Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Lord of the Rings

by J. R. R. Tolkien
Mariner Books
2005 / 1178 pages

If you haven't heard of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you must have been living on a desert island (without the Internet). As a teacher, I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of people who still read the books (rather than simply assume that the movies accurately convey Tolkien's world). The fact that people still read the books is a good thing, because the movies simply cannot do justice to the scope of J. R. R. Tolkien's vision.

For instance, the movies cut off the beginning and end of the story - the meeting in the Old Forest with Tom Bombadil and the scouring of the Shire. While the movies' theme seems to be the importance of the underdog (hobbits to the rescue!), the books have a clearer grasp of the power of sin and its resulting curse. The Old Forest is "thorns and thistles" in abundance - nature resisting and even threatening man as a result of sin. The movies show the great power of the destruction of the Ring (partially parallelling Christ's triumph over sin and death on the cross), but only the book shows that there are still other battles to be fought against sin, in the scouring of the Shire.

This is the harsh beauty of the entire trilogy - the revelation of the need to fight against sin - but not only externally; also internally. Many characters are tempted by the Ring, because they see it as the way to accomplish their own ends (good or ill) - Galadriel ruling over the world in beauty, Denethor using it to defeat Sauron, Boromir seeking to keep his father's love. The Lord of the Rings reveals the terrible danger of believing that the ends justify the means.

Most of all, Tolkien's trilogy is a vivid portrayal of two Biblical themes. The first is the temptation and destructive power of idolatry - destructive to both self and others. As you read, note the swath of deception and destruction wreaked by the path of the Ring from Sauron - one version of Middle Earth's Satan - to Isildur and down through the three Ages of Middle Earth to many other characters.

The other theme is the comprehensive nature of the redemption needed from the Ring. Christians know that they have been redeemed by the power of Christ in His threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Some glimmer of how great Christ's work was and is can be seen in the fact that three characters are needed to show the analogy to His work in Tolkien's world. Pondering how each of the three main characters - Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf - parallels some various aspect(s) of Christ's threefold office can help us see how complete (and how much greater) Christ's redemptive work is.

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