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THE LORD OF THE RINGS
The Return of the King
By Richard Gunther
The third book in the trilogy about Middle Earth opens with Pippin and Gandalf on the back of Gandalf's horse Shadowfax, galloping to the city in the land of Gondor, Minas Tirith. The movie opens with Sam and Frodo waking still weary, and Gollum urging them to hurry. From there on the divergences between the book and the movie remain fairly regular, with many additional themes and some huge changes, but in every case I feel Peter Jackson has improved the story. I also think the third movie could easily have lasted six hours, or been divided into a fourth section, because so many things happen, and time has to be telescoped down to a mass of rapid editing in order to fit everything in. Huge scenes are condensed down to a few seconds, and important conversations are made brief and frustratingly short. However, despite these shortcomings, the story itself shines through.
One outstanding difference between Middle Earth and our real world is the timelessness of the former. In the fantasy land time stretches away into so distant a past there really is no beginning to Middle Earth. Events run in a linear fashion, as they do in the real world, but they have no first event, no creation. Wizards apparently came from “over the sea” and the different races were either always somewhere, or they came from somewhere, but nothing is said about their origins before that. We enter Middle Earth like visitors entering into an endless history, and we enjoy the brief view we are given, then we leave again and in some mysterious way Middle Earth just keeps going without us.
The middle Earth view of history fits well with the current 'modern' semi-religious view held by many people today – the evolutionary interpretation of life, and the billions-of-years interpretation of the universe. To the modern person with this view of things, Middle Earth is no stranger. To the biblical creationist such a view is impossible to entertain. According to the Bible the world began about 6000 years ago, after the creative act of a Creator, and history has been a linear experience since then, all under the Creator's hand and guidance, with a conclusion to reach somewhere in the near future. In Middle Earth the king returns and the “Fourth Age” begins, but it is not a golden age in which all sickness and death are banished. Despite Aragorn's hope that peace and harmony will prevail, there will always be jealousy, greed, madness, sickness, death, sorrow and all the ills Middle Earth currently experiences. As Elrond predicted, Erwin will outlive Aragorn, and one day she will stand in sorrow beside his tomb. The Biblical view is much better. In the Age to come, the Bible says, all the evils of our present world will pass, and the King, the King of kings, will take His rightful place on the throne of glory.
But of course Tolkien was not writing an allegory of the return of Christ, so any allegorical meaning we may discover will have to be drawn out of the book, rather than found there as an obvious thing. Tolkien avoided Biblical references. He wrote a story which lends itself to interpretation, and wove into the events universal principles – such as love, romance, forgiveness, mercy, faith, determination, suffering, endurance and so on. This is what gives the film its universal appeal. All who read it can identify with Sam, the friend who sticks close by through every trial, or Aragorn who is so reluctant to take the throne because he knows he is also subject to common human weaknesses, or Arwen who is prepared to sacrifice her immortality if it means keeping the man she loves, or Frodo who finds himself responsible for something he would rather shirk but cannot because he also knows no-one else can do it, or Gimli the fighter, who learns that not all Elves are untrustworthy and overcomes his prejudice when he calls Legolas a “friend”. And I suppose many people love the story because of Gandalf, the kindly, wise, patient, grandfatherly man, who has developed personal power and uses it only for good. With a spell Gandalf can open a door, or cause a crystal to glow. He sees into the future and the past. He lives partly in a hidden where ghosts and powers move, and his power is his own. It lives within him. This is what millions of people want for themselves – to be like gods, wielding power from within themselves. This is why so many movies today depict people with supernatural or magical powers. It is a deep desire within people to be like this, and perhaps it is an echo of God's original design.
