Tolkien & Owen On Communion With God

 If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.

This is the stuff of communion.

And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.

Communion With God 

Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”

Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.

The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”

Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.

All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.

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Bilbo’s Last Goodbye

It is no secret that I am a Tolkien nut.  Therefore I’ve love diving deep into the Middle Earth brought to us by Peter Jackson two epic trilogies: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Also, for the past two years I have listened to every episode of the Tolkien Professor’s podcast called “Riddles in the Dark” where a few other and more informed Tolkienists discussed what this last movie was going to be like.

The time has finally arrived.  No I did not go see the movie last night at midnight like some of you did but today, around 3, I will go see The Battle of the Five Armies.  David Mathis, over at Desiring God has written a wonderful piece that cannot be improved upon remembering why so many of us love the world Tolkien created.  Read it below.

Bilbo’s Last Goodbye

David Mathis:

This is it for the Bagginses. At least for now, on the big screen. The Battle of the Five Armies, opening this week, is the sixth and final film in Peter Jackson’s pair of Tolkien trilogies.

First, in 2001–2003, Lord of the Rings was nearly 1400 pages distilled into about ten hours on film. Now Battle of Five Armies completes The Hobbit movie trilogy, which expands Tolkien’s single 300-page book into almost nine hours of motion pictures. You may be able to read The Hobbit in a little over five hours, but it will take you almost twice that long to watch Jackson’s rendition.

Not to add another voice with the naysayers. I’m delighted for the expansion, and Jackson’s efforts to weave white orcs and other wizards into The Hobbit, in a way that Tolkien didn’t, make the connections even deeper with the sequel. The Tolkien ultra-enthusiasts, including his son Christopher, have registered their frustrations — and likely would have done so with any theatrical version of the story. Their critiques can be pretty picky, and some have the smell of a musty hobbit hole.

Say what you may about Jackson, he has done Tolkien and us a great service. Whatever disappointments we may have with the details, he has introduced millions of new readers, and a whole new generation, to Middle-earth. Countless of us, without Jackson’s midwifery, never would have buried ourselves in the pages of The Hobbit and its trilogy-sequel.

There’s a World Out There

One of the great effects, both of Tolkien’s stories and Jackson’s retellings, is the expansion of the human soul. We have such a proclivity to settle into such small things over time. We were made for more than vicarious living through social media and ESPN. There is real adventure to be had in God’s fantastic world, real evil to fight, real moral complexities to navigate, real sorrows to bear, real redemption to celebrate. Tolkien created Middle-earth not as an escape from the real world, but as a retreat to see our reality all the clearer and come back more wide awake to our world.

Such effect on the soul is captured in the first Hobbit movie as Bilbo comes to after fainting from hearing what a dragon can do to him. “I’ll be alright,” he says to Gandalf, “Just let me sit quietly for a moment.” To which the wise wizard replies,

You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long. Tell me, when did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you? I remember a young hobbit who was always running off in search of Elves, in the woods. He’d stay out late, come home, after dark, trailing mud and twigs and fireflies. A young hobbit who would’ve liked nothing better than to find out what was beyond the borders of the Shire. The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.

Tolkien’s stories summon us, like the wizard’s rebuke, not to settle for our little comforts and play spaces and semblances of control, but to dream for more, to lose ourselves in some great global pursuit, to vanquish the foe, to win the peoples.

See the Invisible Hand

But on our own we will be swallowed up by such a quest. Evil in the world is real and powerful, as Tolkien so starkly portrays. And so throughout The Hobbit, says Devin Brown, Tolkien is teaching us a lesson about “luck,” mentioning the term over and over again. “Luck” is said to rescue Bilbo repeatedly in just the nick of time. But on the book’s final page, Tolkien reveals what he’s been setting us up for all along. It’s Bilbo and Gandalf again.

“You don’t really suppose, do you,” the wizard asks the hobbit, “that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” Gandalf continues, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” To this Bilbo replies with happiness and humility, “Thank goodness!”

In the end, the hobbit’s “luck” points beyond mere coincidence in surviving, and triumphing in such a great adventure, to an invisible Hand at work in the entirety of the story.

But even more poignant than some Great Providence at every harrowing turn is the climactic moment of rescue and resolution. Which now, at long last, we come to in this third and final installment of The Hobbit. It is what Tolkien called “the Consolation of the Happy Ending” in his powerful essay “On Fairy Stories.”

