Yesterday I finished The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Before I go further into this blog I simply want to state that the book was phenomenal and for any Tolkien fans out there I would highly recommend reading it. Also, the last ten pages of the book reveal that Peter Jackson isn’t ruining The Hobbit but is actually incorporating more of the history of Middle Earth into the movies. That being said, as I was finishing up the book I couldn’t help but think about how much the book reminds me of the history of Israel as it is found in the canonical books of 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles, and 1 & 2 Kings.
The Silmarillion is one of those books where it is almost impossible to remember all the characters and details presented to the reader. Tolkien covers such a long period of time and introduces so many story lines and characters that it is very difficult to keep everything straight. Even though that is the case, an engaged reader cannot help but pick up on powerful themes that are weaved throughout the story (kinda like the Bible!).
One of those themes is one that is continually present in the historical books of the Old Testament: incompleteness. If you’ve read the history of Israel in the Old Testament you are sure to be frustrated by the number of kings who seem to be so righteous and strong and yet do not take the work of reformation all the way to the heart. You have kings like Josiah who do wonderful things in returning the kingdom to obedience yet there are still vestiges of Canaanite worship left unconquered.
The same theme runs throughout The Silmarillion. Time and again the enemy (Morgoth &/or Sauron) are defeated, yet not destroyed. This defeat of evil is followed by a period of prosperity and glory which is then followed by a period of growing evil which finds its climax in yet another deliverance starting the cycle over again.
There is a reason why the Jewish people where so longing for their Messiah. They knew that something had to be different about the Messiah from the great kings and prophets of old. In those days there were periods of reform followed by heard heartedness and rebellion only to followed by another period of reform and rebellion. The Messiah was to come and bring about the absolute victory of God by destroying once and for all the powers of evil. That is what is celebrated every year at Easter. Jesus is that Messiah and in dying on the cross and rising from the grave he has vanquished the darkest foe of humanity, death, and initiated his kingdom which the increase of shall know no end!
Tolkien loves this theme and it is replete throughout not only The Silmarillion but also The Lord of the Rings. As the power of Sauron grew he creates the foreboding “ring of power”. In Tolkien this ring represents the root of evil. There were great kings and elves which had in the past defeated Sauron (Isildor, Gil Galad, etc.) yet these heroes were unable to destroy the root of evil which the ring represented.
Ultimately Tolkien follows the theme of the Bible which is to destroy the powers of evil through weakness and seeming defeat. In the same way that Jesus represented weakness before the powers of this world and his walk to the cross, so too does Frodo represent the weakest and most innocent member of Middle Earth. It is through this apparent weakness that Tolkien decides to destroy the powers of Evil.
As Christians we must understand the power of words. We must understand that the world we inhabit is, in its truest sense, the spoken word of God (Gen. 1, Col. 1, Heb. 1). The greatest stories (like Tolkien’s) are those stories that resound the themes of the world that God has created and maintains through his word.
Food for thought!