“Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is, in many (if not all respects), one of the greatest stories ever written. The fairy tale land of Middle-Earth bears a wide cast of characters who enter into a clearly demarcated battle of good versus evil. I draw upon my mother’s counsel here – a professed Tolkienite – to claim that Tolkien’s ability to parallel good and evil in Middle Earth to his contemporary post-World War II culture provides unique greatness to the trilogy not found in other mythical stories.
Tolkien had the courage to write a real story: one that reflected the pain of death, the prevalence of evil, and the seeming hopelessness of oppression. I argue that he could not have written of Boromir’s betrayal and death, Saruman’s embrace of darkness, or Minas Tirith’s impending doom battling Mordor, had he not already known the ending of the story – good must and always will triumph over evil. As Gandalf tells Pippin in the siege of Minas Tirith: “the grey curtain rolls away, and then you see it…white shores, a far greener country.” Tolkien’s story should send chills down our spines, because we want so desperately to believe Gandalf – that good will win the day – that the valiant men of Gondor will defeat the despicable orcs of Mordor, that the atrocities of this world are just a passing moment in a story peppered with hope and redemption.
Tolkien uses the hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, to ask and answer the questions of hopelessness in the story; ultimately asking: “is everything sad going to come untrue?” A devout Christian, Tolkien already knew the answer; after all he had helped push C.S. Lewis to Christianity (from Theism) by showing him that all great fairy tales (cf. Lord of the Rings and Narnia years later) point to one ultimate fairy tale. The qualities that we love in our stories– courageous, selfless heroes, hope emerging from hopelessness, restoration of peace– all come true in “The Ultimate Story,” says Tolkien.
Lewis’ imaginative mind was sold. The Story won him over. Tolkien and Lewis’ stories point, in splendid but veiled manner, towards this Story and its divine elements. This entire Fellows year has revolved around our understanding of this story (the four-chapter gospel) and its implementation into our everyday lives. One might think us tired of all the talks on sovereignty, humility, miracles, discipleship, etc; yet, upon remembering the Story’s themes of redemption, resurrection, and consummation, we drink from rich emotional waters.
This Story, as all great stories, gets better as more and more details emerge. This Story, the story of God bringing His heavenly kingdom down to earth, has penetrated each of our lives in significantly more meaningful ways that any fairy tale or story; for we realize we are a part of this story. We are actors on the divine stage, playing parts in the Greatest Story Ever Told, and just like Tolkien, God writes a story that shows human desperation, evil, and loss, but has the divine courage and capability to write a most chilling ending:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)
We know the ending of the story is written, and we – the players – must play in light of such a hope.
God forever knew and enlightened us through Tolkien that “Evil may yet be good to have been and yet remain evil.” This story, friends, is one of hardship, depravity, and destitution; but it is so for such a cause as to bring victorious splendor from glorious ruins; yes, the night often feels dark and empty, but we will soon awake to the joyous morning of eternity. We know the ending of the story is written, and we – the players – must play in light of such a hope. Only then can we enter into the depravity of this world, as Tolkien wrote of, for our part in this great Story.
Will Thompson is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.