Skip to comments.Finding God in 'The Lord of the Rings'
Posted on 10/28/2001 9:57:03 AM PST by sourcery
Family.org: Finding God in 'The Lord of the Rings'
|Special: Harry Potter
Finding God in 'The Lord of the Rings'
By Jim Ware
"Look!" says one of them, a tall, long-faced fellow with the furrowed brow and twinkling eyes of a sage . . . or wizard. He points to a large oak. "There it stands," he says, "its feet in the earth, its head among the stars. A majestic miracle of creation! And what do we call it? A tree." He laughs. "The word falls absurdly short of expressing the thing itself."
"Of course it does," responds the other, a round-faced, slightly balding, bespectacled man in his mid-30s. "Like any word, it's just a verbal invention a symbol of our own poor devising."
"Exactly," says the first man. "And here's my point: Just as a word is an invention about an object or an idea, so a story can be an invention about Truth."
The other rubs his chin. "I've loved stories since I was a boy," he muses. "You know that, Tollers! Especially stories about heroism and sacrifice, death and resurrection like the Norse myth of Balder. But when it comes to Christianity . . . well, that's another matter. I simply don't understand how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever He was) 2,000 years ago can help me here and now."
"But don't you see, Jack?" persists his friend. "The Christian story is the greatest story of them all. Because it's the Real Story. The historical event that fulfills the tales and shows us what they mean. The tree itself not just a verbal invention."
Jack stops and turns. "Are you trying to tell me that in the story of Christ . . . all the other stories have somehow come true?"
A week and a half later, Jack better known to most of us as C.S. Lewis, teacher, author, defender of the Christian faith, and creator of the beloved "Chronicles of Narnia" writes to his friend Arthur Greeves: "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ in Christianity. My long night talk with Tolkien had a great deal to do with it."
Tom, a fiddler in a feathered cap, asks what I've been up to. I tell him about the writing project I've taken on with my friend and collaborator, Kurt Bruner: a book of Christian reflections on "The Lord of the Rings."
" 'The Lord of the Rings'!" laughs Tom (who does not consider himself a believer). "Isn't that a pretty pagan book?"
And yet, hype or no hype, there are a few filmgoers who are still wondering what it's all about. Especially serious-minded Christians. Elves, dwarves, wizards, goblins, magic rings haven't we been through this kind of thing before recently? Isn't "The Lord of the Rings" just another romp through the occultic world of Harry Potter?
For answers, let's go back to Jack and "Tollers."
Background What's the difference between Harry Potterand Lord of the Rings? Aren't they pretty much the same: magic, wizards, monsters and so on? In Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner reveal J.R.R. Tolkein's faith and the Christian foundation of his books. Available November 16!
What's the difference between Harry Potterand Lord of the Rings? Aren't they pretty much the same: magic, wizards, monsters and so on?
In Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner reveal J.R.R. Tolkein's faith and the Christian foundation of his books.
Available November 16!
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.
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."1
As for Tolkien, he would have been shocked and angered to hear Tom 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.
Looking . . .
"Tollers," he says as Tolkien gets up to leave, "there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves."
And so they did.
But with what results? When we drink from the cup of their "verbal inventions" is it really the Living Water we imbibe? Or did my friend Tom get it right are their tales merely exercises in "pagan" imaginative art?
You've seen what they had to say. Now you'll have to decide for yourself . . . when you go looking for God in "The Lord of the Rings" at a theater or bookstore near you.
Jim Ware is crazy about Celtic music. In fact, he plays the guitar and the hammered dulcimer, and he's likely to show up wherever there's an opportunity to play a few jigs and reels! But writing is his real passion. Jim is the author of three novels for children, as well as the co-author (with Kurt Bruner) of Finding God in the Lord of the Rings. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Joni, and their six kids.
Of course I recognized, or thought I recognized the inherent Christianity. The Trilogy became an oft-visited friend and even though it was a very busy time for me, I comsumed as much of The Sillmarillion as time would allow.
And then something odd occured to me.
So many friends were becoming so immersed in the ficition that it was seemingly replacing reality. For example instead of celebrating traditional summer events, we'd have a huge festive gathering at mid-year, or Mid-Lieth if I recall my Tolkien correctly.
Some of us took names patterned after our favorite characters or races.
Some of us who began focusing on The Sillmarillion whispered to each other in the "inner circles" what a beautiful alternative telling of Creation the work was.
And therein lay the danger I began to recognize.
When The Great Fiction became more revered by some than The Story on which it was based, I fear too many fell. I was saved when I realized how long it had been since I read or related my life to The Bible, but how The Silmarillion was becoming a daily reference.
So although Tolkien's works stayed with me, I put the books down so much so that I have never actually finished The Silmarillion.
The stories are still often told in my house, my children have come to know them well. However I have always cautioned them to not let them become their masters; not fall into the trap of obsession as so many of my friends did, and remain so today.
