Let’s start with the interesting question of J.R.R. Tolkien being conversant in esoteric matters or not. It is my personal belief he wasn’t. As far as the intellectual life of his individuality goes, I would describe him as a devout Orthodox Roman Catholic, the kind who goes to mass regularly. However, this individual also happened to have an incredibly inspired soul life and a rich imagination. And perhaps because of this combination—a creative mind of genius proportions and an active devotion in his religious practice—this individual was able to connect to the spiritual worlds intuitively, bypassing the intellect. The great spiritual truths that he intuited became the consequent ideological basis of his whole mythology.
If we study J.R.R. Tolkien’s work from the perspective of spiritual science, we can come to the conclusion that there are many parallels between the findings of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research and Tolkien’s creation. Actually, ‘creation’ might not actually be the right word here.
Many great artists of the past have said that they felt their material was somehow ‘given to them’. Wagner said it, and so did Tolkien in this case. He felt he had ‘discovered’ Middle-Earth rather than created it.
The reason there are parallels between Steiner’s research and Tolkien’s art is because both were connecting to the same objective spiritual reality. In this way, it makes sense for Tolkien to have felt he was ‘discovering’ something rather than ‘creating’ it: the ‘something’ he was discovering was actually the spiritual world.
Here are some of the greatest parallels between the LOTR and Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual research:
Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond as Initiates
There’s a scene at the end of Volume VI (Return of the King) that I discovered during my last reading of LOTR that caught my attention. Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel are sitting together in a circle around a fire-place. This happens a night or two before their final sail to Valinor, the Sacred Lands of the Far West. They are speaking to each other, but not with words. They are sitting still, in complete control. Sometimes Gandalf laughs, or Galadriel’s eyes sparkle. They are speaking to each through their own minds, through the currents of the higher worlds.
These three figures of the saga are the representatives of the figure of the Initiate. Galadriel and Elrond can be seen as the ancient Initiates, the kind who has preserved the knowledge from days of yore. They are the oldest of Elves in Middle-Earth and have come from a time that has already faded away.
Galadriel and Elrond are imbued with deep wisdom.
So is Gandalf, but his path is different. His is a path of action.
He is the representative of the modern Initiate. His path is through doing, he must directly influence the events of the earth. It’s funny to me how many times during the saga Gandalf is accused of being a trouble-maker.
Virtually all nations in Middle-Earth have a different name or description for how his presence or message suddenly altered events in their lands irrevocably. He’s not a trouble-maker; this is the vulgar appreciation of his actions. Rather, he moves people to courage, like he did with Bilbo in The Hobbit, in order to create great events that change the fate of the world towards the good. These events hardly go unnoticed, and hence his reputation. Once he finds the ring of power, his mission becomes to defeat Sauron, whichever way he can.
Coming back to the Elves…
The Elves had their Golden years in the first ages of Middle-Earth. During this age, they held an open dialogue with deities, could talk to trees and wake them up, and created huge natural kingdoms. The Elves, in this comparison we are making here, are the same as the Atlanteans. Atlantis, before it became so corrupted that God had to punish his children with a flood, was a kingdom of great prosperity and productivity.
According to Steiner’s spiritual research into Atlantis, the Atlanteans could easily manipulate the earth’s life-force and in this way create great natural structures and edifices. In this sense, they could ‘speak the trees awake’, just like the Elves. The wisest Atlanteans were also the bearers of spiritual knowledge that they had gathered directly from communion with higher spiritual beings… the same way the Old Elves held open dialogue with their own gods.
Sauron and Saruman as the Two Evils
Sauron is Ahriman. This much is clear. He wants to take over Middle-Earth and create a kingdom of dark machinery and corrupted evil slaves, destroying all of its beauty and natural resources. Tolkien had a very high love of nature; industry pained him to a high degree. This point of view is evident in his work. Sauron’s industry is ahrimanic.
