I know, I know. Especially as an English teacher, I know. You’re supposed to read the book first, then watch the movie. But the truth is, I’ve never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But for the past two nights, friends of our sons have been gathering at our home to watch Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings on the massive wide-screen TV we inherited from dear friends who recently moved to Maine. And while the movies are not overtly religious, it is comforting to know one of the trilogy’s moral lessons is one we want our sons to understand: evil is real and every human has the power to decide whether he wants to be mastered by the evil he encounters or to embrace the path of the spiritual pilgrim. This message hits close to home, coming as it does a week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which my husband narrowly survived.
We’ve been loading up on Diet Mountain Dew (for some reason, a favorite of teen-aged boys) and potato chips and spending hours immersed in darkness, with Jackson’s Academy Award-winning vision of Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth flickering on the screen the only light in our downstairs. Last night, we watched the second film in the trilogy; the Two Towers. How exciting to watch Orcs beseige the fortress at Helm’s Deep and Ents attack Isengard. Right now, I’m making chicken wings and salad for the 200-minute grand finale: The Return of the King, which won all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.
This “Dork Fest,” as we are calling it, is the brainchild of our friend Andy, a Catholic convert who leads our parish’s Chant Club and is a Lord of the Rings – here’s an understatement – fanboy. None of my sons’ film-watching visitors happens to be Catholic; in fact, some of them are not being raised with any religious tradition at all. But the messages of Middle Earth are sinking in. My nearly 14-year-old noticed last night that The Ring, which is a form of evil, is like an addiction. It takes over, it corrupts and it destroys. Nearly every character in the trilogy longs for The Ring, which the protagonist, a Hobbit named Frodo, is striving to destroy. One character, Gollum, lets The Ring enter his soul, and we see his torment and despair. Amid this battle, characters show nobility, mercy and the possibility of redemption.
We cannot encounter Christ and embrace His ways unless we recognize that evil is real and that conversion means turning toward God. I am reminded of this most powerful lesson as we await Sept. 11. We might not be able to see the spiritual battles that surround us but the stakes are high. I am so grateful to J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic who brought his friend C.S. Lewis to Christ, for crafting this tale and to Peter Jackson for putting it on the big screen.