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FIRST-PERSON: From Tolkien to a baby in a manger

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–The second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has hit the silver screens across the United States and Canada. “The Two Towers” promises to be as exhilarating as the first release, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” If you read J.R.R. Tolkien in your youth, or if you are a recent enthusiast because of the flicks, you won’t be disappointed.

Some Christians struggle with Tolkien’s creative work because of his use of fictional characters, magical rings, middle-earth hobbits, legends and mystical themes. These same people often take offense at the mental images painted via words in the allegorical “Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. While Tolkien’s writings do not allegorically paint a picture of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, he uses fantasy as a means to communicate positive values and truths every Christian would deem appropriate.

We know the Lord Jesus used words to paint mental pictures to emphasize his teachings. As one reads the Gospels, you cannot avoid seeing that Jesus used symbolic characters and objects to communicate his timeless message. He used descriptive words like “sower,” “lost sheep,” “lost coin” or “serpents.” Each word has symbolic meaning and his listeners opened their minds and hearts to the imagery as a means to help them grasp a deeper truth.

Tolkien and Lewis produced some of the 20th century’s greatest fiction and nonfiction literary works. No pre-collegiate education of a child would be complete without a study of Tolkien, Lewis and George MacDonald in early 20th-century English literature. These were deeply religious men who were skilled wordsmiths, and they crafted their words to articulate timeless truths. The only thing that might possibly ban their study in public classrooms is religious bias.

Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, in “Finding God in the Lord of the Rings,” write that Tolkien’s work is “a tale of redemption in which the main characters overcome cowardly self-preservation to model heroic self-sacrifice. Their bravery mirrors the greatest heroic rescue of all time, when Christ ‘humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on the cross!'”

Perhaps one of the most powerful truths taught in the Lord of the Rings is that great things can happen through personalities who are not large. In this tale, the hero is a little guy, more specifically a boyish hobbit with hairy feet. There are plenty of strong characters with incredible abilities within the context of the tale. However, none of the superhero-like characters is the one chosen to carry and protect the ring. Followers of the Lord Jesus know that God often uses the foolish things, the little things of this world to confound those who think themselves so wise.

Similarly, do you recall the event in the Bible when Samuel is instructed to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king of Israel? After all of Jesse’s sons, the potential candidates, were marched in front of the old wise prophet, Samuel asked Jesse if he had another son. Sure enough, there was the little runt out in the field tending the flocks. “Bring him here,” cried the prophet. When Samuel laid eyes on the lad, he knew the boy was the one God was calling out to be the king of his people. This is the lad who would stand before Goliath, the champion of the Philistines and lead God’s people to victory. This would be the lad who would become a man after God’s heart. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,'” declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8 NIV).

In Tolkien’s fiction, good triumphs over evil via a hobbit with a ring in his little hands. God often brings the deliverance of his people through the most unexpected means — Gideon’s army of 300, a lad with a rock in his sling or a baby in a Bethlehem manger.

This is not a promotional piece for a movie that millions of Americans will see in the next few months. However, it is a word to encourage Christians to celebrate the gift of creativity, imagination and thought. Perhaps in our celebration, the Lord will call out a new generation of Christian wordsmiths who will surpass the genius and the depth of the literary greats of the previous century.
Yeats is editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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  • John Yeats