Skip to comments.Looking for a good book for the Year of Mercy? Read Lord of the Rings
Posted on 04/27/2016 4:25:23 AM PDT by NYer
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wants the faithful to recognize God’s mercy toward each individual soul, and then in turn to show increased mercy toward one another. In his bull proclaiming the Jubilee, our Holy Father affirms “we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.” Mercy can, however, seem rather abstract to us; the imagination may need some prodding.
Few books provide a better depiction of mercy than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, particularly through the character of Frodo Baggins. Frodo’s entire mission hangs upon one tremendous act of mercy (and many smaller ones) toward Gollum.
At the beginning of Frodo’s adventures, Gandalf tells him about the lineage of his magic ring, as well as about the part Gollum played in entangling Bilbo and himself in the deadly War of the Ring. Frodo cannot bear the thought that Gollum may once have been very like the Hobbits themselves. “‘I can’t believe that Gollum was connected with hobbits, however distantly,’ said Frodo with some heat. ‘What an abominable notion!’” A moment later, Frodo bursts out with: “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!” Gandalf responds firmly:
“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy; not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.” “I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.” “You have not seen him,” Gandalf broke in. “No, and I don’t want to,” said Frodo.
If Frodo’s story ended here, he might look very much like to those “learned” of whom Pope Francis spoke in his March 3 homily on the Gospel of Luke, those who have “hearts that do not let in the mercy of God, which have forgotten the word forgiveness: ‘Forgive me Lord!’simply because they do not [see themselves as] sinners [but see themselves as] judges of others.” At this point in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo does not equate himself with sinners such as Gollum, but rather sees himself as something entirely other, decent and respectable.
This exchange between Frodo and Gandalf occurs before Frodo has himself felt the real weight of the Ring, and the burden of his own weakness. He later becomes the Ring Bearer, with the mission to destroy the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom. Even as he endures his own growing attachment to the Ring, he perceives the evil love it engenders, and realizes that even the great are not immune to its enticements. Frodo himself succumbs to the Ring at Weathertop, then witnesses the noble Boromir’s tragic fall for the Ring. By the time he encounters Gollum face to face, Frodo is a very changed hobbit indeed. The naiveté to condemn without mercy, which springs from ignorance, has long gone.
The meeting occasions Frodo’s initial great act of mercy. Gollum springs upon Sam and Frodo, almost certainly with malicious intent. They stand between him and his Precious; killing two hobbits would be nothing to him. But once they have subdued the creature, Frodo and Sam must decide what to do with him. They could kill him, or leave him to be killedindeed, to do otherwise seems foolish. As Frodo himself said to Gandalf earlier, before he had much knowledge of the Ring: “At any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.” But now, Frodo remembers Gandalf’s wise words: “I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.” Now Sam watches in surprise as Frodo, recalling Gandalf’s words about Gollum, speaks aloud: “Now that I see him, I do pity him.” Frodo recognizes his own likeness in Gollum. Even Sam catches a glimpse of their bond. “Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another’s minds.” They have walked the same path, carried the same burden, and neither is unscathed.
Frodo not only spares Gollum’s life, he consistently treats the miserable creature with mercy and respect. He hopes for Gollum what Gollum no longer hopes for himself: redemption. “They took his Precious, and he’s lost now,” whimpers Gollum. “Perhaps we’ll find him again, if you come with us,” said Frodo. Frodo here perfectly embodies what Pope Francis describes: “Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.” Frodo offers Gollum an opportunity to redeem himself.
In the end, the fate of Middle Earth itself depends on the mercy of Frodo. Faced with the awful end of his journey, Frodo fails. The Ring has become too precious to him to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom. He puts it on, declaring himself Lord of the Rings. But Gollum, the traitor who “may betray himself and do good that he does not intend,” wrestles with Frodo, bites off his finger with the Ring still on it, and, holding his Precious, falls into the fires himself, completing the work of the quest and destroying the Ring of Power. Released from his enslavement, Frodo marvels, “But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over.” This humble response is precisely what Pope Francis is talking about in his papal bull as he recalls the words of Jesus, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt 18:33). If Frodo had not recognized his own need for mercy, and in turn shown mercy to Gollum, all of Middle Earth would have fallen.
