Given that ...

  • Tolkien is on record as saying he envisioned Middle-Earth as being a literal precusor to modern day earth "in a different stage of imagination".

  • As a Christian, a major theme of his legendarium is faith itself, the trust between the creator and the created.

  • Tolkien was close friends with fellow Christian C.S. Lewis, who chose to put a literal representation of Jesus into his Narnia series.

... it made me wonder whether Tolkien intended any literal paralells between Eru and the Christian God?

If not, it would seem that by situating his stories in the real world, but creating an entirely fake deity, he might have been in danger of breaking the first commandment. Did he leave any record as to his feelings on this matter?

(References from interviews, letters or literary criticism rather than speculation, please.)

  • 1
    Writing stories about a fictional deity does not break the first commandment, certainly not in the eyes of the Catholic Church (of which JRRT was a member).
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:33
  • 5
    I'm not clear how he would have been "breaking the first commandment" with his stories. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:33
  • @MattGutting Edited for clarity. Perhaps I misunderstand the position of the church on this - I'm not well read in theology.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:37
  • See also scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/124019/how-powerful-is-eru
    – Ber
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 10:56

2 Answers 2


"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. ” Letter to Robert Murray, S.J., 2 December 1953

By this, Tolkien meant that it was not meant to be a Christian allegory like Narnia (although technically Aslan was similarly meant to be "just" Jesus in an alternate universe and not an allegory for same, but much of the surrounding story was an allegory for C.S. Lewis' Christian apologetics, and Tolkien didn't care for that.)

But rather that he deliberately chose not to add in anything that would conflict, "metaphysically" with his Catholic beliefs about the nature of evil, the soul, creation etc.

Thus, if there is to be a Creator God, it had to be the same God that Tolkien believed in, with the author only as Sub-creator, inspired by the "reality" of creation in "real life" and thus inspired by the same source. (with the goal also of being realistic and not "alien" to the reader)

To that end, he made sure that the Valar were not separate deities but were similarly inspired, i.e. Sub-creators of their own, (c.f. the answer I gave here about Eru's relationship to the Ainur) and Tolkien created the concept of Mythopoeia to explain how he felt story-telling was the same way.

Melkor wanted to be a demi-urge and create his own separate realms uninspired by his own creator, which Tolkien and other Catholics would see as pride and rejecting the beauty of creation, conversely William Blake would have agreed but thought was a good thing.1

In short, a very broad application of "write what you know".

He also left out all references to religion in-universe precisely because he didn't want it to conflict with his own (or the reader's) thoughts on the matter, since it wasn't meant to be an alien world... Tolkien was a lot more broad in imagining, say, the fate of Elves and Dwarves after death and such, since they were mythical beings.

But he really fretted over stuff like whether Eru could allow inherently evil beings to exist, that conflicted with his theology etc. So basically unlike the movies where "it's just a story so let's pretend everyone's pure good or pure evil" Tolkien wanted to accurately reflect reality as he saw it.

On Edit: It helps that Tolkien was a Catholic as they're pretty syncretistic when it comes to associating prehistoric religious belief with "innocent belief" in Angels etc, so he could just fold it into his legendarium. The Jesuits often identified other creator gods with the Catholic God... And the Old Testament can get pretty out there too when it comes to pantheons of angelic beings.

1 William Blake probably would have sided with Melkor and the fallen angels. Similarly Fëanor rebelled against (the) God(s) in trying to "own" the light of creation.

  • 3
    The Book of Enoch isn't Old Testament, by Jewish or Christian canons.
    – user40790
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 17:05
  • 1
    I guess I was being a bit flippant - er, loosey goosey in the comparison. :)
    – Ber
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 1:26
  • 2
    Ber, since the Book of Enoch isn't part of the canon (even the deuterocanon) according to Catholics, it's hard to see why one would leave this statement about the "Old Testament" in a paragraph about Catholic thought. It's misleading and has nothing to do with Catholicism or the OT. You could say "And the apocalyptic literature can get ...", but even that would suggest a relevance to Catholics that may be misleading.
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 17:57

It would seem so.

We differ entirely about the nature of the relation of sub-creation to Creation. I should have said that liberation "from the channels the creator is known to have used already" is the fundamental function of "sub-creation", a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety [...] I am not a metaphysician; but I should have thought it a curious metaphysic — there is not one but many, indeed potentially innumerable ones — that declared the channels known (in such a finite corner as we have any inkling of) to have been used, are the only possible ones, or efficacious, or possibly acceptable to and by Him!

Basically, Tolkien seems to be saying that Eru is a conceivable version of God that does not go against any Catholic teachings.

To a bookshop manager who criticized his work for going against Catholic beliefs, he said this:

I really do think you are being too serious, besides missing the point...

So clearly, he did not believe he was sinning by writing about Middle-earth.

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