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Sep 07

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Lions and Muggles and Hobbits, Should I? Part 3

The third installment of our discussion series.

The Lord of the Rings (Middle Earth) Series by J.R.R. Tolkien:  Really Christian? Or just another adventure story?

 

“The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”   –  J.R.R. Tolkien

Many people would consider The Lord of the Rings / Middle Earth saga as a Christian work.  After all, the author, Tolkien, had a religious (Catholic) upbringing and he was close friends with C.S. Lewis, also a noted author with many works dealing with Christian apologetics.  The clincher for most people is the fact that both Tolkien and Lewis created fictional literary worlds at approximately the same points in their life, worlds which both dealt with underlying moral themes.  As we discussed last time, Lewis’s Narnia is a definite Christian allegory.  The Christian Lewis and Tolkien were best friends at the time of the creation of Nanrnia and Middle Earth, so it only logically follows that the Middle Earth saga would also be a Christian work.  Right?  After all, we can see the following in the books and the movies:

1.  Aragorn is the king that will be restored to his throne (after the good army destroys the bad army and saves Middle Earth).  Aragorn also resembles artistic interpretations of what Jesus may have looked like.

2.  Gandalf and Saruman have a Christ / Satan interplay going on throughout the saga.  When Saruman possesses the king of Rohan, Theoden, Gandalf expels the demon from Theoden.  In a battle with a larger demon, Gandalf sacrifices his life, but is resurrected 3 days later, more powerful than ever.

3.  There is an ever present evil, Sauron, who seeks to control the world and destroy the forces of good in an epic battle.

4.  Frodo (and arguably, Sam) shoulder the burden of the world’s evil (the ring) and seek to restore good and peace to the world forever (by destroying the ring).

5.  There are other symbols throught the saga (the ring itself, life giving bread, prophets, etc.) which are quite clear, but for the sake of time, will not be discussed in greater detail here.

So, based on this, is Lord of the Rings a Christian work?  It is definitely not a Christian allegory like the Narnia series.  In most allegories, the characters portraying certain symbols or qualities never change.  In other words, a character symbolizing Jesus or Satan will always symbolize Jesus or Satan throughout the course of the work.  Aslan is clearly Jesus throughout the entire Narnia series.  In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, and even Sam symbolize Jesus in certain ways at different times, but none of them can be described as a definitive symbol of Jesus.  Besides, having a “Christ-figure” in a literary work does not necessarily mean that a work was intended to have a direct Christian intent.  There have always been Christ figures in secular works, and these works seek to draw upon the powerful narrative of Jesus in the Bible in an effort to enhance their own plot lines and characters, but not necessarily to convert people to Christianity.  There are a number of surprising Christ figures in secular literature and entertainment:  Uncle Tom, the old fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea, Superman, Neo in The Matrix, Ellen Ripley in the Alien films, and even (gasp!) Harry Potter (be patient for the next installment on this subject).  Do these characters exemplify Jesus Christ, the risen Savior?  Certainly not.  Do the authors and directors of these works seek to draw upon the powerful narrative of Christ to enhance their own story?  Absolutely.  The same can be said for Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.

Am I being critical of The Lord of the Rings series?  Certainly not.  Besides the symbology, there are an abundance of moral themes throught the work – the classic good vs. evil storyline, the importance of friendship and loyalty, the corruption of greed, the concept of sacrifice, and the coming together of different groups to achieve a common goal.  Great moral themes, and all of them are found in the Bible.  But read Tolkien’s quote carefully at the beginning of this article.  The Lord of the Rings / Middle Earth series was not created to be a Christian work.  It is more of a “moral myth”, neither directly contradicting elements of Christianity nor directly espousing Christianity to the general public.

Is it fair to give any of these books or movies the burden of upholding Christian truth or selling Christianity?  Aren’t they all forms of entertainment first?  Has any movie (besides, perhaps, The Passion of the Christ) ever really converted someone to Christianity?  Let’s be honest, whether Christians or non0-Christians, we go to these movies or read these books primarily for their entertainment value.  We like sword fights and fantastic creatures.  And, if we can detect certain themes and symbols in the movie or book which are in alignment with our core beliefs, then so much the better.  I personally don’t believe that the Lord of the Rings series is anti-Christian, but I also don’t believe that it rises far enough above its fights and monsters to present a clear Christian message or worldview.  It lacks an Aslan.

 

Next up:  The controversial Harry Potter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://conversaving.com/2012/09/07/lions-and-muggles-and-hobbits-should-i-part-3/

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