Category Archives: Lord of the Rings
I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien. And it is so like the real history of the world: “Then, as now, there was a growing darkness and great deeds were done that were not wholly in vain.” Neither optimism (this is the last war and after it all will be lovely forever) nor pessimism (this is the last war and all civilization will end), you notice. No. The darkness comes again and again and is never wholly triumphant nor wholly defeated.
(Also see Tim Keller on LOTR here.)
This morning I received the following question from Laura:
I see that you have Lord of the Rings as one of your featured books. Our son (just turned 7) is dying to have me read it to him, but I haven’t read it myself in decades and don’t recall how easy it is to understand. I know your kids are about the same age as ours so I wondered if you’ve given it a shot with them. Any insight would be great. Thanks!
Hello Laura! Your question arrives at the perfect time. We are reading LOTR at the dinner table each evening. We just finished book 1 (of 6) in this beautiful edition. The younger kids need 15–20 extra minutes to finish eating so we’ve filled the time with Tolkien and a calorie-free helping of adventurous prose dessert. But LOTR has also proven to be a challenge and especially for the youngest two (and for me the reader!). The names and locations and language can get tangled and complicated and reading them verbally is an exercise in tongue-twisting acrobatics. Although we are going to press on, my regret now is that I did not begin with The Hobbit. If I had given it more thought that is where I would have started. The Hobbit is much less complicated, it is shorter in general, and I think it would have been a better entry door into Middle Earth for our younger two kids. I hope my regret can be your guide. Blessings in Christ! Tony
I know a number of you blog readers have read Tolkien to your little hobbits. Please share your experience with us in the comments.
Filming of the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has officially started (three cheers!).
Part one (of two) will open in theaters on December 19, 2012 (in 3D). Until then, director Peter Jackson plans to keep us in the loop as the filming progresses in New Zealand. On April 14 he posted on his Facebook page the first in a promised series of update videos. The 10-minute video provides fans with a nice look at the beginning stages of what will be a lengthy filming process.
You can watch it here:
Tolkien has helped my imagination. He was a devout Catholic — and I am not. However, because he brought his faith to bear into narrative, fiction, and literature, his Christianity — which was pretty ‘mere Christianity’ (understanding of human sin, need for grace, need for redemption) — fleshed out in fiction, has been an inspiration to me.
What I mean by inspiration is this: he gives me a way of grasping glory that would otherwise be hard for me to appreciate. Glory, weightiness, beauty, excellence, brilliance, virtue — he shows them to you in some of his characters.
When people ask: how often have you read Lord of the Rings?, the answer is: I actually never stop. I’m always in it.
As an aside, if you’d like to purchase a copy of LOTR, an edition that will withstand repeated use, Westminster Books now carries a gorgeously illustrated box set. I bought two sets last week and was really impressed with the quality. Find details here.
I avoid buying books from Amazon unless I absolutely must (which is too frequent). A high percentage of Amazon books that arrive on my doorstep have been smudged, bumped, scratched, and otherwise wounded. I once received a dirtied book that almost certainly fell face down on a warehouse floor. The pages in the middle of the book were all smudged with dirt and bent like it was paper that had been origami in a previous life.
As much as possible I buy my books from online stores that take great care to ensure that books are properly coddled, Westminster Books being one of the very best (along with Monergism and Banner of Truth). So I am a bit jazzed to see that Westminster Books now carries J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, including:
- The Lord of the Rings, hardcover box set, $47.00
- The Hobbit, anniversary edition hardcover, $16.25
- The Simarillion, hardcover, $26.00
Thanks Westminster Books!
And in related news, John Piper’s great book, Don’t Waste Your Life, is now available in Elvish.*
* Okay, that last sentence is a spoof. Follow the link to my choice for the funniest Tweet of the year. Touché.
Hobbit Day was a success.
We started with breakfast, then enjoyed a second breakfast, and then I received a surprise in my office when my four favorite hobbits brought elevensies, a snack that included a basket of grapes, cheeses, and sliced sausages. Later I arrived home with the delicious coney stew on the stove filling the air with the aroma of Hobbiton. The coney stew included rabbit, pearl onions, carrots, ‘taters,’ turnips, leeks, button mushrooms, bacon, and red wine.
