Waikato Anglican Bishop David Moxon (pictured), from New Zealand, often gets the comment from the press regarding The Lord of the Rings. There is no perceivable religious content in the movie, they say – “surely it’s just a good fairy story”.
To which Bishop David replies, “It is a very good fairy story, but there are many different depths to it and the author himself wrote out of the depths of his Christian heart, leaving many signs of his faith embedded in his work.”
He also says, “There are hundreds of spiritual echoes and images which reflect Gospel truth, much like a collage or the refraction of colors from white light.”
Bishop David explains that the principles of the birth, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of the Christ are anticipated. “Each of the main characters for good can be seen to image different aspects of Christ in their own way—Aragorn as the Kingship of Christ, Frodo as the suffering servant, Sam as the constancy and fidelity of Christ, Arwen as the self-giving immortality of Christ.”
He says there is no intentional spiritual thrust in The Lord of the Rings, but nevertheless The Lord of the Rings serves as a kind of Trojan horse for the Gospel.
In 2001, Bishop David Moxon gave two public lectures about the power of the myth of The Lord of the Rings in Hamilton and Lower Hutt. This coincided with the movie release of part one of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring. Approximately 300 people turned up to the lectures.
Bishop David has also wrote a booklet called A Once and Future Myth, which explains The Lord of the Rings myth and spoken to university groups, church youth groups, an Anglican Schools Conference, Parish groups and study groups in the Waikato and Taranaki area.
He disagrees with film critic Roger Ebert’s comment about the film version of The Return of the King. Mr Ebert, in the Chicago Sun Times, said in his column, that the story is just a little too silly to carry the emotional weight of a masterpiece. The epic fantasy has displaced real contemporary concerns, wrote Mr. Ebert, and audiences are much more interested in Middle-earth than in the world they inhabit.
However, Bishop David says that he has found when showing clips of the movie to teenagers for example, or giving public lectures on the spirituality inherent in the story, hundreds of people come, genuinely fascinated and deeply influenced by the way in which the story speaks to their own story.
The power of myth
Bishop David points to a lecture given by J.R.R Tolkien about fairy stories at St Andrew’s University, Scotland, during 1939, where it is clear that The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R Tolkien intended his use of fairy story to be very relevant and highly applicable to the life we know, by means of quickening the imagination for living in the real world here and now.
“Tolkien and C.S. Lewis believed that a great story of the mythical type gives us an experience of something not as an abstraction, but as a concrete reality. We don’t ‘understand the meaning’ when we read a myth. We actually encounter the thing itself. What you taste turns out to be a universal principle.
“This is not escapism from this world, but a desire to use a fantasy world to create a better reality in the mind’s eye, in the heart, so that on their return from the story, the reader is inspired to be more heroic for example, or to see the beauty in ordinary everyday things and their specialness.
“This is to see in a new way, the imaginative potential of the world. This happens particularly well if the fairy story is believable and has details and places that make it seem to have a tangible relationship with the world in which we live.”
Tolkien’s contemporary C.S. Lewis elaborated in a book review of The Lord of the Rings that the value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity…
“Putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.”
[First published in Challenge Weekly, 2004]
P.S. David Moxon has since been appointed the Anglican representative to the Vatican.