A Fleeting Glimpse of Joy

Here we finally taste “the joy of the happy ending.” But don’t think that means it comes with simplicity, and that you can see it coming. Tolkien coined a term for this happy ending that “all complete fairy-stories must have.” He called it “Eucatastrophe,” which means “the good catastrophe.” It is

the sudden joyous “turn” . . . a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of . . . sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance: it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [the gospel], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world.

In Lord of the Rings, the creature Gollum bites the ring from Frodo’s finger just as he has reached the fires of Mount Doom and turned away unable to part with his precious. The catastrophe of Gollum taking the ring and his finger turns for good when Gollum slips and falls into the fires below, accomplishing Frodo’s great mission. Watch for “the sudden joyous ‘turn’” in Battle of Five Armies. Jackson has borrowed it from Tolkien. But Tolkien would be the first to say that he borrowed it as well.

The Gleam of the Gospel

The great insight of Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” is that the Christian story “is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.” The “Joy” we experience at the sudden climactic turn from evil to good, from death to life, from utter darkness to brilliant light, is a “gleam or echo of evangelium [the gospel] in the real world.” Says Tolkien,

The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.

And so the dazzling zenith of the fairy story, as in The Hobbit,

looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian Joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men — and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

J.R.R. Tolkien, covert Christian Hedonist we might say, wrote The Hobbit for your joy — that you would experience a joy connected to the Great Joy itself. Tolkien would say that Jackson has strung us along with some foretastes of the joy at the end of the first two films, but now we come to the true “happy ending” and the moment when this tale draws closest to the Happy Ending of all history.

This final hobbit movie won’t be it for Tolkien. His stories are as popular as they’ve been, and surely he’ll have another day on the big screen. Hollywood keeps redoing the Batman, after all; the Bagginses will come again soon.

This may be Bilbo’s last goodbye under Jackson, but for Christians, here we find just a gleam, just a faint echo of the Joy that is, and is coming, and will shine and sound for all eternity, and satisfy our souls in that True Story for which we were made.

Tolkien and Lewis: Breathing Deeply in Narnia and Middle Earth

cs_lews_jrr_tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were contemporaries and friends, authors and professors, soldiers and story-tellers.  They make it onto my list of those (dead) people who’ve influenced me greatly.  Why?  

Two profoundly meaningful reasons to me: Narnia and Middle Earth.

Of course when I speak of Narnia and Middle Earth I am referring to the epics these two men wrote called “The Chronicles and Narnia” and “The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings.”  These two books, though I’ve read them many times each and still desire to read them again, speak to my soul in ways I find hard to describe.  I think the reason this happens to me is because when I read these two epics I find myself craving to be with Jesus more, because Jesus is more real than anything in existence, and these two epics get into that other world “reality” deeper than anything I’ve ever read besides the Bible.  I often use their stories and quotes in my preaching because the grand theme of REDEMPTION is soaked throughout the whole.

Therefore, it is not surprising to me that in the moments I feel discouraged, or despairing over this or that in my life I usually turn to one of these epics first, and often find God turning me toward Him through it.

Here is a brief Christianity Today interview of their friendship:

Our world would be poorer without two other worlds: Narnia and Middle-earth. Yet if two young professors had not met at an otherwise ordinary Oxford faculty meeting in 1926, those wondrous lands would still be unknown to us.

British author Colin Duriez, who wrote the article “Tollers and Jack” in issue #78 of Christian History, explains why this is so in his forthcoming book Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Duriez tells the story of how these two brilliant authors met, discovered their common love for mythical tales, and pledged to bring such stories into the mainstream of public reading taste. Tolkien and Lewis shared the belief that through myth and legend—for centuries the mode many cultures had used to communicate their deepest truths—a taste of the Christian gospel’s “True Myth” could be smuggled past the barriers and biases of secularized readers.

Christian History managing editor Chris Armstrong reached Colin this week at his home in Leicester, England.

You have said that if it hadn’t been for the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, the world would likely never have seen The Narnia ChroniclesThe Lord of the Rings, and much else. What was it about “fairy stories” that led these two men to want to rehabilitate them for a modern audience—adults as well as children?

They had both personal and professional reasons for this interest. Personally, they had both read and enjoyed such stories as they were growing up, in collections by the brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, and others. Lewis had also heard Celtic myths—his nurse had told him some of the folk tales of Ireland.

