Christianity and Middle-Earth

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Is LotR a Christian Tale? (continued)

Continued from Part One

In the Silmarillion, Tolkien’s mythology of Middle-Earth, the creation story tells us that in the beginning, Eru (God) creates powerful spirit beings called the Ainur.

A simplified comparison of these beings to spirits in the Bible runs thus (these are generalizations – I am neither a theologian nor a Tolkien scholar): the Ainur can be divided into two categories – the Valar and the Maiar. The Valar are equivalent to high-ranking archangels or seraphim and cherubim, the Maiar to the lesser or lower-ranking archangels.

These beings are created holy. They are not demons or spooks or hobgoblins.

But like the angelic creation familiar to Christians from the Bible, they have free will. Therefore, holy though they may have been at their beginnings, they are allowed by Eru to become evil if that is their choice.

The mightiest of these is Melkor, and is clearly modeled on Lucifer: good at first, as Eru created him, but soon turning to pride and the admiration of his own wisdom. Eru’s ideas don’t suit Melkor and so he taints the forming world with his newly-hatched conviction that things should go the way he prefers. Ultimately, as Lucifer became Satan, Melkor becomes Morgoth – “Black Enemy." The Valar and Maiar must oversee the newborn world while coping with Melkor/Morgoth’s mischief as best they can, for the damage to Middle-Earth is permanent.

Morgoth craves power and he doesn’t care who he destroys or corrupts to get it. And just as with Lucifer and his rebellious angels, Eru/God permits Morgoth to work his evils until ultimately they take so ugly a turn that he is cast into the Void and Middle-Earth is relieved of his presence.

But this is not the end of it. Morgoth has corrupted some among the Maiar to his ways and the power of his will still haunts the world. His prize pupil Sauron is quite happy to take up where his master left off, and so Middle-Earth is periodically beset with tragedy and ruin.

The garden-variety angels of Middle-Earth are the Elves. Elves have a degree of immortality and some capabilities that can be thought of as magic, but are actually simply innate powers granted to them by Eru himself. Men are not given these gifts, just as we are not given the powers that angels have.

