Gandalf, Frodo and Aragorn as Prophet, Priest and King
In the first installation, Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn are examined as Christ figures in light of being sacrificial heroes. This second and final installation looks at the Adamite concept of Christ as prophet, priest, and king, and how Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn fulfill this construct as Christ figures.
Prophet, Priest, and King
There are many similarities between the lives and actions of the characters and Jesus’ life, ministry, and healing. These ideas can go hand in hand with the Adamite concept of Christ as prophet, priest, and king, because Jesus displayed aspects of all of these identities during his time on Earth. All three of the characters show some of the qualities and actions of Christ, but Gandalf and Aragorn have more obvious parallels to Jesus’ ministry because of their supernatural abilities to perform magic (miracles) and heal the sick.
Frodo as Priest and Prophet
Frodo does not have as many qualities that link him to Jesus’ ministry and life as Gandalf and Aragorn do, other than his determination to what is right, his courage in the face of impossible odds, and his willingness to sacrifice himself and die for the rest of the world. Unlike Gandalf and Aragorn, Frodo cannot perform great miracles or heal the wounded (Lobdell 52). He is a simple hobbit who undertakes a task too great for him to accomplish alone. His love, pity, and mercy are what make him so Christlike; in his pity toward Gollum and the hope that he will be able to save the lost creature, Frodo shows that he has the compassion and love of Jesus Christ.
Frodo is also like Jesus in that “he is essentially weak and defenceless in worldly terms, but finally strong and invincible because he refuses to use the enemy’s methods” (Gunton 133). Frodo may not be physically strong, but he is strong morally and spiritually, and it is this strength that allows him to go so far in his quest. His departure to the West with Gandalf, Bilbo, and the elves is also indicative of Jesus’ ascent into Heaven, especially since the “Elves are semiangelic beings in The Lord of the Rings, both in themselves and to us” (Kreeft 78). Frodo, like Gandalf, has been described as both Priest and Prophet by different scholars in regards to the ancient Adamite belief that Christ is Priest, Prophet, and King. He is qualified for both roles: Priest, because of his gentleness and purity, and Prophet, because of his intuition and visions (Garbowski 121-122).
Gandalf as Prophet and Priest
Christopher Garbowski describes Gandalf as “semi-divine” and says that he has the ability “to recognize the spiritual gifts of others” (121-122). This is closely related to the way that Christ was able to give his disciples the ability to do miracles in his name. While Gandalf is not giving others their spiritual gifts like Jesus did, he is still able to help them recognize their gifts and learn how to utilize them, as “Gandalf understands his mission as primarily helping people help themselves, which requires faith in apparently weak beings. … Gandalf guides others when necessary, but realizes the protégé must gain independence and applauds when it occurs” (120). Garbowski goes on to use the example of Aragorn’s use of the Palantír to challenge Sauron; although he advised Aragorn not to do so, he is proud of Aragorn because his disregard for Gandalf’s advice shows that he is mature and able to make his own decisions (120). According to Garbowski, these qualities give stock to the idea that Gandalf is the priest figure in the “prophet, priest, king” depiction of Christ because of Gandalf’s rationality, although Peter Kreeft would argue that Gandalf is more of a priest figure (223), most likely because of the mysticism surrounding him and the magical miracles that he performs.
Gandalf can be a very powerful and dangerous wizard, as seen in his fight with the Balrog. Gandalf himself admits to this when he meets with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli once more as the White Rider after his battle with the Balrog. He says, “Dangerous! … And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord” (Lord 499). Despite this, which is very much like Christ as the lion in the scriptures, he is also the contrasting lamb in the metaphor. Like Jesus, Christopher Garbowski describes Gandalf as being “a very human embodiment of love” (121). Gandalf can be fierce, to be sure, but when he is with the child-like hobbits, he is extremely reminiscent of the gentle Jesus rebuking his disciples and saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The way that Gandalf interacts with the hobbits – and with the other good entities of Middle-earth – goes to show that he is love, just as Christ was. Along these lines, Gandalf is also very wise and has a great deal of “Evangelical wisdom,” as shown by his disapproval of Frodo’s reaction to Gollum and his advice for Frodo to not judge so harshly (Garbowski 120-121). If his caring nature and great wisdom show Gandalf as a Christ figure, so does his sacrifice and resurrection for his friends, as discussed previously.