Professionally, they studied and taught the literatures of medieval romance and, in Tolkien’s case, the background of Norse myth. And they realized that it was only quite recently that such stories had become marginalized as “children’s stories.” Through much of history these were tales told and enjoyed by grown-ups. Even strong warriors enjoyed them, rejoicing in their triumphant moments, weeping at tragic turns of events. These stories told them important things about life—about who they were and what the world was like, and about the realm of the divine.

It dawned on both men that there was a need to create a readership again for these books—especially an adult readership. Lewis’s space trilogy came out of this same impulse to write the sort of stories that he and Tolkien liked to read. He felt he could say things in science fiction that he couldn’t say in other ways. And Tolkien had been expressing this sense already for years when the two men met—ever since World War One he had been writing hundreds of pages of a cycle of myth and legend from the early ages of Middle-earth. This, it would later turn out, would provide the “pre-history” for The Lord of the Rings, some of which was published after his death in The Silmarillion.

Early in their relationship, in 1936, after Tolkien had written the children’s story The Hobbit, the two men had a momentous conversation about their desire to bring such stories to a wider audience (see below, at the end of this interview, for Duriez’s re-creation of that conversation). They actually decided to divide the territory—Lewis would take “space travel,” Tolkien “time travel.” Tolkien never got around to finishing his time-travel story, concentrating instead on his more “adult” trilogy, in which he placed hobbits in the context of his Silmarillion stories. But Lewis did write his space books: Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Lewis seems to have had the more forceful personality of the two. Yet you show that Tolkien had a deep influence on Lewis. What did he teach Lewis?

Lewis, used a very rational, knock-down technique in his rhetorical approach to philosophical questions, was a deeply imaginative man who regarded his imaginative self as his most basic self. Before he met Tolkien, he became friends with Owen Barfield, and the two of them had long conversations about the imagination. But as a brilliant young man who had decided that the Christian faith of his up-bringing was intellectually untenable, Lewis had no way of bringing together that imaginative side of his nature with his rational side. His rational side told him that while stories might serve to amuse, they couldn’t very well teach you about the things that really mattered.

What Tolkien did was help Lewis see how the two sides, reason and imagination, could be integrated. During the two men’s night conversation on the Addison Walk in the grounds of Magdalen College, Tolkien showed Lewis how the two sides could be reconciled in the Gospel narratives. The Gospels had all the qualities of great human storytelling. But they portrayed a true event—God the storyteller entered his own story, in the flesh, and brought a joyous conclusion from a tragic situation. Suddenly Lewis could see that the nourishment he had always received from great myths and fantasy stories was a taste of that greatest, truest story—of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

So Tolkien brought the imagination right into the center of Lewis’s life. And then, through a gradual process, with the example of Tolkien’s Silmarillion tales and Lord of the Rings before him, Lewis learned how to communicate Christian faith in imaginative writing. The results were Narnia, the space trilogy, The Great Divorce, and so forth.

What about Lewis’s impact on Tolkien?

Tolkien was a private man who, when he met Lewis, had written his mythic tales for a private audience. He had very little confidence that they could speak to a wider audience. But from the beginning of their relationship, Lewis encouraged his friend to finish and publish his stories. He delighted to hear Tolkien read chapters of his epic trilogy, as he completed them, at meetings of their Oxford reading group, the Inklings. And Tolkien was immensely encouraged by those meetings. It spurred him on.

There were some instances in which Lewis gave Tolkien something to think about. In his space trilogy, Lewis introduced the concept of Hnau, the embodiment of personality and rationality in animal and vegetable beings. This seems to have influenced the creation of the Ents in Lord of the Rings. There is also evidence that Tolkien pondered a lot on the Screwtape Letters. For the most part, however, Tolkien was extremely annoyed at Lewis’s popularizing of theology. He thought theology should be left to the professionals. Tolkien also disliked the Narnia series, feeling it was both theologically heavy-handed and artistically slapdash—an unfair judgment of what were among the most beautifully crafted of Lewis’s works, and probably the most likely to survive the next hundred years as “classics.”

You have said that Lewis and Tolkien shared three interrelated commitments—to “romanticism, reason, and Christianity.” Can you elaborate?

