My personal favorite scene from the film The Fellowship of the Ring is just after Gandalf the Grey falls off the bridge in chase of the Balrog and the ones remaining in the Fellowship escape the mines of Moria and run out into daylight upon grey rocks and it hits them, Gandalf who was the most trusted, most wise, and perhaps most powerful of the Fellowship has fallen. All are mourning though Aragorn is trying to rush them along so they can reach the woods of Lothlorien by nightfall, he too mourns and it is revealed almost simultaneously with Gandalf’s falling in the film. My favorite scene is when Aragorn is trying to rush them off the rocks and into the forest. He turns to Frodo and tells him to get ready to move out and the camera shows Frodo with his back turned, then he turns around with the perfect look for the moment and a tear streams down his face. The idea that they will have to “go it alone” hits them as Gandalf falls and all are struck by this idea. However, it is merely an idea and not a reality outside their own thoughts.
Tolkien doesn’t write about faith so explicitly, but subtly. Tolkien views faith as trusting which is foreign to the individual doing the trusting, but the product of this trusting is belief, hope for an ultimate good, and the will to love outside of one’s own selfish desires at the expense of one’s own life. Faith, hope, and love are the three things the apostle Paul mentions in his discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It doesn’t take an expert to see Tolkien’s emphasis on love manifested through trust and companionship. It is present perhaps in it’s greatest form in Tolkien’s writing among the Hobbits. In The Lord of the Rings there is a trust and companionship among those good created things which is a form of love, but there is no greater love shown in his writing in the form of trust than can be found among the Hobbits. Merry, Pippin, Samwise, and Frodo all bear a closeness that grows throughout their adventure. When hardship strikes, they are drawn even closer to one another.
This is quite unlike the evil subcreated order in Middle-Earth such as orcs, trolls, and Uruk-hai. When trouble strikes, they scatter or destroy themselves. This is Tolkien’s way of revealing the self-destructiveness of evil (For more on that, see On the Varieties of Evil in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth). Something I might have failed to mention previously is that Melkor/Morgoth tried to be god himself and desired the creative capacity/freedom of Illuvatar/Eru (god in Tolkien’s world), but while being able to have some freedom to create he was never able to perfect creation as Illuvatar. Melkor could not create something from nothing, and could only use other things to recreate, but his creation was flawed, ugly, and evil. Orcs were an attempt to make something similar to elves, but the result was a hideous thing that couldn’t even be revealed in daylight and had to remain in darkness. Trolls were an attempt by the Evil One to create Ents (the large tree herders), but this was yet another failed attempt to be god of Middle-Earth. The Uruk-hai were an attempt to create something like mankind, but the result was flawed nearly as bad as the orcs.
Tolkien’s emphasis in his writing is that there is only one true god, and all others are false and deceivers. Melkor was the original one to rebel against god like an angel and his chief general was none other than Sauron who was nearly as evil and whose existence waned in The Lord of the Rings. There is not even trust between Melkor and Sauron. Further evidence in The Lord of the Rings of this absence of trust in the company of evil things is in the mines of Moria where the Balrog gets close while the orcs have circled the Fellowship, then the orcs scatter, howl, and run away in fear of the Balrog. Balrog’s were a part of Melkor’s original army who rebelled against Illuvatar and the Valar. After this little excursus, it suffices to say that in the presence of evil there is no faith, hope, or love to be found in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, only fear, lies, hate, deceit, and destruction.
Faith, hope, and love propel the story of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings toward a final consummate ending in which all the prophecies are fulfilled and evil is defeated. The Fellowship wavers, but never really dies precisely because faith, hope, and love endure through the companionship of those who have sworn to see an end to evil and the victory of good. There is a future hope which moves the story along. One of my favorite scenes in the second movie in the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings is where Samwise comforts Frodo who begins to despair:
Frodo: “I can’t do this, Sam.”
Sam: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding onto, Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
Something that makes this scene beautiful for the Christian viewer is that we all at one point or another in our lives feel as Frodo does, we can’t do it. Living the life of faith in this world, this side of heaven is too difficult. There is something that still causes us to stumble and we get frustrated about it and can even despair like Frodo. However, though we do not have a Samwise in our lives to pick us up help us to get back on the right path, we have something far greater and comparable in regards to comforting. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us along the way. We are not in isolation away from God after being saved by grace through faith, but have been adopted as sons of the living God and have communion with him. We are partakers of the divine and are part of the family. Through prayer and God’s and one another we can be encouraged to live out our faith and to be picked up by the Spirit when life wears on us. It is true that people can and usually are the cause of the wear, but God’s word is perfect and it is the revelation of himself to us bearing witness to salvation through Jesus Christ which we can proclaim by grace through faith in him. In Tolkien, trust is foundational to faith (meaning belief). If there is no trust, then there is no faith. We are called to trust in God, but we do not have to be discouraged over our imperfection in the midst of a Holy and Perfect God. For through Jesus Christ we have our perfection and our response to such grace bestowed is a life marked by trust in God and his promises working through love.
Take a breath after that and soak it in for a moment…
Okay, I am nearing the end here, so stay with me. In Christianity, we believe that Jesus Christ is a prophet, priest, and a king all under his God-man understanding. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He is our high priest and even our offering, he is our prophet and intercessor to God, he is the king and sovereign ruler of all things for he is God incarnate. Now, with this basic foundation of a Christological understanding, we will progress to the Christ figure in Tolkien’s writing. Tolkien would hate what I am about to do and that is identify key figures in The Lord of the Rings as typologies of Christ. Tolkien believes typology and allegory to limit the profound imaginative workings of faerie story writing/fantasy writing. However, he did admit that he intentionally included Christian imagery and figures in his writing. He could not help but infuse his beliefs into his works as well as his reaction to the world wars around him during the time of his writing. All are evident in his works and perhaps foremost in The Lord of the Rings.
Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond/Galadriel/Legolas, and Frodo/Samwise are the subjects I will be writing about in regards to understanding how Tolkien incorporates a deep understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ into his story The Lord of the Rings, however, to learn how he does this and read more about this you will have to look for Part 2 of this post which will be the final post in this series on Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and theology.
In the meantime, be encouraged if you are of the faith that we have been given the promised Holy Spirit who is here to encourage us, exhort us, rebuke us, correct us, and steer us in the right direction in the midst of the Already/Not Yet in which we live.
Grace & Peace, – Matt
I have utilized The Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167261/quotes) for quotes from The Lord of the Rings. Also, see Ralph Wood’s excellent little book The Gospel According to Tolkien for more about some of the parallels between Christian theology and Tolkien’s writing.