The Eye of Sauron is also so powerful, it can slowly consume and destroy everything that is good in you… it robs you of your soul.
When Sam and Frodo were nearing Mt. Doom, Sam starts speaking to Frodo of the Shire. Frodo answers, in a daze of darkness, that he cannot remember the Shire, or its Rivers, or its Hills.
All he can see is the Ring of Fire…. The Eye of Sauron, the unsurpassable evil, the polar extremity of death and suffering and destruction and doom. Prolonged exposure to the darkness of Sauron was destroying Frodo’s soul. Frodo was sacrificing himself to this darkness in order to save Middle-Earth.
Saruman, on the other hand, is representative of Lucifer. Saruman was a good power, he was part of the Council of the Five Magicians, but he became corrupted and fell prey to the lust of power and disdain for the plans and designs of the higher powers. He was once Saruman the White…but he became Saruman the Many-Colored!
Fallen Lucifer is also no longer pure or ‘white’ (if we think of colors symbolically in this manner in order to relate the similarities in both concepts), and he’s also a rebel spirit. Lucifer rebelled against The Father’s designs for the world, just like Saruman rebelled against Middle-Earth’s White Council.
The name of the second book Tolkien’s trilogy is called ‘The Two Towers’.
Just like there are two evils in our own world, there were two types of evil in Middle-Earth actively vying for power, working from their two respective towers.
Frodo as the Christ Impulse
Frodo sacrifices himself in order to save Middle-Earth. His quest is as much external as internal: He has to go on a stealth mission across Middle-Earth directly into the heart of the enemy’s land, and he also has to fight the temptation to give in to the great power of the ring. In the end, he doesn’t quite fulfill his mission… When he’s standing at the edge of the scalding river of lava in the center of Mt. Doom, Frodo decides to take the ring for himself, and puts it on to become invisible and flee.
Gollum, right at that moment, jumps Frodo and bites his finger off, taking the ring for himself. Frodo resisted and there was a struggle, which resulted in Gollum falling with the ring to his fiery death at the pits of Mt. Doom.
Gollum acts as a shadow version of the Hobbits in this saga. He is a hobbit who has completely become his shadow self, due to the influence of the ring. However, if it weren’t for this corrupted hobbit and the chain of events that led the three of them (Sam, Frodo and Gollum) to Mt. Doom… Middle-Earth would have been lost, because Frodo was not, in the end, strong enough to resist the dark power of the ring.
The Nazgul or Wringraiths as corrupted mankind / Aragorn as representative of noble mankind
The 9 Nazgul or Wringraiths were the Kings of Old who willingly submitted themselves to Sauron’s service in exchange for immortality, dominion, force and power. On the other hand, we have Aragorn, the main human character in the saga, who fights to reclaim his kingdom and institute peace once more in Middle-Earth. He fights the noble fight, and does so because it is his right as heir to the throne and because he must do it to help others… just as we are called to fight for the sake of others and because it is also right for ourselves.
The Ring is a curious object. Tolkien actually took this idea from Wagner’s Nibelungeid, or The Ring of the Nibelungs. It is the greatest of Sauron’s powers amassed into a single object; it is an object of power. Sauron needs it so much because without it, he is a blob of suspended ether in the form of an eye that cannot himself work in the physical world. He needs the ring in order to have a body. He needs the ring in order to incarnate.
These are some of the greatest parallels that can be drawn. There are others that I am working on. The concept of the Ring, and Gollum as the representative of a Shadow Self, as you may or may have not surmised, are concepts that I have breached, but are not quite complete to me.
I admire Tolkien immensely for the qualities in his soul that allowed him to be creatively open to these spiritual truths… the coloring that he gave them I also find deeply interesting; I love his mythology and his works, and the symbols and everything.
It is the ideal for an artist, I believe, to reach this level of connection and inspiration with higher realities, and then be able to express these truths through their own unique perspective.
Because of this, I have always respected Tolkien, and consider him perhaps the best fantasy writer of all times.