Theology of wetlands: Tolkien and beowulf on marshes and their monsters
School of Communications and Arts
Wetlands get bad press in Tolkien’s work, partly because of the precursors he is drawing on; partly because of his personal experience of the wet wasteland of mud and slime on the western front in World War I, the prototype for the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings; and partly because of his Christian beliefs about wetlands theologized and moralized as places of evil and monsters. In this paper, I read and critique the portrayal of wetlands in Tolkien’s work and argue that his Christian reading of them did not embrace Genesis 1:1–2 in which God created the world as wetland. Rather, he emphasizes the wetland as a place created after the fall to which evil monsters are condemned. I suggest that this pejorative Christian view of wetlands is largely responsible for the destruction of wetlands in the west for the past millennium.