It was delicious. After the stew I read from LOTR about Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday in the Shire and we enjoyed Tolkien’s rich images in the fireworks and the deep humor of Bilbo’s speech (“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”). By this point the three smallest hobbits were all in costume.
Then, as is the case whenever a Hobbit celebrates a birthday, we distributed trinket gifts. Then after we cleaned up the kitchen we gathered around the screen and enjoyed a delightful look at what Mordor must now look like (Iceland), filled with peace and song and kites and fellowship. So we watched the Sigur Rós Heima documentary. The film was a most perfect conclusion to a delightful (and filling) Hobbit Day.
“Bilbo and Frodo happened to have the same birthday, September 22nd,” wrote Tolkien. And since 1978, September 22 (Wednesday) has become the annual date that LOTR fans celebrate Hobbit Day by dressing in costume, eating themselves silly, drinking a bit, singing songs, watching the movies, shooting fireworks, and walking barefoot.
This year we will be joining the fellowship of the nerds. This will require a trip to the grocery store and, in our case, since I don’t hunt, I’ll be driving across town for coney. But it’s worth it. After we finish our sixth meal of the day we’ll read some passages from the LOTR trilogy or from The Hobbit.
Stephanie is one blogger who cooked up a Hobbit Day feast back in 2007. Here’s her menu:
- First Breakfast: omelet, mushrooms, bacon (cooked in the fireplace), and coffee
- Second Breakfast: whipped cream and berries, seedcakes
- Elevensies: bread, cheese, fruits. This is when the ale started.
- Luncheon: leek and mushroom-stuffed puff pastry boxes, cold chicken
- Afternoon Tea: seedcakes, banana bread and Keemun tea
- Dinner: coney (rabbit) stew with red wine, onions, garlic, carrots and herbs, cooked in the fireplace for about 6 hours
- Supper: we were going to have a selection green salads, but could only muster up enough hunger for a few sprigs of watercress
Be creative—and enjoy!
From Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005), page 224:
“The most fundamental Christian symbol is the Cross. This also is perfectly opposite to the Ring. The Cross gives life; the Ring takes it. The Cross gives you death, not power; the Ring gives you power even over death. The Ring squeezes everything into its inner emptiness; the Cross expands in all four directions, gives itself to the emptiness, filling it with its blood, its life. The Ring is Dracula’s tooth. The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood but to give us His. The Cross is Christ’s hypodermic; the Ring is Dracula’s bite. The Cross saves other wills; the Ring dominates other wills. The Cross liberates; the Ring enslaves.”
“This treatment of Tolkien’s great story is about God first of all. Then it is about (in no particular order) Providence, history, demonic forces, archangels, bondage and liberation, justice and mercy, failure and restoration, friendship and sacrifice, sanctification and glorification, divine election and human freedom.
The Lord of the Rings is like the Bible in its narrative structure, for the Bible is above all a narrative—a narrative of God’s mighty acts of deliverance being widely misinterpreted. An article in The New York Times at the time when the third movie, The Return of the King, was about to win eleven Academy Awards stated that ‘The triumph of good over evil is the main theme of the story.’ Well, yes and no.
If the ‘main themes’ of this present analysis were to be distilled into a few words, I suppose I would say two things:
1. It is primarily about the unseen Providence of God operating for good through human (and angelic) agents—especially the ‘little’ ones that no one else has noticed.
2. Secondarily it is about the universal propensity of human beings (and angels) to fall into evil unless they are aided by power from that ‘unseen but ever-present Person.’”
- Fleming Rutledge, The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “The Lord of the Rings” (Eerdmans, 2004).
Mere Humanity by Donald T. Williams
Debates between atheists and Christians over the question of God have become commonplace and especially as Presidential elections roll around.
For debate is the question: Is God a myth? But another related and important question is often neglected: Is man a myth?
