Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien Reflection
Reading the Lord of the Rings was indescribably amazing for many reasons. The books are incredibly awe-inspiring (in how whole worlds are revealed to you for example), encaptivating (once you get used to the abundant description provided) and magical. One thing that stood out in the story was how much of a span of time is brought to your knowledge. This is a truly epic story Tolkien is trying to tell. The interesting thing is that the story told in these books are only a miniscule part of the larger story of good and evil. We are also involved in this same setup (our lives being a tiny but important part of God's larger story), but we often fail to see this because we are focused on our various anxieties and projects. One instance in which that is illustrated is when the fellowship is traveling in the mountains (Moria). The narrator talks about how the tunnels under the mountains had been gnawed out by creatures that were older than many things. The books are also rich in story and very meaningful themes. To summarize them all here would be absolutely insane and somewhat pointless, so I will talk about some moments that stood out in the book-to give you a taste of the book and my experience of it.
One moment in the book that sticks out is with Tom Bombadil. He is this character in a forest who isn't terribly involved in the world but was there before it all began. He's sort of a character that embodies the world but is set apart from it because he sort of lives in another dimension than Frodo does. The evil trees in his forest fear him and will obey him-and he is fearless. He is kind of like a character that resembles God to some extent because of his disconnectedness from our flesh side, and uses poetry and metaphors galore to portray his thoughts. A lot of characters in Lord of the Rings resemble God in parts of themselves. For instance, Gandalf resembles Christ a lot in how he is incredibly wise and how it would be foolish not to heed his guidance. Frodo and Sam reflect Jesus in how they're incredibly self-sacrificing in their quest of the Ring-being forced to put aside all of their personal impulses for God's purpose.
Sam and Frodo are despairing and almost hopeless a lot of the time in their quest to destroy the Ring - kind of like Jesus probably was with his upcoming crucifixion to some extent. Also there's a part in which Sam (after arguing with himself Gollum style, with him being tempted to opt out of his mission with Frodo) sets his face towards Mount Doom (symbolically like Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem) and chooses to ignore all the arguments he would be prompted with because they would all end up in despair. It's like a lead us not into temptation action that's really strong in the book. Finally, after the ring is destroyed Gandalf and the hobbits have a really good laugh- it's a very celebratory, banquet image.
The two last chapters are pretty wild. When the hobbits return home from their adventure, they are met with a suspicious Shire that has been overtaken by Saruman the evil wizard. One thing that stuck out for me was how Frodo in expelling the decrepit Sarumon from the Shire didn't want to kill him because although the hobbits couldn't see the good in him, maybe sometime in the future it would be brought to the light. Frodo's response to Saruman is very in tune with God's purposes because that's what God does with us- even when we seem beyond hopeless he keeps presenting us with doors to his Kingdom (as Gandalf does numerous times with Sarumon and as Frodo does in this instance). The theme of having compassion on people is important in the book because we do not know the consequences of our actions. In the mines of Moria, Gandalf mentions that it was good that Bilbo had pity on Gollum because he might have some part to play in the drama after all. And in fact Gollum does play a crucial part when Frodo can not manage to give away the ring. Here is that quote: "It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance.";
"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.";
Another cool thing is that when Gandalf leaves the hobbits to go to the Shire by themselves, he claims that they've grown up and are qualified to deal with things there on there own. Gandalf trusts that they've matured enough to be reliant on their selves instead of him (or more accurately but not said in the book, directly reliant on God). It's kind of like us not depending on Paul for support all the time-we're called to listen to God more and become independent in a sense-but more like moreso dependent upon God for his support. As we become more spiritually mature, we can be attached to God more without a mediator. It's hard and we feel pretty insecure most of the time, but it strengthens our faith I think.
After the Shire is pretty well restored, it comes to Frodo's attention that it is his time to leave now. The hell that wounded him in a fashion that will never really heal. It's funny because in the trials they experience on their quest, all the hobbits (except Frodo kind of) always are longing to be back in the comforts of the Shire with it's beautiful gardens and such. When they get back, it's full of evil - and eventually it turns out that Frodo is being called to leave across the ocean--out of Middle-Earth. So after the few years of being in the Shire him and Sam (and Merry and Pippin stealthily) meet up with Gandalf and a few others and leave across the ocean. The reason that Frodo does this concerns his possession of the ring, but it's shrouded in mystery -and you're left indefinitely wondering what happens (other than a few tidbits you can gleam from the mounds of Lord of the Rings history books)! JRR Tolkien strongly believed in the importance of mystery, so even though it's hard and initially unsatisfying to read this ending, ultimately it's probably more helpful to have the mystery than not to. Part of what is going on for Frodo is that he has been wounded by his journey with the ring. When it came down to it, he didn't have the courage and strength to do what he set out to do ie. throw away the ring. As Frodo continued to live he reflected on this failure and felt guilty about that. Tolkien wrote to a fan to say that Frodo also continued to feel desire for the Ring and a regret at it's destruction. The journey changed him profoundly and he found that he could never go home again. This talks about how when we go on the spiritual journey things change for us and it might not be possible to go back to an easier time when we didn't know so much about our own good and evil. It's an end of innocence.
The reason I say that mystery is important is because with knowing exactly what happened at the end makes you feel good because the story is finished. With a more ambiguous ending, you're left wondering what happens afterwards-as you ponder it it becomes more and more a part of you're life. You start to see your life through the larger story that Lord of the Rings presents-kind of like Scripture. What's good about seeing your life through a larger story is that it gets us more out of our own narrow way of thinking-our selfish stories centered around ourselves. For example, if you have been given something to do that's hard but for the greater good-you can think that you are like Frodo carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom for the redemption of Middle-Earth instead of viewing it as a stinky thing you have to do. The idea of God calling you to do something for him is pretty important.
Another really good theme is how Tolkien brings about the redemption of Middle-Earth ultimately through hobbits (including Smeagol). It's like this verse:
“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are," 1Corinthians 1:28
The small and seemingly unimportant characters (like us in our world) have seemingly small parts to play which seem insignificant, but small acts of compassion and acts of doing the right thing that the insignificant make can turn out to be more history-changing changing than the big decisions in councils.
But wow, the whole series is good and just so full of themes. It's so rich! I'm very thankful that I read it, and if you have some perseverance it might just hook you.