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‘Lord of the Rings’ box office fueled by Christian perspective

WASHINGTON (BP)–Billed as one of the biggest movie events in years, the first in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which opened in 10,000 cinemas worldwide in mid-December, has become a major talking point among Christians.

With its cast of wizards, elves, goblins and other creatures, the movie has left many wondering whether there are similar grounds for concern about occult influences as some felt was the case with the Harry Potter books and film.

Lord of the Rings premiered Dec, 19 in New Zealand, the small Pacific nation which provided both its director and location, and which hopes the expected spin-off in tourism from the film will boost its flagging economy.

CNSNews.com reported Dec. 20 that some 20,000 enthusiasts turned out in Wellington to hail director Peter Jackson and cast members of the movie based on the first of J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-part classic, which has frequently topped lists of the most popular book of all time.

New Zealand is so excited about the film that the government appointed a Lord of the Rings Minister to oversee a drive to promote the country as both a tourist and filmmaking destination.

Wellington has renamed itself Middle Earth for the week, and the capital’s Evening Post changed its name temporarily to Middle Earth Post. Middle Earth is the fictional world in which Tolkien’s unlikely hero, the humble “hobbit” Frodo, is tasked to destroy an evil ring.

The government has earmarked $18.6 million to promote New Zealand after the release of the movie. The second and third parts of the “Fellowship of the Ring” trilogy already have been filmed and are scheduled for release in Christmas 2002 and 2003.

Early reviews of the three-hour movie have been glowing, with inevitable comparisons to its natural box-office rival, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

The huge Harry Potter phenomenon has had many Christians and others in the United States and elsewhere worried that their children could be influenced to explore the occult. Not surprisingly, the arrival of the Lord of the Rings movie has set Christian circles abuzz.

“As with Harry Potter, many parents are wondering whether the soon-to-be-released movie blockbuster, Lord of the Rings, with all of its violence, monsters and even some magic is appropriate for them and/or their children,” says Canada’s pro-life and pro-family Lifesite.

“The movie … is closely based on the J.R.R. Tolkien three-part novel of the same title,” it says. “What is not so well known is that the book, and its epic struggles between good and evil, was written with a strong Catholic Christian perspective.”

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family also carries items on its website contrasting Lord of the Rings with the Potter books and film.

Kurt Bruner, vice president of Focus on the Family and coauthor of a book called “Finding God in The Lord of the Rings,” noted that the Tolkien film “brings Christian parents and youth leaders opportunity to point young people to God.”

“The result [of Tolkien’s books] has been that millions of people — many of whom reject formal religion — encounter realities that flourish in the unexplored regions of Christian belief,” Bruner said in an article posted on the site.

Tolkien, an Oxford academic who died in 1973, was an ardent Roman Catholic and friend of C.S. Lewis, the renowned writer and Christian apologist.

Although Tolkien’s best-known book is not a Christian allegory like Lewis’ “Narnia” stories, the author himself said it was “of course a fundamentally religious and Christian work,” and his authorized biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, agreed that God was essential to everything that happened in the Lord of the Rings.

The Catholic radio network EWTN interviewed another Tolkien biographer, Joseph Pearce, who described Lord of the Rings as “a theological thriller, not a fantasy.”

Responding to a caller to the program, Pearce was cautious not to trash Harry Potter, although he did say he found the Potter film “far more shallow” and without the “theological underpinning” found in the Tolkien story.

Recently, 60 Seventh Day Adventist Schools in Australia banned Harry Potter books from their libraries, expressing concern they could encourage youngsters to delve into the occult.

Education director John Hammond was quoted at the time as saying the schools would not take a similar stance on Tolkien’s book, because “I understand that it talks about one supreme power which we should deal with as ordained in Scriptures, and that is God.”

Despite an apparent thumbs-up for the Lord of the Rings in many Christian circles, some are still warning that battle and horror scenes in the movie are very violent.

In Britain, the movie was rated PG (parental guidance recommended but not required), but the film classification board took the unusual step of ruling that it must carry a special warning to the effect that children under 8 may find it disturbing.

Focus on the Family’s own review of the movie decries the “extremely violent battle scenes catering to consumers of Hollywood eye candy.”

While highlighting as positive the spiritual themes that come through, the reviewer concludes that “teens should stick with the books, which are more engaging, richer in their Christian worldview and less vividly violent.”

The movie stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler and Christopher Lee.
Goodenough is the CNSNews.com Pacific Rim bureau chief. Used by permission.

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  • Patrick Goodenough