Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in "The Lord of the Rings."

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in "The Lord of the Rings."

Article excerpt

The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in "The Lord of the Rings." By Fleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004. 373 pp. $20.00 (paper).

"This treatment of Tolkien's great story is about God first of all. Then it is about (in no particular order) Providence, history, demonic forces, archangels, bondage and liberation, justice and mercy, failure and restoration, friendship and sacrifice, sanctification and glorification, divine election and human freedom" (p. 5). So begins Fleming Rutledge's brilliant and ambitious commentary on The Lord of the Rings-ambitious because of the sheer scope of the project, and brilliant because, by and large, she achieves her aims. Though written to engage the interest of a general readership, The Battle for Middle-Earth is saturated with enough doctrinal reflection to satisfy the most seasoned theologian. Building on Tolkien's current popularity, Rutledge leads the reader on an epic theological pilgrimage which echoes and amplifies the quest of the Ring-saga itself.

By presenting her work in the form of a commentary, Rutledge eschews the modes of thematic or character analysis and chooses instead to focus on the unfolding of the plot of the story as Tolkien's primary means of disclosing theological truth. Because The Lord of the Rings contains virtually no explicit references to God or religion, many readers have assumed that it is a theologically "value-free" text; Rutledge heartily contests this view. By seeking beneath the surface of the plot, she is able to articulate what she calls the "deep narrative" of the epic, which is nothing less than the presence of divinity, guiding and shaping the story from beginning to end. Of course, for those familiar with Tolkien's own religious comictions, this perspective will come as no surprise. What is interesting, however, is how Rutledge manages to explicate the story in light of the mystery of agency and will, both human and divine, according to a soft-core Calvinist schema.

Though thoroughly drenched in biblical and theological discourse, Rutledge's text is not primarily a specialist work. …

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