decade he “almost ceased to practise” his religion. Friendship with C.S. Lewis and success with The Hobbit were followed by another war and by turmoil in the Church that sternly tested Tolkien’s commitments.
The challenges and triumphs in his religious life are reflected in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, that epic tale of endurance against the odds. As Ordway shows in her expertly researched and richly illustrated study, Tolkien’s faith and Tolkien’s fiction are intimately related, though in subtle and complex ways. This long-overdue spiritual biography gives new insight into his works by shedding fresh light on their author’s deepest-held convictions.
What People are Saying
“Holly Ordway brilliantly illuminates the life of faith that was vital to Tolkien as an individual and as creator of Middle-earth. Besides giving rich insight into the implications of his belief, Tolkien’s Faith reveals the everyday rhythms of his religious life and opens up new and busily peopled vistas in the familiar biographical landscape. This is an enlightening and highly readable biography, meticulously researched and measured in judgement. I’ve learned far more reading it than I even realized I needed to learn, and I commend it to anyone who wants to understand Tolkien in the round.”
— John Garth, award-winning author of Tolkien and the Great War and The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien
“Tolkien’s Faith is the first systematic, book-length exploration of the influence and importance of the Christian faith in Tolkien’s life. It should establish that his Catholicism, as a fundamental and pervasive presence in his life, works, and concerns, was at least as significant as were his professional pursuits and war experience, and that recognizing and exploring this influence in detail is at least as illuminating.”
— Carl F. Hostetter, editor of The Nature of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien
“To understand Tolkien fully, it is necessary to grasp all aspects of his life and personality, regardless of one’s own preferences or beliefs. Ordway’s detailed yet accessible book will soon become an essential compass for anyone who has the desire and courage to deepen their relationship with the author of The Lord of the Rings. Instead of excluding or exploiting his religious commitments, this biography, journeying to the foundations of his humanity, neither censors Tolkien’s faith nor idealizes it.”
— Giuseppe Pezzini, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford; Tolkien Editor, Journal of Inkling Studies
“What a privilege to read this extraordinary work; I savored every word. Ordway’s research, prose, and argumentation are excellent. This is truly a book to be celebrated, worthy of Tolkien himself.”
— Bradley J. Birzer, Hillsdale College, author of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth
“The elephant in the room—Tolkien’s devout and lifelong Christian faith—has at last been fully examined: trunk, tusks, ears, tail, memory, and all. Soberly, with expert attention both to fine points and the big picture, Ordway explains Tolkien’s religious beliefs and explores how they shaped his life and work. I feel like Sam felt when he finally beheld the Oliphaunt. I see now! This is what the rumours were about!”
— Michael Ward, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford; co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis