Morality is written into our hearts. No one can claim any differently. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, even someone who claims to disregard moral standards will invariably complain when someone picks his pocket.

One would think that morality would be firmly integrated into literature for the story to be satisfying. And this is often the case, especially with the writers we’re talking about in this issue. Just look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Christianity in Middle-Earth and Narnia

Let’s start with Tolkien. Tolkien was a Catholic, and while he claimed he wasn’t trying to write an allegory with The Lord of the Rings, his stories are heavily infused with Catholic symbols and values. 

For starters, the difference between good and evil is depicted very well. Evil is portrayed as corruptive and consuming. (And in popular fiction, that’s not so common as you would think.) Throughout the book, Boromir, Gollum, Saruman, and even Bilbo and Frodo illustrate the corruptive power of evil. Isengard and Mordor have been reduced to ruin and waste because of the wickedness of their rulers.

Other themes in The Lord of the Rings include resurrection, mercy and forgiveness, fellowship, temptation, humility, and justice – all Catholic/Christian themes. Gandalf appears to be dead, then comes back more powerful than before. (Sound familiar?) Bilbo and Frodo show mercy to Gollum, and it turns out that Gollum is the one who finally destroys the Ring. You can find lots of moral lessons if you only look for them.

The Narnia books are also chock-full of Christian values and morality. Not surprisingly, many of the themes are also in Tolkien’s books – justice, forgiveness, temptation, resurrection. Good characters are rewarded, and bad characters are punished. Characters who repent of their bad deeds (like Edmund) are forgiven. And of course, you’ve probably figured out that Aslan is supposed to represent Christ, with his resurrection from the dead (along with other parallels). These are all satisfying, moral, Christian themes.

Not-So-Moral Characters

Despite all this, immoral protagonists are surprisingly abundant, especially in contemporary literature. Ever heard of the Hunger Games series? The Harry Potter books? The problem with these books (and much of the popular fiction floating around today) is that, especially in the Hunger Games books, the characters don’t operate in a moral context.

Why do Harry, Hermione, and Ron lie and cheat so much in the Harry Potter books? Why does Katniss think it’s such a good idea to reestablish the Hunger Games after she’s worked so hard to abolish them? Why does she kill for self-defense (which is morally acceptable) and then feel like she’s done wrong? Why are the ‘good guys’ in these books not truly good?

Even if you don’t notice it at first, it’s enough to make you feel like there’s something wrong with the story. It just doesn’t feel right. After my mom made me think about it after reading the Hunger Games books, I realized that that was really the problem with the story – and with other books, like the Harry Potter series. If you have no morality on which to base your society, then your society will quickly fall apart (as it did in the Hunger Games series).

On a few occasions, when I’ve tried to explain some of this to my friends, I get the response, “Oh, it’s just fiction. I know it’s not real. It’s not really going to affect me.”

The truth is, anything you read, anything you watch on TV, and any movies you see do affect you. You may have noticed this with little kids, when they try to imitate their favorite Disney princesses or superheroes. The values and morals in stories do affect you, especially if you don’t recognize that they’re there. This happens with younger kids more, but it can happen with older people, too.

So before you pick up that popular teen novel everyone's talking about, think about it. Are these characters moral? Is this what you want to be influenced by? If not, Lewis and Tolkien are always waiting.

Katherine Beutner
Guest Author

Works Consulted:

Alton, David Lord. “The Fellowship of the Ring: J.R.R. Tolkien, Catholicism, and the Use of Allegory.” Lecture. Catholic Society of Bath University and Bath Spa University College. 20 Feb. 2003. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Eternal World Television Network. Web. 24 Aug. 2013.

Ditchfield, Christin. A Family Guide to Narnia. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

Wikipedia. C.S. Lewis. 21 August 2013. Web. 28 August 2013.