Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tolkien Month Part 1: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

     Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the final five-week series of “Reel Christianity” which I am calling “Tolkien Month”. We’ll be looking at five movies based on the works on J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”. Originally, I planned to do this series because “The Hobbit” was supposed to be in two parts, not three, and so I could cover both sagas in five weeks. But then Peter Jackson had to go make his new saga a trilogy, so that didn’t really work. But hey, when the third “Hobbit” movie comes out next year, maybe this will encourage you to think for yourself what character is most like Christ.

     That’s the whole point of “Tolkien Month”: I’ve noticed in the films based on “LOTR” and “The Hobbit” that there are many characters who have to face challenges, withstand temptations, or sacrifice themselves in the way that Christ did during his time on Earth. So as we close “Reel Christianity” with this series, I hope that you will be encouraged as we look into these films more closely and see how these films (and Tolkien’s books, for that matter) relate to our faith.

     In “The Fellowship of the Ring”, we hear the back-story of this ring of power that has been lost and found throughout the centuries, eventually landing in the hands of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). His nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his friends Samwise (or Sam) Gamgee (Sean Astin), Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), and Peregrin “Pippin” Took (Billy Boyd) are all very content in their lovely home in the Shire, and they are even happier at the arrival of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), a wizard who has led Bilbo on many journeys in the past.

     One night, as Bilbo celebrates his 111th birthday, he uses the ring of power to disappear, fooling his guests and leaving the Shire secretly to embark on a new life. He reluctantly leaves the ring for Frodo, and Gandalf does some investigating. When he realizes that this is the ring of power, and its creator Sauron is looking for it and willing to kill anyone and everyone in his path to get it back, Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring must leave the Shire and go back to the elves of Rivendell who can further decide how to destroy the ring.

     Sam, Merry, and Pippin end up joining Frodo on his journey, as Gandalf meanwhile goes to talk with his wizard friend Saruman (Christopher Lee) who has been bewitched by Sauron’s power, and the two men fight. Gandalf ends up getting away, but not before Frodo and his friends are attacked by large Orcs, or servants of Sauron. They are saved by a mysterious man in black known as Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who takes them to Rivendell with the help of his beloved Arwen (Liv Tyler).

     The Hobbits eventually get to Rivendell, not without injury, and the Elvish Council led by Arwen’s father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) determines that the ring can only be destroyed if it is taken to the fire from which it was created, to the land of Mordor on Mount Doom. Frodo ends up being the first one to volunteer to take the ring to Mount Doom, and he is followed by Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, an elf named Legolas (Orlando Bloom), a dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and a man named Boromir (Sean Bean).

     In my opinion, this is where the comparisons to Christ really start happening. Frodo, through this whole journey, has been taking so many risks and getting out of his comfort zone. This is the pinnacle of those decisions. He has come this far, but now he has so much farther to go in order to destroy this ring, which is no easy task but needs to be done. After all, Boromir says, “One does not simply walk into Mordor. There is evil there that does not sleep.” But as the council argues about what should be done, Frodo simply says: “I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor.”

     It’s like how Christ had to decide to finally take up his cross at the end of his life. As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he cried earnestly to God to “let this cup pass” from him—“yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And he lets himself go through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection. It hurts, but it’s worth it. That’s the kind of decision that Frodo makes here, and it’s awesome.

     However, Frodo’s not the only one I see in this film that is dealing with these decisions. There is another character that, though he struggles a little more, ends up surrendering to something bigger than his desires. That is Boromir, who near the end of the film (after Gandalf has sacrificed himself—I’ll get into that in the next article), approaches Frodo and offers to take the Ring himself. Frodo, who himself is struggling with his reasoning for keeping the Ring, is very hesitant to offer it to Boromir, and Boromir ends up nearly killing Frodo over it. Almost immediately, he feels remorse, but he is too late—the battle over the Ring has let Orcs know where the Fellowship is.

     As this final battle is happening, Frodo and Sam escape on their own, and Aragorn and the others lead an attack on the Orcs, which results in Boromir sacrificing his own life. The Orcs are driven away (capturing Merry and Pippin), but as Boromir is dying, he and Aragorn exchange final words.

ARAGORN: I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I swear to you I will not let the White City fall, nor our people fail.

BOROMIR: Our people, our people. I would have would have followed you, my brother... my captain... my king.

ARAGORN: Be at peace, Son of Gondor.

     And Boromir dies, having redeemed himself for this great cause. It almost reminds me of when Peter disowns Jesus in the Gospels, but then after Jesus’ resurrection, he “reinstates” Peter. In John 21, Peter tells Jesus: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (21:17b) Jesus responds by telling Peter that in the future, he will die for the cause of Christ. Again, it’s a tough thing to face, but Peter and all of us as Christ’s followers have to remember that it’s all worth it in the end.

     I’ll continue looking at these Tolkien films next week, but I would like to leave you with this verse that sums up this idea of becoming more like Christ: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2) Have a great week, friends!

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