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"THE LORD OF THE RINGS" AND CHRISTIANITY

The screen version of the first and second part of the famous Tolkien's trilogy has burst the splash of interest to the famous English writer's heritage.

Since not all people who heard about this book have found time to read it let us remind in brief the contents of the work. This book describes one of historic episodes of fantastic "pre-historic world" inhabited by all variety of creatures - elves, wizards, humans, dwarves, hobbits, orcs etc. The Dark Lord - Sauron - is seeking to subjugate himself all the world, by casting it into chaos and violence, destroying all good and beautiful. He is waging a war but for the final victory he needs to get the magic ring kept by chance by hobbit Frodo. Frodo's aim is to prevent getting the ring into Sauron's or somebody else' hands (including himself) as in this case the new owner would also fall under the power of evil and become another Dark Lord. The only thing left is to penetrate into the very den of Sauron and throw the ring into the mouth of mountains (where it was once forged) - in order to destroy it forever.

The world can not be saved without the participation of the world itself - all creatures are involved into the battle but its result depends on success or non-success of Frodo's operation. He gets to the secret mountain together with his fellow-traveller Sam but can not endure the temptation any more, finally by happy coincidence the ring gets into the mouth of the mountain.

"The Lord of the Rings" turned out to be a considerable cultural event of 2nd half of 20th century both with its artistic value and influence on the minds of not a single young generation. It has not escaped the notice of the orthodox readers. Even when the book appeared disputes about its religious meaning arose, opinions were different, even opposite, and after the screenplay after the trilogy was released (1st part was released last spring and 2nd part - in January this year) these disputes came anew.

Taking this into account, by no means having any aspiration to have some new or final opinion in Tolkianity I would like to share some reflections on this book, say, "as an ordinary reader", not more.

It is well known that Tolkien as a thinker and as a writer had a number of ideas doubtful from the point of view of Christianity. The Gnostic concept of the Creation presented in "Silmarrilion" is one of the examples. But here we are not undertaking to evaluate all works of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien but will talk only about the relation of his main work to Christianity.

What is "The Lord of the Rings'? "Hidden Christian homily" (Maria Kamenkovich, Trojan Horse) or tales "soaked with well hidden paganism and occultism" (Roman Jolud, Talks around Tolkien)?

These both extreme views appear for a Christian reader as two temptations one changing the other during the reading. For each one can find enough grounds in the text but none of them can be accepted without serious reservations.

Therefore to our opinion there is another, more fruitful way: to consider what does exist in the book rather than what there should exist.

And in reality both temptations take place. Well, on the one hand it would be very strange if in the work meticulously being created during years by a person who sincerely considered himself a Christian there would be nothing Christian. On the other hand neither it is worth expecting hundred percent pure dogmatic views from a secular western writer of XX century. Thus in the work of Tolkien there are views close to as well as remote from Christianity. Let us start with the latter.

The first problem is that emotionally in the book evil is presented much more vividly than good and therefore more attractive. In essence, evil in the book looks and is much more significant power. It is almost all-mighty, it can not be escaped from, there is no shelter from it. They say that Tolkien's friend C.Lewis, having finished reading half of "The Lord of the Rings" threw it off with the words: "You can't write so long about evil!" (However, we heard another version, according to which Tolkien himself having read half of "The Screwtape Letters" by Lewis threw it off with the same words). By power and greatness there is no alternative to the personality of Sauron in the world of "The Lord of the Rings". And it is difficult to consider such world-outlook as Christian.

The next problem is that in general life of all Tolkien's creatures (elves, dwarves, humans, hobbits etc.) looks rather senseless. They struggle heroicly, it is described very vividly and breathtakingly but all of them dream of peaceful life, they struggle for it and die. In their struggle there is sense. But the peaceful life as their purpose looks extremely wan and senseless as an old faded picture stuck onto the wall. Creating his world "before Christ", Tolkien created the world "without Christ" and for a Christian it is rather onerous to plunge oneself in this world though not to the extent as other fantasy authors are concerned, for example, Tad Williams, with his open parody for Christianity.

Now passing over to detecting Christian thoughts in "The Lord of the Rings" we will make a remark that we will not consider in general good and positive moments but only those which can be clearly specified as Christian and not "humanistic".

First and foremost such is the main idea of the book. The Ring is the allegory of evil, or sin. And one can defeat it by rejecting it personally. The main idea of the trilogy is Christian without doubts, it contradicts all fantasy traditions after Tolkien. Evil can never be used for good. If you use it you fall under its power and only multiply the overall evil in the world.

And if we follow the contents of the book we will see that Christian is not only the idea but also its development. Frodo could not in the end overcome the desire to possess, to resist the power of the ring, evil. Human has no force to reject sin himself. And good wins as if thanks to a lucky chance. But for a person belonging to the Christian culture (for whom Tolkien wrote his books) it is self-understood that there is no fate, but there is God's Providence. For those who do not understand it is said in the book with the words of Gandalf: "It was prepared for him…" By whom?

Answering this question we should return to the very first lines of the book - its tytle. Who's the Lord of the Rings? Whom is the whole work dedicated to? It is evident that it is not Frodo, nor anybody of the Wise, nor even Sauron - because none of them ever possessed all magic rings. And further reflections give us the only answer: the Master, or, more exactly, the Lord, of the Rings is He Who ever possessed them since He possesses everything being possessed by nothing.

The next, deep Christian thought in the book is the attitude towards the enemies. Orcs, invisible to all, are elves who used to be the most wonderful of all creatures in Tolkien's world, but mutilated by evil. Sowing horror everywhere the orcs used to be the best samples of the human gender worth to become ring-bearers but did not overcome the temptation of evil and were captured by the Dark Lord' power. The fallen Saruman the Elder was one of the Wisest. Tolkien teaches to see the enemy in the light of his personal tragedy and through this way he brings us closer to the ever possible attitude towards the enemy: compassion. In the trilogy the idea that the final victory of good over evil became possible because of the act of mercy done by Bilbo towards his enemy is outlined several times.

But Tolkien does not confine himself to pointing out that the villain has a prehistory of his fall. The enemy may bring repentance and change. The most striking example in the book is Gollum, the same happens to Grima but even more deeply it is expressed in the last talk with Saruman when Frodo preventing his friend from killing the fallen wizard says: "No, Sam! Anyhow we should not kill him. The more so as he lies in the black evil. Once he was great, he's one of those against whom we have no right to lift up the hand. He fell now but it's not for us to judge him: who knows, may be he will be great again…"

And the great Tolkien's merit is that in his book he explained with the artistic language understandable by contemporaries one of the commandments of Christ most difficult for understanding: love towards enemies. And not only explained but disclosed its grandeur and wisdom.

Yuri Maximov

27 / 01 / 03

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