The two friends were interested in the literature of the romantic period because many of the poems and stories attempted to convey the supernatural, the “otherworldly”—and thus provided a window into spiritual things. Lewis explored romantic themes like joy and longing, and Tolkien emphasized the nature of people as storytelling beings who by telling stories reflect the creative powers of God. But they both rejected an “instinctive” approach to the imagination. Many romantic writers were interested in a kind of nature mysticism. They looked within themselves and at the world around them and sought flashes of insight into “the nature of things”—illuminations of truth that could not be explained, reasoned, or systematized. But Lewis and Tolkien insisted that the reason and the imagination must be integrated. In any understanding of truth, the whole person must be involved.

This is where their third shared commitment came into play—this sense of wholeness was a Christian approach, distant from the neo-pagan mysticism of some romantics, the “Pan worship” of the early twentieth century. Indeed, Tolkien worried increasingly towards the end of his life that people were missing the Christian balance of his work, and were taking it almost as the basis of a new paganism. You could argue in fact that one reason Tolkien didn’t finish the Silmarillion was his concern to make his imaginative creations consonant with Christianity. Obviously not wanting to make them into allegory or preachment, he was concerned his literary insights be clearly consistent with Christianity.

A Fateful Conversation: An excerpt from chapter 7 of Colin Duriez’s forthcoming Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship.

Lewis looks thoughtfully out of the window of his big sitting room in Magdalen College on to the deer park it overlooks. It’s the spring of 1936. … On his right hand is the reassuring sight of his favorite path—Addison’s Walk—where, five years before, Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and he had had that momentous nighttime conversation that led to his conversion.

He turns to address his friend, who is perched on a threadbare armchair, the room’s handsome white-paneled walls behind him. Tolkien reaches for an enamel beer jug on the table and refills his tankard.

“You know, Tollers, there’s far too little of what we enjoy in stories. You liked Williams’sThe Place of the Lion just as much as I did. Really it struck me how rare such books are.”

Tolkien exclaims through dispersing wisps of smoke, “Not enough echoes of the horns of Elfland.”

He sucks on his pipe to encourage its dying embers. “Some of the Scientifiction [science fiction] around evokes wonder—sometimes offers fleeting glimpses of genuine other worlds. There is some deplorable stuff, too, but that’s true of all the genres. Space and time stories can provide Recovery and Escape.” He says the last two nouns with sudden loudness, perhaps to emphasize that they should have capitals. “I hope to lecture soon on this as a quality of Fairy Story. I relish stories that survey the depths of space and time.”

“To be sure, to be sure,” agrees Lewis, drawing attention to the slight Ulster in his vowels. He is unusually quiet this morning. “Take H. G. Wells. Even Wellsian stories can touch on the real other world of the Spirit. His early ones I care for—it’s a pity he sold his birthright for a pot of message. These kinds of stories that create regions of the spirit—they actually add to life, don’t they? They’re like some dreams that only come from time to time—they give us sensations we’ve never had before. You could say they enlarge our very idea of what’s possible in human experience.”

“Your Pilgrim’s Regress had something of what we like—romance. It’s a pity it didn’t do well with the public,” Tolkien puts in. “Was a bit obscure in places. It can be a deuce of a labor to get it right.”

“You know, Tollers,” Lewis says decisively, pipe in hand. “I’m afraid we’ll have to write them ourselves. We need stories like your Hobbit book, but on the more heroic scale of your older tales of Gondolin and Goblin wars. One of us should write a tale of time travel and the other should do space travel.”

Tolkien reminds his friend of a rather similar challenge well over a century ago—Lord Byron, at Lake Geneva in 1816, had challenged Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley to write a ghost story … and Mary, a mere girl at the time, went on to write Frankenstein. They needed, Tolkien continues, his eyes brightening, stories today that expose modern magic—the tyranny of the machine.

“Let’s toss for it, Tollers. Heads, you write about time travel; tails, you try space travel. I’ll do the other.” Tolkien nods his agreement, grinning.

Lewis fishes in the pocket of his crumpled and baggy flannels and a coin spins in the air.

“Heads it is.”

Gandalf – Aragorn – Jesus: The King Will Come

I have a confession to make.  Well not really a confession because I want to tell you something I’m very fond of actually.

