J.R.R. Tolkien, the Feast of the Annunciation and the Defeat of Sauron

"This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it – but he must not get it." ― Gandalf the Grey, The Lord of the Rings, "The Shadow of the Past"

Much to the chagrin and fury of secularist aficionados of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, the author often said that his The Lord of the Rings is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." He admitted that his Middle-earth is modeled with the same moral contours and parameters as is our universe. As the Faithful read his books, this becomes immediately obvious despite the lack of overt references to the Christian Gospel or Catholic symbolism. The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the perfect literary depiction of the titanic struggle of Good and Evil. And throughout Tolkien's legendarium, there is a palatable Catholic essentiality.

According to The Silmarillion, the prequel to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the thoroughly corrupt Sauron (Quenya: Þauron lit: "The Abhorred,") the eponymous Lord of the Rings of Tolkien's mythos, was a fallen Maia, the angel-like race created by the transcendent and omnibenevolent Eru Ilúvatar the One, the Creator of the Universe.

In the Second Age of the World, Sauron, the fallen Dark Lord, created nineteen Rings of Power and, secretly, one Ring to control the lesser ones. Upon that ring, Sauron inscribed the ominous admonition: "One Ring to Rule Them All, One Ring to Find Them, One Ring to Bring Them All, and in the Darkness Bind Them."[1]

Sauron distributes the rings to Elves, Men and Dwarves. The Elves immediately realize his treachery and refuse to wear them. The Men become corrupted and enthralled to him. The Dwarves selfishly horde gold because of his dark influence. Furious at the Elves, Sauron battles them demanding their return. He's battles a combined army of Elves and Men under their respective kings, Gil-galad and Elendil, at the War of the Last Alliance to retrieve them.

During that battle, Isildur the warrior-king of Gondor, slashes off Sauron's finger upon which was the One Ring—a ring that gives its possessor the power to command Middle-earth's darkest minions, the nine Nazgûl AKA the Ringwraiths. (i.e. morally and spiritually corrupted human kings) Sauron's last connection to the physical plane is lost causing the dissolution of his physical body. His armies are routed and Elves and Men are victorious. In his greatly weakened state, and without his One Ring, Sauron, can only corrupt the hearts and minds of others. Sauron thus laid dormant for 500 years healing after his humiliating defeat. He manages to corrupt Saruman, the wizard Gandalf's mentor and establishes himself in Mordor taking on the form of an enormous lidless eye. He supervises the construction of the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr near Mount Doom which serves as his new pied-à-terre. This results in the near decimation of the Ents, the sentient trees of Middle-Earth. (A reference to the jubilant trees in 1 Chronicles 16:33 which sing and dance as they praise their Creator) Sauron raises a huge army of orcs, trolls and other monsters all the while corrupting the hearts of Men and enslaving them with delusions of power and wealth.

Sauron is ultimately defeated in the War of the Ring when the hobbit Frodo Baggins, despite great temptations to pride and selfishness, destroys the One Ring by tossing it, along with Golum/Sméagol, a hobbit thoroughly corrupted by the Ring's influence, into Mt Doom―the forge in which Sauron first created the Rings of Power. This results in the destruction of the volcano which consumes the remaining Nazgûl who had abandon their battle against a combined force of Elves, Men and the Great Eagles. The Eagles, turn, race to Mount Doom to save Bilbo and Samwise Gamgee. This is a clear reference to Isaiah's description to God extending His protection to the Faithful.[2]

With the Ring's destruction, Sauron's power was forever crippled, and the threat of his dominion moot.

Good wins over evil every time.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Tolkien, a devout Catholic, chose March 25th as the day in which the archdemon Sauron was defeated. It is, after all, the Feast of the Annunciation―the day the Church celebrates the defeat of the Lord of this World. The Blessed Virgin Mary, a simple, humble young woman from the backwaters of the Roman Empire, who stoops to conquer, spoke and Death was defeated. (In 2016, the traditional Feast of the Annunciation coincided with Good Friday, so the observance was commuted from March 25 to April 4. But this is a rare occurrence.)

