Any who recognize the name John Ronald Reuel Tolkien will know, if nothing else, that he was the author of the acclaimed, “Lord of the Rings,” series. Tolkien was also a very devout Roman Catholic and a friend of C.S. Lewis, a convert from Atheism to Anglicanism. The influence of Lewis’s Christian faith in his, “Chronicles of Narnia,” as well as his, “Space Trilogy,” is undeniable. However, the influence of Tolkien’s Christian faith in forming the myths and fairy stories in Middle Earth is harder to find. However, in his private correspondence he frequently spoke on issues touching society and culture, often from a Christian perspective. His advice on marriage and love still speaks to us today, as of course do his words on the Holy Communion.
He speaks about these things in a spectacular way in a letter addressed to his son, Michael Tolkien, dated March 6th, 1941. In this letter he gives his son advice on how to get married amidst a world that increasingly, in Tolkien’s view, was pushing godly marriage to the side in favor of an ambiguous feeling of love. Tolkien writes,
“There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. It idealizes, ‘love,’ and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, service, courtesy, honor and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) marriage.”
Tolkien’s words could easily apply to so much of what is simply assumed about, “love,” in America today. The basic assertion at play is that someone’s passions and desires determine what, “love,” means to them. This is the case for much more than simply homosexual relationships, it applies also to the idea of casual dating, a relationship that is not meant, first and foremost, to lead to marriage. In America we are constantly chasing a marriage or a relationship that allows us to be happy above all else, even perhaps above a relationship that allows us to truly love someone. Is it possible to love someone if you aren’t always happy? Tolkien certainly thought so. He wrote, “Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification.” Tolkien’s concept of love, indeed a concept meant to lead naturally into marriage, is the putting to death of one’s own desires and serving the other in a God-pleasing way. Wives submitting to their husbands, and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
But how am I to love them properly unless I am certain they are, “the one?” In contrast to the notion of, “soul-mates,” Tolkien sees marriage as the institution that creates love. Finding a spouse becomes harder the more free choice someone is granted, and so Tolkien freely admits that some of the happiest marriages take place in societies where the, ‘choosing’ by young people is almost completely done for them by their parents. Tolkien says,
“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the real, ‘soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances.”
But what of the person who, try as they might, desires marriage and cannot enter it? Tolkien, in the face of this frustration would place the most concrete, blessed gift of love in the world: The Holy Communion. He sees the ultimate purpose of love in marriage, and of course in the Holy Communion, the relationship between Christ and His church taking shape. Is it an accident that our wedding ceremonies take place at the Altar rail? By no means! For at this rail, Christ the bridegroom and the church, His bride, meet each other. Tolkien expresses this fullness in this way,
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: The Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”
Here, Dr. Martin Luther would certainly agree with Tolkien, as he says in, The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ against the Fanatics, “Now there remains the part concerning the fruit of the sacrament. Of this I have had much to say at other places. It is nothing other than love.”
 Tolkien, J.R.R. The letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter, (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000), 48.
 Ibid. 48-49.
 Ibid. 51.
 Ibid. 52.
 Ibid. 51.
 Ibid. 54.
 AE 36:352, (The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ- Against the Fanatics, 1526)