Arts, Media, and Entertainment

A Triumphant Return

After seven years in the making, the final film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, opens this Wednesday. The good news is that, like the others, it was worth the wait. The better news is that, even more than the others, what we see on screen respects the Christian faith of the book's author, J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote that Lord of the Rings is a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first but consciously in the revision." Director Peter Jackson and screenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh knew this. So they consciously honored the things that "were important to Tolkien." Many of his beliefs, thus, come through on screen. What sets Lord of the Rings apart from other stories about good versus evil, aside from its extraordinarily imaginative treatment, is the way Christian truth is portrayed, how it confounds the wisdom of the world. While the great and powerful play a role in defeating evil, in the end, it's the humble and unremarkable hobbits who save the day. This paradox, the weak shaming the wise and the mighty, is most prominent in The Return of the King, both the book and the film. At the end, the hero of the third film isn't Aragon, the king-to-be, or even Frodo, the ring-bearer. It's Samwise Gamgee, a gardener and arguably the humblest of the four hobbits. Time after time, when it appears that the quest to destroy the Ring of Power is about to fail, Sam somehow summons up the will to go on and, most importantly, takes Frodo with him. The cinematic Sam mirrors what Tolkien wrote of in his book: "His will was set and only death would break it." Another instance of Tolkien's faith coming through occurs in an exchange between Pippin, one of the hobbits, and Gandalf, the wizard. Hours before a battle in which he is sure he will die, Pippin tells Gandalf that he "never thought it would end like this." Gandalf replies, "End? No, the journey doesn't end here. There's another path we all must take. The gray rain curtain of this world rolls back, and it will change to the silver clouds, and then you see it." When Pippin asks, "See what?" Gandalf replies, "White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise." Gandalf's words, with a vivid picture of heaven, comfort Pippin as he contemplates battle and possible death. According to screenwriters Boyens and Walsh, The Return of the King is ultimately about faith: faith in the need for good to oppose evil; faith in those who join you in that struggle; and faith in a higher power that ensures good's eventual triumph. Seven years ago, bringing Tolkien's masterpiece to the screen in a way that did the story justice was considered unlikely -- even less likely that it would honor Tolkien's faith. But that is what this film does. And that makes The Return of the King an easy one to recommend. A great book has become a great film precisely because it remembers what the author thought was "most important" -- the truths of a Christian worldview. For further reading and information: Visit the website for The Return of the King. Steve Beard, "The Return of the King," Jeffrey Overstreet, "Film Forum: Christian Critics Hail Third Rings, Harass Last Samurai," Christianity Today, 11 December 2003. Monique Devereux, "The Return of the King -- the international verdict," New Zealand Herald, 9 December 2003. Read more articles on the making of the trilogy from the Herald. Read more about The Return of the King at J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings(Houghton Mifflin, 1974). Kurt D. Bruner, Finding God in the Lord of the Rings (Tyndale, 2001). See the BreakPoint Commentaries: "Preparatio Evangelica," "Now at a Theater Near You," and "Defrocking Frodo and the Death of the Imagination." (Archived commentaries; free registration required.) Roberto Rivera, "The Lord of the Rings," Boundless, 20 December 2001. Gina Dalfonzo, "The Myth That Really Happened," BreakPoint Online, 23 December 2002. Kelley Reep, "Between Two Masters," BreakPoint Online, 24 January 2003. Colleen Carroll, "Tolkien, Transformer of Culture," BreakPoint Online, 19 April 2002. Steven Garber, "Good Books, Bad Books," BreakPoint WorldView, January/February 2003. See the "BreakPoint with Chuck Colson Recommended Films List."


Chuck Colson


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