It's a similar story with Star Trek of Star Wars or any number of other works of fiction. Enthusiasm and love of the work is fine, and reading especially encouraged. But fanatacism and obsession is the danger. And while the works themselves are hardly to blame, it's Man's inherent weakness to try and replace God's works with his own that pays tribute to The Evil and is one of Satan's Songs.
Can't wait for the movie!
So you could join the Taliban?
Occasionally I still read TLOTR, and will see the movie. I will not however let either replace reality.
And of course I also recognize J.R.R. Tolkien's works as fantastic pieces of fiction and an amazing accomplishment by the limited mind of Man.
That goes for the Tolkien fanatics as well as the Star Trekkies etc.
*I* remember reading how HORRIFIED Tolkien was to learn of the hippie generation corrupting his lifelong work into escapes from reality and twisting it into something he never meant it to be. I also remember reading that he was in disagreement with Lewis of what the purpose of his stories should be. Lewis wrote tales that 'taught' Christian themes or pointed out a salient moral to the reader. Tolkien wrote for pure love of mythology, story telling and his love of land and England.
Here, I will quote from a letter he wrote and published in the beginning of the 1965 edition of LOTR:
As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical or topical. AS the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches; but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit....
Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence...I think many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
He goes on to say a good many other things about why he wrote LOTR and what he wished for the story to relate. I personally am sick of people injecting meanings into a work of pure love and talent. Tolkien knew from whence his passion came.
As for Harry Potter, the author is SO VERY WRONG to say it is occultic....I have read several pieces written by Christian theologists who write that it is anything BUT occultic. Those who are too afraid to read the books and judge for themselves obviously are too weak in spirit and faith to face anything more challenging than a peep from their own minister.
To M.Thatcher: No, I joined a Pipe Band.
To Nakatu x: Only one of many.
I love it!
To Green Knight: I have a horse, saddle, cowboy boots and hat. That doesn't make me Roy Rogers.
True, I agree...I think it is a sign of the author's 'attunement' to the more universal themes of humanity and spirituality than any particular religious theology. I often tell my husband, who is scoffs at literary 'analysis' (with good reason), that what makes a book 'great' is how universal its ideas and themes and suppositions are.
MadIvan, have you heard of Dorothy Sayers? She was one of the Inklings! She wrote a very good book that discussed how the creative impulse in writers was akin to God's Creative Power and that the 'meaning' of a book was like God creating the Universe etc. God, or Logos, formed the "IDEA"...and Christ became the Manifestation of that IDEA (ie the book) and The Holy Spirit was the Book's effect upon the reader (how we interpret it, how it affects us, how we respond to its message.)
But not once have I ever thought that an author should only write his stories to fit within the historical and symbolic concepts of the Bible. Telling a story is the love and passion that God instills upon an author as a Gift...and the Voice or Holy Spirit that comes from with-out that Gift is just an extension of His Grace and Love.
It's a similar situation for me as well. While not particualarly interested in the HP books, offhand I can't imagine how they could be occult or especially more evil than say the legends of werewolves and vampires. As you so very well point out it's the weakness of Faith and Spirit that is the ultimate culprit!
At risk of encouraging one of "THOSE" vindictive threads that pop up here every year around this time, I must say Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. And I celebrate not just in mask and costume, or paying tribute to small, disguised visitors, but in observance of my Celtic ancestors.
I chose the word "observance" with great care, and distingush quite clearly between it and "celerate". My ancestors most likely were pagan, probably Nothern Folk who painted themselves blue and scurried naked through woodlands. Or perhaps they celebrated their high days jumping through the Beltain Fires or rejoicing in the fertility of Spring.
But eventually they were led to The Word, and from that day 'til now my family belives that Gospel.
Still late at night, especially on those certain days as in Samhien - Halloween - I can hear the echos of my ancestors.
That I hear those echos and reflect on the foundations of my family has at times been quite troubling to several well-meaning, but I'm afraid misguided, Brothers and Sisters in The Church.
As an example you may be interested in this post I made to a reunion group from my old high school. It's rather long winded so you may want to skip, but if you are interested read on.
First of all its October, a rare month for boys. Full of long nights, cold winds...dark promises.
The days grow short. The shadows lengthen.
And the wind mourns in such a way it makes you want to run forever.
Because up ahead, ten thousand pumpkins lie waiting to be cut!
Ok, now that I've grabbed your attention by stealing a few lines from Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" - a fantastic Disney movie that fits so well this Season of the Dark - let me ramble on with a Halloween memory from Crafton, circa mid 1950's.
Rather it was a community celebration. The weather usually held, making it perhaps the last collective outing before the serious cold and snow came.
