Question: “Both Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series are examples of fantasy literature. And both have stories of magic and sorcery. Is there any difference? Is it okay for Christians to read Tolkien’s work?” SG. in Charlottesville, Va.
My Answer: I have maintained for many years that one’s foundation in life is important. The basics of a person’s beliefs and core faith are essential to understanding everything else about that person. Everything is derived from the perspective a person views life with. Call it worldview, or paradigm, or cosmic perspective, or whatever you wish—but the fact is that no one can escape their basic understanding of the life and reality. How you act, how you think, what you do in life, is all a result, directly or indirectly, of the foundational beliefs you have about God, morals, life and reality.
And that is the problem with Harry Potter. His world is occultic (and therefore demonic). Harry’s universe is magickal in operation. In Harry’s world there are supernatural, occult forces at work. Forces available for wizards and witches and sorcerers to manipulate. There are powers that may be tapped into by those properly trained, and then utilized for the wizard’s or witch’s own ends. It is basically the same power used by all magicians (good and bad), the results of its use being determined solely by the magician himself. Harry wields the same kind of power as the evil wizard, Voldemort. For example, Harry’s magic wand is the twin to Voldemort’s.
Voldemort is basically a Darth Vader figure, a magician who was swayed to turn to the “dark side of the Force.” But it is the same “Force,” or occult power, that energizes both Harry and Voldemort. As we have discussed before the occult world-view is essentially monistic. All is one. The cosmos is one thing, one reality. However, this one reality is manifest in the world in two opposing dynamics—the yin and yang of the universe. Harry (yang) and Voldemort (yin) are thus two sides of the same coin. In such a world there is no clear delineation between good and evil. Both are merely illusions of separation in the one reality that we call the universe.
Now, when we read The Lord of the Rings, we are here also confronted with a world also seemingly full of magic and sorcery and supernatural operations. So, aren’t these two fictional works basically the same. Is there any difference between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter? Aren’t Gandalf and Professor Dumbledore basically both wizards cut out of the same magickal cloth? No, I repeat emphatically, no! Though superficially similar there are worlds of difference (literally) between Gandalf and Dumbledore. They come from different planets, from different realities. Middle Earth is as far removed from Hogwarts as heaven is from hell!
Tolkien was a devout Christian believer and committed to a Christian world-view. (Indeed, Tolkien was instrumental in bringing C. S. Lewis to faith in Christ.) Tolkien’s field of expertise was linguistics, especially ancient European languages. He delighted in Old Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon and ancient Celtic. And he not only studied these languages, but also these peoples, these cultures. Admittedly, much of the mythos of the old tribes of northwest Europe is evident in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Yet, there is equally just as strong a Christian paradigm that shines through in The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien’s basic Christian perspective on life radiates throughout his storytelling. For instance, this is clearly seen in his treatment of evil. The dark forces of Sauron and his kingdom are truly evil. Sauron does not derive his power from the same source as Gandalf or any of the tale’s heroes. His nature, and powers, are genuinely wicked. This is especially evident in the infamous ring. Sauron created this ring, and it is inherently evil. Anyone who wields the ring comes under its dark influence. Even the innocent, such as Frodo, cannot long resist the power of this diabolic ring. In Tolkien’s world light and darkness, good and evil, do not mix.
Tolkien’s biblical orientation is also seen in the many references to a Providence guiding the affairs of men, elves, and hobbits. Frodo is told many times, by Gandalf and others, that he has been chosen to bear the ring, that it is his destiny to be the one who causes the ring to be destroyed. There is a definite undercurrent of a divine guiding hand throughout the story.
Some Christians would object that such Christian views are too subtle, and too inconspicuous in the Rings trilogy. At first glance, this may seem true. But it really is not. To fully understand the story line of The Lord of Rings, you have to see it as part of a larger mythology created by Tolkien. Tolkien worked for years creating an entire universe with its own mythological structure. The Lord of the Rings is only one chapter in this larger undertaking. Much of this grander vision was edited and published after Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher Tolkien. In this posthumous work, The Silmarillion, we are given a clearer picture of how Tolkien viewed the imaginary world he had created. The Silmarillion tells how Eru, the One (God the Creator) made all things. It tells how Eru created two groups of angelic beings to oversee and govern His creation—the Valar and the Maiar. Through many intricately woven stories, the legends of Valinor (the land of the Valar) and the lands of Middle Earth are told. We hear of the creation of the Erusen, the children of Eru (elves and men). We hear tales of epic proportions regarding heroes and great wars. We also see the groundwork laid for the telling of the Rings story.
In this larger vision, we come to understand, for example, that the “wizards” that appear on Middle Earth are actually Maiar, angelic beings sent to wage war against Sauron. From this, we understand that the powers that Gandalf uses are not really “magickal powers” at all. Instead, they are angelic powers that God intended to be used for the destruction of evil. And there’s the crux of the matter. While Professor Dumbledore uses demonic, occultic powers to accomplish his wizardry, Gandalf has the powers of an angel, God-given and godly. What a difference!
Are Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings two very similar examples of the same literary genre? Definitely not! Tolkien’s fantasy world is one of values, truth, Providence and the hand of God. Harry Potter can only stoop to using occult counterfeits of God’s power. So if you want to enjoy a good, rousing fantasy story, read Tolkien. And if you want to be thrilled by cinematic magic on a grand scale, try The Lord of the Rings. But forget Harry Potter. He just doesn’t measure up. (And Professor Dumbledore isn’t fit to don Gandalf’s pointy hat!)