Even at the end of the story, Gandalf is reflecting Christ as he, Frodo, and Bilbo depart with the elves from the Grey Havens. Ralph C. Wood claims that this departure “echoes Jesus’ own departure from his disciples in the Fourth Gospel, albeit with a notable difference: Jesus leaves in order than he might send the Counselor to ‘guide you into all the truth’ (John 16:13)” (Wood 85). Gandalf and the others leave Middle-earth to “pass into that life that is ours if only we will let go of all lesser forms of existence” (McGrath 181). The departure to the West is a reward for them, and so is similar to the reasons for Christ’s departure to be reunited with his Father until the second coming. Gandalf does not, however, send an equivalent of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, back to Middle Earth to take his place, reminding us once again that The Lord of the Rings is not a true allegory.
Aragorn's Kingdom and the Millennial Reign
Jesus as King leads to the final role of the Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings, although this particular role can only be filled by one of the three Christ figures: the King, Aragorn. Aragorn alone is able to represent Christ in his second coming, Christ as the lord of the living and the dead, and Christ’s Millennial Reign. When Aragorn finally claims his throne, “Númenor … will be raised up, the world – Middle-earth included – will be changed, and the dead will be raised” (Lobdell 54). This is a lot like what is said to happen at the second coming of Christ. Even the descriptions of the two events – Aragorn’s claiming the throne and Jesus’ returning to Earth as King – are strikingly similar. “‘Behold the King!’ And in that moment all the trumpets were blown … and amid the music of harp and of viol and of flute and the singing of clear voices the King passed through the flower-laden streets, and came to the Citadel, and entered in … and the reign of King Elessar began, of which many songs have told” (Lord 968). The previous passage from The Return of the King has similarities to 1 Corinthians 15:52, which says that Jesus will come back to earth in a blink of an eye, and trumpets will sound to announce his arrival.
The Bible speaks of Christ’s Millennial Reign, which J.R. Wytenbroek describes as the time on Earth when “Christ takes up his role as king and is allotted a time to reign there – 1000 years” (6). During this time, the Kingdom of Heaven will be on Earth and there will be peace and prosperity, which Christ brings with him to his throne. Wytenbroek paraphrases the last few chapters of Isaiah, where it is prophesied that Christ “rules with justice and wisdom, bringing peace, harmony and virtue” (6). Aragorn’s reign seems to be very close to the reign of Christ that Isaiah speaks of:
In his [Aragorn’s] time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty; and after the ending of the Third Age of the world into the new age it preserved the memory and glory of the years that were gone. (Lord 968)
Not only does this excerpt show the likeness between Christ’s Millennial Reign and Aragorn’s rule, but it also holds some very similar imagery to descriptions of Heaven in Revelation:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away … And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more … sorrow, nor crying … And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem … and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates … and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones … And the twelve gates were twelve pearls… (21:1, 4, 10-11, 18-19, 21)
The imagery of beauty and precious materials (mithril and white marble in Gondor) making up and adorning the city is prominent in both of these descriptions. Also present is the making of all things good; healing, happiness, and prosperity are all common factors in both “The Steward and the King” and the book of Revelation.
Even Aragorn’s marriage to Arwen is significant in Aragorn’s similarities to the Christ of the Millennial Reign. The Bible speaks often of the bride of Christ, which is the church. Arwen can be seen as “part of all that he [Aragorn] has struggled for and saved, and in this role she can be seen, at the end of the novel only, as symbolizing that beautiful bride of Christ, the church, dressed in shining white, who is being prepared for him after his victory over the powers of evil” (Wytenbroek 6). Looked at in this light, the love story between Aragorn and Arwen is not very different from that of the love story between Christ and his church. Just like Aragorn, Jesus loved and sacrificed much for the ones that he loved (and that loved him in return). He left them for a while, with a promise to return one day and take his bride as his own. Aragorn’s marriage to Arwen at the end of the novel can very well be drawn from the reunion of Christ and the church that is spoken of so often in scripture.
Aragorn as Hidden King
Aragorn is the closest to Christ in respect to Jesus’ life and ministry, and he is the King in the Prophet, Priest, and King trinity. Deborah C. Rogers states, “In the history of mankind, there are two men par excellence whom it behooves us to consider while talking of Aragorn: Adam, and Christ, who is called the new Adam” (72). He is a hidden king like Jesus, for not many people saw Jesus for the king that he was because they expected him to come in splendor and glory. Aragorn is not described as a king when Frodo first lays his eyes on “Strider”; in fact, he is regarded by Frodo and his companions with suspicion, much like Christ was by many people that he ministered to in his life. He is described as being “strange-looking” and “weather-beaten” and his clothes are worn and dirty; and “the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits” (Lord 156). There were many people who did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God from the prophecies because he came from such humble beginnings. Even when he performed miracles, healed the sick, and raised the dead, still people doubted him. In the same way, no one knows that Aragorn is the heir of Isildur when they first meet him.
“Aragorn remains servant until the time is exactly right for him to reveal himself as king” (Wytenbroek 5), and it is only as the story progresses that Aragorn begins to show himself as a king. When Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are stopped by the Riders of Rohan while searching for Merry and Pippen, Aragorn reveals his true identity to Éomer. At this moment, his companions begin to see him in a different light. Suddenly, Aragorn is less of the rugged Ranger that they have come to know, but his is a King, powerful and mighty; his true royal identity is bubbling to the surface.
Gimli and Legolas looked at their companion in amazement, for they had not seen him in this mood before. He seemed to have grown in stature while Éomer had shrunk; and in his living face they caught a brief vision of the power and majesty of the kings of stone. For a moment it seemed to the eyes of Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown. (Lord 433-434)
This is a prime example of “Aragorn’s Kingly grandeur … being revealed” (Christopher 122), for the comparison of Aragorn and the statues of the kings of old further strengthens the characters’ – and the reader’s – belief that Aragorn is indeed the heir to the throne of Gondor. It is also important to Aragorn’s image as Christ the King that Legolas sees what appears to be a fiery crown upon his head. Since elves are generally viewed as being more spiritual than most of the entities in Middle-earth – more like angels – the idea of Aragorn being King is enhanced by the fact that it is an elf, Legolas, who sees the crown upon the Ranger’s head (Christopher 122).
Not only is Aragorn similar to Christ in that he is a humble and hidden king, but Aragorn reflects Christ’s miracles and healing on Earth as he heals the gravely wounded from the battles, for “in Aragorn are the gifts of healing” (Lobdell 52). Aragorn is able to bring many people – Eowyn, Pippen, and Faramir, to name a few – back from the very brink of death. “The hands of the King are hands of healing,” Gandalf says (Lord 956), and time and time again this is proven to be true. This is very much like Jesus’ healing of the sick and raising of the dead in the Bible. Christ healed countless people during his ministry, and more often than not, he did so by laying his hands on them: “And when the men of that place had knowledge of him [Jesus], they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole” (Matthew 14:35-36). Like Jesus, Aragorn not only has the ability to heal the sick and wounded, but he uses his ability to help people and bring them back from death’s door.
Much like Gandalf, Aragorn can also be seen as a “lion and the lamb” figure. Aragorn is a great warrior. He is brave, strong, and noble, and he is able to physically – and mentally, as seen in the episode with the Palantír – fight for what is right. He is a fierce and worthy opponent, as he shows many times in the novels. In The Return of the King, Aragorn enters the Battle of the Pelennor Fields “out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor,” but “the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment … knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand … and few indeed had dared to abide them [Aragorn, Éomer, and Imrahil] or look on their faces in the hour of their wrath” (847-849). Simply upon seeing Aragorn’s majestic arrival, the enemy knew that they were doomed. And yet, despite Aragorn’s “skill and might of … arms,” he is still the gentle healer who speaks kindly to hobbits, loves and cares for his people mostly unnoticed, and has a heart for the oppressed. Even the fiercest lion can be a gentle lamb, as proven by both Jesus and Aragorn.
Christopher, Joe R. “The Moral Epiphanies in The Lord of the Rings.” Proceedings of the J.R.R.Tolkien Centenary Conference 1992. Ed. Patricia Reynolds and Glen GoodKnight. Altadena, California: The Tolkien Society and the Mythopoec Society, 1995. 121-125.
