“Most of us know what
we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace
had read only the wrong books. They
had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they
were weak on dragons.”
-The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S.
The release of J.R.R.
Tolkien’s part one of The Lord of the Rings trilogy novel as a
movie, Fellowship of the Ring, has certainly sparked some vigorous
discussions within the Christian community regarding the appropriateness of
Christians patronizing books or movies that are fanciful, especially when
witches and wizards are prominent characters of the story.
The debate is fueled even more when some claim that the middle earth
creation of Tolkien purports a Christian worldview even though wizardry is a
part of normal life and it is void of obvious signs of Christian practice or
The debate is important and
I think we do well to equip ourselves for such topics and, thus, possibly avoid
sophomoric or superficial conclusions. According
to Douglas Wilson in chapter 12 of his book, Future Men, “Like
Eustace in the dragon lair, we do not recognize our surroundings because we have
been reading the wrong kind of books, and this in turn causes us to read the
Bible in the wrong way.”
Pretty strong words coming
from a Christian pastor. But he backs up his position by asserting that the one
and only source of reality, the Bible, is itself a book of giant slayings (David
vs. Goliath the most obvious example) and dragons (see Rev 12, 13, 16, and 20,
among others in the KJV), that the God of the Bible is himself a dragon slayer
(Ps 74:13,14 and Rev 20), and that “Christians are a race of dragon-fighters.
Our sons are born to this. Someone
ought to tell them.” (See Eph 6:12 for example)
“When Christians show
themselves willing to lose the modern blinders which restrict our reading of the
[Bible] text, we will come to see the Bible as a fantastic book, with all
the connotations of that word involved. There are many odd places beyond the few cited here in this
discussion and many strange things beyond the giants and dragons.
And once this happens, we will come to see the duty of training our sons
to think this way through the other books they read.”
“But if our sons are to
be prepared for the world God made, then their imaginations must be fed
and nourished with tales about the Red Cross Knight, Jim in the apple barrel,
Sam Gamgee carrying Frodo up the mountain, Beowulf tearing off Grendel’s arm,
and Trumpkin fighting for Aslan while still not believing in him.
This type of story is not allowed by Scripture; this type of story is required
“Required?” one asks.
“Could you show me a chapter and verse on that?”
All too often that is the response of modern day evangelicalism.
Below is a discussion
Lindsey carried on with another about the Christian foundation of The Lord of
the Rings. I post this because
I think the questions and issues poised are common and because I think
Lindsey’s responses are thoughtful and helpful.
I hope you will too.
We enter the discussion
after a few previous exchanges:
As I've thought out this issue, I've tried to identify who it was that
gave me the foundation necessary to accept Tolkien's trilogy as Christian. I
finally decided that it wasn't so much Rushdoony or Schaeffer as Dr. Hodges and
his very memorable lectures on beauty and truth. In one of them, Dr. Hodges
spoke about the compelling nature of God's beauty and truth as an evangelizing
force. He mentioned the modern pietistic idea that Christian things must
say "God", or have a Bible verse written on them in order to be valid,
true, or godly. Then he laughed, reminding us of someone who never
believed such a thing -- God. Dr. Hodges quoted someone else as saying
(and this is paraphrased), "When God created trees, he didn't put Bible
verses on them." You see, God created a whole beautiful world, but
nowhere did he hang a WWJD bracelet, nor did he carve "made by God"
across the face of the earth. The hand of God is apparent without such
drastic measures, and thus it is that the Bible assures us that all of creation
attest to His authorship. This is so, Dr. Hodges explained, because God's
world is both beautiful and truthful. The earth is a powerful evangelizing
force, simply because it was created by the God of Beauty and Truth (and all
other divine attributes). As God's creatures, we are drawn to these
attributes because we were made in His image, and though fallen, we respond to
His character revealed in creation. Tolkien and Dr. Hodges think a great
deal alike. In a Christian journal, the author wrote, "Tolkien
omitted overt references to God, worship, prayer and Christianity in the 500,000
words of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. It wasn't an effort to hide
his Christian faith, he said. Rather, he believed the technique communicated
Christian values more effectively precisely because they were less
obvious." This is exactly what Dr. Hodge taught us.
Now, of course, I don't believe Dr. Hodges, simply because I like what he has to
say, but because I believe it to be true. Please don't think I've adopted
a grab-bag approach to Tolkien, taking things that sound good from this article,
and that article, and this person, etc. I glean from the superior
knowledge and insight of others, but these are only those things which fit
together into a (hopefully!) cohesive unity with presuppositions gained from the
Bible, my parents, Rushdoony, Schaeffer, etc.
portrayal of admirable qualities alone does not mean a movie is specifically
modeling Christian aspects or rooted in Christianity. While there are a large
number of un-believers who display and possess admirable qualities do we say or
can we say they are Christians? Can we even say their motivation for their
behaviour is based on Christianity?
I think there is a difference between applying aspects of our Christianity to
"good" characteristics displayed in movies and having movies clearly
portray aspects of Christianity.
You're exactly right. After sending off that letter and re-reading it
later, I thought, "uh-oh, I didn't explain that so well." You
see, I wrote simply listing out godly characteristics that were initially
apparent to me, not trying to prove anything other than that they do exist in
the movie. As you say, almost every movie embodies at least some admirable
qualities, simply because it is created by creatures who were created in the
image of God.
We cannot place too much critical value upon admirable qualities because they
are generally man-centered, subject to the varying whims of individuals and
cultures. For instance, the modern man thinks the concept of laying down one's
life for a friend is a cute little childish idea left over from the
unenlightened age of chivalry, utterly irrelevant to modern life and practice.
