In the first part of my article on Lord of the Rings, we look at the Catholic themes such as devotion to Mary, Confession, Exorcism, Eucharist, and the meaning of the ring. (See Part 1 https://tonyjesse.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/the-hidden-meaning-of-lord-of-the-rings/)
The ring represents sin, and as a person puts the ring on he disappears. Tolkien showcases what the ring (sin) does to people. It takes them away from the good world – their natural, pure self, and it makes them visible to Sauron – which slowly destroys the real person into a destructive version of themselves. Notice at the beginning of the Return of the King movie the sad transformation of Smeagol to Gollum. This ugly conversion is because of his addiction to the ring.
This transformation of good to bad is what happens in the human story beginning in Eden. We who began as the Adam (Man) became the golem, the “un-man.” I think it’s no accident that Tolkien chose the name Gollum for Smeagol; in the Jewish legend, of course, golem is the “un-man.” The ring brings a person immense power. However, by putting the ring on a person’s real self is removed and that person becomes a sad version of the good person they used to be. So, while the ring may bring you power, it takes the real you away. In fact, Jesus states this clearly:
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own self?” – Luke 9:25
Gollum illustrates one-half of the paradox; Frodo and Sam show the other half. They attain themselves and save themselves only because they give themselves away—for others, for the Shire, for the Middle Earth; not for something (ring) that gives them power. They avoid the power of the ring because they know the ring destroys their true personhood. This idea is played out plainly in Matthew 16:2 “Whoever wants to save their life, will lose it (Gollum -get the ring for the self). But whoever looses his life, will find it” (Frodo & Sam – give up their life for others)
What is the solution to destroy the ring? Somebody has to take this ring of power and has to go back to where it was made into its own country. Our instinct is to say get the strongest most powerful, most cunning, skillful and maybe get the largest army to defeat this evil army. No, you find the smallest, humblest least likely character, and he is the one who will effectively undermine the enemy. After all, no one would expect a hobbit to be the one to take down evil.
At the heart of the fellowship of the ring are these two little hobbits. They are tiny, and can sneak under the radar. They don’t look like great heroes so nobody would notice them. They can slip secretly into Mordor. They don’t come with a large army. If Sauron saw the armies of Middle-Earth coming into Mordor, Sauron would crush them. The hobbitts creep quietly in, and then can go right into the heart of darkness to destroy the ring.
In addition to Frodo, Sam is also a Christ figure. Sam is with Frodo all the way like a loyal, faithful friend. At the decisive moment when Frodo wants to destroy the ring, he is seduced by it. Frodo falls for the temptation of the ring. It is Sam who resisted the temptation and was ready to complete the task. We are not going to be saved by the human kings because they are so liable to corruption and power. But Sam who wants nothing more than to smoke his pipe, hang out with friends, and play with his kids- he is the savior. He is a true Christ figure. He wants nothing to do with the powers of this world. Sam holds a simple life and reflects the humble nature of a loyal servant.
In showcasing the small, humble nature of hobbits destroying the ring, Tolkien is illuminating the humble nature of God taking down sin, evil and the corrupted kings and armies of the world. God does not come to humanity as a great warrior or a radiant, majestic king in appearance to the center of power – Rome. Rather, God comes to humanity as a regular looking carpenter from a middle of a no-where Roman occupied hick town. He was not born in a grand palace surrounded by the kings of this world. Rather, he was born in a tiny stable surrounded by smelly animals. He did not have a large following where he was honored and adored by thousands. Rather, he only had 12 followers, was often misunderstood, and was executed like a common criminal. Much like the hobbits, Jesus humble nature allows him to slip through darkness and destroy sin.
The Battle Plan
The plan to defeat evil can be understood by what is called in martial arts as aikido. Aikido is a tactic in which you engage the enemy non-violently. In aikido, you use the aggression of the enemy against them. So, if someone is coming at you at full speed, with aikido you move out of your enemy’s way at the last second. You allow your opponent’s momentum to take him down by getting out of his way. In the big picture analysis of how God takes down evil is that he uses the great aikido move on evil at the cross. God uses the aggression of sin to defeat sin. In Lord of the Rings, ironically it is Gollum (represents evil) that ends up destroying the ring (represents evil).
