Finding God in the Lord of the Rings

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Recently named the number-one piece of twentieth century literature, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is more than a great story. It's a much-needed reminder that, like J. R. R. Tolkien's hobbits, we Christians are all on an epic quest. In examining the Christian themes in the trilogy, authors Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware find that truth and fiction are not as far apart as they seem. And that although Tolkien never intended for these books to present the gospel, when read in the light of Scripture they offer a rich ...
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Overview

Recently named the number-one piece of twentieth century literature, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is more than a great story. It's a much-needed reminder that, like J. R. R. Tolkien's hobbits, we Christians are all on an epic quest. In examining the Christian themes in the trilogy, authors Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware find that truth and fiction are not as far apart as they seem. And that although Tolkien never intended for these books to present the gospel, when read in the light of Scripture they offer a rich tapestry of redemption, values, and faith against all odds from which we may learn much.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780842385558
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 125
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Finding God in the Lord of the Rings


By Kurt Bruner Jim Ware

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2001 Kurt Bruner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8423-8555-X


Chapter One

The world was fair, the mountains tall In Elder Days before the fall. (Gimli's song-Book II, Chapter 4)

There is a deep yearning among the Fellowship of the Ring, an unspoken longing for something long lost. None have known it in their lifetimes. Few can recite the tales of its splendor. But all desire its discovery and hope to play a part in its restoration.

Throughout their adventure, characters from Bilbo to Treebeard recite verses of what they sense is an epic tale being told, a tale in which their lives somehow play a part. Each song seems to be merely a fragment of a majestic symphony being written and conducted by an all-knowing composer. But, as the chorus of Gimli reveals, something is wrong. Part of the harmony isn't right, like a dissonant chord invading the sweet melody of life, refusing resolution.

Middle-earth is in its third age as the adventures of the Fellowship begin. There is considerable history to this world, as revealed in the legends of Elder Days. Elves, dwarves, men, and hobbits alike know that theirs is a story that predates the present scene, preserved and passed in tales of ancient lore. Gimli's chorus tells of life "before the fall" when the beloved homeland of his dwarf ancestors was full of splendor and light, not dark and foreboding as they find it now. Gimli's heart pines for glories long past when his people knew better days, before the fall of their blessed domain. A yearning heart is fitting. The wise know that before time was counted a rebellion occurred that brought evil into their world and introduced discord to the music of life. This rebellion was the driving force behind the song of the Dark Lord now heard in the march of orcs and the movements of the Black Riders. Awakened by the diminished sounds of beauty, honor, and goodness stubbornly pushing their way through the noisy clatter of evil, the inhabitants of Middle-earth hope for the day when all will again be set right.

You and I, like Gimli and others of Tolkien's world, long for better days. We somehow know that our world is less than it was made to be. And we hope that it will one day be set right again. In short, we yearn for the goodness that was "before the fall."

Why do we find it so difficult to accept the world as it is? Are we merely discontent, or is something more profound at work in our hearts? C. S. Lewis believed that our desire for something better is a gift, a way of reminding us of what it is we lost and what it is we hope to regain. "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists," Lewis explains. "A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

What is the real thing our yearnings suggest? Put simply, it is goodness. We desire the kind of all-consuming goodness that we've never known but that once existed and will someday be restored.

We live in a broken world. Death, pain, sickness, and suffering were not part of life's original melody. These dissonant chords were first introduced when our race took the bait of temptation and fell from its former glory. Once upon a time, mankind was offered a choice. We could sing the good song of the great composer or follow the opposing melody of his enemy. We chose the latter. And when we rejected the good that God is, we embraced the bad that he isn't.

Evil entered Tolkien's world before the dawn of time. That story, told in the opening pages of The Silmarillion, sets the stage for choices later made by those who would inhabit Middle-earth. It starts with Ilúvatar, maker of all that would be. His first creations were Ainur, angelic beings described as "the offspring of his thought." To each Ainur, Ilúvatar assigned themes of music that would be sung for his honor and pleasure.

Then Ilúvatar said to them: "Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music ... ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song."

The beauty of their music is that for which all creation yearns. It is the original chorus which "the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy" as revealed to a suffering Job (Job 38:7). It is the true melody, the "good" that once was. It is the world as it was intended before the birth of evil. The story continues:

But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.

Sadly, the sound of Melkor's evil theme increased as some "began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first."

Seldom have more graceful words been penned to reflect a Christian understanding of Satan's revolt and its eventual impact upon God's creation. Tolkien's world, like ours, knows the dissonance of an opposing melody. It knows the insatiable appetite of a rebellion that seeks to destroy the good that should rightfully rule.

Tolkien saw our world as neither completely right nor completely wrong, but rather as a good that has been violated, a beauty marred. He realized that the only way we can understand that which occurs within time is to view it within the context of that which occurred before and beyond time.

Though our world is broken, there is good news. It will not always be so. The story of history, like that of Middle-earth, is progressing toward eventual redemption. Even that which seeks to undermine good will one day play a part in its restoration. As Ilúvatar foretold,

And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

And so Ilúvatar, after the pattern of the biblical Jehovah, produces a drama performed in the theater of time. Its story will become the visible expression of the Ainur's chorus, including the song of a simple hobbit and the discord of an evil rebel. And somehow, the former will resolve the latter.

