Archives For Lord of the Rings

The Road Taken

June 19, 2012 — 4 Comments

They are both important. Where we are going, and how we get there.

It’s quite common for analogies about our lives to assume the form of journeys. The journey, in fact, is a fitting metaphor for all human life.

Aging is a journey. Maturing is a journey that should run parallel to aging (though it seldom seems to do so). Learning is a journey. And the image of the “lifelong learner” is something that appeals to most readers and to all who hunger for daily intellectual growth.

Our spiritual lives are journeys of a sort. They follow “paths,” with branches that invite us to travel in myriad directions. Yet all roads are not “equal.” David, the anointed Psalmist prayed, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
 teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4, ESV).

Even secular poets have recognized the power of this concept. One of the most memorable lines ever penned in English is: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I . . . I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost).

The Inklings expertly used the metaphor of journey to frame their works. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are both propelled, in fact, by vivid journeys. Likewise, Narnia’s Chronicles contain a number of momentous journeys, which ultimately culminate in the final journey which just begins with the close of The Last Battle.

These journeys are, of course, literal trips. Physical traveling from one place to another. Of course, these physical passages occur simultaneously with far more meaningful changes.

The typical contemporary journey of life may take us to varying locales—but it’s possible to savor a rich life journey without ever traveling far from the home of our youth. Indeed, one could be bedridden from birth, and travel the world in terms of experiencing Life. Thanks to God’s gifts of imagination, dream, wonder and faith.

C.S. Lewis also employs this journeying metaphor in his nonfiction works. In The Problem of Pain, he paints a fascinating panorama of our life in this world. He reveals that suffering is actually a blessing, in that it prevents us from growing too attached to this world. Although God graces us with pleasing moments in this life, they are interrupted by moments of insecurity . . . lest we mistakenly believe this finite world is our true home.

Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

May the roads we choose to follow bring us safely to the wonderful home our heavenly Father has prepared for each of us.

___

The beautiful, copyrighted photograph above appears compliments of Craig Sterken Photography at craigsterken.com. Check out his exceptional gallery!

Our Eagle Allies

May 30, 2012 — 3 Comments

Eagles are majestic creatures. Living in the midst of a large bald eagle nesting area is something my wife and I don’t take for granted. Each year we see scores of the graceful raptors courting and then raising their young right here on Hood Canal.

Hood Canal is actually an 80 kilometer long fjord, which lies just to the east of the Olympic National Forest. It features deep blue waters at the foot of an impressive mountain range.

Eagles make a significant impression on nearly everyone fortunate enough to see them. Even though they are birds of prey, they look extremely noble. In light of that fact, it’s no accident many nations include an eagle as part of their coat of arms or national seal. These include: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Russia, the United States and at least ten additional countries.

Eagles have also figured prominently in literature. For example, both of the preeminent Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, featured eagles as heroes in their fictional classics.

Eagles in the Work of C.S. Lewis

Eagles are among those granted speech by Aslan at the dawn of Narnia’s creation. They reward their Creator’s gift by serving faithfully throughout the entire history of the land. Eagles play a role in virtually every battle that occurs in Narnia. They are always on the side of good.

In addition to fighting in the campaign against the White Witch, eagles are responsible for the rescue of Edmund from her camp. When Aslan calls his army to rush toward the climactic battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he says:

And now! Those who can’t keep up—that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals—must ride on the backs of those who can—that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.

The most noteworthy passages relate to Farsight, who is a prominent eagle during the final days of Narnia. He it is who brings to King Tirian the sad news that Narnia’s capital has fallen.

“Sire,” said the Eagle, “when you have heard my news you will be sorrier of my coming than of the greatest woe that ever befell you.” Tirian’s heart seemed to stop beating at these words, but he set his teeth and said, “Tell on.” “Two sights have I seen,” said Farsight. “One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes . . . And the other sight, five leagues nearer than Cair Paravel, was Roonwit the Centaur lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side. I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” “So,” said the King, after a long silence, “Narnia is no more.” (The Last Battle)

After this sad entrance, and following the “Last Battle,” Farsight is one of the leaders as the victor’s army enters into the foothills of heaven.

. . . the dogs barked, “Faster, faster!” So they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they. And they went through winding valley after winding valley and up the steep sides of hills and, faster than ever, down the other side, following the river and sometimes crossing it and skimming across mountain lakes as if they were living speedboats . . . “Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one
held back. . . .

