Finding the Lord, in 'Lord of the Rings'
by Jamie Lugibihl ("The Courier Houma Today," January 25, 2002)
When J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of Middle-earth and author of "Lord of the Rings," began creating a fantasy world, he envisioned one that would reflect Christian views and incorporate basic elements of Christianity into the world of fiction.
While most movie-goers may not realize the impact Tolkien's beliefs had on the creation of the trilogy, Tolkien recognized his work as mirroring the basic elements of Christianity. In a letter to a friend, Tolkien wrote that the creation of "Lord of the Rings" was a "fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision."
During Tolkien's life, his impact in the world for Christ had far-reaching and long-lasting effects. Author and teacher C.S. Lewis credits his transition from just believing in God to accepting Christ and Christianity to a long night talk with Tolkien.
After Lewis' conversion, the men became good friends and dreamed together of writing fantasy that would incorporate the elements of their faith. For Lewis, the product of this dream was his "Chronicles of Narnia," while Tolkien's was "The Lord of the Rings."
Although Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" boldly depict Christianity in an allegorical style, Christians reading and viewing "Lord of the Rings" have noticed the undercurrent of Christian themes in the work.
"There are definitely elements that Christians can find in the movie," said Robert Stewart, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "The theme remains consistent with the Christian message. There is definite Christian symbolism. Not everyone will get the symbolism, but it is still very prevalent throughout the film."Stewart said he expects the third movie in the trilogy, "Return of the King," to have the most evident Christian influence. "The idea of a king returning is very clearly Christian," he said. "Christians obviously think of Jesus as king. God is sovereign, and we anticipate the return of Jesus Christ. That connection between the fiction work and Christianity is very apparent."
The response of most Christians to the fantasy movie seems positive and encouraging, compared to some Christian feedback from the recent Harry Potter movie and books, which were banned in some Christian schools and heavily criticized in some religious circles.
While the Potter works prompted Christians to write works like "Harry Potter and the Bible: the Menace Behind the Magick" and "What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?", Christians have written positive books about the Tolkien trilogy such as "Finding God in 'The Lord of the Rings' " by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware.
"I think one main difference between the two is that J.R.R. Tolkien develops an entire world, Middle-earth, that you understand does not exist," Stewart said. "Rowling does not make the same thing obvious with Harry Potter. You can't look at Harry Potter as fantasy because she confuses the lines between reality and make-believe."
Tolkien's basis in Christianity becomes apparent as the story unfolds, unveiling Christian elements throughout the tale. As the Fellowship of the Ring begins their trek across the land in an attempt to destroy the ring, Frodo Baggins, described as a boyish-looking halfling, has been chosen as the only one capable of carrying the ring.
Tolkien does not select the handsome Aragorn, the wizened Gandalf or any of the other more flamboyant characters in the Fellowship to guard the perilous ring and bring it to its destruction in the depths of Mordor.
Similar to stories of Moses and Pharaoh or David and Goliath, many Christians feel that Tolkien is showing how God uses ordinary people to accomplish his will.
"God calls you as you are," said Joel Ohmer, a youth minister with the Diocese of Houma and Thibodaux. "That's one thing I try to get across to kids at retreats that we hold. God says that you are good enough. You may need some tweaking, but God calls us as we are because he see the gifts that we possess."
Many feel the ring, the focal point of the trilogy, has symbolism in that it demonstrates the power given to Christians by God.
"The fact that the ring cannot be worn and used goes along with the Christian idea that the power we have is not the power to dominate, but the power of the Spirit is the power to serve," Stewart said.
To others, the ring represents the power of sin and its destructive power.
That power for hidden sin to destroy is demonstrated in Gollum, the creature who discovered the ring and kept it hidden in dark places in the underbelly of the Earth. Eventually, his "Precious" possessed him, establishing the Biblical principle of the growing power of sin that starts small, but ends by controlling a person.
Even without the Christian influence throughout the movie, most Christians would still promote the movie, encouraging others, especially young people, to watch it.
"I would definitely encourage my youth group to see the movie," said Stuart Whitlow, youth pastor of First Baptist Church of Houma. "I think just the closeness of the people -- the friendships, the fact that they work together and stood by each other and those type of things. That's definitely positive."