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Tolkien movie has different worldview than Harry Potter, prof asserts

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The forthcoming movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” contains a message radically different to that of “Harry Potter” and is worthy of being viewed by Christians, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told a recent radio audience.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern professor James Parker analyzed the Tolkien movie during the radio program “Truth on the Line” Dec. 5.

While both movies contain wizards and allusions to magic, Christians have little to fear when it comes to “The Lord of the Rings” due in large part to the fact that Tolkien was himself a committed Christian, the two men said.

“The Lord of the Rings” — set for release on Dec. 19 — has prompted some of the same questions from Christians as has the controversial “Harry Potter” movie, which is based on J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular children’s novels about a school for witches.

While Christians are leery about the genre of fantasy, these concerns should be allayed by the Tolkien movie, Parker said. The movies present two different worldviews and the characters involved represent diametrically opposite values, Parker said.

“People say, ‘You have wizards in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and you also have wizards in ‘Harry Potter,’ so what is the difference?'” Parker said. “You also have wizards in C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia.’ But I think it is important that we see the distinction between what ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ means when they present wizards.

“Gandalf, the wizard in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ is an angelic. He is a being created by the One True God who is kind of an arch-angel who is sent to help people accomplish the will of the One True God. So when they do ‘magic’, it’s not magic at all, but it is instead the angelic being which has certain abilities to do things that non-angelic beings cannot do.”

In ‘Harry Potter,’ the wizard is a human being who is supernaturally empowered to perform magic tricks that may be used for selfish and even evil purposes, Parker said.

“This is where it could get very serious and very dark,” he said, adding that “a lot of information in Harry Potter” leads him to conclude that Harry himself is buying into the dark side and into the occult.

Another profound difference between the two movies is the fact that the setting for Tolkien’s story — the mythical ‘Middle Earth’ — is one that reflects the Christian understanding of reality. In Middle Earth, there is a clear distinction between right and wrong and accountability to a sovereign, holy God who is Lord of the universe, Parker said.

Unlike in ‘Harry Potter,’ Tolkien’s movie never presents a scenario in which “the end justifies the means,” Parker argued. That is, morality is never viewed pragmatically. The Potter movie reflects a more pantheistic and monistic understanding of reality in which the lines of right and wrong are never really asserted, Parker said.

Mohler offered two key guidelines for Christians to follow in allowing their children to view and read fantasy works. He called for discernment and said that parents should read books along with their children, discuss with them what they have read and help them to view all of life through a biblical framework.

“Good literature that tells the truth always has to establish itself within the universe of right and wrong,” Mohler said. “This means that in a novel, where adultery takes place, it has to be recognized as evil and the evil results have to be demonstrated.

“The second principle is this: There has to be a cause and effect relationship in the works of literature. Human beings have to be held responsible for their decisions and evil has to be truthfully portrayed. The results of this have to honestly be demonstrated in the literature.”

While Parker and Mohler agreed that Christian wisdom and discernment must be employed in movies such as Harry Potter, Mohler recommended the Tolkien movie.

“When it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and C.S. Lewis and the ‘Chronicles of Narnia,’ I simply say that Christian parents need to take advantage of the opportunity to use those stories to help ground their children in how to think Christianly.”
Truth on the Line can be heard on-line at http://www.truthontheline.com/truth.html.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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