July 12, 2010
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “ and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Hearing this insight from Frodo and Gandalf in the recent Lord of the Rings movies really touched my heart.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the first movie Fellowship of the Rings as it seemed too violent and traumatic for my liking. So I planned to quietly avoid the second Lord of the Rings movie ‘The Two Towers’ but ended up going along reluctantly in order to spend time with one of my sons. Though I had tried reading the book back in the 1970’s, I couldn’t get into it. The endless details and strange names threw me off. My classic excuse for not reading material like Lord of the Rings was that life has enough fantasy and fiction in it to suit me already.
Amazingly, in watching the second movie Two Towers, the penny dropped and the message behind the message began to break through. It was like being in an AA 12-step meeting where they always say at the end: ‘Keep coming back, it works’. Eventually the penny will drop.
When watching the Two Towers, I, like Frodo, had been going through a rather challenging year that ‘I wish…need not have happened in my time’. Like Gandalf, I had to learn that ‘all we can decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ I have discovered afresh that I am not alone on the journey of Life, and there are resources available to me that I might have never imagined back in the comfort of my ‘shire’.
The Shire in the Lord of the Rings is a symbol of tranquility and safety free from harm and stress. To many of us locally, Deep Cove represents that kind of Shire. Have you ever wondered who the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings really are? JRR Tolkien once said that ‘the hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination –not the small reach of their courage or latent power.’ Tolkien also said the hobbits were ‘just what I could have liked to have been, but never was.” Tolkien was deeply traumatized by the loss of both his father at age 3 and his mother at age 12. So he never knew the safety and security taken for granted by so many other rural English children.
Bill Hybels of Willow Creek wrote an unforgettable book entitled ‘Courageous Leadership’. Where are the courageous leaders in our highly ambivalent third millennium? Elrond said of the hobbits, “This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields, to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it?” Many of us shy away from facing conflict. But the experts tell us that conflict-avoidance only makes it worse and more widespread. It takes courage to stare evil right in the face.
The Lord of the Rings book reminds us that ‘there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.’ As the journey became more difficult, Gandalf said to Frodo: ‘Courage will now be your best defence against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring’.
JRR Tolkien warned against allegorizing the Lord of the Rings but believed in ‘applicability’. As I read Frodo’s danger-filled quest, I was reminded of the applicability of Psalm 23: ‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’. King Theoden of Rohan said to his men: ‘Fear no darkness’. Elrond said, ‘There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone.’
One of the most gripping moments in the Lord of the Rings was when Frodo had fully counted the cost and still courageously said: ‘I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.’ Frodo at that moment was choosing to face Mordor’s wasteland, vicious Orcs, giant spiders, and betrayal by Gollum. The greatest danger that Frodo faced was the ever-present temptation to grasp the Ring for himself, and make use of its vast power for his own benefit. After destroying the ring in the Crack of Doom, Frodo was deeply hurt by his self-sacrifice but reminded his friend Sam that ‘when things are in danger, some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ Frodo’s selfless actions remind me of the words of Jesus: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’.
Many people who love the Lord of the Rings don’t realize that JRR Tolkien was a deeply committed Christian whose values permeated his unforgettable trilogy. Tolkien knew the power of Story in touching hardened hearts like that of his friend CS Lewis who, through Tolkien’s influence, moved from hard-core atheism to passionate faith in Jesus Christ. My prayer for those reading this article is that we too may discover the message behind the message in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
p.s. For more on Tolkien, just click