Joseph Pearce reflects on Tolkien’s destruction of the One Ring on March 25, which one important tradition identified both as the date of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and as the date of the Crucifixion. Indeed, as I have noted in Mary, Mother of the Son, the data we actually have points, not to the winter solstice, but to a Jewish theory of “integral age” as driving the Church’s dating of both the crucifixion and Christmas. The idea was that a true prophet could only die on the date of his birth or conception. In the West, the tradition tended to place the crucifixion on March 25. In the East, the date favored was April 6. Add nine months and you get Christmas in the Western Church on December 25 and on January 6 in the Eastern Church. You can read all about it in this excerpt here.
Anyway, here is Joseph Pearce on the way Tolkien made use of that tradition in The Lord of Rings. (He also, by the way, has the Fellowship set out from Rivendell on December 25):
The most obvious parallel between Tolkien’s myth and the Christian truth it reflects so faithfully is in the nature of the quest which constitutes the principal animus of Tolkien’s story. The journey of Frodo and Sam into the very heart of Mordor in order to destroy, or unmake, the Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom is emblematic of the Christian’s imitation of Christ in carrying the cross of sin.
At its most profound level, The Lord of the Rings is a sublimely mystical passion play. The carrying of the ring the emblem of sin is the carrying of the cross. This is the ultimate applicability of The Lord of the Rings that we have to lose our life in order to gain it; that unless we die we cannot live; that we must all take up our cross and follow him.
All of this would be deducible from the story itself but Tolkien makes the parallel even more explicit.
“I should say,” he wrote, explaining the final climactic moments on Mt. Doom, “that within the mode of the story [it] exemplifies (an aspect of) the familiar words: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.'”
As if this were not enough to silence those skeptics who obstinately refuse to acknowledge the overriding Christian dimension in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien makes it even more unmistakable, and unavoidable, in the fact that the climactic attempt to destroy the ring, and in consequence the Dark Lord who had forged it, occurred on “the twenty-fifth of March.”
The significance of this date will not escape the attention of Catholic scholars, though it is certainly overlooked all too often by Tolkien’s non-Christian admirers. Tom Shippey, an Anglo-Saxon scholar and Tolkien expert, states in his book, The Road to Middle Earth, that in “Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25 is the date of the Crucifixion.” It is also, of course, the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the absolute center of all history as the moment when God himself became incarnate as man.
A Catholic and an Oxford don, Tolkien was well aware of the significance of “the twenty-fifth of March.” It signified the way in which God had “unmade”
the Fall, which, like the Ring, had brought humanity under the sway of “the Shadow.” If the ring that the hero wants “unmade” at the culmination of Tolkien’s quest is the “one ring to rule them all â?¦ and in the darkness bind them,” the Fall was the “one sin to rule them all â?¦ and in the darkness bind them.” On March 25, the one sin, like the one ring, had been “unmade,” destroying the power of the Dark Lord.
Apart from this one crucial parallel, there are of course many other examples of the atholic truth shining forth from the pages of Tolkien’s masterpiece too many to mention in one article. It is, however, very comforting in the midst of these dark days that the most popular book of the 20th century and the most popular movie of the new century draw their power and their glory from the light of the Gospel.