Pope Francis Cites JRR Tolkien in Essay on Storytelling

The Pope may have been referring to an exchange between Frodo and Sam in the second book of the trilogy.

Pope Francis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Pope Francis and J.R.R. Tolkien. (photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk and TuckerFTW / (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Pope Francis cited J.R.R. Tolkien in an essay on storytelling published this week.

“As Frodo, the main character in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, says: ‘The tales never end,’” Pope Francis wrote in an afterword to a book published on May 26.

The Pope may have been referring to an exchange between Frodo and Sam in the second book of the trilogy on “the tales that really mattered.”

In the exchange, Sam says: “And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got — you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It's going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’”

“‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later — or sooner.’”

The Pope brought up Tolkien in an afterword he wrote for the recently published Italian book La Tessitura del Mondo (Weaving the World). 

According to its publisher, the book features chapters written by “major cultural figures” in Italy on “storytelling as a way to salvation.”

In the Pope’s afterword, published in full by Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, the Pope also quoted Donna Tartt, an American author who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for her novel, The Goldfinch.

The Pope reflected on Tartt’s description of the stories human beings tell as unbreakable ropes that connect the living and the dead and weave vast webs across centuries and cultures.

“The American novelist keenly captures one of the points on which many of the authors in this book converge: storytelling as a ‘fabric’ made of ‘unbreakable ropes’ that connects everything and everyone, present and past, and allows one to open to the future with feelings of trust and hope,” the Pope said.

Throughout his papacy, Francis has made reference to books such as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Romano Guardini’s The Meaning of the Church.

Among his favorite books are the Italian novel The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, and Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson.

This was not the first time that Pope Francis has referenced The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

In a 2008 Easter homily when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he reportedly said: “Tolkien portrays in Bilbo and Frodo the image of man who is called to walk, and his heroes know and enact, precisely by walking, the drama … between good and evil.”

"The walking man has within him the dimension of hope: he enters into hope. Throughout mythology and history, there resounds the echo of the fact that man is not a still, tired being, but is called to the journey, and if he does not enter into this dimension he destroys himself as a person and becomes corrupted.” 

Papal preacher Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa also cited Tolkien at the Vatican’s Good Friday liturgy this year. He reflected on a letter that the author wrote to his son about people who denied the existence of Jesus.