The literary works and culture influence of JRR Tolkien continues unabated. He is perhaps the most influential Catholic, at least in terms of arts and letters, from the last century, his works constituting the conditions for the possibility for the popular genre of fantasy fiction.
In his own fiction, particularly his magnum opus entitled “The Lord of the Rings, a small band of reluctant heroes struggle against all odds to defeat dark and dangerous powers hell bent on the destruction of the world. This evil is ultimately subverted and defeated by creatures that one would least expect- not the great and mighty (who are easily enticed to wicked deeds) but by the small and seemingly insignificant.
The small and insignificant move almost unnoticed in the territories under the thrall of dark powers, and through their insertion into enemy occupied territory, they overcome the evil that threatens and destroys.
Tolkien was a devout Catholic and his faith is hidden in his works of fiction. One small detail, often missed by many, is the significance of the date March 25th– which he identifies as the day that the dark powers were defeated.
March 25th is the day set aside by the Church for the commemoration of the Annunciation. This solemn feast, hidden this year amidst the mysteries of Lent, celebrates the conception of Christ in the womb of his Mother. God, in Jesus Christ, accept a human nature and in doing so inserts himself in an extraordinary way into the experience of being human (including the experience of gestating in the womb!). Christians believe that in God’s acceptance of a human nature in Christ, he hallowed, sanctified, the entirety of human existence- from our earliest beginnings to our natural end.
But also, the Solemnity of the Annunciation is a celebration of God’s victory over the powers of evil. Sin, death and the devil have laid waste to the world and rendered us prisoners. In his acceptance of a human nature, God in Christ sneaks into enemy occupied territory, and from his position, embedded with us in a world under the thrall of dark powers, he enacts his victory.
God in Christ becomes seemingly small and insignificant, and as such it seems on the level of appearances that he would be no match for the dark powers. He takes the lowest placed, embeds himself among those considered too insignificant and powerless to matter. Yet in the unfathomable surprise of God’s revelation in Christ his power is manifested while hidden in weakness.
The lesson here is profound. Christ is our victory. The Annunciation signals the end of the reign of the evil one and the ensuing triumph of the Kingdom of God. Battles with the evil one remain to be fought, for the most part waged in our hearts, and in our resistance to all that refuses to love what Christ loves and serve what Christ serves, but with the revelation of Christ in our flesh, God’s victory is now assured.
Tolkien’s day of victory for his fantasy world was no accident. In his decision to choose this day for the day of victory he was calling our attention to the triumph of Christ’s power in the real world. That day of Christ’s triumph is today (March 25th)- when after long years of defeat, God arrived and turned the tide of battle in our favor- a battle that would be won, not with the weapons of worldly might, but by his will to love us, and through the power of that love, he still fights by our side and leads us to victory.