All the Blessed Virgin Mary had to do to defeat cosmic evil was to say, "Yes" to God's invitation to bear His Son―the Redeemer promised to Abraham and to his descendants. (Gen 12:1-3, Lk 1:73) That "Yes" stood in marked contrast to Eve's "No" to God's call to love and obedience. At Humanity's Fall, God responds with a lamentation, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9) signifying the opprobrious and nearly irrevocable break between our humanity and His Divinity. A break that required the ultimate sacrifice of His Own Beloved Son to heal.

Much has been written about Tolkien's ardent faith. In fact, Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien's biographer, characterized the author's devotion to the Church as "total." He was even able to make C.S. Lewis abandon his much cherished cynical atheism. Tolkien's books are considered literary masterpieces having inspired a new genre: fantasy fiction. However, his success, the recognition of his peers and his readers' ardor weren't the driving forces of his writing. Rather, it was his Catholic faith.

The shared symbols between Catholicism and the Tolkien's Middle Earth mythos are undeniable: The Ring of Power forged by Sauron is the quintessential symbol of sin. The waybread (Elfish: lembas), the elves gave the hobbits Biblo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee is a perfect representation of the Eucharist as it sustained them both physically and spiritually in their dangerous journey through Mordor. It is literally viaticum as it prepares them for the ultimate existential journey.

But the most poignant of Tolkien's Catholic symbols is the elven character Galadriel―a creature endowed with immaculate virtue, refulgent beauty, selfless love, immense compassion and the ability to heal. In a 1952 letter to Fr. Robert Murray, the author readily admitted that the Virgin Mary forms the basis for this character describing her as a "small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity."[3]

In fact, when Sauron tried to sway the Elves into his service in the Second Age of Middle Earth, he portrayed himself as a beautiful, benevolent spirit calling himself Annatar, the "Lord of Gifts." The fiend befriended the Elvish smiths of Eregion and taught them magic. However, the Elves rejected him, led by Lady Galadriel. 

Thus Galadriel/Blessed Virgin Mary is the perfect foil for Sauron/Satan.

When we consider Tolkien's mother, Mabel, his self-professed chief inspiration, we find a strong, loving and dedicated woman who "clung to her conversion [to the Catholic faith from Unitarianism] and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty resulting from it." She denied herself so that her sons could have a chance in life. Tolkien admitted often that she was the most important influence in both his faith and intellect. In fact, the author insisted that everything he knew, he learned from his Catholic faith, and that he owed his faith to his mother. 

Tolkien's legendarium is suffused with the Gospel, the Truth of all Truths. The author presents us with Christ and the entire story of Creation, the morally corrupt nature of man, the pursuit of virtue and ultimate Divine redemption. According to Tolkien, the Gospel was a "eucatastrophe," the happiest of all tragedies, because it satisfied the human heart's deepest yearnings―the healing of our natures and reunion with God. No longer would the Creator ask of us, "Where are you?"

Anthropologists refer to commonalities between all human cultures as "universals." As we consider the mythologies that man has made for himself to explain the Inexplicable and seek out the Ineluctable, we see the Divine Plan in Tolkien's works. The author argued that it is only reasonable to assume that if God existed, He would convey His revelation in the form of a myth―not a false story but, rather, a means by which to convey a Divine Mysterious Truth which clumsy human languages could not accurately portray. Thus, for Tolkien, Christianity was God's "perfect myth" as it related His mysteries best in a way we could all best understand.

The defeat of Sauron/Satan on the Feast of the Assumption is Tolkien's inspired proclamation of the Ultimate Truth of the Gospel. God presents us with a choice between Good and Evil all the while begging us, from His Incomprehensible Love, to abandon ourselves into His arms. Tolkien holds up Mary's humble and loving assent to her Creator as our standard in his books. The answer to life is easy―all we need do is love and give ourselves over to the Great I Am Who is Love Itself.

[1] "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul"

[2] "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

[3] Kreeft, Peter. The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, p. 76.