Three Monkeys Online

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The Lord of the Rings – A Christian allegory??

As a young boy I remember late nights spent reading The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), mesmerised by this gripping tale of good against evil. It was only years later, and especially seeing Peter Jackson's film trilogy, that I realised it was foundational in planting a lot of Christian spirituality within me. Many may be surprised at this assertion that LOTR is a Christian film, seemingly so bereft of religion but I am not alone in this (see S. Greydanus's excellent article “Faith and Fantasy: Tolkien the Catholic, the Lord of the Rings, and Peter Jackson's film trilogy”).

While the obvious theme of the film is the epic struggle of good against evil, common to many contemporary genres, there are particular elements that define it as spiritual. Much depends on how you define spiritual of course; bringing out the very best in humanity (the fullness of humanity reflecting divine action) seems to be what Tolkien was up to.

Accordingly, LOTR is a profound reflection on what it means to be authentically human: the search for the solution to evil (pilgrimage), going beyond oneself for the good of others (service), sharing what we have been given for the common good (fellowship), bring hope out of darkness and root out evil in our hearts (conversion).

The central theme of the ring is really a symbol for greed, power and personal gain, and the struggle against this. This is where Boromir comes a cropper, Bilbo shows his darker side, Galadriel resists the temptation, Sauron is completely consumed with the ring (dehumanised) and even Frodo is almost overcome at the end. The climactic scene of Frodo choosing not to throw the ring in the fires of Mount Doom has this dramatic sense of Frodo's temporary capitulation to evil.

Significantly, the battle between good and evil, personified in Gollum, takes place in people's hearts. Overcoming resentment, addiction, greed and temptation are what the characters struggle with. Salvation consists in overcoming the “darkness” within, only possible through faith in the good (God) and help from others.

A central theme is that of “pilgrimage” or journey that runs though the films. The characters are always on the move, from the Shire to Rivendell, through the mines of Moria, Mirkwood, Minas Tirith and eventually Mordor. Like Christ, they often have nowhere to lay their heads and are dependent on providence and goodwill of those who take them in. There is a fundamemntal vulnerability about their travels therefore, as they are beset by orcs, trolls, black riders (Nazgûl) and their own fears. They are always on the run, never safe, always having to remain open and trust that providence and their strength will bring them through. There is a strong sense of being continually up against the insidious power of evil that is spying on them, undermining friendship, betraying hope and reforming to make further attacks. The classic “Dark Night” spirituality of Christ's Passion on the cross is evident in many scenes where all hope is lost and yet the “resurrection” happens (siege of Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, Mount Doom and the destruction of the ring).

The aspect of community or fellowship is particularly marked in the LOTR. It becomes evident that the strength of the fellowship lies in their mutual interdependence, the sharing of personal talents and gifts (bowmanship, sorcery, strength, humour etc.) and their ability to work together. In the dramatic finale in the Return of the King, it is the distraction of Sauron's evil eye by Aragon, Gandalf and others that permits the success of the group mission.

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