One curious aspect of the whole rings story is its basic assumption that good and evil are opposites, and that good is preferable. No explanation is ever given as to the origin of good or of evil. In a simplistic way, evil is defined as an attribute of Sauron: lust for power, desire to dominate, cruelty, enslavement, control, greed, unchallenged leadership, pride of place. The effects of Sauron are dirt, filth, depravity, darkness, hunger, destruction of the environment and so on. Wherever Sauron goes he turns green and beautiful lands into dead, smoking ruins. Whatever people he touches are changed into corpses or slaves. But Sauron does not see these things as bad, the reader or viewer of the story does. On the other hand, behind the whole story, like an enormous backdrop, is the assumption that good is eternal. Even more interesting is the realization that if there was no such thing as absolute goodness, then all the values in the story would become relative, and disintegrate.
For example, who are we to decide that Sauron is evil and therefore must be destroyed. Why are we pleased when his eye-tower falls. Why do we laugh at the plight of Saruman and Wormtongue when they find themselves prisoners to the Ents, and surrounded by water in Isengard, and helpless to fight back? Why do some people cheer when Gandalf strikes the pathetic, mad steward of Minas Tirith down? Why are we pleased when the Ring finally lands in the fires and passes away? The reason is because the god who made us is moral, and we live in a moral universe. God's moral standards reach even to Middle Earth.
As Gandalf and Pippin approach Minas Tirith, they see the beacons lighting up, signalling to the surrounding districts for help. In the movie it is Pippin who lights the first beacon, after he and the wizard have reached the city. In the movie Gandalf enters the city and rides up the zig zag road, through the seven gates, to the top, where he meets with the Lord Denethor, steward, and also father of Boromir and Faramir. In the book, just before Gandalf enters the king's hall he warns Pippin to mind what he says. Pippin does, in the book, but in the movie Gandalf cautions him not to speak at all and Pippin 'shoots his mouth off' by blurting out how Boromir died, and then offers his services to Denethor, much to Gandalf's chagrin. When describing the death of Boromir Pippin says: “The mightiest man may be slain by one arrow, and Boromir was pierced by many.”
King Ahab, not one we would call “great” was killed by an arrow. He went into battle disguised, but an archer fired an arrow “at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness” and the king died. (1 Kings 22:29-35)
Christians are warned to: “Take the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
And who has not been pierced by the sharp arrow of slander, or gossip, or a nasty or unkind word? “Their tongue is like an arrow shot out; it speaks deceit: one speaks peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he lies in wait.” Jeremiah 9:8, and Lamentations 3:12: “He has bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.”
“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” Proverbs 26:22
The movie depicts Denethor as nearly mad with grief, while the book portrays him as wise and shrewd. The book has Gandalf and Pippin well greeted, while the movie shows the wizard walking in anger from the hall. The movie has Gandalf saying to Pippin: “It is the deep breath before the plunge” (referring to the tension just prior to the battle), while the book has these words coming from the mouth of a man called Beregond, who befriends Pippin. And it is Beregond, not Gimli who says “The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.” And so it goes on. To avoid further tedious comparisons in the remainder of the essay I will note only the largest differences and keep mainly to the book from here on.
Gradually the help called for by the lighting of the beacons begins to arrive, in small groups, on horse or on foot, men from many different tribes, entering the gates of Minas Tirith. Meanwhile far away Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas with Merry and Eomer set off with a small company of Rohirrim, and they are met in the darkness by a friend of Aragon's, Halbarad with his 30 men, all “knights' and good fighters, and of Aragorn's kin, the Dunedain. Theoden is pleased they have come. Aragorn then decides to take the Path of the Dead and explains that he has looked into the palantir. He says, of Sauron: “(he) has not forgotten Isildur and the sword of Elendil. Now in the very hour of his great designs the heir of Isildur and the Sword are revealed; for I showed the blade reforged to him. He is not so mighty yet that he is beyond fear . . . doubt ever gnaws him.”