To be able to destroy the ring the armies of Rohan and Gondor need to go to the gate of Mordor to lure the evil army out so Sam & Frodo can slip in to destroy the ring. This scene is part of the great aikido move. The good army is using the aggression of the orcs, the dragons, and Sauron against it. By luring them out into battle, Sam and Frodo can sneak in to destroy the ring. Also, the armies of Rohan and Gondor know that this is a suicide mission in which they will most likely die. They have 500 men while the army of Mordor has 10,000 fresh fighting orcs ready to pounce on them. This move by the armies of Middle-Earth is what love is – to give up yourself for the good of others - they are willing to die in battle to distract the enemy so the Hobbits can sneak in and eliminate the ring.
Also, if you use evil to overcome evil, you become evil. They didn’t defeat the armies of Mordor by force or by using the ring, but by allowing evil to take down itself. This aikido move can be seen even more clearly in that dramatic scene in which Frodo is about to destroy the ring. At the end, Frodo is ready to destroy the ring. It is what we’ve been waiting for 800 pages or 8 hours of watching the movies. But he can’t do it. In fact, he is taken over by the ring – taken over by evil. But then out of nowhere Gollum appears and there is this struggle for the ring. Gollum bites Frodo’s finger off him to get the ring. And Frodo in his anger knocks both him and Gollum off the cliff. Gollum’s sin and rage are used against it as an agent of grace. So, who finally ended up destroying the ring – Gollum.
It is Gollum’s evil addiction to the ring that destroys the ring, but it was love that kept Gollum alive to do it. The important question to ask is why is Gollum there in the first place? In the Fellowship of the Ring, as Frodo notices Gollum following them, Frodo says, “It is a pity Uncle Bilbo did not destroy that creature when he had the chance.” Gandalf says in reply, “Pity? It is pity that saved his hand.” Later on, Frodo has the opportunity to kill Gollum, but he says “I do see him. I do pity him.” On the foot of Mt. Doom, Sam also has the opportunity to kill Gollum, but he also has mercy for Gollum. So, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam could have used their rage and killed Gollum at various points in the story.
But, ironically if they did this then Gollum does not destroy the ring. If any of those three hobbits kill Gollum (and go against the most difficult commandment Jesus gives us – to love our enemy,) the ring does not get destroyed. Because notice it was Gollum that destroyed the ring, but it was mercy that kept Gollum alive. So, really mercy and love destroys the ring. Love working over evil. This idea is the reward of virtue in the giving of grace.
Jesus could have crushed his enemies by any means, but that means his enemies would not have crushed him. That means he would not have died to overcome sin. Through death he defeats death (see Hebrews 2:14). Through taking on sin, Jesus defeats sin. God overcomes evil by letting evil consume him. This is actually love in disguise. This same strategy is used in Lord of the Rings to destroy the ring.
It is interesting to note that in both stories the ending catches people by surprise. In Lord of the Rings, the reader probably thinks Gollum ends up destroying evil? That is not the way it is supposed to end. The good guys are supposed to deliver the final blow to the bad guys. Ahh, but rewind the tape. What kept Gollum alive in the first place? The hobbits following the commandment to “love thy enemy.” Similarly, at the cross the disciples all probably thought Jesus was put to death by the evil Romans and corrupt Pharisees? This is not the way it is supposed to end. Ahh, but rewind the tape. He didn’t have his life taken away. In fact, Jesus said that no one can take his life from him, but only that he will give it up (see John 10:18). Then, he began to give up his life at the Last Supper and earlier when he said “Greater love has no man than this, that a man may lay down his life for others” (John 15:13). So, it is mercy that actually dealt evil the final death blow in both stories.
Jesus does not battle evil on evil’s own terms. He doesn’t come as a physical warrior with a sword and say I will beat violence with a greater violence. Rather, he allows the evil of the world to spend itself on him on the cross. He journeys into Mordor carrying the cross like Frodo and Sam carrying the ring into the land of sin and death. Jesus then explodes evil from within by swallowing it up in Divine Mercy.
This is the year of Divine Mercy. It is now interesting to see that Divine Mercy is a major theme in the Lord of the Rings.