“All this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, describing his book, the Silmarillion.
I am about to do a very dangerous thing. I am going to recommend a TV show I haven’t yet seen.
You see, Amazon is spending about a billion dollars on a TV series telling the story of the age prior to the age you can explore when you read or watch the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, simply spending a lot of money, doesn’t make anything watchable or, certainly, worthwhile. With that said, here are the reasons I’m excited about the potential of this show:
- In reading interviews with the showrunners and the actors, they really seem to understand and embrace the basic themes of Tolkien’s writings.
- The show has been consulting with J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson
- The sparse footage and slim outline of the show that I’ve seen has been encouraging to me
- The source material is so good that decent writers should be able to put together something worth watching.
- I believe I’ll be able to make some helpful connections between the show and the Bible/good theology.
To expound upon the latter point, and the quote with which I opened this little post, as a fairly new father, I’ve begun to experience the first-time emotions of someone seeing his children begin to grow up. My son Elliot is now 3 and my son Auggie is now 2, and I’ve begun to realize that they will not always live in my home, they will not always run to me for hugs, kisses and “wassling.” Someday, they may even be adults who make choices with which I don’t agree. Someday, I may not get to see them every day because they will have their own children, lives, jobs, and interests that don’t involve me. Someday, Elliot will not sweetly ask me at bedtime “Lay down with me, Daddo” to help him go to sleep.
What if some incredibly rich and powerful person, say, Jeff Bezos, were to offer me a machine that could just freeze time exactly where I am at? Forever, I can preserve this beautiful world I am inhabiting where my gorgeous wife, the two sons I adore, and the homey house and yard I enjoy so much are mine to enjoy forever. I won’t have to worry about pain, suffering, death, and tragedy interrupting our bliss. I won’t need to fear wars, climate change, pandemics, and mass shooters, because with this machine, which let’s say it is in the form of a ring I wear – like an Amazon watch for my finger – I will gain the power to simply preserve all that I cherish in this world as it is, with no fear of decay. Who among us would say no?
I wonder how many of us would jump at the chance to wear a ring that gave us that kind of power. How many of us would be willing to disregard the Scriptures that tell us that we must die to ourselves, and pass from this life to the life eternal, to find the place of rest, joy, adventure and fulfilment that God has prepared for those who trust in His Son if we could just ensure that what we have now could last forever? You see, this is the question that Tolkien asked when he created the Lord of the Rings, the fallen angel Sauron whose evil provides the central source of conflict for the second and third ages of his imagined, pre-historical Middle-Earth. Sauron offered, in helping the Elves (beings created to guide and tend the earth for the day that men would become its stewards) to create magic rings, a chance to receive the power to preserve life, beauty, and property they valued forever, unchanged.
But, those who accepted Sauron’s tempting offer were deceived, for a master ring was made – a ring that would bind their visions of eternal happiness to the specific (and perverted) vision of order and truth that Sauron himself holds. In contrast to these who were deceived, Tolkien also gives us the stories of heroes who refused the temptation and were willing to risk everything they held dear to believe that the plans of their Creator for the purposes of their lives were greater and more worthwhile than the alluring promises of the Lord of the Rings. We will see characters who are willing to lay down their lives for the belief that what is good in this world is but a shadow and an image of the good that is prepared for us in the world to come, and who, because of this willingness, act to preserve the very world they are willing to let die. We also see those who become wraiths or gollums – creatures so caught up in pursuit of the world/life they can’t allow to die that they lose the will and the desire to choose anything different.
It’s the paradox of Christian existence, seen so clearly in the Person of Jesus. The way to true life is death – death to self, death to sin, and death to the need to create our own destiny. Instead, we are called to joyfully submit to become sub-creators of a paradise designed and brought into existence by an all-powerful, all-loving God who wants us in perpetual, real relationship with Him forever. I doubt that Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power show will be able to fully communicate these incredible truths, but I do know that I’m excited to see them leave breadcrumbs that will help us go back to Tolkien’s theme of the fall, mortality and the machine. These themes will point believers to our constant need for Jesus and to bend our wills to His redemptive, creative power.
Incidentally, if you would like to join me in studying these themes and you live in the Akron, Ohio, area, please consider coming to the Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls on Wednesday evenings, from 6:30-7:30pm August 24th, August 31st, September 14th, September 21st, and September 28th. We will talk about Tolkien’s works and the show as it releases on September 2nd.