In contrast, God's world and worldview are unequivocally correct and true
throughout all ages. Thus, we do not judge the Christian nature of an
object because of its admirable qualities and/or wickedness -- the Bible has
many stories of both good people and wicked people, doing good and bad things.
We judge the Christian nature of an item by the way it fits into the framework
of God's comprehensive worldview.
in christianity does the ring symbolize and how is that made clear to the
Ultimately, the ring symbolizes ungodly power and the human desire to attain
godhood. In Genesis 3, the serpent tempted Eve by assuring her that by eating
the forbidden fruit her eyes would be uncovered and she would be able to discern
good and evil. Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be their own god
with their own absolute power and authority. However, this desire resulted
not in the life of freedom they anticipated, but in death.
In The Silmarillioun (the genesis and early history of Middle Earth), Melkor,
one of the angels created by Eru, shared the ambition of Satan: "He wished
to be called LORD!" He didn't want to wait for his creator and god,
but wanted to do things in his own time and in his own way, and he sent his evil
out into the world. His lieutenant and disciple, Sauron, forged the ring of
power with the ambition of power and godhood in mind. The Ring tempts its
victims to take it by the promise of power over others (As Sauron tempted Frodo
on the journey into Mordor). But in reality the ring does not award the power it
promises. Rather, it makes its bearer a slave, not a god, and reduces the
soul to a mere shadow, as it did the Nazgul. Even Sauron was enslaved by
the ring, though it was his own creation. All his plans depended upon it
and his actions were driven by the necessity of regaining it. Without it
his plans were doomed. The ring is death to those who give it loyalty.
I've thought about it, and it doesn't seem necessary that this be made clear to
the viewer. You see, Tolkien was not writing a book of moral lessons, nor
did he ever desire his trilogy to be an allegory. However, the nature of
the ring is clear in a Christian worldview.
Christ portrayed in the movie? If so, by whom and again how is it made clear to
Tolkien disliked the genre of allegory and adamantly insisted that LOTR is not
allegory by any stretch of the imagination. However, there are a few
Christ types. This, I believe, arises naturally because Tolkien is a
Christain, writing in the world of Christ. Three that first come to mind are
Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo. Gandalf, the company's shepherd and most wise
guide, led the company through trials and tribulations, ultimately laying down
his life that the "sheep" might live. Aragorn lived upon the
earth as a lowly Ranger until the time came for him to reclaim his throne.
He defeated Sauran (the Strongman), pronounced judgement upon the wicked, showed
mercy upon whom he chose, and ruled in wisdom and strength, just as Christ has
done and shall do until the end of the age. Frodo's great burden of the
ring is reminiscent of Christ's sojourn upon earth, and the great burden of sin
he carried to the cross that His chosen might be free from its destructive rule.
Though in danger of tiresome redundancy, I must once again deny that Tolkien is
under any obligation to make Christ-like figures apparent to his audience.
In view of his dislike of allegory (and I don't think such a dislike ungodly),
Tolkien's Christ-like figures were not specifically designed as such, but arose
naturally from his Christian worldview.
you tell me what characters portray biblical christians and who they are?
I wonder what you mean by "biblical"? Certainly, none of the
characters believe in Christ, neither are they baptized, nor do they pray, take
communion, read the Bible, etc. When I speak of a Tolkien's trilogy as
being "Christian", I am not saying that they *are* christian, though
I've never made a thorough distinction of this previously. There is no
Christianity in Middle Earth. It is what Tolkien would call a pre-christian
work, much like Beowulf.
is the motivation behind the behaviours of the characters? Is it to serve God or
to simply do what is right?
Not being a historic christian work, it would be difficult to say they were
serving God. Now, of course, Gandalf was serving god, though not the
"Christian" God. He was one of the Istari sent by the angels in the
battle to remove all the followers of Melkor from the earth, and he was
fulfilling his duty and calling. Aside from that, all other good
characters were just doing the right thing. But it is important to note
that *doing right* is a distinctly Christian concept. All
"rightness" comes from God, and without him there is none.
Rightness performed outside the realm of God's rightness is not even right,
though it may masquerade as such. Now, this is not to say that they *were*
godly because they did right. But it is to say that doing the right thing
can be the same thing as serving God.
I can attribute aspects of Christianity to a movie, book or story I need to
clearly understand the motivation behind the writing and/or the motivation
behind the behaviours of the characters.
In all due respect, I must say that I don't think one should rely to greatly
upon the motivations of people when determining the Christian or anti-Christian
nature of their work. Good intentions sometimes produce anti-Christian
results and evil intentions sometimes produce Christian good (Gen 50:20).
However, intentions can sometimes be helpful. I hope you have no objection if I
send you to a Christian journal for an explanation of Tolkien's motivations? It
seems silly for me to repeat the things said by the author as he knows rather
more about this subject than I do. Hopefully it will be helpful to you.
A few weeks ago, I was searching for anti-Tolkien christian
info on the net and though I didn't find any, I did find one really splendid
pro-Tolkien article called, "Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: A
Christian Classic Revisited", by a professor at Baylor University. It
does a good job of presenting material in a relatively objective manner.
It is, as I said, so splendid that I've been compelled to read it five
times, so far. :) Besides being excellent, it answers some of the
questions you asked, so even though I tried to answer them myself, I do hope
you'll read it. It can be found at: http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/wood-classic.html
I understand that many of the things I've said will most likely be
greeted with disagreement. However, I fear that what I've said here, along
with the two articles, are about all I have to argue upon the subject. I
think your disagreements might be ultimately reconciled through reading the LOTR
trilogy and the Silmarillion. Of course, priorities may say nay to
the reading of four books, but if spare time (ha!) is laying around, do
try. In all events, you wouldn't regret it, they are beautiful.