The Educational Value of the Lord of the Rings
- Friday, November 14, 2003
Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware of the recent media hype over the release of The Lord of the Rings in its newest film version. In an act of sheer marketing genius, the remake of the classic book by J.R.R. Tolkien is being doled out to the public in the form of a trilogy of films. The first two films, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers are now available in video and DVD formats. The final dramatic installment, The Return of the King, will be released in theaters in December 2003 and on home video in the summer of 2004. In the meantime, those who are in suspense as to the conclusion are being "forced" to read the book, which is far better, richer, and more complex than the movie version. In addition, lovers of the films find that reading the book increases their understanding of the background of the films.
Some Christians are confused as to the proper response to The Lord of the Rings Many have loved the books from their childhood, or have at least heard positive statements concerning them. However, recent comparisons to J.K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter series have caused concern over whether The Lord of the Rings is proper fare for Christian minds. The use of the terms magic and wizards sends up red flags to some. For those Christians who have read both authors, the ultimate differences are clear, but they may be hard to explain to others. Is it acceptable for a Christian to enjoy a literary classic such as The Lord of the Rings? What effect will it have on our young people?
To have an understanding of the issue, it will first be necessary to give a brief synopsis of the plot of the novel, The Lord of the Rings. (Since the complete work extends over 1000 pages, any synopsis will, of course, be far short of the vast richness of the complete text.) The Lord of the Rings is the story of an imaginary history of England and Northwest Europe before the time of Christ. In this fantasy realm, there lives a hobbit named Frodo who was sent on a perilous quest to save the world from the power of evil. In case you are not familiar with hobbits, they are much like humans except they are only about half the size of a normal man and have tough, hairy feet (perhaps like your Uncle Ned.) They have no special powers or skills, are not particularly wise, and love to eat (like your teenaged son.)
This world is also peopled by men and by dwarves, who are a little taller than hobbits and love to mine. This fantasy world also contains elves: creatures who are wise, immortal, and fair. The elves also have very limited "magical" powers that enable them to create beautiful objects from nature and to protect their homelands. The elves are interesting creatures because, according to Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carpenter, they are actually what Tolkien envisioned the powers of man would be like if he had not fallen in the Garden of Eden.
In addition, there are a few beings who are called "wizards" by the unlearned people in the book. The learned peoples, such as the elves, know them to be created beings sent by the One God to help protect the peoples of Middle-Earth from evil, much as we understand the concept of angels. Of course, Tolkien's image of "angels" is much more down to earth, for wizards can make errors in judgment and are not above enjoying an occasional pipe or two. They are also capable of falling into evil, even as Satan did, when tempted by pride or the desire for power. Tolkien's world also contains a host of more unpleasant creatures who symbolize the forces of evil at work in the world
In this classic good-against-evil struggle, Frodo is given, and accepts, the responsibility to destroy the evil ring of power before Sauron, the evil enemy, can use it to enslave all of Middle-Earth. The wizard Gandalf hints that Frodo was "chosen" for this task by the force of good in the universe precisely because he is not wise or strong or powerful. He comes from a race that does not typically desire power, and so is not as readily corrupted by the ring as men, Gandalf himself, or other more powerful creatures would be.
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