The abilities that Melkor and Sauron have are the powers that God gave them, too, but in echo of Lucifer and the third part of the ‘stars of heaven,' they turn those powers to the darkness and depravity of their own barren willfulness.

~~~


At the time of the story told in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s power is mostly contained in the One Ring, a Ring of his own making into which he has put most of his considerable supernatural power. The Ring is wholly evil, but fortunately for Middle-Earth, it was taken from Sauron in battle millennia ago, leaving him much weakened. He’s still capable of seducing Men to wickedness, but his strength is nothing approaching what it will become if he recovers the Ring. And he’s hunting for it.

Against this peril comes a small and innocent creature named Frodo; a descendent of the last king of Gondor, Aragorn son of Arathorn; and a wizard named Gandalf.

Gandalf – the wizard – is one of the righteous Maiar. He is faithful to Eru and all that Eru wills and his existence is spent in the service of heaven.

Tolkien could have called the Maiar anything: for instance, he could have called them angels or he could have called them Magi, familar to us from the Wise Men of Scripture and a title derived from the same ancient root as the word 'magic.' His selection of the word ‘wizard’ to describe Gandalf doesn’t turn Gandalf from a servant of Heaven into a servant of Hell. According to Tolkien's own words, Gandalf is a servant of the Secret Fire, which Tolkien also himself said is the Holy Spirit.

And, yes, Gandalf possesses the traditional staff of a wise man or ‘wizard,' but so did Aaron, the brother of Moses. The power that Gandalf wields through his staff is – as is Elven ‘magic’ - a holy power originating with Eru himself. Having a staff per say no more makes Gandalf evil than did it Aaron when he used his staff at God’s bidding against the magicians of ancient Egypt. (Exodus 7:8-24, Exodus 8:5-7)

There are many manifestations of the supernatural in LotR; the same is true of the Old and New Testaments.

Not all supernatural manifestations or incidents in LotR are of Sauron, any more than are Bibical miracles workings of Satan. Angels have appeared to men, as happened to the prophets and Mary and the apostles - clear manifestations of holiness – and sometimes, they came disguised as mortals. (Hebrews 13:2)

The reason that scripture tells us to avoid sorcery and witchcraft is not because supernatural power is inherently evil. It’s because God hasn’t granted to us – mankind – any such powers. Angels do have powers that we see as supernatural – though no doubt the angels themselves think their powers rather commonplace and perfectly natural for the dimension they inhabit.

But in our dimension, the only way we humans can tap the supernatural is through either the Divine Power - through prayer and miracles - or through the darkened power of Satan/Sauron. We are told to seek the former and shun the latter.

If we try to take supernatural powers for ourselves, we will end up subject to Satan, to the aforementioned principalities and powers. If we turn to Jesus Christ for supernatural help, which is what we do every time we pray, miracles can happen. (John 14:12 “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do…”)

The power that Sauron would wield through the Ring is a perversion, just as is the power that Satan/Lucifer still has. Like Satan’s, neither Sauron’s 'magic’ nor that of Melkor was evil in the beginning; they darkened and twisted their divinely-granted gifts of their own free will, corrupting their inherent ‘magical’ capacities to glorify themselves instead of Eru and to attempt to take to themselves the absolute mastery that they desired.

Some have objected to the “Paths of the Dead” sequence in LotR (in which Aragorn demands the allegiance of an army of ghosts) because they see it as a form of necromancy. I have two arguments against this.

The first is that Tolkien always treats necromancy as evil and something that is forbidden. For instance, one of Sauron’s titles is “The Necromancer.” It is he who enslaved and controls the Ringwraiths, the Nazgul, who were once kings of men.

Secondly, Aragorn doesn’t “call up” the Dead in any occultic sense; rather, he invades their territory, a place where they already have dominion. Any other mortal venturing there dies. Only Aragorn – the Heir of Elendil and Isildur, the Returning King – has the power to command these ghosts. In a sense, he is performing an exorcism, ridding a mountain pass of the spirits that haunt it with their restless malice.

Aragorn is a type of Christ. All power in heaven and earth is given to Christ: he alone among men has the authority to command angels, demons or the souls of other men. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” Now, granted, that scripture is referring to a resurrection to life, but the principle is the same. Why should it be thought a thing offensive to us that a character symbolic of Christ has the authority to compel the dead to do his will?

 

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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Is LotR a Christian Tale?

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord…”

Gandalf is called a wizard, Galadriel is called a witch, the Elves use magic, Aragorn summons the Dead, and Middle-Earth is full of demons. And the New Agers have taken Tolkien to their muddled if earnest bosoms.

Pretty open-and-shut case, isn’t it?

I'll begin my defence of The Lord of the Rings as a profoundly Christian story by means of a short synopsis of the Bible.

~~~

The Mind and Power that inhabits Eternity long ago created intelligent beings we know from Scripture as angels. One of those was Lucifer, named as one of the cherubim, possibly an archangel. Somewhere in the long history of these beings, Lucifer rebelled and was cast down to earth along with about a third of the other angels (Isa. 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:12-17, Rev. 12:1-17).

When it was time, God created man, another intelligent form of life, able to imagine the Divine, but physically confined to an environment of earth and air. For his own reasons, God allowed the former Lucifer – Satan – to tempt and seduce man to evil in what we think of as the Fall, as a consequence of which man is fated to die. The only way for us to escape permanent death is to turn to God for mercy, said mercy being offered to us in the person of the Son, who was born into our world as a fragile human infant.

That Christ-child was in danger of his life from his birth, hence the flight into Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents. But he was born to die - to die for us to buy our lives back from Death. He accepted that fate and went willingly to the cross because he wanted mankind to live even at the cost of his own life.

Then, having suffered, died, and risen, he left - left us here on this earth to continue our living and dying without his physical presence. That was the end of Act I of the story God is writing in us.

Act II is yet to come. Act II is the Second Coming. The Son, having paid with his life for mankind, will come – when it is time - to reclaim his property, his kingdom, his throne.

(That throne is not new: it is a very old one that dates back to David. See The Lost King of Israel. )

Lucifer/Satan is, and has been from the beginning, doing his best to prevent this, and destroy mankind (Matt.24:22 “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved…”) but his fate at the return of Jesus Christ is described thus (Rev. 21:1-3): “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand, And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him…”

The redeeming king has come and mankind is saved from extinction. But that Coming hasn’t happened yet: we’re still in the middle of the story. Our enemies are the fallen angels who still hold office over this earth (Eph. 6:12): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Our friends are the angels who were faithful (Heb. 1:13-14): “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Our hero is the Son of God, who came once as a lamb for slaughtering and who will come again as a conquering king.

