J.R.R. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic who, like G.K. Chesterton, had no love lost for Protestants or for the Reformation. Yet, despite his Roman Catholicism there is a strong strain of Reformed Predestinarian thought in his Trilogy. There are several places where this explicitly reveals itself,
I.) In the “Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo inquires of Gandalf how it is the ring came into Frodo’s possession. Gandalf’s response reveals a hint of high Reformed decretal predestinarian theology,
“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” (1.2.116)
II.) In the second explicit instance of predestination peeking through the works of Tolkien, we find Elrond recognizing that some reality higher than himself has summoned those who were in attendance at Elrond’s War Council
“The Ring! What shall we do with the Ring, the least of rings, the trifle that Sauron fancies? That is the doom that we must deem. That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find council for the peril of the world.”
III.) The third explicit reference is woven all through the Trilogy and indeed forms one of the major themes of the Tolkien’s literary labors. This work of predestination has to do with the role Gollum (Smeagol) plays in the destruction of the ring. Several times throughout the novels (including the Hobbit) the death of Gollum is toyed with. Bilbo stays his hands in the Hobbit. Samwise resisted the urge to strike down Gollum. The sparing of Gollum’s life becomes part of a significant dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf,
“It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.”
“Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”
Likewise the predestined end of Gollum is hinted at Elrond’s War Council at Rivendell. Upon learning that Gollum has been freed from the captivity of the Wood Elves Gandalf says,
“Well, well, he is gone. We have no time to seek for him again. He must do what he will. But he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron has foreseen.”
Indeed, someone who is Reformed who reads the Trilogy has the sense that the story is one long series of predestined happenstance. The Ring comes to Bilbo who passes it to Frodo. Frodo leaves just in the nick of time before the Ringwraiths arrive making inquiry into his whereabouts. Merry falls prey to the Barrow-wights only to lay claim to one of the few weapons that could be used to eventually injure the chief of the Nine — an injury that sets him up for a death blow from a woman who should not be on the Battlefield. The different parties find themselves in Elrond at just the right time though no one has “arranged” the Council. Boromir tries to take the ring which puts Frodo on the path that had to be taken in order to destroy the Ring. Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs in an event that will eventually trigger great movements in the story line.
Over and over again the story line in the Trilogy is merely the unfolding of a predestinarian sequence. This is so true that even the tragic events are incorporated to move the story along to a predestined end. Denethor goes mad thus removing the Steward from Gondor so that the King can now reclaim his throne. Gollum leads Frodo and Samwise to Shelob’s lair where Frodo is brought low by Shelob’s fang and yet in the doing of this evil Frodo and Samwise find a path into the dark land.
Tolkien’s use of predestination does not negate though the free will of his characters. They do what they cannot help but do and yet they do so because their free will moves them to that end. Boromir freely practices his treachery and yet that treachery is caught up in a larger predestined plan to move to a predestined end that is both anticipated and unanticipated at the same time.
There is something refreshing in reflecting on how Tolkien mutes the role of predestination in his Trilogy while at the same time having that predestination as being central to the novel’s movement. Tolkien’s predestination comes in the context of characters who emphasize repeatedly the necessity to be faithful to the task they are called to regardless of how dark the situation is. This predestination of Tolkien’s does not negate the peril of the situation but it does provide the sense that regardless of what outcome is ordained the role of Men, Hobbits, and Elves is to be faithful to the task at hand. None can see the definitive end of what the predestined plan is (even if their is a nebulous sense of the reality of a ordained plan) but all must understand that they must play the part assigned to them regardless of the opposition or the incredible odds against success.
I would submit that Tolkien’s trilogy gives a pretty fair reading of the concrete impact of the Reformed truth of Predestination is to have upon those who embrace the Reformed faith.