Only when they had reached the very top did they slow up; that was because they found themselves facing great golden gates. And for a moment none of them was bold enough to try if the gates would open. . . . “Dare we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?” But while they were standing thus a great horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open. (The Last Battle)

Eagles in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien

Similar to Lewis’ distinction between dumb and speaking eagles, Tolkien distinguishes between “common” and Great Eagles. In The Hobbit he writes, “Eagles are not kindly birds. Some are cowardly and cruel. But the ancient race of the northern mountains were the greatest of all birds; they were proud and strong and noble-hearted.”

It is these noble mountain eagles who populate the six books (three volumes) of the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other fiction.

At the end of the First Age, eagles fight alongside the Valar, Elves and Men in the War of Wrath. They especially contend against the dragons of Morgoth as recounted in The Silmarillion. The eagles emerge victorious, destroying most of their enemy during an aerial battle.

Near the end of the Third Age, the eagles from the Misty Mountains rescue Thorin’s troop from goblins and wargs, as related in The Hobbit. Without their aid, the Dwarves, Elves and Humans would likely have met defeat at the Battle of Five Armies.

In The Lord of the Rings (including the cinematic version) the eagles feature prominently. They are even capable of clashing head-to-head with the fearsome Nazgûl-mounted dragons.

And, of course, several of them rescued Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee following the destruction of the One Ring.

Two named eagles should be mentioned. Thorondor was the initial Lord of Eagles and according to The Silmarillion was the “mightiest of all birds that have ever been.”

His descendant Gwaihir is the leader of those who aid Gandalf throughout the events of The Lord of the Rings. Not only does he rescue the wizard from the tower, but he returns him after his “resurrection” which followed the battle with the Balrog.

“Naked I was sent back—for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. . . . I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. . . . And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away. ‘Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,’ I said.”

“A burden you have been,” the Eagle answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind.” (The Two Towers)

It may be that for this life we must remain content with seeing only the common and mute eagles that populate this mortal world. But even they, are glorious to behold.

Jesus & Gandalf

February 19, 2012 — 10 Comments

Today Christians celebrated our Lord’s Transfiguration. (If you attend a church that doesn’t follow the historic “Church Year,” ask your pastor about it. It can be a healthy and educational spiritual discipline.)

The Transfiguration took place on a mountaintop where God the Father brought Moses and Elijah to speak with Jesus. During this encounter, Jesus and his garments shined with a pure, clear light that dazzled the eyes.

It was quite likely the Transfiguration that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to include one powerful image in his Lord of the Rings tale. (The Lord of the Rings is often referred to as a trilogy, although it is actually a single intricate novel which consists of six “books” plus appendices.)

In the Middle Earth myth, the heroic Gandalf dies in battle with a champion of evil . . . only to be resurrected with even greater power and focus. In this point, the two events differ, since Jesus’ nature never changed. He was incarnate and born as both God and human being. The Transfiguration merely revealed momentarily a portion of his divine identity which was masked, in a sense, by his human flesh.

The aspect in which the accounts are similar comes in the appearance of the glorified Savior and the resurrected Wizard . . . they exude a holy radiance so powerful it even affects their garb.

Thus, Tolkien’s beloved Gandalf the Grey is transformed into the triumphant Gandalf the White.

The Transfiguration of Jesus was one small piece of evidence that he was who he claimed to be. It wasn’t given to the disciples to persuade them of his divinity; in fact, those who witnessed it were enjoined not to share the miracle with others until much later.

Ultimately, what one believes about Jesus does not come down to adding up his miracles and weighing them against the claims of other faiths. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and humanity’s Savior. If he wasn’t exactly that, he should be condemned and his memory forgotten. As the brilliant C.S. Lewis wrote:

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He said so. The other evidence about Him has convinced them that He was neither a lunatic nor a quack. (C.S. Lewis, “The Language of Religion”)

Those familiar with Lewis’ writings may recognize how this quotation echoes others where he discusses his divine trilemma.

The world is full of hypocrites who want to force Jesus into their warped pantheons as a “prophet” or “teacher.” Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be embraced as anything other than who he is—God’s Son. Since he made that claim so clearly, he is either precisely that, or he is a liar. Or, it’s possible as Lewis points out, that he may have been insane. In which case he also falls short of being someone who should be followed.

For those who do not presently know Christ, simply pray in humility that God would open your eyes in a personal epiphany. God desires that no one would remain separated from him. And then, one day we can all look forward to seeing our Lord in the fullness of his glory.