Banned Books Awareness: “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R Tolkien

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Coming in at #40 on the American Library Association’s banned book list, surprisingly to many, is J.R.R Tolkien’s epic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings.  The classic trilogy, along with The Hobbit, has been banned in many schools and public libraries across the nation.

These works have been celebrated around the world as benchmarks of fictional literature, and for inspiring the work of several modern fantasy and science fiction authors around the globe; yet some claim that there is a darker, more menacing side to these childhood standards.

According to a National Health Service anti-smoking group in Plymouth, England, children should be banned from watching films like Lord of the Rings because they feature people smoking.  NHS Plymouth states that about 40% of school-age children have admitted smoking regularly and that research showed children were more likely to start smoking if they had been exposed to certain images, including people smoking on television and in films.

Russ Moody, from the Plymouth Stop Smoking Service, said, “This is not about being a busybody – this is about protecting young people from harm and the aim is not to stop children from watching otherwise “enjoyable films”, but to put pressure on film makers not to include any smoking scenes.”

The other, most popular, reason behind censorship attempts is that some find the story to be “irreligious.”  This comes as a shock since Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and long-time friend of Christian fantasy author C.S. Lewis.  He even wrote in a letter to Lewis that the creation of the LOTR was a “fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”  This is reflected in several pages with quite noticeable Christian themes and subtexts.  When Tolkien began creating the world of Middle-earth, he foresaw one that would reflect Christian views and incorporate basic elements of Christianity into the world of fiction.

Nevertheless is has been repeatedly banned in Christian schools (and homes) as being anti-Christian, and generally anti-religious.

One of the most recent, and highly criticized, reports of banning the work occurred in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 2001.  A local group claimed the books were satanic and promoting witchcraft, and consequently, set about burning a large cache of the books outside the Christ Community Church.

This might shock some readers, but New Mexico has a rather dark history with regards to its views on witchcraft.  In 1877 five people were burned alive for suspicion of practicing the religion.  There are also some reports of a New Mexico woman being burned at the stake as recently as 1931.

“There are definitely elements that Christians can find in the movies,” said Robert Stewart, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “The themes and symbolism remain consistent with the Christian message. Not everyone will get the symbolism, but it is still very prevalent throughout the films.”

“The idea of a king returning is very clearly Christian,” he said.

Some very positive books about the Tolkien trilogy have been written in the past few years, such as “Finding God in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ ” by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware.

The authors contend that Tolkien’s basis in Christianity becomes apparent as the story unfolds, unveiling Christian elements throughout the tale.

Frodo Baggins is chosen as the only one capable of carrying the ring.

Similar to the chronicles of Moses and Pharaoh, or David and Goliath, many feel that Tolkien is showing how God uses ordinary people to accomplish his will.

The ring, the central image, has symbolism in that it demonstrates the power given by God.

“The fact that the ring cannot be worn and used goes along with the Christian ideal that the power we have is not the power to dominate, but the power of the Spirit to serve,” Stewart said.

Even without the Christian influences, most would still promote the movie, encouraging others, especially young people, to watch it.

“I would definitely encourage my youth group to see the movie,” said Stuart Whitlow, youth pastor of First Baptist Church of Houma. “I think just the closeness of the people, the friendships, and the fact that they work together and stood by each other and those types of things.  That’s definitely positive.”

As with any work of art, the meanings can come from a very personal interpretation.  That’s the power of art.  To create not just something that stands on its own, but something to inspire, encourage, and ponder.

The thought that a singular viewpoint in the vast and varied intellectual minefield of discourse can have more merit over another is the truly disturbing thought to come out of these incidents.  Those differences of opinion are what make the questions, and the resulting dialogue, all the more engaging and thrilling.

Sources: American Library Association, Censur.org, The Telegraph (UK), Yahoo news

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

*NOTE FROM AUTHOR: This article has been modified from its original version. The name of Alamogordo, New Mexico was incorrectly misspelled in its news source.

