Some time ago I wrote about creating the kind of stories C.S. Lewis wrote – entertaining stories with very obvious Christian ideas.
Now I’m going to talk about how to write like J.R.R. Tolkien.
Tolkien, who famously said he hated allegory, usually wrote stories that had Christian ideas but they were express subtly, creating an overall feel of morality and faith.
Here’s 3 things to consider when writing those kinds of stories.
1. Recognize it’s Okay to Make Truth Subtle
Depending on where you attended church growing up, you may feel it’s wrong to write stories that only portray truth in subtle ways.
If you’re reading this though, you’ve probably found that’s the way you naturally write. That’s perfectly okay.
Christianity has a long tradition of people creating art that only had subtly Christian messages.
Steve Turner noted in his book Imagine that for the first 300 years of church history, there was no overtly Christian art.
Instead, there were artists who worked in secular ark markets and often worked Christian symbols into their products.
Tolkien did this very well.
His stories didn’t have allegorical elements like Lewis’ fiction did, but it always showed a strong belief that good and evil did exist (Sauron is clearly bad), that evil always corrupts (Gollum corrupted by the One Ring), and that mercy and forgiveness could be surprisingly powerful (Bilbo and Frodo refusing to kill Gollum).
These are all distinctly Christian ideas.
2. Learn to use Symbolism
One of the best tools you can use to subtly communicate truth in stories is to use symbolism.
In this case, symbolism means having objects or actions in a story that point to a deeper idea.
While symbolism can sometimes be hard to understand, with practice you can see when writers use symbolism and use it in your stories.
For example, you can tell that Saruman’s willingness to destroy forests to fuel his machines symbolizes wasteful industrialism, disrespect to the nature God created.
You can also tell that the One Ring represents evil that seems attractive but corrupts people, which is essentially what temptation is.
3. Learn About the Third Space
Learn to talk about spiritual ideas in a way that secular and religious people can both relate to, sort of a third space where those two worldviews can intersect.
There are various ways to do this.
Tolkien particularly used a method that involves mixing Christian ideas with ideas from other sources.
The Lord of the Rings is really a boiling pot of ideas from many places.
There are moments that play on Shakespearean literature, like the Witch King who boasts he cannot be killed by any man (a riff on Macbeth, only giving a different solution).
There are ideas taken from Germanic mythology, like Aragorn who comes from a forgotten noble lineage and rises to reclaim it (not unlike Sigurd in the Volsong Saga).
Then, there are moments that draw influence from Christianity, like Gandalf who sacrificially fights a demonic being and returns back from the dead (similar to Jesus).