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Finding God in the Lord of the Rings (LR)
01/05/2013Posted by on
Here is background on the Lord of the Rings that helped me see more from Jim Ware. He said, “For answers, let’s go back to Jack and “Tollers.”
“Tollers” (a nickname used by some of his closest friends) was, of course, J. R. R. Tolkien himself: creator of Middle-earth and author of The Lord of the Rings, the fantasy trilogy hailed by some as “the book of the 20th century.” And yes: It was Tolkien who helped Lewis take that final decisive step toward faith in Christ.
Their long night talk about symbols and verbal inventions was just the beginning. Through the years, Lewis and Tolkien were to spend long hours refining their ideas and incorporating them into their literary art. In part, they did this with the help of a group of like-minded Christian friends: The Inklings.
Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child (an Oxford pub); Thursday evenings in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen; year in and year out, the Inklings met, talked, sipped tea, and critiqued one another’s manuscripts-in-progress: books like Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, Williams’ The Place of the Lion, and, of course, The Lord of the Rings. Their goal? To find ways of pouring the steaming, bubbling, heady stuff of the Real Story into the molds of their own invented stories.
Just how serious were these writers about the Christian purpose of their “verbal inventions”? Let’s ask them. Lewis made no secret of his intentions. “Supposing,” he once asked himself, reflecting on the nature of God, the sufferings of Christ, and other fundamental Christian truths, “that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency. . . .” This, he said, is exactly what he was trying to do in The Chronicles of Narnia.
As for Tolkien, he would have been shocked and angered to hear Tom (Jim Ware’s friend) refer to his work as pagan. “The Lord of the Rings,” he wrote in a letter to a friend, “is of course a fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
Humphrey Carpenter, author of Tolkien’s authorized biography, takes this claim seriously. Tolkien’s writings, he says, are “the work of a profoundly religious man.” According to Carpenter, God is essential to everything that happens in The Lord of the Rings. Without Him, Middle-earth couldn’t exist.
But be forewarned: Evidences of God’s presence are not as obvious in Tolkien’s work as in Lewis’ more allegorical style of writing. They are there, however-firmly embedded in the tales he insisted on calling “inventions about Truth.” In fact, if you know what to look for, you may find them popping up everywhere. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set out on the quest.
First, stay alert to the importance of story. The Lord of the Rings is actually a story of stories-a vast web of histories, legends, tales, and songs in which every character has a crucial role to play. “What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?” reflects Sam after a harrowing encounter with their enemies. As a Christian, Tolkien understood that we’ve been in a tale, too. Like the adventure of his hobbits, he saw the adventure of our lives as part of a story that begins “once upon a time” and moves toward its eventual “ever after”-a tale full of meaning and purpose, composed by the grandest Author of all.
The Power of Sin
You’ll also want to keep an eye on Gollum, the pitiful, wretched creature who discovered the great Ring-his “Precious”-and kept it for many years in dark places under the earth. So long did he possess and cherish the sinister talisman that he has become the possessed. That’s because Tolkien’s Ring is an image of the unwholesome, perverting power of evil and self-serving sin-a progressive, growing, encroaching power that starts small and ends big. The apostle James described it like this: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
Good out of Evil
Notice, too, that Middle-earth is full of battles and conflicts-images of the spiritual war in which we are engaged as Christians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12). We’re not talking generic good vs. evil here. The evil in Tolkien’s universe is personal. It takes shape as an Enemy who relentlessly hounds and pursues his prey with ill intent: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
That’s not the end of the story, of course. Because at its deepest level, The Lord of the Rings is also a tale about the sovereignty of God. The God whose love and power are so great that He is able to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). The God who uses even the Enemy’s wicked designs to bring about the ultimate fulfillment of His perfect plan. Within that plan, even Gollum has an indispensable part to play in the saving of Middle-earth. As Tolkien wrote in The Silmarillion, “Evil may yet be good to have been . . . and yet remain evil.”2 This is a great mystery and a profound Christian truth.
Small Hands Can Do Great Things…
Finally, take a close look at the members of the Fellowship of the Ring as they go trekking across the movie screen. Ask yourself which one looks the most like an epic hero. Is it the handsome, mysterious, swashbuckling Aragorn? Keen-sighted, swift-footed Legolas? Hard-fisted Gimli? Strong, dauntless Boromir? Wise and aged Gandalf? Each is a hero in his own way, of course. And yet not one of them is chosen to carry the perilous Ring into the heart of Mordor. Instead, it’s a hobbit-a boyish-looking halfling-who bears the burden of the world to its final destination.
This idea-that God uses small hands to accomplish great deeds-could almost be called the heart and soul of The Lord of the Rings. It’s Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites all over again. But the mission of Frodo and Sam isn’t just your typical underdog story. It’s something much more. In a way, it’s a desperately needed reminder that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8)-that when the power of evil confronts us with overwhelming odds on its side, the answer is not to fight fire with fire, but to look for deliverance in unexpected places. Hope and salvation, Tolkien seems to say, often arise in small, unnoticed corners. Like a hobbit-hole in the Shire.
Or a manger in a Palestinian stable…
…and so this myth embodies much reality. We only need eyes to see.
Any time you see LR in the title of a blog this year, it stands for Lord of the Rings. It’s a hint that the blog is about the themes delivered in the Lord of the Rings trailer.
- I recommend further reading about the spiritual themes and types portrayed in the Lord of the Rings by viewing Tim Chester’s work on his blog.
- Tim Chester on The Lord of the Rings Part 1
- Tim Chester on The Lord of the Rings Part 2
- Tim Chester on The Lord of the Rings Part 3
- Tim Chester on The Lord of the Rings Part 4
- Tim Chester on The Lord of the Rings Part 5
- The Fellowship of J. R. R. Tolkien
- Review of Finding God in the LOTR