Whether by way of authorial intentions or mere coincidence, the mythical tale J.R.R. Tolkien created of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants has incorporated allegories of all sorts, and those related to Christianity. With high fantasy comes much and more to discuss and interpret. From creatures as small as Hobbits and Dwarves to the mighty tall Misty Mountains, they can all be perceived and construed in countless ways. From either their great fireworks, adventures, or magical prowess, the wizards of Middle-Earth all played crucial roles in the fate of the world. Some dwelled in distant lands such as Isengard, while some in the deep of the woods. Still others were sent by the divine powers of the Valor to aid in the difficult quests that were to come. Tolkien is widely known for his outstanding world building, ranging from the immensity in size, the history behind the lands and races, and the conflict that plagued the entirety of the fantasy world. However, the world would not be very much without the presence of such complex and dynamic characters that exist in the shadows, the darkness, and the light. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf can be compared to Jesus Christ through the mortal form he was sent in to Middle-Earth, through his death and resurrection, and his ability to only guide the people in their quest to destroy the One Ring and not actually do the job for them.
The ever present and mortal flesh of Jesus Christ, as stated in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, was sent into the world by God the father. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (King James Bible, Phil. 2.5-7). God the father sent his only son into the world, taking the form of a mortal man, to deliver and save the people from sin. In a similar instance, Gandalf the Grey was sent into the world for the people. As Gandalf himself once explained of the many names he goes by, “Many are my names in many countries. Mithrandir among the Elves, Tharkûn to the Dwarves; Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incánus, in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not” (Tolkien 670). Tolkien indeed was thorough with his creations; Middle-Earth came into being in a similar fashion that God created the world, but in this case, it was the omnipotent maker Eru Ilúvatar. The “West” which he refers to is the land of the Valor, where the creator dwelled, and which is the equivalent of heaven. In the West, Gandalf was known as Olorin, while in Middle-Earth, he was known as many other names. His natural state was not a human body, but rather an angel and spirit in the heavens of the West. The comparison draws once again to Jesus Christ, who was God in heaven, Christ the son, prophet, and savior of earth. In both scenarios, names have very powerful meanings and significance. The mortal form Gandalf was granted gave him entirely new names which makes his reference to Christ even more compelling. In the West, he lived amongst God and the elves in a peaceful harmony, while living in Middle-Earth, there was work to be done for the future of all creation.
With the fiery fall and death of Gandalf, many and more grieved for the loss of a friend, a mentor, a guardian, and a guide. Chaos came to life in great significance, the breaking of fellowship ensued, and shock and despair found their way into those who once knew the great being. However, nothing lasts forever. There is light to every darkness, goodness to every evil, and opportunity for every failure. Fast forward nineteen days later, and the company of Aragorn – swordsman and ranger of the North, Legolas – archer and elf prince of Mirkwood, and Gimli – dwarf lord and ax wielder of the Glittering Caves – came across Gandalf once more in a transformed state of being. “ ‘Yes I am white now,’ said Gandalf. ‘Indeed, I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see. Tell me of yourselves’ ” (495)! With the resurrection and transformation from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, the reader can draw the parallel to Christ’s resurrection after being dead three days in the tomb. Both pilgrims came back at the turn of the tide to spread good fortune, wisdom, and guidance amongst disciples.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians recounts, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles” (Cori. 15.3-7). As can be inferred by these particular verses, Christ made himself known once more to the people in a similar fashion that Gandalf did. Both were brought back by the God of their worlds and both underwent physical and spiritual alterations. Taking it a step further, it is interesting and relevant to understand that the connection Christ had to his disciples is a similar relationship that Gandalf had to the Fellowship. Fantasy often presents a situation in which a character is brought back from the dead. Tolkien’s portrayal of Gandalf’s resurrection is nearly synonymous with Christ’s.
Jesus Christ could not actually undo sins of mankind, but he could forgive them. Nothing that is ever done can be undone. Once words have been spoken, nothing can take them back. Just as time can only move forward and not backward, so too can sins only be forgiven and not undone. Christ’s intentions were made clear by God. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10). Christ’s mission was to be a guide in the world and save the human race from the evil that had manifested within just about every spectacle. To save those who had fallen into the evils and temptations of the world, Christ knew it would not be easy. He knew his crucifixion was predestined, and yet he accepted it because it was his purpose and mission. In a similar way, Gandalf could not be the one to bear the burden of the One Ring as the Fellowship journeyed to destroy it. “ ‘And now,’ said the wizard, turning back to Frodo, ‘the decision lies with you. But I will always help you.’ He laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. ‘I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear. But we must do something soon’ ” (Tolkien 61). Gandalf’s mission was to be a guide and a guardian for those in the Fellowship, but nothing more. He was to ensure that the world was freed from the evil of Sauron, who in a way parallels to the devil that is within every human on earth. To do so, he would make the ultimate sacrifice for the future of the world and those inhabited within it. It is because of his sacrifice that he was brought back to show how powerful the God above is to every living being.
The intentions of Tolkien certainly point in the direction of an allegorical reference of Gandalf’s character in The Lord of the Rings to that of Jesus Christ in the Bible. Through the many stages of his journey in the lands of the West, as well as his ascension to Middle-Earth and resurrection, Gandalf represents the Christ figure in Christian beliefs. Many characters, objects, and places in Tolkien’s fantasy world are symbols and thematic instances of worldly affairs and real–life creations. As with any fantasy story, there is much to learn from the creation of such powerful characters like Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White. It can be said that with the resurrection of the wizard, his character was changed forever to save the world of the living.