If we apply these words to the Biblical battle between Christ and Satan we may find them in Satan's knowledge that two things remain to destroy him. The sword reforged might be likened to the resurrected Christ, who was once broken, on the Cross, but now comes for Satan like a flying sword. And the heir to the throne is alive. Jesus, the promised Messiah, long-awaited for thousands of years since the prediction of his coming to Eve, is now gathering the Age together and preparing to ascend the throne. Satan knows his time is short. His failure to destroy the rightful heir will lead inevitably to his own destruction.
The Paths of the Dead refer to men of the Mountains, who once swore allegiance to Isildur but broke their agreement, causing the king to curse them. But a prophecy foretold of a time when one from Isildur's line would call them to honour their agreement and fight for Gondor. Eowyn meets Aragorn as he travels and bids him turn aside from his quest, but he refuses. He asks her what she fears. She says: “A cage. To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
God promises, to Christians: “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” Psalms 92:14 (“fat” does not mean obese, but blessed, or prosperous)
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Psalms 37:25
Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have shown Your strength to this generation, and Your power to every one that is to come.” Psalms 71:18
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
God promises to keep a Christian free and productive, even into old age. Another verse tells us that “children's children are the crown of old men” which shows that being a grand-parent can be a wonderful and fulfilling role. There is always something to do for a Christian, but if they have Eowyn's attitude, they will miss the opportunities.
Aragorn leads the way to the Haunted Mountain and enters a dark place where he calls up a shadowy army. He reveals who he is and leads them out. Meanwhile king Theoden in Rohan is mustering an every-increasing army, and soon he too sets out with his thousands of horsemen. “So we come to it in the end” says the king, “The great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away.”
This statement by Theoden is reminiscent of the words in the Bible: “For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” Revelation 16:14
Meanwhile, in Minas Tirith, the steward decks Pippin out in a suit of specially made armour. Then Faramir comes riding towards the gate, but he is attacked by five Nasgul, and saved by the arrival of Gandalf with a shining staff. When Faramir sees Pippin, he remarks that he has seen others just like him, at which Gandalf suppresses great joy, because this is news that Frodo and Sam may still be alive. But Gandalf is shaken when he learns where Frodo was heading – Cirith Ungol, the place where the spider lives. Gandalf, speaking of Gollum, says: “Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature. But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.”
This curious comment by Gandalf is an observation which bears out in real life all the time. For example, when Satan devised means to kill Jesus, he actually set the seal on his own doom, and opened the way for all who believe to be saved. By making sure the tomb was sealed and guarded, he actually made it more difficult for people to explain away the resurrection. By raising up a storm of opposition to the Church he actually drew attention to it, and gave God opportunities to work miracles. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.
Faramir feels deeply the fact that his father Denethor favours Boromir above him, yet there is nothing he can do to turn his father's admiration away from the now dead brother. We feel great sympathy for Faramir, as he chooses to ride out to Osgiliath to defend the city as a first line of defense. “Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead . . . farewell . . . if I should return, think better of me.” Denethor's biting words ring in his ears as he leaves the room: “That depends on the manner of your return.”
Farimir and his men fight bravely in Osgiliath, but they are driven back, and there is word of the coming of Angmar, chief of the Nazgul. Gandalf says he has heard that this Ringwraith cannot be killed by a man. Then Faramir leads a retreat, but falls, and his body is brought back to Denethor, still alive but close to death. Denethor is devastated and retreats to his room where, in sorrow, he says to Pippin: “I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins.”
Another father who was deeply upset at the death of his (in this case wayward) son was king David. When the news of Absalom's death came to him: “ . . . the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33
The book describes a battle quite unlike that depicted on the screen. Instead of a clearcut arrival of Sauron's troops spread out on the plain, the book describes many small forces meeting, long marches, skirmishes, ambushes and battles, and a march of many thousand, led by Aragorn, with Gandalf by his side which goes as far as the Black Gates. There Aragorn is shown, by a Messenger from Sauron, Frodo's clothes and mithril coat and a treaty of surrender is proposed, but Aragorn totally rejects it and the Messenger retreats. The great iron gates swing open and a host from Sauron surrounds Aragorn's army. The battle begins, and the great eagles arrive to help Aragorn's forces.