Garbowski, Christopher. Recovery and Transcendence for the Contemporary Mythmaker: The Spiritual Dimension in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Second Edition. Ed. Peter Buchs. Walking Tree Publishers, Zurich and Berne, 2004. 111-139.
Gunton, Colin. “A Far-Off Gleam of the Gospel: Salvation in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien: A Celebration. Ed. Joseph Pearce. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. 124-140.
Kreeft, Peter. The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005.
Lobdell, Jared. The World of the Rings: Language, Religion, and Adventure in Tolkien. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 2004. 49-70.
McGrath, Sean. “The Passion According to Tolkien.” Tolkien: A Celebration. Ed. Joseph Pearce. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. 172-182.
Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod and Everyhero.” A Tolkien Compass. Ed. Jared Lobdell. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 2003.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford Edition, 1769; King James Bible Online, 2008. Web.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.
Wood, Ralph C. The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. 75-116.
Wytenbroek, J.R. “Apocalyptic Vision in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 14.4 (Summer 1988): 7-12. Rpt. In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol 137. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 November 2012.
Inspired, Not Allegorical
In no way is the reader expected to believe that Tolkien constructed the plot so that everything that has been discussed lines up perfectly to the Bible. There are many major differences between The Lord of the Rings and the story of Jesus Christ, and although there are Christ figures, none of the characters, not even Gandalf, Frodo, or Aragorn, are supposed to be read as incarnations of Christ in Middle-earth. When writing The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien was not simply re-writing the story of Jesus in a mythological setting for modern readers. That is not to say that there is no religion within the pages of the novels, either, for there are countless instances where Tolkien’s beliefs are revealed through his characters, plotlines, and words. Some occurrences in the books strongly echo biblical events or passages from scripture, just as some characters have Christ-like qualities that allow the reader to see what was important to Tolkien. Christopher Garbowski says that it is almost impossible to separate an artist’s work from his beliefs (111), and that is very much the case with Tolkien, who might have very well planted seeds of Christianity or Catholicism into the story without making the entire tale about those seeds.
The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful example of a work that is original and exciting, filled with believable characters, brave heroes, and beyond evil villains, and that is also able to convey the author’s deepest beliefs and concerns through the story and characters without becoming a work of allegory. Because of Tolkien’s subtle ability to deeply implant ideals and characteristics of his moral beliefs into his work, especially through characters such as Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, The Lord of the Ring is able to have Christ figures without making the story about Christ, or religion in general.
It is fortunate that Tolkien did not write The Lord of the Rings to be an allegory, for that would restrict the novel and make it into something less than what it is – an original masterpiece, wrought from the mind of a deeply religious man. It is also a good thing, however, that many qualities of Christ managed to work their way into characters like Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, for if they did not have these fine moral standings and strong hearts, they would not be the kind of hero that the audience wishes to read about. In fact, it could even be argued that without the Christ-like qualities that are present in Tolkien’s Christ figures, these heroes would not be very heroic after all. As stated by Peter Kreeft, Christ and his qualities are ever-present in not only literature and art, but in life itself (54). One cannot pick up a book and read about a hero like Gandalf, Frodo, or Aragorn without seeing indications of Christ, because the good that all heroes possess comes from Christ and therefore Christ must be revealed in the heroes.
Despite the fact that The Lord of the Rings is not meant to be read as an allegory, and that “there is no one complete, concrete, visible Christ figure in The Lord of the Rings, like Aslan in Narnia” (Kreeft 222), there are three Christ-like figures in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels that have qualities of Christ and that, when viewed as a whole, give the reader a rough sketch of a single Christ figure, especially in the sense of the Prophet, Priest, and King trinity: Frodo, the sacrificial lamb, the humble and unlikely hero with pity and mercy in his compassionate heart, the Prophet or even the Priest; Gandalf, the lion and the lamb, who dies and rises again, the miracle worker, the knowing Priest or the wise and powerful Prophet; and Aragorn, the hidden deity, the lone wanderer who loves and fights for what is right, the healer, the King (of the living and the dead), and the bringer of a new and prosperous age. Not one of these characters fully represents Jesus Christ, but all portray his best and most renowned qualities: his love, his mercy, his power, his sacrifice, and his ministry.