Sunday, November 16, 2008
'Finding God in the Lord of the Rings'--My Story & Book Review
I was first introduced to Bilbo Baggins when I was in the 6th grade. While I enjoyed the The Hobbit, I was not overwhelmed by it although I was interested in continuing the saga when she gave me The Fellowship of the Ring the summer before my seventh-grade year. The Fellowship of the Ring and the subsequent two books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy affected me profoundly and perhaps had more impact on me than any other books besides the Bible. If you have read some of my poems, you may have an idea how much these books have influenced me!
For many years I was hard pressed to explain why the books captivated me and why I returned to read them year after year. Certainly the plot was gripping and the characters were substantial. The world, people and languages of Middle Earth seemed real, with layer upon layer of history and myth. The story of good versus evil was certainly inspiring, but what drew me back was something more intangible, more spiritual. I found some of the great truths of the Bible revealed and lived out in the pages of The Lord of the Rings - the corrupting influence of power, the love of one friend for another, the pure love between a man and a woman (or an elf-princess), self sacrifice, courage, and the willingness to lay down one's life for the greater good. This idea of deep Biblical truths in what seemed to be merely a fairy tale become a personal conundrum since I had no idea at the time what J.R.R. Tolkien 's influences were.
In my college years the mystery began to unravel when I learned J.R.R. Tolkien was a contemporary and friend of C. S. Lewis, another writer whose works have impacted me greatly. I learned the two writers influenced one another greatly. However, it was not until the movie version came out that I was compelled to research Tolkien and discovered that he not only was a Christian, but he was influential in winning C. S. Lewis to Christ. Furthermore, in a letter to Father Robert Murray, a Jesuit Priest, Tolkien states: "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."
In my ongoing research I came across a reference to an intriguing title, Finding God in The Lord of the Rings. I quickly tracked down a copy at my local Christian bookstore and found a delightful series of reflections based upon quotes and concepts found in The Lord of the Rings. Written by Kurt Bruner, a vice president with Focus on the Family and Jim Ware, author of several other books, Finding God in The Lord of the Rings invites the reader to "Discover Timeless Truth Among The Hobbits." The authors state "transcendent truths of Christianity bubble up throughout this story, baptizing our imaginations with realities better experienced than studied." The authors are quick to point out that Finding God in The Lord of the Rings is not "a covert allegory of the gospel" and they do not try to make it so. Rather, their stated goal is to "explore the inference" of Tolkein's imagination.
Chapters are short, begin with a snippet of the original story line and a specific quote, and then the reader is invited to consider both the quote and the story line on a deeper spiritual level. Each chapter explores one particular theme, each of which which will sound familiar to both readers of "The Lord of the Rings" and Biblical scholars: Evil Intentions, Hidden Courage, Unwholesome Power, Singing in the Dark, and Redemption. To any skeptics who would find fault with trying to find God in a fairy tale, the authors offer two quotes from Tolkien one at the beginning and one end of the book.
In the introduction we read:
"The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels... But this story has entered History... This story is supreme, and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men -- and of elves."
In the epilogue, near the book's conclusion the authors quote Tolkien one final time:
"The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact... It happens -- at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable consequences... By becoming fact it does not cease to by myth; that is the miracle."
Whether you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings or not, these brief reflections are worth a read. However, they will mean much more to one who is familiar with the unforgettable characters created by a literary craftsman who loved the Gospel, loved myth, and twined the two into the telling of a truly inspiring tale.
Finding God in The Lord of the Rings
Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware
120 pages (hardcover)
Previously published in In Fellowship - The Journal of the Tolkien Gathering and on Yahoo Voices.