Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues (Exploring the Spiritual Themes of The Lord of the Rings)

by A. Karen Davis

Mark Eddy Smith deftly writes a wonderful study of thirty Christian virtues revealed through story and character in The Lord of the Rings. The author has a rich grasp of the meaning of the virtues, a strong biblical foundation for his understanding, and a keen understanding of the characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien’s gift of story-telling never preaches. He gives his characters freedom to make decisions of their own as they struggle against the massive evils that are destroying Middle Earth. True to his devout Christian belief, he constructs a story showing portraits of characters facing intense struggles, yet living out virtues like hospitality, faith, sacrifice, trust, justice, and friendship.

Mark Smith discusses each virtue in three to four well-written pages that read aloud very smoothly—a workable idea for family devotions.

Look at his chapter on friendship: “There is no greater treasure in Middle-Earth (or anywhere else for that matter) than friends.” In the not-so-perfect friendship of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, they laugh and sing together, they give each other comfort as well as encouragement. Frodo does not consider himself worthy of friends who would die for him, yet when he is faced with the strong urge to leave his friends buried in Barrow Downs, he is given courage to be faithful to his friends.

Smith discusses the temptation to put our aspirations before friendship. He concludes, “It requires a servant’s heart, like Sam’s, to lay aside our plans, simple as they may be, and follow friends into danger and exile, but that is precisely what true friends do.”

Reading a book about ordinary virtues cannot make us virtuous, but it can give us insight into the decisions we make as we journey through life. As Smith says, “All we have to do is strive to attain the virtues, so that they feel comfortable within us. When our strength is gone, the Author of virtues will lend us some of His.”

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