I am stepping away from the cultural Christianity series this week for a pleasant – and needed – diversion, the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are Tolkien’s most famous works. But run a quick search on Amazon, and you will find his writings are far more expansive than those four books. If you run a search this week, it will be hard to miss the promotions for Amazon’s new mini-series, The Rings of Power, which is based on a relatively unexplored era of Tolkien’s fictional world. Despite the high probability that Amazon’s executives will push a progressive agenda at some point in the series, mar the morality of Tolkien’s work, and overlook or mock the biblical themes that Tolkien so meticulously incorporated, I look forward to escaping into Tolkien’s world yet again. The question I cannot stop asking myself is, “Why???”
Since I was eleven years old, visits to Tolkien’s world have become cherished escapes from the troubles of this world. In terms of entertainment, those visits to his world are my most cherished escapes. (Every year, on average, I read at least one of his books or watch the movies.) After nearly thirty years of reading and re-reading, watching and re-watching the saga of Arda (Tolkien’s name for his world), I find fresh joy each time I do so. Fantasy literature might not be your cup-of-tea, but Tolkien is unlike all other authors in that genre. If you have never read Tolkien’s works, you need to give them a try. You can borrow one of my copies. (Yes, copies – plural!)
The genius of Tolkien’s work was his ability to weave biblical themes, truths, and virtues into his characters and their adventures. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic. He and his close friend, C.S. Lewis (an Anglican), spent hours discussing theology and their shared faith in Christ. One of their favorite meeting places was a pub in Oxford, The Eagle and the Child (and one of the great thrills of my youth was to sit in “their booth” at that pub). Ultimately it was Tolkien’s theology, his faith in Christ and in Scripture, that served as the foundation for his monumental literary contributions. Do I agree with all of Tolkien’s theology? Considering his devotion to Roman Catholicism, of course not! But no person could write as Tolkien did without having experiential knowledge of the gospel of Christ. More than anything else, that was his genius – a true knowledge of Christ!
Have you ever wondered why Tolkien became so popular and why so many people return to his world time and time again? It is because the echo of biblical truth resounds on page after page. People need to hear the timeless truths of hope vs. despair, friendship vs. isolation, selflessness vs. greed, humility vs. arrogance, good vs. evil, and light vs. darkness. Though Tolkien’s writings fall infinitely short of being God’s truth (found in the Bible), they were inexorably molded and shaped by God’s truth. Tolkien understood that the gospel should so saturate every fiber of a person’s being that even imaginary worlds in a believer’s mind must be ordered according to the light of God’s word. Because Tolkien understood this, he created a world that has appealed to countless millions. (C.S. Lewis understood these things too and did the same with The Chronicles of Narnia.) The light of the gospel, even when only alluded to in fictional works, stirs the souls of men and women.
Sadly, most who watch the series will remain altogether blind to these things. It was not Tolkien’s own literary abilities that made his stories great, but it was the power of Christ – the Holy Spirit – who enlivened and put to profitable use his God-given abilities. And truthfully, that is probably why so many have devoured the words of Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings and denied the words of the Holy Spirit in the Bible… Tolkien was enlivened by the Holy Spirit, but not inspired. Thus his words could never reveal truth or convict of sin as can God’s words. It should not surprise any of us that most people prefer to read about the return of King Aragorn rather than, by faith, awaiting the return of King Jesus. At the end of the day, Tolkien’s writings cannot compare to the inspired words of Scripture.
So why I am I writing all of this? It is certainly not to offer The Lord of the Rings as a substitute for Scripture. I am writing for exactly the reason given in the first paragraph – I simply needed a pleasant diversion from the troubles of this world! For me this week, that diversion is re-entering Tolkien’s world. For you, it might be something different, perhaps a hobby, book, movie, or board game. Whatever it is, never forget to thank God that, in his grace, he still allows us to enjoy needed, pleasant diversions in the midst of this broken, fallen, sinful world. Never forget to look for the way in which your pleasant diversion still points you back to the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if your diversion this week is nothing more than taking a short nap, do not fall asleep without first acknowledging that a greater rest awaits you in the next life. Maybe Samwise Gamgee’s perspective will help…
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Brothers and Sisters, you and I need pleasant diversions in this life. Let us enjoy them for what they are, temporary escapes that should remind us of eternal realities. And let us look forward to the day when a world with unimaginable pleasures, a world far greater than Tolkien’s, will no longer be seen by faith, but by sight.