I am a huge Tolkien fan.  Meaning that I’ve read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien many times, both the lesser-known and well-known, and love breathing the air of Middle Earth deeply.  There are many reasons for this, and when I count all the benefits of spending time in Middle Earth via reading Tolkien’s work the number one reason I enjoy it so much is it’s impact on my view of normal mundane life.  Why is this so?  It is my opinion and the opinion of many other Tolkien fans that reading his fantasy novels (like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) enriches our experience in this life.  It is after reading of glorious sunsets, battles, epic journeys, death defying feats of courage, and calm serene elvish and enchanted lands in Middle Earth that my activity in this life becomes more rich.  I think what I mean is this: after reading Tolkien I notice what I ignore to a deeper extent.  In fact it is true to say that my reading “there” makes my joy “here” deeper rather than leaving me with a desire to depart this world and “escape” to Middle Earth.

Anywho, due to the Hobbit films coming out recently, my love for Tolkien’s fiction fantasy world has been re-kindled and I want to share my favorite poem with you.  It is from Gandalf, and it is amazing.  Here it is:

All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.

This poem, as the other poems in Tolkien’s works, are meant to teach great and glorious realities about life in this world.  This poem is my favorite because of what it means on the surface and what it points to in reality.

What does it Mean?

All that is gold does not glitter – not everything that shines in this world is worth our devotion.  In fact, many things that shine are worth ignoring and paying no attention to.  We all know this to be true.  If you do not know what this means, think about it.  Does not gold shine along with copper?  Gold is desirable, copper is not.  Gold will make you rich, copper will not.  Spiritually speaking, gold is holy copper is sin.  Both shine, both lure us in.  Only one will benefit us.  Beware.

Not all those who wander are lost – many people view those who stray/wander as lost and hopeless.  But how often do we see those very wandering ones rise up in due time to greatness?  In The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings we see it over and over.  In the Bible we see the same.  Do not despise those who wander or those who have strayed.  They will teach you much in days to come.

The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost – this is clear is it not?  Why is it that the strong old ones do not wither?  Because the roots are deep and are not touched by what takes place above.  Gandalf is not speaking of trees here, but of us.  Certain people who are so strong in character and courage that no matter what is taking place on the “surface of things” (be it war or peace) they are calm and at peace within.  What kind of person is this?  Directly Gandalf is referring to Aragorn, whom he will reference more clearly soon.  Indirectly Tolkien via Gandalf is referring to those who are strong in the Lord.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring – Here Gandalf becomes very symbolic in what he is talking about.  A thing of old is about to re-enter the world in power.  What happens when something dies?  It falls into ash and shadow.  Gandalf is saying what has fallen will wake, it will rise.  What is he speaking of?  Look at the last phrase.

Renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king – Aragorn is in view here.  He once lived among his brothers in the North, the courageous men of Numenor, warriors, bold and strong.  But they were put to rest by the Witch King of Angmar (who is now the leader of the Nazgul Ring Wraiths).  Though he was fallen, though he lay in the dust, though their blade was broken (reference to the shards the Narsul – the sword that cut off the ring from Sauron’s hand), it shall be re-made.  The one who comes wielding that sword, shall be king.  Who wields it now re-forged?  Aragorn, the coming King, typifying Christ the whole time he comes into his throne.

As you can see, such rich imagery, such rich language, describing even richer realities.  Tolkien’s works are full of this type of richness.  But how would you ever know unless you read them?  Go for it.  Drink deeply.  Breath in the air of Middle Earth and be refreshed.  See Christ in all of it.

The Allure of Middle Earth

A glorious post on how Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth continues to allure us back time and time again by Tony Reinke:

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More than seventy-five years after J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, the glory and majesty of Middle-earth continues to draw millions of readers, and more recently, moviegoers. This week, theaters prepare for Friday’s opening of the acclaimed new movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Partly, Tolkien’s enduring popularity can be explained by the way he artfully touches the greatest themes of our collective experience of this world. Tolkien draws on themes of glory and majesty and kingship — intangible and abstract realities not easy to tap in art — and deeply embeds those themes into Middle-earth.

On a massive scale in The Lord of the Rings, and on a smaller, but no less significant, scale in The Hobbit, we encounter the longing for the right king to emerge from the shadows and to recapture his rightful empire, an ancient yearning older than mythical kings like King Arthur.

No Kings

Today, kings are mostly marginalized to meaningless pageantry. But there remains in kingship an enduring significance that is inescapable, something deeply burned into our souls, something telling us the world will only prosper when it’s ruled by the true king.