The arrival of the eagles is similar in a way to the sudden arrival of angels at certain points in Man's history. God sends agents of deliverance when He sees fit, and when they come no force can stand against them At other times God supplies help to make the Christian's battles a little easier.
“The angel of the LORD encamps round about them that fear him, and delivers them.” Psalms 34:7 (Encamping = encouragement, Delivering = direct action on behalf of the believer)
“Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty five thousand” Isaiah 37:36 (Direct action on behalf of the believer)
”Are they (the angels) not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”Hebrews 1:14 (Direct action)
Meanwhile, back at the tower of Cirith Ungol, Sam remains outside the doorway, in the cold and dark. He despairs and wanders down the path to hide. Then he hears fighting within the tower and hopes it might be the sound of Orcs fighting each other. “Faint as was the hope that his guess brought him, it was enough to rouse him. There might just be a chance. His love for Frodo rose above all other thoughts, and forgetting his peril he cried aloud: 'I'm coming Mr. Frodo!”
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” 1 John 4:17
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment.” 1 John 4:18
Sam enters the tower and passes many dead Orcs. He attacks and kills two more and finally reaches Frodo, who wonders if he is dreaming when he sees Sam. Sam explains what has happened, and Frodo thinks, for a moment, that the Ring has been taken, but Sam holds it out and gives it back, offering to help share the carrying of it. At this point Frodo changes, and accuses Sam of treachery: “No you won't, you thief!” but the evil thoughts pass and Frodo says: “O Sam! What have I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done.”
When Frodo accuses his friend, his faithful and loving best friend, of treachery, we have an illustration of the suspicion and hate often flung at the Saviour. During his ministry Jesus was accused of being a liar, a drunk, a labourer with no intelligence, a rabble-rouser, a common peasant, a false prophet, a fool, a deceiver, an impostor, and an agent of Satan. Even when Jesus was on the cross, many poor souls threw insults at him, and even when he was raised from the dead, and the proof was there for all to see, he was libeled and rejected. But some believed, and when they did, they said, with Frodo: “O Lord! What I said? What have I done? Forgive me! After all you have done.” In the same way, today, there are thousands of people every year who are suddenly realizing that Jesus is truly the Messiah (the Jews) and the true Prophet of God (Muslim) and the Saviour of the world (all unbelievers).
Sam and Frodo continue towards Mount Doom, dressed in Orc clothes, until they find their way blocked by many camps or clusters of Orcs. They manage to slip by, and take a road which at once gives them quicker passage but also exposes them to greater danger. Sam sees Gollum trailing them but makes no contact. A group of Orcs comes along the road, pushed along by Uruks, a tougher breed of Orc, and Sam and Frodo are forced to join the marchers. By luck the Orc contingent meets another at a crossing of the roads and a fight breaks out, giving Sam and Frodo opportunity to escape.
Recovering, they see that the mountain they are trying to reach is at least fifty miles away: “And that'll take a week, if it takes a day, with Mr. Frodo as he is” thinks Sam. He realizes now that: “So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started, to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him. Well, if that is the job then I must do it.”
