There is lots of excitement surrounding the premiere of the fourth movie based on a book by JRR Tolkien. The Hobbit will be here for the Christmas season. Is it just a coincidence that all four movies which form the Lord of the Rings series have had mid December release dates?
Is Lord of the Rings a Christmas movie? That’s not a question I would have asked until the year I attended a worship service on the first Sunday of Advent which featured a sermon illustrated with film clips from Lord of the Rings. Why would a church choose to feature a movie based on the work of fantasy author JRR Tolkien at Christmas?
Lord of the Rings tells the story of a mild-mannered orphan hobbit named Frodo who accepts the task of destroying a ring that will corrupt anyone who uses its power. The ring is evil and has the potential to wreak havoc on civilization. Young Frodo is perhaps the least likely candidate to save the world by taking this ring back to the place from which it came.
In the Bible God often chooses the least likely candidates for the most important missions. It is the shepherd boy David who is sent to meet the giant Goliath. It is a young Jewish girl named Esther who must approach a mighty king to save her people. It is Jesus, the infant son of a poor unwed teenage mother, who comes to save the world.
Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner in their book Finding God in the Lord of the Rings say, “ Hope and salvation often arise from the least likely places, a hobbit hole in the Shire, or a manger in a Palestinian stable.”
JRR Tolkien called Christmas a season when myth becomes truth. The word he coined to describe the birth of Christ was eucatastrophe or a ‘good catastrophe’. He believed Jesus’ birth marked both a joyful beginning and a happy ending for human history.
Tolkien was a Christian who proved that by capturing people’s imaginations with stories and myths you could transmit values and beliefs to them. He thought Christianity could be presented in different forms. The message of the Gospels didn’t necessarily have to be preached, but rather could be suggested and implied. Tolkien wondered if presenting Christianity in new forms might not make it more accessible to those who had been alienated by the traditional offerings of organized religious groups.
In Lord of the Rings he creates a band of friends who battle darkness. Frodo gathers around him a dedicated group who are prepared to fight for the cause of good in the face of evil. Christians believe the good news of Christmas is that God brought light to the darkness of the world in the form of a child. Who knows what the followers of Christ could do if they banded together to fight the forces of evil around them using the weapons of love, justice, mercy and humility Jesus taught ?
C.S. Lewis, a good friend of Tolkien’s once said…..”myth is like manna, to each one a different dish, and to each the dish they need.” Tolkien’s books, and the movies based on them, may inspire people to feel that like Frodo they too have a higher calling. It is easy to see why some people are captivated with the idea of leaving their home to set off with a band of loyal friends on a sacred mission filled with danger, adventure and excitement. There is something very appealing about the notion of embarking on a quest to discover deep spiritual truths while working together with others to fight the evil in this world with acts of goodness. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did?
The pastor of the church where I saw the Lord of the Rings movie clips said he had shown them because he wanted to make the Biblical story which is thousands of years old come alive for his listeners. During the worship service he told us modern films can sometimes be mirrors through which we may see the Biblical message dimly, but we can look forward to a much clearer vision when we meet God face to face.
Is he right? You may want to go and see The Hobbit or re-watch one of Lord of the Rings trilogy films this holiday season and find out for yourself !