Where no kings reign, evil reigns. Tolkien knows this. This is what makes the Misty Mountains so treacherous for the company of Bilbo, the dwarves, and Gandalf, the travelers in The Hobbit. From the outset of their journey together, the wise wizard knows full well that to travel “over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled,” meant danger and “fearful adventure.”

No foot treads casually through realms unruled.

To read the rest, click here.

If you have not seen the movie yet, I cannot recommend it enough.  I had very high expectations for it, and the movie far exceeded my expectations.  Here is another quote from Tim Keller on how the theme of “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” is weaved throughout the movie to allure you to breath more of Middle Earth air:

This is a very important theme in Tolkien. The elves are often described as both old and young, both joyful and sad.

A more explicit expression of it is the description of Gandalf in Book 3-

. . . in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.

And I agree—it is very helpful in describing the demeanor of Christians, who will feel the fallenness of the world most keenly because they know what God created the world to be, and who know that nothing within history will ever bring about any fundamental repair of things, and yet Christians also have an unquenchable, infallible assurance that in the end, everything will be joy and glory. So how else can we act, but “sad, but not unhappy,” “afflicted, but not crushed”—weeping, but rejoicing.

Review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

Just read a wonderful review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.   It is an upcoming release, and oh man (!) am I excited after reading this.  Do read if you want an overview and a sneak peek of what’s coming to us in the film that is scheduled to be released next week.  Be warned if you read past the first paragraph, spoiler alert!

This review is from one of my favorite sites: Middle-Earth News

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In Peter Jackson’s latest Hobbit film, you can look forward to a more fast-paced story line. Indeed, I found the film very energetic, without a dull moment. While there are many scenes I loved in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel that played out as I had envisioned them, there were quite a few serious changes to the storyline I was not prepared for, nor do I think those that consider themselves Tolkien “purists” will be happy about them. However, there were many familiar moments within The Desolation of Smaug that die-hard Lord of the Rings fans will very much appreciate.

The following is a very detailed run-through of the film and its story line. I understand that not everyone will watch the film and have the same reactions I had, so I encourage you to go see the film once it’s out in theaters and judge it for yourself.

And so it Begins

The very first scene in DOS is a flashback, and it opens on a familiar setting–a cold wet Bree, including a carrot-munching Peter Jackson who saunters by the camera. Inside the Prancing Pony, Thorin is joined by Gandalf who convinces him to take back Erebor. I’m still undecided on whether the Bree scenes held too much familiarity or not.

Back in the “current” time frame, Bilbo is on the lookout for Azog when he spies something even more sinister–an animal in the shape of a large bear. After relaying his findings to the group, Gandalf realizes the bear is in fact Beorn. Knowing he’s tracking them, Gandalf runs and orders them all to follow him.

Bilbo

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Bilbo Baggins has changed much since we last saw him in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He seems to have come to grips with the evil around him and readily jumps into fights, kills orcs, and saves dwarves. At the same time, he struggles with the growing power The One Ring has begun to have over him. Mirkwood was a very good example of that, and I thought Jackson and his team pulled off those scenes perfectly. Well, all except that moment between Tauriel and Kili, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Azog

AUJ spent so much screen time convincing us of just how evil Azog is, that it was weird not to see much of him in DOS. At the very beginning of the film, Azog is summoned to the Necromancer who orders him to quit chasing the dwarves and start building him an army. Unable to let Thorin and Co. get off so easily, Azog orders his son Bolg to continue hunting the dwarves. I feel like the phrase, “Bolg is the new Azog,” would go really well here.

Beorn

When the first images of Beorn where released, many Tolkien fans panicked. I mean, come on, mutton chops? Really? But, I am happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised with how Beorn’s manner and character came across the big screen. I found myself studying his eyes, which are huge, brown, and…well, bear-like. Beorn’s house and its design leave nothing lacking, and I applaud Dan Hennah and the design crew for their meticulous attention to detail.

With the group being pursued by Beorn in bear form, Gandalf leads them to the shape-shifter’s house, and not a moment too soon, as he nearly manages to break in before they close the door. While Thorin and Co. stay at Beorn’s house, we find out that he is the last of his kind. The rest of his kin have been caught by Azog and have either been killed or thrown into arenas to fight each other to the death. I was disappointed by that change, as it seemed to lessen his power somewhat if every single one of his kin could be caught by one orc. Still, I enjoyed Beorn and his interactions between Thorin and Co. so much that I was sad those scenes were not longer.