“For we which live are always (continually) delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4:11
“Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” Philippians 2:30
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation 12:11
The hobbits make their way slowly and painfully across the broken and pocked plains of Gorgoroth, relying on luck and the darkness to hide their journey. They rely exclusively on the 'lembas' bread, which “had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It . . . had a potency increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” In the same way, the Word of God is “quick, (living) and powerful” “And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life: he that come to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
Frodo and Sam make it to Mount Doom and Frodo collapses, so Sam piggybacks Frodo up the side of the mountain until he comes to a road. This is in fact Sauron's Road, from Barad-dur to the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire. Gollum reappears and tries to take the ring, but he is repulsed and sent away. He begins again to trail the Ring-bearer. Frodo makes it by himself to the edge of the Fires and stands at “the very Crack of Doom”. Frodo is finally overcome by the power of the Ring. He slips it on and disappears. Sam cries out but something strikes him down from behind. Sauron suddenly realizes that the ring he seeks is in the heart of his own land and sends Nazgul to take it. Sam wakes and sees Gollum fighting the invisible Frodo. Gollum bites Frodo's finger off and claims the Ring, but in the moment of his triumph he steps off the edge and falls into the fire. The Ring and Gollum are destroyed. Sauron dies and the mountain throws up fire and rocks, which strike down the Nazgul. Frodo says: “Do you remember Gandalf's words: 'Even Gollum may have something yet to do?' But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
In these words is found the principle of the importance of all things. No matter how tiny, however insignificant or useless they may appear, there is nothing in God's universe which does not serve some purpose.
By way of illustration, think of Man's machinery, in which even the smallest cog can have the greatest importance. Remove the cog and the machine breaks down. In science, even a slight alteration in one force or speed or position can have enormous effects. In sport, just one small pass or kick or bounce can decide the final score. In our everyday movement just a single step sooner or later can mean the difference between being hit by a car of crossing the road safely. A full stop in the wrong place can completely alter a sentence. The “butterfly effect” is easy to demonstrate. In the affairs of the world, life is an amazingly complex web of interactions, and no-one can ever calculate any single event which is truly insignificant.
This princple is also demonstrated elsewhere in the movie. For example there is a point in which Aragorn is in the stables of Rohan. A horse, Braegil, as it is being harnessed ready for war rears and snorts, so Aragorn goes to it and whispers to it in Elvish. The horse calms down and Aragorn says the horse has seen enugh war. He slips the halter off and lets the horse go free. Immediately Eowyn, who is standing nearby, asks him how he learned to speak Elvish. He tells her he lived with the Elves. But the story goes back further than that. Before he speaks to Eowyn, while he is in Rivendell he lovingly stands before a white marble statue of his mother. She brought him to the Elves when he was a baby, and the Elves raised him for many years. This was how he learned Elvish. If he had not learned the ways and language of the Elves he would not have been able to understand the horse.
But what caused Aragorn's mother to flee to the Elves? She knew her son was the heir to the throne of Gondor and she needed a safe place to hide him. This means there must have been many other events before her decision to hide her son . . . and going forwards we see that each event is tied to the next. As the people of Rohan journey to the safety of Helm's Deep they are attacked by Orcs, and in the battle Aragorn is flung into the river and presumed drowned, but he is washed ashore still alive. A horse comes to his aid – yes the same horse which he set free. It lies beside him and he swings on to its back as it stands again, then it takes him to Helm's Deep where he plays a crucial part in the battle.
Meanwhile, as the forces of Gondor make their stand outside the Black Gates, the arrival of the eagles is accompanied by the eruption of Mount Doom and an earthquake. The forces of the Dark Lord are stricken with fear and Gandalf, understanding the meaning shouts: “The realm of Sauron is ended! The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his quest.” Immediately the Dark Lord's armies disperse. Gandalf calls Gwaihir the Windlord to him and flies on the eagle's back, with several other eagles, to rescue Frodo and Sam. Thereafter Frodo and Sam are safe and blessed with food, friends and clean clothes. The hobbits are reunited with all their friends, and highly honoured. Faramir of Gondor marries Eowyn of Rohan. Aragorn is crowned. Gandalf says: “Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed...” Not long after this Elrond and Galadriel arrive with the Elves of Rivendell, and Arwen is given in marriage to Aragorn.
The crowning of king Aragorn is very significant. He comes after an age of war, and enters an age of peace. In a similar way David, king of Israel lived through a time of war, and passed his crown to Solomon, who reigned in largely peaceful times. The two kings are a picture of our present age and the time to come. We live presently in the age of David, because Sauron (Satan) still rules his dark forces, but when Jesus comes, we will enter the time of Solomon, when Sauron (Satan) is destroyed along with all his followers, be they men or angels.