You’ll recall in the world of Narnia, the fawn Mr. Tumnus owns an interesting book by the title, Is Man a Myth? This book, discovered by Lucy on her initial visit, was carefully shelved by author C.S. Lewis who asks his readers a pointed question: Are all living beings mere animals of various evolutionary development, or is there something essentially special and different about the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam? Do these special men/women even exist? Or, are they the mere fantasy of animals?
This question is very relevant today in the torrent of secularism. Humans, we are told, are nothing more than superiorly evolved animals. Man – as an eternal soul and bearing the image of God – is a mythical fantasy.
Dr. Donald T. Williams has set out to rediscover the biblical portrait of man through literary classics in his book Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (B&H, 2006). Williams serves as both a scholar and pastor.
Mere Humanity is a lively and thought-provoking answer to the question of man from the writings of Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien. But I most appreciate Williams’ helpful interpretive contexts for great literary works like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy and The Lord of the Rings.
For C.S. Lewis, theology saturates his storyline and often lays on the surface (ex. Aslan portraying Christ). But a Christian worldview is also rooted deeply in the storyline of Lord of the Rings. Unlike Lewis, the theology of J.R.R. Tolkien is buried deep under the surface and excavating Tolkien’s Christian worldview is where Williams is at his finest. He has taught me one crucial point about Middle Earth – it is no eternal home (more on this later).
Williams does not shy from correcting these authors in their writings. For example, C.S. Lewis was wrong in denying the doctrine of depravity and Williams corrects him (see p. 63). And Williams is willing to reveal some of the flaws in the literature of these men. This is a discerning book.
So is man a myth? Is man just another animal or an advanced orangutan? We may look to the talking, man-like beasts of Narnia and be tempted to answer “yes.” But this would be wrong. It’s only when the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam take their rightful place on the throne of creation – under the authority of Aslan – that Narnia is set aright.
Williams concludes that man as “the product of evolution who can be explained fully in terms of material and mechanical process, is definitely a myth, a myth created by man the mythmaker” (p. 134).
Mere Humanity is a wonderful and thought-provoking book.
The Everlasting Hobbit
Williams pulls themes from Tolkien almost effortlessly as you can see from this excerpt from chapter six, ‘The Everlasting Hobbit’ (pp. 127-130).
“To be human is to live in hope. … But to be human is also to live with the fact that there is no final fruition of that hope in this world, for our destiny lies beyond it. In the tension between those two truths lies the temporal paradox of the works of man, always beginning, always marring, always failing, only to begin again, never achieving for long the greatness that always seems promised but never finally failing at the last or losing sight of that promise either. …
The brevity of human life, and hence the bittersweet quality of all that man accomplishes in this life, is brought into sharp relief by the contrast between mortal man and immortal elf. Legolas promises, ‘In days to come, if my Elven-lord allows, some of our folk shall remove hither; and when we come [Gondor] shall be blessed, for a while. For a while: a month, a life, a hundred years of Men.’ Our lives in this world are short because this life is not our ultimate end. Nevertheless, we are to love this world for the sake of our Father who made it, not despise it. That is the difficulty of the human condition. We are tempted to take one of the two easier paths: to try to love this life as if it were our final end (like the Numenoreans), that is, to fall into idolatry; or to reject this world and turn from it as cynics always doomed to be disappointed by it. But our true calling is much more difficult: to love it and then to let it go.
Little lettings go, little deaths like Pippin’s casting away of the brooch, are practice for the larger one that awaits us all. Frodo’s loss of the ability to enjoy the Shire he worked so hard to save is perhaps the most poignant image of this truth. Because it is the preparation for something higher, the letting go is necessary and ultimately blessed when not rejected. But it is seldom easy.
… The Lord of the Rings is ‘founded on the rock-bottom Christian belief that this world is not our home.’ And so we learn to live in Middle-Earth as true men and women, and to leave it as Gandalf teaches us: ‘Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-Earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’”
Title: Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Human Condition
Author: Donald T. Williams
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > fairly advanced concepts
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Broadman and Holman Publishers
Price USD: $14.99 from publisher
ISBNs: 9780805440188, 0805440186