Tolkien About the Archangels

By Chris Sparks

For fans of the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson and company, Gandalf is often their favorite character.

He’s a wise, grumpy, occasionally joyous old wizard, carrying a big stick and traversing Middle Earth, all in the name of protecting the free peoples and saving the world from Sauron, the Dark Lord. Played remarkably well by Ian McKellen, he’s become something of a cultural icon for many of us.

And yet I think a lot of people are not aware of all the reasons why he’s so beloved.

After all, when you really take time to look through the stories, you realize how remarkably indirect most of his interventions actually were. He was a messenger, accused by the accursed Wormtongue, servant and captor of Theoden, King of Rohan, of being a stormcrow, a bearer of ill news. Indeed, much of his activity consisted in bringing tidings of events from one place to another.

For all that he’s an ancient, powerful wizard, Gandalf does remarkably little in the way of magic. Indeed, there are a number of places in the stories where it would seem he could have done a lot more, or intervened much more forcefully than he did.

All this makes much more sense when you remember a few things. First, Tolkien was a Catholic convert who’d been raised after his mother’s death by a priest, and in his letters, he acknowledges the deep influence the Catholic faith had on Lord of the Rings. Secondly, Gandalf and the other wizards aren’t old men with a talent for magic. They’re actually immortal spirits, appearing as old men and using only a portion of their power to help the peoples of Middle Earth defeat Sauron’s deadly ambitions of conquest and destruction.

In other words, Gandalf is essentially an angel, modeled very clearly on all three of the archangels whose feast we celebrate on Sept. 29. His mission isn’t simply to overcome evil by sheer power, but rather to assist the peoples of Middle Earth to defend themselves and to choose good instead of evil. At times, Gandalf rides before armies, leading them to victory against invaders and evil doers as Michael does with the heavenly host, defending and assisting the people of Israel and the Church. At times, Gandalf brings messages that change the course of history, rather like Gabriel did throughout the Scriptures, especially when he announces the imminent conception of St. John the Baptist and tells the Blessed Virgin Mary that God has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. And at times, Gandalf accompanies travelers on dangerous journeys and brings healing, rather like St. Raphael does with young Tobias, son of Tobit.

Gandalf is beloved because he reminds us of something. People who don’t share the Catholic faith may not recognize the archangels whom Gandalf reflects, but on some level, the truth of God is inscribed on every human heart. On some level, human beings know about the original plan of God to include us all in His household as sons and daughters because as St. Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. On some level, we all know of the angels and the devils because every culture has had stories of the spirits who aid humanity or who seek to trap and destroy humanity. Everyone, then, knows that Gandalf is more than a character in a fantasy epic. He is the reflection of real people, of real angels of God, who do help us, if only we let them.

How do we know? Because the Scriptures and the saints tell us so. In fact, St. Faustina was accompanied by one of the seven archangels on her travels:

Then I saw one of the seven spirits near me, radiant as at other times, under a form of light. I constantly saw him beside me when I was riding on the train. I saw an angel standing on every church we passed, but surrounded by a light which was paler than that of the spirit who was accompanying me on the journey, and each of these spirits who were guarding the churches bowed his head to the spirit who was near me. When I entered the convent gate at Warsaw, the spirit disappeared. I thanked God for His goodness, that He gives us angels for companions. Oh, how little people reflect on the fact that they always have beside them such a guest, and at the same time a witness to everything! Remember, sinners, that you likewise have a witness to all your deeds. (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 630)

She also had a deep devotion to St. Michael, saying:

I have great reverence for Saint Michael the Archangel; he had no example to follow in doing the will of God, and yet he fulfilled God’s will faithfully. (Diary, 667)

Indeed, she met him in person during her lifetime:

[September] 29. On the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, I saw by my side that great Leader, who spoke these words to me: “The Lord has ordered me to take special care of you. Know that you are hated by evil; but do not fear — ‘Who is like God!’ ” And he disappeared. But I feel his presence and assistance. (Diary, 706)

What was visible to St. Faustina may be invisible to us, but the angels are very real, and always ready to help us, if only we turn to them in prayer.

So let us imitate the wisdom of the saints, and invite the angels to help us each day. Let us never forget that we’re actually not alone, that unseen but powerful forces stand ready to defend the good, support the Church in her mission of evangelization, mercy, and sanctification, and to stand between us and the forces of hell. Let us celebrate the Feast of the Archangels with special devotion, knowing that Michael is always ready to defend us, Gabriel always ready to aid evangelization, and Raphael always ready to bring healing and consolation.

Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, pray for us!

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by Joshua on Unsplash


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