This story, from Genesis to Revelation, is precisely the story that The Lord of the Rings tells.

 

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar

Lacking the sort of mind that can read an argument contemptuous of Christianity and then quickly lay out a sharp, analytical defense, I must rely on commonsense and the poetic. No doubt this makes me an idiot in the eyes of many a smart-alecky online atheist, but these things must be endured.

The commonsense comes in with this simple contemplation: I exist.

Plus this: the stars and the planets and the light-years are.

I exist and you - whoever you are reading these remarks – you exist. The two of us and the rest of mankind inhabit time and space. Time and space have to be somewhere. So where are they? Is there just one universe? Two, three, infinite universes? (Despite all that an astrophysicist or astronomer might argue, infinite universes are highly unlikely. In fact, the idea would seem to me to be a contradiction to the basic laws of physics, however relative.) What’s beyond that one or more universes?

Will there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as Day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were tall as they?


Emily Dickinson might also have asked, “Is there an edge to the universe?”

Presumably it has one. It definitely had a beginning, despite any Mobius-strip theories to the contrary. But what was there before the universe started expanding in that there?

I’m supposed to believe that poof! one day, a subatomic particle just decided it was time to exist? (Though where it thought it was going to exist is rather mystifying. Not to mention when.) One particle isn’t enough, I don’t think, though my grasp of astrophysics is admittedly slight; it seems to me to require a great many subatomic particles to provide the mass necessary for the Big Bang to actually make enough of a Bang! to produce minor details such as stars and planets. (But then, as I said, I’m not an astrophysicist, so what do I know?)

But, Baillie, you moron, you can’t really believe that there’s some all-powerful “God” out there? That’s so Upper Paleolithic.

Well, it seems to me that we’ve got two choices. One, as noted above, is the secularist Poof! into existence of something out of nothing into nowhere. The other is that the subatomic particle went Poof! because Someone who inhabits eternity in a reality beyond our comprehension and even imagination made it go Poof! and lo and behold, there was Time and Space and Matter! Much smaller than a mustard seed and wanting considerable improvements, but perky and full of beans and eager for the excitements ahead.

That second choice is far-fetched, I agree. But as a scientist somewhere once said, it ain’t nearly as far-fetched as the alternative.

 

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Monday, October 25, 2004

In Beslan

I think I’ve figured out how to get the tenured and imperious elite in our courts, media and universities to swing over to Terri Schiavo’s side: just tell ‘em that embryonic stem cell research would make her rise from her bed and walk. Amen, sister!

(This subject may not seem to have anything to do with The Lord of the Rings, but I can assure you that it does. I’ll give you a hint: ”You have my sword!”)

But until we’ve got that little detail ironed out, those of us who are both disabled and so obstinate as to not want to be starved to death for the convenience of society will continue to wave our sword-sticks…er, canes at the Efficiency-mongers. And quote scripture.

“I was a-hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.”

