I am awed and amazed at scripture--how God can weave the themes of redemption and promise, of hope and truth through them. I am astonished as I see again and again the rich complexity of the Bible, how the same story of the Gospel is revealed again and again in story after story, right from the beginning.
I am also astonished when I see this happen in literature apart from the Bible. I have very dear friends who have a wonderful family tradition. Each holiday, they have a favorite series of movies that they watch over that holiday. They only watch them at this time of year, so that their favorites, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Star Wars saga, and so on, are guaranteed to be watched annually, but are never "worn out" by overviewing. Their kids, ranging from ages two to twelve, wait for these movies each year like some kids wait for Santa Claus.
Over Thanksgiving week I watched part of The Lord of the Rings with them. I have to admit, we've watched itnumerous times in my house, but usually I'm beat and I doze through it. This time, I have watched most of it--the extended addition with all the scenes deleted in the theaters, and I've been amazed again at the biblical themes in it. There are so many quotes and concepts that mirror those in scripture, that it also amazes me that Tolkein and Peter Jackson (who directed and helped write the movie version) didn't necessarily intend to present.
I am reading a book by Peter Leithart called A House for My Name, which is a survey of the Old Testament to be read aloud with your family, but it's not just kid's stuff. In it he has shown how the concept of east and west were symbolic of God's will. When men in scripture moved east, they were generally moving away from God's will. When they moved west they were moving into it. In Tolkein's story, Mordor was in the east, and was they heart of all that was evil and desired to conquer and destroy the world. Those fighting him were from the west, fighting for all that was good and decent and right. Coincidence? I think not, since I believe that God is sovreign, alive and active and influencing even literature.
Many of my favorite quotes from LOTR also capture the Gospel story:
Frodo: I cannot do this alone.
Galadriel: You are a Ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone. [pulls out her hand]
Galadriel: This is Nenya, the Ring of Adament. And I am it's keeper. This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.
Frodo: I know what I must do, it's just that... I'm afraid to do it.
Galadriel: Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
Sam: I made a promise, Mr Frodo— promise. "Don't you leave him Samwise Gamgee." And I don't mean to. I don't mean to.
Galadriel: The power of the enemy is growing. Sauron will use his puppet Saruman to destroy the people of Rohan. Isengard has been unleashed. The Eye of Sauron now turns to Gondor, the last free kingdom of men. His war on this country will come swiftly. He senses the Ring is close. The strength of the Ringbearer is failing. In his heart, Frodo begins to understand. The quest will claim his life. You know this. You have foreseen it. It is the risk we all took. In the gathering dark, the will of the Ring grows strong. It works hard now to find its way back into the hands of men—men, who are so easily seduced by its power. The young captain of Gondor has butto extend his hand, take the Ring for his own and the world will fall. It is close now, so close to achieving its goal. For Sauron will have dominion over all life on this Earth, even unto the ending of the world. The time of the elves is over. Do we leave Middle-Earth to its fate? Do we let them stand alone?
Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
Sam: [about the ring on the slopes of Mount Doom] Then let us be rid of it... once and for all... Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you! Come on!
Eowyn: The city has fallen silent. There is no warmth left in the sun.
Faramir: [approaching her] It is only the damp of the first spring rain. [Eowyn looks up at him]
Faramir: I do not believe this darkness will endure.
Aragorn: Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!*
Aragorn: [to the four small hobbits as they bow to the newly crowned king] My friends, you bow to no one. [The whole kingdom, including the king, bow to the hobbits that saved Middle Earth.]
Frodo: [voiceover] And thus it was. A fourth age of middle-earth began. And the fellowship of the ring... though eternally bound by friendship and love... was ended. Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey... we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on... when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are somethings that time cannot mend... some hurts that go too deep... that have taken hold. Bilbo once told me his part in this tale would end... that each of us must come and go in the telling. Bilbo's story was now over. There would be no more journeys for him... save one. My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.