Reflection Our hearts yearn for the good that God is.

SMALL TALE

"I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days." (Bilbo to Gandalf-Book I, Chapter 1)

It was time. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End needed to leave the Shire. But it wasn't his style to slip away unnoticed under cover of darkness. After all, Bilbo was famous in these parts. A quiet departure just wouldn't do. A party was the thing, a celebration of Bilbo's life on the eve of his disappearance. And what better occasion than his 111th birthday? So, invitations sent and accepted, Bilbo hosted the biggest gala ever seen among the simple folk of Hobbiton.

There was much to celebrate. After all, it was quite unusual for a hobbit to live such a long and healthy life as Bilbo Baggins had. For some mysterious reason, he hadn't seemed to age a day since turning fifty. Though time had left its unkind mark on everyone else, an unexplained youthful vigor had remained with Bilbo ever since his return to Hobbiton. Perhaps the adventure of his younger days had brought with it more than mere wealth.

His quest had certainly given Bilbo Baggins a wonderful story to tell, a story he had been writing in his book. Whether many would ever read the book was of little concern to Bilbo. He simply felt the need to put it down so that future generations could know what happened to and through him. Sent off on a grand adventure at the bidding of Gandalf the wizard, Bilbo had acquired a magic ring. Though he didn't understand all of its powers, he knew that the ring was of great significance. When worn, it made him invisible, a very useful trick when fighting giant spiders or freeing jailed warriors. And it would be useful again as Bilbo planned to vanish from the Shire in style. Which he does, literally. At the end of his speech thanking those in attendance and bidding them good-bye, Bilbo Baggins disappears. He slips the magic ring on his finger and simply vanishes. He quite enjoys the trick and the animated talk it inspires.

With the fun over and Gandalf present to advise and guide, Bilbo knows that the final pages of his chapter are being turned. After he entrusts the Baggins fortune and magic ring to the keeping of his young nephew Frodo, it's time to leave.

He looks forward to the time he might now have to complete his book, a tale that Bilbo hopes will go on "happily ever after to the end of his days." But there's no way to know. Past adventures have taught him that the scenes of his life are serving a much bigger story than his could ever express. And while Bilbo may be the star of his tale, he is not its author.

Once upon a time, we understood our lives to be part of a grand story being written by the divine author of history. But a dark yearning for autonomy and a nihilistic nudge from Nietzsche pushed us over the edge of sanity. God, the omniscient playwright, was declared dead. Now no one knows the plot to the epic drama in which we find ourselves, leaving us with competing small stories but no overarching narrative that frames and explains the seemingly random experiences of life.

Let's face it, we all wish we could write the scenes of our own stories. Like Bilbo Baggins, we want them to read "and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days." But deep down we know that we are not the authors of the events that shape our lives. Bilbo did not seek, and only reluctantly accepted, the invitation to adventure that launched his extraordinary tale of risk and reward. As Gandalf expressed to Bilbo in the closing conversation of The Hobbit, his quest had been orchestrated by another for a greater purpose.

Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Bilbo's adventure was part of a much bigger story that began long before his first breath and would continue well beyond his last. This realization elevated rather than minimized the importance of his part. But this could only happen if Mr. Baggins was honest and humble enough to embrace an important truth: that the big part he played in his small story was only a small part in the big story.

"My tongue is the pen of a skillful writer," writes the psalmist in Psalm 45:1, beautifully expressing a reality Bilbo learned and we would do well to recover. Bilbo knew he was not the author but the instrument. The pen does not become arrogant or proud over what is written on the page. It is honored to have played any part at all in the creative act. It is when we struggle to take control and resist the author's intentions that we mar the story being told. Pride is not satisfied with anything less than the starring role. It grasps for more, seeking to write its own tale. But the humble heart has a very different view of life. It considers the warning "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6, NKJV).

It heeds the admonition "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand...."

And it reaps the benefits: "... that he may lift you up in due time" (1 Peter 5:6).

So, for hobbit and human alike, recognizing that our small stories serve a much larger purpose can turn ordinary details of the daily grind into scenes of an extraordinary adventure! And what better way for your "once upon a time" to discover its ultimate "happily ever after"?

Reflection

The scenes of your life serve a story much bigger than your own.

THE CALL

"This ring! ... How, how on earth did it come to me?" (Frodo to Gandalf-Book I, Chapter 2)

It had happened in just this same way to his uncle Bilbo, Frodo reflected. Well, perhaps not exactly the same way; but the similarities were striking. He had heard the story many times from the old hobbit himself: Bilbo had been standing outside the round green door to his hobbit hole one fine morning, contentedly smoking a pipe and minding his own business, when along came Gandalf. The result? Staid, stolid, stay-at-home Bilbo had ended up doing unthinkable things, things that no sensible, respectable Baggins would ever have dreamed of doing. A Took, perhaps. But a Baggins? Never.