A description of the reign of Jesus is found in Psalm 72. “In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures. Psalms 72:7 The whole psalm is a description of the beautiful age to come, under the kingship of the Lord Jesus.
A Psalm for Solomon.
“Give the king thy judgments, O God,
and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.
He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
He shall judge the poor of the people,
he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures.
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents:
the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
For he shall deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence:
and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun:
and men shall be blessed in him:
all nations shall call him blessed.”
The movie ends with several endings. The Elves departure with Bilbo Baggins, and Gandalf. Gandalf goes because Sauron if dead, and the next age, he says, belongs to Men. Frodo also leaves with the Elves because, as he says, he is so changed he does not belong any more to the Shire. And the closing scene shows Sam with his wife and a child, happily settled back into the Shire.
The book however tells a different story. In the book Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, the hobbits and Aragorn travel back to the pinnacle of Orthanc, where Saruman and Wormtongue were imprisoned, but they find that Treebeard and the other Ents have been talked into letting the two villains go, so we find that some evil in Middle Earth remains. Gradually the party dwindles until only Gandalf and the four hobbits, with Galadriel and her company are on the road. They come across: “An old man leaning on a staff, and he was clothed in rags of grey or dirty white, and at his heels went another beggar, slouching and whining.” Saruman and Wormtongue, for that is who these decrepit pair are, do nothing but curse the travellers, but Gandalf and the hobbits are still willing to share with them what food or necessary things they can.
Jesus told his followers: “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil.”Luke 6:35
The hobbits return to Rivendell where they find a very aged Bilbo who boasts that he is now 128 years old with his birthday on the morrow. About two weeks later they set off for the Shire, with Gandalf. As they approach the Shire, Frodo says: “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”
“For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” Psalms 109:22
The trials of life leave their mark, and we cannot remove those marks. They may be internal, as memories, or they may be external, in the form of scars, as in the case of Jesus, whose body still bore some impression of his crucifixion.
Thomas said: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25
But when the travellers arrive at Bree they find that trouble has been brewing. The owner of the Prancing Pony, Butterbur, tells of 'Black Men' in the district. The hobbits set off and as they near their home again they part with Gandalf, who warns them of trouble ahead- which he assures them they can handle – then he leaves them, riding away swiftly on Shadowfax. When the hobbits reach Brandywine bridge they find it barred, but sight of their armour and swords soon opens the way, and they stay the night. They discover that a band of ruffians, hobbits emboldened by the rise of Isengard, have taken over the Shire, plunging it into misery. Frodo and his companions demand to see the chief, Lotho, and deal with the matter. They meet some servants of Lotho and force them to go ahead of them for many miles as they go towards the place where Lotho lives. After about 12 miles, they meet a band of men, all armed, and their leader accosts Frodo with many arrogant, mocking words. Frodo meet him head on and says: “I am a messenger of the King. You are speaking to the King's friend . . . you are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon . . .” When Frodo said these words he pulled back his cloak and revealed his armour and sword, and the man and his band retreat and flee.
“Through You will we push down our enemies: through Your name will we tread them under that rise up against us.” Psalms 44:5
“And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 4:3
The hobbits go to Sam Cotton's house and tell him of their plans to raise up all the hobbits of the Shire as a single force to repel the ruffians. Word is quickly passed around and soon an 'army' forms, which is just in time, because the leader of the ruffians enters the street with about twenty others. They try to arrest Farmer Cotton but the 'army' surrounds the ruffians and Merry says: “I warned you not to come back here. I warn you again: you are standing in the light and you are covered by archers. If you lay a finger on this farmer, you will be shot at once. Lay down any weapons that you have!”
