Theme: "Things that are given to Frodo"
Insights: The Lord of the Rings has been called "the book of the century", and certainly its popularity and longevity would make this an appropriate appellation.1 This three volume work by J.R.R. Tolkien directed by Peter Jackson has at long last come to the cinema screen . The first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released in December 2001. The other two films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are scheduled to be released in December 2002 and December 2003 respectively.
There have been volumes written about J.R.R. Tolkien - about his life, his books, and the world he created known as Middle Earth. The insights offered herein are not meant to be a commentary on Tolkien or any of his works. They are simply insights gleaned from the motion picture, which in some cases does not exactly follow the events in the book. In order to make them simple and concise, they are arranged around one theme only - "Things that are given to Frodo".
Who is Frodo?
Following the introduction to the film, which relates all we need to know to set the stage for the story to follow, the first person we meet is Frodo Baggins, the hobbit. We meet him in a place called the Shire, a setting of beauty, freedom, innocence, and joy; not quite unlike Frodo himself. Who is Frodo? While certainly being the film's main character, he is not necessarily its hero. Frodo is the Ring-Bearer, the Bearer of a Burden he wished had never come to him; and it is in that burden that we the audience identify with him. We see him like a child, who having lost his innocence, must now set out on the Road of Life. So, from the opening scenes, we are drawn into his story, his journey, and his quest. Who is Frodo? He is one of us.
The Ring (Corruption)
The first thing that is given to Frodo is the Ring. This is the one ruling Ring forged by the dark lord Sauron in ages past. It is a ring of absolute power. Devised by evil, it corrupts all who possess it. It is the Burden that Frodo quite innocently picks up, and from that moment, his life is changed forever. Now he becomes the Ring-Bearer. He must leave The Shire and enter the outside world - the dark world.
The second thing given to Frodo is his loyal servant and companion, Samwise Gamgee. Frodo will not travel the Road alone, but will have this faithful, humble yet courageous heart to accompany him. It is Sam who will demonstrate his great love for Frodo by being willing to lay his own life down. This is so beautifully depicted in the movie by his going out into the water after Frodo (John 15:13). The scene of his hand reaching for the light symbolizes his purity of heart. Although in name and appearance he seems to be the very least, he is truly the hero, the Christ-like one.2
Merry and Pippin, Frodo's two hobbit friends, offer the necessary touch of humor needed in a film with so much darkness. More importantly, they give to Frodo a means of escape (I Corinthians 10:13). Two times in the film, once at the beginning of Frodo's journey and again at the end, they willingly give themselves up for the sake of their friend. They may be small in stature, but their brave, courageous hearts are enormous.
The next thing Frodo receives is a protector with healing hands and the most powerful sword. When we first meet him at The Prancing Pony in Bree, he is called by the name, "Strider". (Notice how the darkness increases dramatically outside the Shire.) His real name is Aragorn, heir of Isildur and heir to the throne of Gondor. He is the King of men, now cloaked in disguise. With his fiery, flaming eyes, he reminds us of another King (Revelation 1:14b). One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is the scene of Strider standing watch over the hobbits at the ancient watchtower of Amon Sul.
A very powerful and stirring scene comes when the Elven Princess Arwen flees the Ringwraiths with the wounded Frodo. Having been stabbed by a Mordor blade, Frodo is in danger of becoming a wraith himself. He is in desperate need of getting to Rivendell and the House of Elrond, for only the elfish medicine can save him. Arwen takes Frodo from Aragorn, out races the wraiths, and crosses the river. Turning, she confronts the powers of darkness. This is an incredible scene of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, and beauty vs. corruption. Having defeated the wraiths by calling forth the river (reminiscent of the Red Sea - Exodus 14:27-28.), Arwen turns to Frodo who is falling into "shadow". "Don't give in, not now!" she cries. Wrapping him in her arms, she prays, "What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared. Save him."
In Rivendell while Frodo recovers, a council of all the free people of Middle Earth is convened to decide what must be done with the Ring. We get another glimpse of Frodo's childlikeness when he volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor, even though he does not know the way. Immediately, the bickering of the council ends, and Frodo is given a group of companions to accompany him. It is important to see what each one offers Frodo. Gandalf offers to help him bear the Burden (Galatians 6:2). Aragorn offers a sword to protect him, Legolas his bow, and Gimili his ax. Boromir, who has shown his weakness for the Ring, offers Frodo his pride, "Gondor will see it done", thus revealing the weak link in the fellowship. The three hobbits, Sam, Merry, and Pipin, who have already committed themselves to Frodo, bring the number of the Fellowship of the Ring to nine3.
