Jason Bofetti in “Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination”, reminds us that Catholic theology teaches that evil is “the absence of good.” No character is inherently evil; at some point they had some good in them or at the end they are somehow redeemable. The essentially “evil” characters are those that fall to their vices.
Pride and greed are two of the most common faults in The Fellowship of the Ring. The characters that recognize they cannot wield or carry the ring, despite their desire to, are saved. But even those who do not, such as Boromir and Gollum, are not wholly evil. Boromir does not understand the power of the ring and wishes to use it to help his kingdom from the doom they face at the hands of Sauron. He does not have selfish intentions, but his lust for glory and ultimately the safety of his people drive him to madness. Gollum was once a gentle creature, much like a hobbit, but over time the ring turned him into a monster. But even so Frodo and Bilbo find pity for him. (Let those who have not sinned cast the first stone.) They recognize that Gollum’s behavior does not stem from any inborn evil; rather his desire for the One Ring has blinded him to all other pursuits. As long as he does not possess his “precious” he will continue to seek it, to the detriment of our heroes.
Humility and sacrifice are themes throughout the Catholic Church and Tolkien’s literature. The most humble of god’s creatures are the ones that succeed. Frodo offers his service even though he knows he is not the most logical choice for the ring bearer, just as a Jew from an ignored corner of the vast Roman Empire was not the most powerful choice for the Son of God. The bible shows us that God does not desire the most powerful creatures for his service.
Bofetti also points out the accidental Catholic imagery throughout Tolkien’s work. Tolkien also presents us with a trinity of Christ figures: Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf represent different aspects of Christ. Gandalf is the wise and powerful Christ, Aragorn is God’s patient warrior, and Frodo is Jesus with his burden.
Sauron’s story, as explained in the Silmarillion, is very similar to the story of the devil. Both were once angels, close to god, and a force for good. Their longing for power, and in Sauron’s case an ordered world cause them to fall. In their respective narratives they then become the agent for evil and temptation. Those who desire power above all else, even those with good intentions, will perish.
J.R.R. Tolkien in his Tolkien Reader asserts that the bible is the ultimate fairy story. He says that Fantasy and the gospel both present the reader with a eucatastrophe. The end of the story offers hope or salvation for downtrodden heroes or weary readers. They both create a separate, larger world, in which there are many marvels, but these worlds touch on our own reality. Tolkien believes fantasy serves a greater purpose, one that is similar to the Christian teaching of Salvation. The reader, at the end, believes that though the hero may still continue to suffer and die there is an joy to look forward to.