32 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R Tolkien

    • Maybe this is not exactly what you were looking for but…
      I read The Hobbit as part of the Geography syllabus in a Christian middle school in central Mexico. Last year it was cancelled because a girl’s parents told the principal the book promoted witchcraft, Occultism, smoking, driking [alcohol] and many other bad things. It was a harsh moment for my literature club :(

  1. Hi, I am in the process of writing a research paper on banned books. My topic is the banning of fantasy novels on the basis of religion, and I was wondering if you might have any suggestions on which books would be best to write about. I have Tolkien and C.S. Lewis' work so far, but I still need at least one more book or series to discuss. I was considering Harry Potter, but I am still undecided. Do you have any suggestions for me?

  2. this is the stupidest thing I've ever read in my life, what the books have to do with religion I'll never know, Its a total fantasy world I don't see how you can really relate it to religion. and the films feature people smoking? yes they do… but the people are smoking friking pipes like old men style… that isn't exactly gonna promote smoking as cool. honestly what the hell the lord of the rings is a brilliant piece of literature that shouldn't be banned anywhere

      • Charles, that’s is exactly why I find it so perplexing that people blast the fantasy series and lay claim that people like Tolkien and Lewis are anti-Christian. The symbolism and the parables are all there. I guess that’s what happens when you look at things with tunnel vision.

  3. ggd5xghsaT is stupid. like honestly if you're going to comment make it have a point. Becks is right but have your own thoughts.

  4. In my opinion, it's not really a big deal if there are people featured here smoking because children would not understand reading these kind of books. It's not easy to understand them. And when we talk about the movie, it's not really focused on smoking. So why should it be banned? There are also lots of good points in the movie.

  5. I am doing this book as my banned book. I feel like this article is religist. I am christian and I don't believe in people coming back to earth. I also feel like this person is trying to put the book and the movie down. Who cares people?! No one can make a perfect book.

  6. I like what you said! i am doing a 7th grade project on Banned Books and I got really mad when I saw that. It metions nothing about smoking being the funnest thing ever. I am christian and this offends me. Maybe this article should be banned! books arn't perfect ya know! People are so…..so uptight. i bet that the person has read something that should be "banned" and because it's their favorite book, they don't think it's bad. Just because you don't like it doens't mean others don't like it.

    • Hey, little idiots. This article is explaining why people ban the books and why NO BOOK SHOULD BE BANNED.

      Wow. Surprising to your little brain, right?

  7. One of the worst movies I have ever seen, I can't believe I saw them. I truly regret
    seeing these movies,the book must be worse. I don't think any adult nor child should
    see them plus 2 of the stars (Elijah Wood and Sean Austin) treat their viewers very bad.
    Please do not support the making of the movie The Hobbit nor see it.

    • Really? What was the point in you commenting? If you don’t like the series don’t read articles about it. And who cares if the actors are rude? That has nothing to do with the character that is protrayed. Oh, FYI Elijah Wood isnt even in The Hobit. Totally different story. Before you start to insult, know what you’re talking about.

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  10. I have a problem with this statement:

    Some very positive books about the Tolkien trilogy have been written in the past few years, such as “Finding God in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ ”

    I don’t understand why religious=positive in your mind. Please explain.

    • First of all, I’m not going to debate the positives or negatives of religion with anyone. What people believe or don’t believe is none of my business. I do not owe you or anyone else an explanation on that subject. If you have to ask someone why they think religious equals positiveness then you will neither understand nor accept any answer given.
      As far as the statement referenced is concerned, did you bother to read the full context?
      I was talking about how some ban and/or challenge the book because they claim that it is anti-Christian, yet some authors have written detailed material about how the book is very much pro-Christian and contains many themes relating to the belief.

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  15. There is a misspelling in this article — “Alamagordo” is actually “Alamogordo, New Mexico.” This is my hometown, and I actually lived there when Christ Community Church burned hundreds of copies of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings,” along with several other books the church leaders thought to be inappropriate. The burning sparked a huge controversy in Alamogordo, understandably. I myself am a huge fan of Harry Potter and LOTR and took personal offense to the burning of these works.

    • Thank you. The news outlets that reported the incident had the misspelling and I faltered in noticing the difference (some sites did have it spelled correctly). I have revised the article and I sincerely apologize to the citizens of Alamogordo.

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