Gandalf

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Gandalf is much the same as he was in AUJ, only he is growing more concerned about this “Necromancer” he’s been hearing about. At the outskirts of Mirkwood, he finds a painted red eye that compels him to leave Thorin and Co. to go investigate the origins of the Morgul blade Radagast found in AUJ. He ends up at the tombs of “The Nine,” where he “calls” Radagast to join him. Together, they find that each tomb has been broken open by whatever was buried there. Feeling the need to investigate further (and to waste time in order to fill the space need to make three movies), Gandalf decides he alone must go into Dol Goldur and face whatever enemy he finds there.

Mirkwood

In the film version of Mirkwood, there is no poisonous stream that Bombur falls into that causes him to sleep. Instead, the very air Thorin and Co. breathe is toxic and causes severe hallucinations, which honestly, caused me to feel like I was hallucinating by the time the dwarves got caught by the spiders. Speaking of which, we do hear the spiders talk amongst themselves, but only when Bilbo puts on The One Ring to save the dwarves from being eaten. The Mirkwood visual effects were amazing, and I totally got the creepy crawlies watching those giant spiders crawl around on screen.

Tauriel and Kili and Legolas

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If you’re more a film fan than a book fan, this news might not affect you as much. However, if you label yourself a “Tolkien purist,” make sure you’re sitting down. Yes, all the rumors are true. There is a love triangle between Tauriel, Kili, and Legolas. The first time this occurs is in Mirkwood, soon after Bilbo cuts the dwarves free from their spider cocoons. Kili is very nearly killed when Tauriel bursts on scene and saves his life. Kili is awestruck the moment he sees her, and he looks at her much the same way he eyed the elves in Rivendell in AUJ.

The Two Kings

Captured by Thranduil’s guards, Thorin and Co. are taken to the elven king’s dungeons. Unbeknownst to the elves, they’ve been followed by a ring-wearing hobbit, who sneaks in unseen. As Bilbo sets himself to the task of creating an escape plan, Thorin is taken to Thranduil, and the two finally face off. Both kings are proud and neither gives in to the other’s demands. No deal goes through. Even though Thorin’s pride leaves them stranded in the dungeons, there’s a wonderful moment where we see his faith in Bilbo has grown, and he trusts Bilbo will help them escape.

Meanwhile, Tauriel pays Kili a visit in the dungeons, and the two love birds chat it up about life, traditions, and stars. It isn’t till Tauriel leaves Kili that we see a very jealous Legolas watching them from afar.

Barrel-riding

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With a plan of escape in place, Bilbo manages to free the dwarves and convince them to crawl into wine barrels without giving them a reason why. The whole scene is hysterical, especially when Bilbo releases them into the river only to realize he’s forgotten to save a barrel for himself. The fun continues as the elves soon find out Thorin and Co. have escaped. Legolas and Tauriel pursue the escapees only to find Bolg and his crew have finally caught up with them as well.

So much happens on screen during the barrel-riding scenes that your eyes will hurt. Bombur is particularly funny, so keep an eye out for him in all the commotion. And let’s not forget Legolas, who performs all kinds of impossible stunts, all very reminiscent of LOTR. The fun, however, takes a turn when Kili gets shot by an arrow. Still, the dwarves (and Bilbo) manage to escape the orcs and the elves and head down stream.

With one orc as prisoner, Legolas and Tauriel head back to Thranduil, where the orc is questioned. This is where we find out the arrow Kili was shot with was a Morgul arrow and that if left untreated, he’ll die. Don’t worry, it gets weirder. Tauriel leaves to save Kili, and when Legolas finds out, he defies his father’s orders and goes after her.

Bard

Thorin and Co. ride the river until eventually they lose the current and end up running into Bard. There are some humorous lines exchanged as the dwarves try to convince Bard to help smuggle them into Laketown. Grim faced, Bard agrees to their terms and sails them towards town where he eventually has to cover them with fish in order to hide them. To make matters more humiliating for the dwarves, they end up having to come up through Bard’s toilet in order to sneak past those watching Bard’s house.

