Looking Out for the Little Guy

I’m re-reading Lord of the Rings and have just finished the first book. Why is this such a great masterpiece? Not only because Tolkien spent his whole life writing and re-writing until it was perfect, but because of its deeply Catholic themes, and the main theme throughout the whole book is the triumph of the little one. In a few weeks I’ll have an article in National Catholic Register comparing Frodo to St Therese who also preached the Little Way, but in the meantime it strikes me that Lord of the Rings is so successful and will endure as a great work of literature because, at heart, it shows the gospel triumph of the little one.

This is so intensely Catholic because, despite all the grandeur and glory that is Rome, the Catholic church still essentially celebrates the triumph of the common man, the glory of the ordinary and the victory of the loser. Christ the Carpenter calls Peter the Fisherman and together they conquer Rome. This is the message of the little man from Argentina who is now the successor of Peter. This is why he goes to the poor and ministers to the weak, because in them he sees history’s winners. This is why John Paul the Great sided with the oppressed and the downtrodden and saw them triumph over Communism.

This is why empires come and go, but the Catholic church remains–because they put their stock in the Frodos of the world–the little people who are faithful even if they are not successful and are successful because they are faithful. More to follow on this theme because I must board a flight…stay tuned.

UPDATED: Having arrived at EWTN I was delighted to find myself staying in the same house with Jim Morlina–director of War of the Vendee–a delightful film highlighting the genocide of faithful Catholics in France after the bloody revolution. More on the film and the work of Navis Films later–but in the meantime read Joseph Pearce’s review of the film here:

  • Rich

    Just finished the full LOTR Trilogy last night and it is incredible. Gonna start the Hobbit today. Looking forward to your future article’s about this topic Father. Thx!

  • http://www.interactive-earth.com/hope Dave Zelenka

    Yes. Amen. In many ways, that’s exactly what John’s Revelation is about as well.

  • Chris Field

    Father, you may also want to read, in the Silmarillion, the story called : Of Beren and Luthien.

    Tolkien and his wife have “Beren” and “Luthien” inscribed on their tombstones- and his wife was a pretty reluctant convert to Catholicism – doing so, only to marry JRR- at his insistence (both the conversion and the marriage…lol).

    He was not only Catholic, but was devout – and his religious beliefs conflicted with the “progressive” mentality in the literary business at that time…. in fact, it is probably true that JRRs religiosity explains why it took so long for his works to be recognized as the masterpieces that they are…

    In a way, he was a bit of a martyr – never really achieving the material recognition for his greatness, during his lifetime – because of his insistence on there being, not only a God, but a real Catholic Church. He was essentially ostracized from the “inner circle” at that time… as opposed to the atheists who were producing lower quality material, and were subscribed to the “cool atheist” club of the day.

  • Rob Moreland

    What a coincidence. I’m reading LOTR as well and just finished book one. This is my third go round. The first in the 70s and the second just prior to the release of the first movie. I’m simply enjoying the little details and characters I had forgotten. It helps to clear the movies images impressed into my memory and brings back images from my first read of forty years ago.

  • Dan C

    I think your conservative is showing- that bit of modern conservative culture that is cowboy, rugged individualism, the “I built this,” anti-communal conservative of the 21st century.

    The “little way” is not a victory of the individual, or The One. I think for you, and for your audience, you need to clarify this. This story is a story of the fight for and preservation of communities which clearly Tolkien was predicting was fading away. The individual, Frodo, a victory of the little one, is more of a minor theme to the victory of the team- the forces of Good- for Frodo can’t do it without Sam, or the distraction afforded by the assault on Mordor by Gondor or even arguably, without Gollum.

    This message: the role of the entire community-the team of the forces of Good coming together is more reminiscent of the imagery in the Ignatian Annotations of the Spiritual Exercises than The Little Way (which was written by a member of a religious community whose spirituality was tied to a communal life).

  • Will

    I love the Lord of the Rings, but the story can get ruined when everything and everyone in the story becomes a symbol.

  • Amy

    Is the main theme the triumph of those who are little, or rather that evil cannot be defeated without a sovereign Power acting behind the scenes causing Gollum to fall (not pushed as per Jackson’s ending), restraining the cold knife from reaching the heart at Weathertop, orchestrating Merry and Pippin’s escape, and a hundred other examples? All created beings will succumb unless an Outside Agent prevents them.

    • Niemand

      I’d interpret things a little differently…

      First off, Peter Jackson, NO! NO! NO! Gollum was not pushed. I actually always interpreted the scene as him jumping or maybe “accidentally on purpose” falling because he knew on some level that he could not keep the ring any other way and that this was the one thing he could do that would make both his bad side (that wanted the ring) and his good side (that wanted to help Frodo and make amends for what he had done) happy.

      Second, I see the knife not reaching the heart and Merry and Pippin’s escape as evidence of their innate abilities and toughness, not an outside power. The power’s intervention (and I agree that there is meant to be one) is less direct: It is putting the ring in the hands of the hobbits in the first place, i.e. slowly orchestrating it so that the beings who had the strength to resist the lure of power were the ones who ended up with it rather than directly intervening in the action. (Textual support: Gandolf tells Frodo that he was meant to have the ring and not to give it to its maker.)

  • gullycat

    I’m what can only be called a deep lover of LOTR. I first read it in law school (forty-five years ago – yikes!) – I picked it up, started it, couldn’t put it down, missed work (it was summer, no classes) for three days straight, finished it and re-read it immediately. I’ve read it again front to back four more times and picked it up to dip into parts of it regularly. Right now I’m re-reading “Tolkein, Author of the Century” by Tom Shippey. It’s an excellent analysis and well worth reading.


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