And now this same Gandalf was back at Bag End again. Sitting there before the fire in Frodo's study, puffing out smoke rings, watching him out of thin-slitted, heavy-lidded, bushy-browed eyes, waiting. Waiting for Frodo's answer.

Frodo fingered the Ring where it lay in his pocket on the end of its chain. It felt heavy, heavier than a small ring of gold had any right to be. Far heavier than it had felt just half an hour earlier. He stared into the fire's dying embers and shivered, thinking over everything Gandalf had just told him about this terrible ring. The One Ring. The Ring of Power. Long believed lost, now earnestly and desperately sought by its maker, the dreaded Dark Lord. The Ring that threatened to overpower everyone and everything, to change Middle-earth forever. The Ring that had somehow landed in Frodo's pocket.

There is only one way, he heard Gandalf saying again. One way to save the Shire. One way to destroy the Ring before Sauron can seize it and use it for his own ends: Frodo must find Mount Orodruin in the dark land of Mordor and cast the cursed thing into the Cracks of Doom. And how was he-a simple hobbit of the Shire-supposed to do that?

Not that Frodo was a stay-at-home.

Continues...


Excerpted from Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner Jim Ware Copyright ©2001 by Kurt Bruner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2006

    GREAT!!!!

    I loved this book. I have had debates with friends about how Harry Potter is not Christian, and then they ask why, I say one of the reasons is because of the wizardry and witchcraft, then they say stuff like 'But you're a Lord of the Rings fanatic! The Lord of the Rings has wizardry in it!' I never really knew how to respond to that, but this book has taught me how. Tolkien had a little bit of Jesus in all the good characters. Think about it-- Gandalf died for the rest of the Fellowship, then came back to life. Didn't Jesus do the same? I could go on forever listing all the similarities characters in Lord of the Rings have with Jesus, and other people in the Bible. This is a quote that J.R.R. Tolkien said: 'God is the Lord, of angels, and of men--and of elves.' It is so obvious that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was making some of his characters like people in the Bible. This book made me love The Lord of the Rings even more, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is a Christian and likes The Lord of the Rings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2003

    An Awesome Book!

    Finding God in the Lord of the Rings is an awesome book! I read it last year and loved it. I learned so much from this book. Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware are awesome authors! This book rocks!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2004

    Evils of Fiction?

    Why must Christians always need to find 'God' in everything? Tolkien, I think, might be insulted had this book been released wile he was alive, he has indeed told us again and again that there was, to simply put it, nothing underlying in his works, except perhaps the principles that he, and in turn his characters, felt strongly about, which need not be religiously based for I, and atheist, hold many the same beliefs that I personally took away from these volumes. Including the evils of reckless expansion of industry and its effects on nature. Those Christians who believe all fantasy material to be evil must find their lives rather unsatisfying, for imagination is inherent in every human, and imagination IS fantasy, which should be encouraged instead of suppressed. You needn't know word-for-word the bible to come up with the concept used for David and his kingly destiny. Aragorn knew very well his right, in contrast to David who did not. And neither does the tool that was Gollum, lent to Frodo and his effort, relate in any direct form to Christianity. Those with their own minds, who can understand literature without the guidance of an earlier work of historical fiction (in reference to the bible) are the ones who will enjoy the 'Lord of the Rings'the others will undoubtedly be tainted by the influence that their religion and fear of the wrath of their... 'merciful' lord God.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2003

    lookit here

    ok first of all anything that denounces the lord of the rings is evil- its FANTASY HELLO!!! LIKE THE WORLD DOESNT HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS WITHOUT PARANOID IDJUTS PRATTLING AROUND COMPLAINING ABOUT FANTASY BOOKS!!!!!! puh-leez!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2003

    Listen Here now then

    Tolkien admitted again and again that his books were never meant to be analogous, responding many times to the idea that the darks forces represented Germany in the two world wars and the 'simple folk' of the northwest were said to be british ;) This symbolism is to vague, if you want to find God in the Lord of the Rings, go ahead but it's just a story and not meant to be something analogous like many of C.S. Lewis' fiction writings or something.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2002

    Probably not for Tolkien fans

    I would agree with those who have commented that this book reads more like a devotional. The number of 'factual' errors in recreating scenes from The Lord of the Rings may be irritating to some Tolkien fans, but the authors provide some valid and interesting insight into godly principles that are found threaded through Tolkien's works (they refer also to The Silmarillion and to other material). The book really seems to be designed as an apologetic of Tolkien's work for Christians who are concerned about the influence of compelling fantasy, and in that context, it may succeed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2001

    Finding God helpful, esp. for those seeking Him

    Bruner and Ware write an easy to read book, which could also double as a short 3 week devotion as each chapter ends in a one sentence reflection. The authors use accounts of some strong statements and images from Tolkien's saga to combine them with scripture and theology (not too heavy for the average layperson) in order to make connections between the world of men and the world of elves. A good, quick, easy and enjoyable read. (Note: the epilogue might be a little different for those who are not as 'artsy' as some.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2010

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    Posted January 8, 2010

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