Hence this essay:

~~~


In Beslan, mothers weep for their dead children.

Fathers weep, too, as do siblings and neighbors. But there is a grief in losing a child that I suspect no father, however much his love for his son or daughter, can truly comprehend: regardless of the width and breadth and depth of his care for his offspring, it was not he received life into his body, felt it grow and move and strengthen, carefully guarded beneath the beating of his own heart to hold it safe until one day, through pain and anguish and joy, life multiplied a thousand-fold was given back into the world.

I suspect also that this is such a powerful instinct – the intense maternal need to carry and protect and nourish a child and hold it cuddled and close and safe – that it is triggered in an adoptive mother in a way that is even fundamentally different from the experience of the adoptive father. My husband was adopted and I would not recommend that you get between my mother-in-law and her child.

In Beslan, unwary mothers sent their excited children off to the first day of school. Children usually are excited on the first day of school – new clothes, new crayons, new teacher, maybe new friends. Happy childhood things.

And then, because men slavering for power and willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to gain it, so that they can force their Mordor-version of utopia on the world, said, “Take them hostage”, suddenly those innocents were in hell. For days, they were terrified, brutalized, starved of food and drink, and then shot as they tried to escape.

Which one of those mothers would not have willingly changed places with her child?

In ancient Israel long ago, mothers wept for their dead children.

Their arms, mysteriously fashioned in just the right way to hold an infant safe and beloved against the nourishing breast and the reassuring familiarity of its mother’s heartbeat, were abruptly empty.

Because a man craved power above all things and those little lives were in his way.

When Christmas comes and you, mothers of America, are tucking presents into stockings and wide-awake children into bed, and the tinsel and glitter and excitement are on hold - til 5:00 a.m.if you’re lucky - perhaps the Nativity scene you so faithfully haul out of storage each year will catch your eye as you’re turning off the tree-lights to go to bed. Perhaps for a moment, you will be suddenly reminded of the whole point of the exercise, that 2000 years ago a weary young woman labored to bring a man child into the world.

And guess what?

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Which one of those mothers would not have willingly changed places with her child?

In Ramah was there a voice heard,
lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
and would not be comforted,
because they are not.


In America today, there is a mother weeping for her child because a man finds his disabled wife inconvenient.

That mother is willing to pay for and provide all needed care for her daughter, but that’s not good enough for him. For whatever reason, he wants his wife dead. And the courts – judges who crave omnipotence and omniscience so much that they put political expediency and theory before the concrete, desperate, frantic love of a mother for her child – are happy to oblige him. By starving her to death.

December 6th is the new execution date.

And if Terry Schiavo’s repellent husband succeeds in murdering her, I wonder if you, whoever you are, will remember in the middle of your brief Christmas musings on the Star over Bethlehem, that in America a woman weeps because you had things to do and errands to run and political opinions and your fixation on what you want and what you think you deserve, and so you couldn’t be bothered to help call down the fury of the citizenry on the heads of the self-righteous and power-mad judges who would leave a mother laden with a grief that cannot be comforted.

Because her child is not.

 

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Here, sir; but trouble her not, her wits are gone.

Christianity and Middle-Earth has been an active website for a year or so now, but this is my first post to its new incarnation as a weblog. Most of the former content is still here; just click on the links above. I have yet to finish Chapter 9 of Lord of the Peeps so I don't know why I'm making more work for myself, but the urge to hear myself talk apparently overrides what scraps of commonsense that have survived the marshmallows.

This is a blog about good and evil, the understanding of those concepts as laid out in the writings of the Hebrew prophets and the early Christians and how they fit - or rather, since the other way around is more accurate - how the Middle-Earth of JRR Tolkien’s creation fits with them and with the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, what others have called Romantic Theology.

It is a blog about the calling to the service of the Captain of our souls and the Master of our fates; and it is a blog about the lies of the Ring. The world threatens to darken into a Night as black as any that it has known and those lies are many and prosperous. But they are pretty well encapsulated in the great Lie, the sly falsehood that has ever deceived mankind:

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

The Lord of the Rings tells to us the eternal (from a human point of view) battle between Light and Shadow. Now it’s really no contest; God can spike Satan's guns any time he wishes, but apparently Satan hasn’t quite figured that out; and for whatever reasons, the story and the world that God has given us to live in is – as C.S. Lewis put it - “occupied territory.”

But this earth wasn’t created for angels, fallen or otherwise; it was created for man, whatever came before (a before that is very mysterious indeed). And the seers of Israel tell us that by the Son of man, the lies will be revealed for what they are and the earth set free from her long travail. The first defeat of Mordor was when Christ bore our sins unto death, his patient suffering a weapon the Enemy could neither comprehend nor stay. The second defeat is when the Son of man - and Son of God – reclaims his throne and becomes the High King he was born to be.

In Tolkien’s tale, Middle-Earth is threatened by the brutal totalitarian power of the Dark Lord Sauron. Prophecy offers a halfling and an heir of kings to become Middle-Earth’s hope for deliverance. Frodo is the halfling, the mild and gentle hobbit, the sacrificial lamb who forfeits the Middle-Earth he loves that others might have life. He must bear the Ring to the Fire so that it can be destroyed. Aragorn is the heir to a long-ago throne, the returning king. As an infant he was hidden away in order to guard his life, and he is called Estel- Hope.

Together they picture Jesus Christ. Not perfectly - this isn't allegory, after all. But whether JRRT intended it or not, and whether Peter Jackson intended it or not, the metaphor is clear, evident and unmistakable. And why shouldn’t it be? Despite the (limited) power that God has allowed the dark powers to retain, this world is ultimately God’s property, and his Light will neither be quenched nor diminished: it will blaze always bright against the starless Void - wherever, whenever and however he chooses that it should.

 

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