Laketown

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I loved Laketown. It is one of the few places the music really struck me, and the set design is just spectacular. The Master of Laketown and his counselor Alfrid are absolutely disgusting– just the way I pictured them when reading the book. Unfortunately, that’s where my awe ended. So many things part from the book in Laketown, that I found myself dizzy trying to accept it all. Not all the dwarves head to Erebor, for instance. Kili’s wound worries Thorin and he orders him to stay behind. Not able to leave his brother’s side, Fili decides to stay in Laketown, as well. And then there’s Bofur who, after a late night of drinking, wakes up late and misses the boat to Erebor.

The three dwarves are taken in by Bard’s children, as Bard has been thrown in jail for not cooperating with The Master. Kili’s wound takes a turn for the worst, and Bofur leaves to find kingsfoil. That’s when Bolg and his crew show up again, as well as Tauriel and Legolas. After some fighting, Tauriel goes Arwen on us and heals Kili with kingsfoil, elvish words, and glowing light. Now on the mend, Kili is head over heals in love, and he and Tauriel hold hands for a few moments. No, I am not making this up.

Meanwhile, a very annoyed Legolas has been left to fight Bolg on his own. Bolg manages to cut Legolas every so slightly on the upper lip, and enraged, Legolas mounts a white horse and rides after him.

Dol Goldor and The Necromancer

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Just as Radagast had guessed, a trap awaits Gandalf in Dol Goldur, and soon the wizard is running all over the ruins fighting Azog and his crew. That is, until he runs into the Necromancer. The scene took me back to The Fellowship of the Ring, where Saruman and Gandalf have their wizard battle and again when he fought the Balrog. This time, however, we get a black fog fighting Gandalf. Using his staff, he creates a white bubble of light to overcome the Necromancer, only he fails several times until he is eventually pinned up against a wall. There we get a very trippy Sauron eye flash on the screen about a million times. Finally, we see Gandalf has been caught, and is being held in a hanging cage in Dol Goldur.

Erebor

Three dwarves short, Thorin and Co. sail from Laketown to Dale and then make the climb to Erebor, where they wait for the sunset to reveal the key hole to the secret entrance. The sun goes down, nothing happens, and it takes all of two seconds for every single dwarf to give up the entire quest. Left alone, Bilbo stands there pondering what to do when the moon shines down on the stone. A key hole is revealed, the dwarves return, and they finally enter the Lonely Mountain. Now inside Erebor, Bilbo is sent on his biggest quest: find the Arkenstone.

Smaug

I enjoyed this part of the film so much that I hate to give too much away. The conversation between Smaug and Bilbo is brilliant. Smaug is proud, smart, and 100% dragon–just what I was hoping for. All throughout their conversation, Bilbo is humorously trying to nab the Arkenstone, which he spied among the gold. However, we are never shown whether or not he ever managed to get it.

In the end, Smaug tires of Bilbo and decides to turn him into BBQ Hobbit. Eventually, a running Bilbo is joined by Thorin and the other dwarves, and so begins the long chase through Erebor. After much running, Thorin comes up with a plan. Using Smaug’s own flames, they heat up the old furnaces and lead the dragon to the throne room. There, they lure him to a large casting mold. The now heated furnaces pour liquid gold into the mold and as soon as Smaug approaches it, the dwarves release the mold casting to reveal a golden statue of Thror. Taken in by the sight of so much gold, Smaug pauses, but the casting has not fully cooled, and the gold suddenly bursts, covering Smaug in a river of gold. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief but soon regrets it, as Smaug breaks through the surface, now covered in gold. Now angrier than ever, Smaug heads for Laketown, bent on it’s desolation.

The End

The end of the film leaves Kili, Fili, Bofur, Bard, and Tauriel in Laketown, Legolas off hunting Bolg, Thraunduil held up in his wooden kingdom, Gandalf captured by the Necromancer, Smaug flying for Laketown, and the rest of Thorin and Co. regretting their decisions. As “I See Fire” began playing as the credits rolled, I found myself not wanting the story to end there, so I know I’ll be back this time next year anxiously awaiting The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

Beyond the Forest

Make sure to stay for the credits, as there’s a particularly delightful song that follows “I See Fire.” It is, in my opinion, the true essence of Middle-earth. It’s an entirely new sound, and yet it holds the same magic and wonder Howard Shore’s LOTR soundtracks have. Too bad neither AUJ or DOS did not incorporate more songs like “Beyond the Forest.” Dare I hold out hope for The Hobbit: There And Back Again?