Of course kids threatened "trick or treat", but when things slowed neighbors chatted. The women might gather on a porch while men, some just getting home from work, might group in the shadows, talking sports and politics. Theyd light up Luckys while downing a few Dukes or Irons or something harder.
As in daily life, nearly everybody hid behind a disguise of one degree or another. My Dad, who really got into the spirit, would wear an old pair of glasses with a fake nose and Groucho moustache plastered underneath as he handed over the goods.
Doesn't sound like much of a disguise? Trust me he didn't need anything else.
He had tons of tribute for the visiting parade of witches and warlocks, fairies and football players... devils and demons... and living dead.
Earlier he would have stopped by his buddy's warehouse in The Strip District and loaded up with treats. There were candy bars - the big ones - fake cigars and cigarettes and pop. But the big deal was the Grab Bag Box.
He'd pick up maybe 300 grab bags with prizes from silly little charms to pretty clever toys. More than once he opened a couple of bags and put 5-dollar bill inside. Sometimes a lucky kid might even get a watch! You never knew what you'd find.
While our house was scary enough as it was, he'd decorate. He'd hang cobwebs and place tombstones and put out whatever he thought might give a visitor pause to ponder if they really wanted to risk the trip to our door.
As I've grown older I've often reflected on why Dad liked Halloween so much. Was it the kids or the costumes or maybe the candy? He'd chow down almost as much as he gave out. Or, as I said, maybe it was the last chance to interact with the neighbors before the Evil of the year moved in.
I don't think he himself ever really knew.
Pondering it over the years, I've come to believe it was none of what I've mentioned. Instead, I think it was Instinct... a resonance with our ancestors. The influence of all those who had gone before us manifesting itself in our reality as Winter's deadly reaper harvested the last glories of the Good of the year.
It's not uncommon to find me deep in reflection after the evening begins to wane. Try it yourself. Listen... feel... your family's Echoes this Halloween.
Sometimes I'm driven to build a circle of stone and a small fire, but most often it's a symbolic rock and maybe a torch or Dietz lantern on the deck. It really doesn't matter. What does matter is that you're listening, reverberating and in harmony with all that made you.
One day after you've passed, your soul might hunger for this material world. Your Echoes might cry out to those who are now yet to be, to branches of your tree perhaps distant or now unformed, but still inescapably entwined with you from the time of the great beginning.
The Song of your Soul joins the Family Choir's Music, and together you sing as surely as the youngest leaf of a dogwood faintly whispers the songs of it's buried source when the winds stir on a shadowed evening.
Do not be deaf to that sweet music! Submit to that splendid night, and celebrate what passed and what lives and what is to be born.
Alone with the Others, listen to their Echoes and cast your own. But listen too for another Echo on the wind. High above or behind you there might be a faint call, an unfamiliar presence. Not of your blood, but calling and enticing in an unholy mimic of your own Song.
If you hear that Echo let not fear win, but calmly, slowly and surely make your way back from Dark to Light. Rejoin the living, because you may have heard the song of The One who comes when you are alone.
The Song of The One who will take you to run from him forever until, in madness, your soul surrenders and abandons your flesh to be consumed by he who haunts the lonely Dark Places.
Places both real and imagined.
In forests and halls, caves and homes, from the inner realm of your consciousness to streets crowded with strangers, wherever, whenever you are alone in mind or spirit or body, be ever vigilant to shield yourself from that strange haunting Echo.
The Echo of the Wendigo.
Next up... The Wendigo. Not for the faint of heart! REALLY!
Clicking on the link takes you to my telling of the Wendigo Legend.
I have been critisized for both "Echos" and "The Wendigo" but the reason - outside of alarmingly bad wirting, hehehe - quite escapes me!
Boy I bet this long post kills this thread...sorry!
Which great fiction are you referring to; The Quran, The Torah or the Bible?
And you have to read the feminist interpretation of Frodo and Sam's encounter with Shelob--it is as funny as it is sad!
Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the movie. I would like to see what BBC would do with it, given a proper budget. Each book given six hour-and-a-half segment... drool.
We are quite in agreement. I never meant to imply that enthusiasm for - or as much the case is with Lewis and Tolkien repect for - a particular work is inherently evil or wrong.
However Tolkien's Great Trilogy is such an amazing accomplishment that it is easy for some to become so imersed they tend to ingore reality. In the case of The Silmarillion the absorbtion can reach the point where it replaces The Scriptures upon which the work is based.
I find that tragic, and certainly not what Tolkien would have ever intended.
I also recall a passage, from perhaps the same letter quoted above, wherin J.R.R.T. responded to the question of why he wrote TLOTR. He replied he wondered whether it would be possible to write a fiction of heroism and mythology that would enrapture and adult reader.
He succeeded, and I salute him for that achievment!
Finally may I as well thank you and everyone else who've contributed, for a very interesting topic and quite a welcome, albiet brief diversion from things more depressing, if not important!
he he ....