British thinker and writer J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien (1892–1973) is one of the most beloved fantasy authors ever. As author of The Lord of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, his works rank among the best-selling books of all time. He has been popularly referred to as “the father of modern fantasy literature.” I saw the recent movie about his life, Tolkien, and wanted to offer my impressions.

Tolkien served as a British officer in the First World War and fought at the ominous Battle of the Somme. Many years later Queen Elizabeth II would honor him as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. A graduate from Exeter College, Oxford, Tolkien would later serve as a longtime professor of English language and literature at his famed alma mater. He was a philologist and mastered multiple languages. A close friend of fellow author and Oxford lecturer C. S. Lewis, Tolkien was a member (with Lewis) of the informal literary discussion group known as the InklingsTolkien was a devout Roman Catholic by theological conviction.

Tolkien, the Movie

With the enormous success of The Lord of the Rings films, I was excited to hear about the new film that would feature Tolkien’s life. I love to learn about the lives of all my favorite Christian thinkers and authors because understanding their life events helps me to put their ideas into context.

Yet the new movie is not about Tolkien’s worldview. Rather, it is a snapshot of his early life up to his service in World War I. The film depicts Tolkien’s (played as a youth by Harry Gilby and as an adult by Nicholas Hoult) difficult life as an orphan and his formative academic years and friendships. The movie also recounts the love story involving Tolkien’s tumultuous early relationship with his future wife, Edith (played as a girl by Mimi Keene and as a woman by Lily Collins). The biopic presents flashbacks of Tolkien’s early life through the overarching prism of the utter devastation of World War I, which profoundly affected Tolkien and his friends.

Like all such films, Tolkien takes dramatic license and doesn’t follow the historical record of the writer’s life. Unfortunately, the movie does not explore Tolkien’s rich Christian (Catholic) faith, which leaves a gap in understanding what ultimately motivated Tolkien’s life and thought. I hope another film will pick up where this movie left off and illustrate Tolkien’s profound religious worldview.

Yet I still enjoyed the film. Tolkien had a tough life that was filled with suffering. I was moved by at least three things: (1) the thought that after being orphaned upon the death of his mother, Tolkien went on to become one of the world’s greatest writers; (2) the truly cataclysmic effects of the Great War, which are captured powerfully in the movie; and (3) Tolkien’s love for Edith, a woman he would be married to for almost sixty years.

So, while there are important things I wish Tolkien had included, I still recommend the movie as an engaging biopic of his early life. I hope you will appreciate, as I did, that some people emerge from difficult and often tragic circumstances to enrich the world with their talents and wisdom.

Reflections: Your Turn

How much do you know about J. R. R. Tolkien? Do you have a favorite book of his? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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