Frodo’s mercy saved the world, but he never could have shown that mercy had he not shared in Gollum’s suffering first. In this way, Frodo resembles Christ. Christ, the paramount teacher of mercy, did not simply distribute pardonshe walked the same path as those to whom he showed mercy, a path overshadowed with suffering. He bore the guilt of sin, though he was sinless. As St. Paul said, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In speaking of the baptism of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI explains, “The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this Yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness.”
In our own lives, the good effects of mercy may not be as evident as they are in Frodo’s story. More likely we will call out, with Jesus, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” It requires a complete trust that in all things God knows best how to bring good out of evil, and how to bring a conversion in the heart of a sinner. After the Crucifixion came the Resurrection. Pope Francis says, “For this reason the liturgy, in one of its most ancient collects, has us pray: ‘O God, who reveal your power above all in your mercy and forgiveness.’” Who but the All-Powerful can see that forgiving evil-doers actually works out for the best? It is only in trusting Him, in imitating His mercy, that we can witness to the truth that God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Some of us really don’t like fantasy. Even well-written fantasy.
There is a lot of good teaching in the Lord of the Rings that you really wouldn’t find anywhere else.
And you just had to tell everyone.
Tolkien wrote these profound stories as a witness of his Christian faith. He and C.S.Lewis were colleagues at Oxford who brought many to Christ through their “fantasy.” In a world filled with the reality of sin the fantasy of grace is all the hope we have.
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus writes letters to seven churches. They pretty much tell you everything you need to know. Fantasy, even Christian allegory fantasy is not really needed as the End is near. The Revelation 12:1-2 great sign in the heavens will happen September 23-24, 2017.
All I know is that we are likely in Daniel 12.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
If one is at all susceptible to the genre, it is wonderful
A specific pattern of sun, moon, planets and stars was written down almost 2000 years ago. That pattern will occur over a two day period of September 23-24, 2017. It is the first timing verse in Revelation. It is very reasonable to conclude that the things that are spoken of in Revelation will either start or be underway on that date. If you wish to ignore this, that is on your head. The Watchman has sounded the trumpet.
I’m allowed to post my thoughts. There are wonderful Catholic novels - as well as Lewis’s beautiful memoir Surprised by Joy - to read and enjoy. There are many people who do not like fantasy. If this is a Lord of the Rings Caucus thread, I apologize.
It’s perfectly fine if it doesn’t appeal to you. But LOTR is probably the best written fantasy ever put down on paper. How it all came from the imagination of an obscure Oxford don, the leading light in an even more obscure field of study (Philology), and became one of the most read and beloved works of fiction for now going past half a century probably counts as a miracle itself. Besides just the scale (I mean how many authors can on their own create several complex mythologies and separate languages within about one thousand pages?) the scenes of war, brutality, and suffering seem true because they came from a man who served several years in the Western Front trenches. So he saw men shot, gassed, and blown to bits but came out to write first an epic children’s fantasy (The Hobbit) and then one which has moved several generations of adults.
That’s fine. It is obviously well-loved by many people. I prefer a different genre for moral uplift and education. I didn’t think that was too radical a position since, while we are talking about religion, we are also discussing literature.
Everyone has different tastes than the next person and no one should take offense over it. And especially lately, it’s nice to have a discussion where people can state an opinion, and even disagree, without being disagreeable.
I was looking at other Catholic novels on the internet and was reminded of Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop. A great book which prompted a visit to Santa Fe back in the 1980s to see the famous staircase built by St. Joseph.
Someone mentioned Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician which I read and loved as a youth. Admittedly, Caldwell was not in the league of either Lewis or Cather but how I loved it. For years, I searched for a medal of St. Luke.
If you don’t like fantasy, how do you feel about The Divine Comedy? It’s not historical fiction - although filled with historical figures. I would have to call it a fantasy of sorts. Still, it was the book recommended by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy.
Well, I’m sure even you wouldn’t compare Dante’s book to Lord of the Rings. I would say The Divine Comedy is more allegorical than fantastical. I don’t need Pope Francis to recommend Dante to me. In the next breath, he’s liable to suggest Andrew Greeley novels.
“I dont need Pope Francis to recommend Dante to me. In the next breath, hes liable to suggest Andrew Greeley novels.”
Now who is making bad comparisons! :)