For each of the first three years of our marriage, Kristi and I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One year I believe we watched them straight through on a Sunday afternoon into the evening. After a three year break, we just completed our fourth viewing of this great story. This year, we had to break the first DVD up into two days. Showing our age?
An investment of nine hours in this decade’s most glorious film achievement is worth some reflection.
A truly great film that resonates with a wide audience and stands the test of time does so for a reason. Truly great stories speak to us in our situation as human beings, as those who live in a fallen world and as those who need a redeemer. Lord of the Rings does this.
Lord of the Rings is a story about us, as we are. We are capable of great good. We are capable of great evil. We are hungry for power, and at our worst we will trade any good to make it ours. I am always struck by how much of myself I find strewn about the film. Boromir’s lust for power, Theoden’s stubbornness, Faramir’s insecurity, Madril’s relationship destroying myopia. And though Gollum wasn’t of the race of men, his conflicted allegiances picture our own inner conflict with sin. Of course, our flaws are the easiest to see and they are cause for the most profitable reflection. Prideful as we are, there isn’t much use in looking for ourselves in the film’s heroes, though there are flickers of each of them in all of us.
Lord of the Rings also tells us a story about the world, as it is. There is no such place in the world as Middle Earth. There is no such place as Rohan. There are no Hobbits. There are no Elves. But there is a such thing here as good and evil, true and false, beautiful and ugly. The postmodern stories of our day love to confuse these lines. Good, after all, isn’t always truly and completely good. And bad usually has a story to tell about how it got that way. If we are passive in our reading of many modern stories we can find ourselves justifying murder, infidelity and all manner of evil. But, like the world of Middle Earth, this world is under a grey curtain of rain. It is broken. The headlines on any given day speak to this. War. Murder. Pain. It’s everywhere and everyone is looking for a way out.
It’s not an altogether terrible thing for us to recognize that no one is all bad or all good. And it is true that most of the trouble in this world is more dynamic than a black and white telling of the story can do justice. But here, Lord of the Rings commits us to the good guys without glorifying them. And the Biblical story does the same. We can affirm human goodness and say that men are flawed in every way. We can affirm human sinfulness and the just wrath of God against that sin, and still have hope. The race of men and this race of men needs a redeemer, a savior, a ruler.
Finally, The Lord of the Rings tells a story about redemption, as it is. If we look for hard parallels between the redemptive themes in Lord of the Rings and the Biblical story of redemption in Christ, we will be frustrated. Some might think that the lack of a one to one correspondence between Christ and Frodo, for example, means that it is a mistake to make any connection at all. But there is no problem here. Lord the Rings doesn’t claim to be a telling of the gospel story. But we do see particular redemptive themes strung throughout the story.
The people of Middle Earth needed Frodo, a substitute to carry the burden of evil that they could not, and destroy that evil. The people of Middle Earth needed Gandolf, a resurrected Lord, who defeats all his enemies according to his promises. And the people of Middle Earth need a returning king like Aragorn who will rule them, reign over them, and restore their fortunes.
Each of these victors get at something of what role Christ plays in God’s story of redemption revealed in Scripture. Christ is our Suffering Servant, he is our Resurrected Lord and he is our Returning King.
As the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are that community of people who recognize this Christ, who accept his substitutionary death for sin in our place, who trust his resurrection for the defeat of the enemy of death, and who submit happily and humbly to his righteous rule. Here, among these people, it is to be on earth as it is in heaven. So it is our prayer as the people of God. One day our King’s rule will be consummated, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There are other marvelous take aways. I appreciate the richness of male friendship that colors numerous relationships in the story. Genuine expressions of male partnership, camaraderie and even affection are natural and meaningful. With the changing landscape of sexual morality in our day, like gender relationships will grow increasingly complicated.
I also appreciate the unapologetic and pronounced distinctions of gender. Women are strong, but in a way that complements their femininity. They are beautiful and gentle. They are resourceful and supportive. Men are sensitive, but in a way that complements their masculinity. They are leaders and protectors. They are serious and valiant.
Finally, it’s just a good story told well. Jackson mastered his medium and we are all grateful for this work of art.
If it’s been over a year, watch it again. That’s a good way to spend the time that has been given to you.