God says to the nations: “'Touch not My anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”1 Chronicles 16:22
“To those who reject the true God: “ . . . a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:27
To the persecuted saints, God says: “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10
The first band of ruffians are defeated but soon another larger, and more hostile band arrives. This time when they are challenged they choose to fight, and a battle ensues in which “nearly seventy of the ruffians lay dead on the field”
But despite these victories the hobbits (Merry, Pippin, Sam and Frodo) are still not satisfied, because the chief of the ruffians, called Lotho, still remains at large. They travel on, with many hobbits following, and arrive at Bag End, where they find Sharkey – who is none other than Saruman, living at ease in the very house where Bilbo once lived. He is arrogant and contemptuous, but Frodo cautions the people to hold back from killing the beaten wizard: “I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way!”
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
“Saruman turned to go, and Wormtongue shuffled after him. But even as Saruman passed close to Frodo a knife flashed in his hand, and he stabbed swiftly. The blade turned on the hidden coat-mail and snapped.” but Frodo still holds back from killing the wizard, and lets him go. Saruman spits a little more venom by telling the hobbits how Wormtongue killed Lotho, but even to this horrible news Frodo offers Wormtongue mercy. Wormtongue, infuriated at the way Sarunman has treated him, stabs the wizard, killing him, and for his pains receives three hobbit arrows. Both die. Suddenly a grey mist rises out of the wizard, leaving him as a withered old bag of bones. “And that's the end of that,” said Sam, “A nasty end, and I wish I needn't have seen it; but its good riddance.”
The story closes with several more events. First the hobbits start the massive cleaning up of the town and surrounds, Sam decides to marry Rose Cotton. Frodo finds himself becoming sick about the same time every year, around the time when he was stabbed at Weathertop, so with Sam's urging, he decides to go to Rivendell for healing. On the way there they meet Galadriel and Elrond, with Bilbo and some Elves, all going to the Havens. Frodo explains to Sam that he, Frodo, must go too, so they journey together to the place where the ship is waiting. Merry and Pippin and Gandalf are there. Many sad tears are shed as Gandalf, Bilbo and Frodo depart, then the ship sails away to the West.
In the words of one commentator, “Tolkien wrote his trilogy as a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision.” This bias towards Christian themes has been presented (overtly or unconsciously I do not know) by Peter Jackson the director of the screen version, in many visual effects. For example the scene where Galadriel stands on the river bank as the companions glide away – looking like a Mary, the mother of Jesus statue. The Balrog, in the Mines of Moria, looks very much like the common visual form given to the devil, with his horns and fiery body. The wizard Gandalf when he appears in the forest of Fangorn, after apparently dying, reminds us of Jesus in the transfiguration or in post resurrection appearances. The lembas bread reminds us of the very sustaining manna which fed the Israelites for 40 years. And the overall theme, that of good triumphing over evil is surely a universal and Biblical theme.
But in closing this essay there is one thing more I would like to touch on. In the Bible God promises to all who trust in Jesus everlasting life. This gift comes freely by grace, with forgiveness and cleansing from sin, to all who take it. When a Christian dies, they die in hope. Unlike all other people, they have an assurance that God will one day raise them back to life, in a supernatural and immortal body. Death is not the end for a Christian, but a doorway to a glorious place called the Kingdom of God.
This idea is found in the words of Gandalf. In the movie, Pippin sees the city of Minas Tirith gradually falling to the invaders, and he turns to Gandalf and says fearfully: “I never thought it would end like this.” But Gandalf smiles kindly at him and says: “End? No, the journey doesn't end here. There's another path we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and it will change to the silver clouds, and then you will see it.”
Pippin asks “See what?”
Gandalf replies: “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Here is a vivid word-picture of heaven, and the hope of all true Christians. Without this, the Christian life would be difficult to justify. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, all hope would have perished with Him on the Cross. But heaven is our reward, if we have followed Jesus faithfully through the trials and troubles of this present world.
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
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