Just before departing Rivendell, Frodo is given two pieces of armor by Bilbo Baggins. He gives him his trusty sword, "Sting", that glows when orcs are near and a vest made out of Mithril, which ends up saving Frodo's life. Outwardly, Frodo looks like a simple hobbit, but as Gimli says, "There is more to this hobbit than meets the eye."
Frodo's life and the rest of the fellowship are saved by the sacrifice of Gandalf. In one of the most visually dramatic scenes, Gandalf stands up to do battle with an ancient demon, a Balrog (a scene reminiscent of David and Goliath4). Having defeated the demon, Gandalf turns and is unexpectedly drawn into the pit by the demon's fiery whip. Sacrificing himself for the sake of the fellowship, his body falls into the abyss in the shape of a cross.
From the Lady Galadriel, Frodo receives a crystal phial containing the light of Earendil5, which is to be a light in dark places when all other lights go out. She tells Frodo that even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
Aragorn gives Frodo his freedom to leave the fellowship. In a very moving scene, Aragorn tells Frodo how he would have gone with him into the very fires of Mordor. Unlike Boromir, he does not try to take the Ring, but once again becomes Frodo's protector as he battles orcs while Frodo escapes.
Frodo, the Ring-Bearer, bears the Burden, but he obviously does not bear it alone. Everything that has been given to him with the exception of the Ring is a symbol of Christ. Symbolism was important to Tolkien because he thought more like a medieval man than a modern one6. The medieval world was a Christocentic world where signs and symbols were used to point to something beyond the world. The Large Story (The Christ Story) was everywhere, and men knew how to interpret it in the language of symbols. Passing through the modern era, we have lost not only the ability to interpret the symbols; we have lost the Large Story as well. As the film narrator so beautifully states, "The world has changed.......Much now lost and none alive who remember.....History became legend, legend became myth...."
The one question that requires meditation is why at this moment in history is the message of The Lord of the Rings films being released to millions of people?
One Ring to Rule 2001
(The Fellowship of the Ring)
The Two Towers 2002
The Return of the King 2003
Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-7
J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century by Tom Shippley
"Samwise is a translation into Old English of his name in Hobbitish and means 'Half-Wit' (which is fitting for a shrewd, honest, heroic figure considered a fool by the great and powerful)." Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings · pg 99 · Colin Duriez
The number "nine" is very significant. In the film there were nine Kings of Men with their rings that fell under the power of Sauron and his one ruling ring. These kings became the Nazgul or Ringwraiths. The number nine spiritually can represent the fruit of the Spirit. There are nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 and nine gifts of the Spirit listed in I Corinthians 12:8-10. Therefore, the nine individual members of the Fellowship coming together in oneness is a picture of the unity of the Spirit. Perhaps this is why the breaking of the Fellowship was so essential to Sauron.
I Samuel 17:31-58
Light of Earendil: "In the Silmarillion, Earendil is a central figure with associations of Christ himself. His star in the sky was a sign of the providence of Iluvatar providing hope." Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings · pg 90 · Colin Duriez
"Western civilization began to worship power when it began to doubt significance. The reason Lewis, Chesterton, Williams, Tolkien, and Thomas Howard fascinate us so much is that they still live in the medieval world, a world chocked-full of the built-in, God-designed significance. That's why they all think analogically, sacramentally, imagistically. For them everything means something beyond itself. Everything is not only a thing, but a sign full of significance. Modernity, confining itself to the scientific method as the model for knowing reality, deliberately induces in itself what Lewis calls a dog-like state of mind, full of facts and empty of significance. Point to your dog's food, and he will sniff your finger. Show a baby a book, and he will try to eat it rather than read it. Show modern man a lion, and he will try to tame it and make money out of it in a circus, and smile superiorly at the quaint old medieval who saw it as the King of Beasts and the natural symbol in the animal kingdom of the great King of Kings." C.S. Lewis For The Third Millennium by Peter Kreeft · pg 58