I had one main question as I went to watch The Return Of The King: Would Peter Jackson follow the bittersweet ending of the book or would he have a feel good ending? (I almost missed the ending because I had to go to the restroom after the destruction of the ring scene. Came back in time to catch Aragorn’s coronation. Word to the wise: Never drink lots of Chinese tea before one of Jackson’s marathon movies.) One of the many strengths of Tolkein’s book was the bittersweet ending, an ending that reminded us of the following:
*Some wounds will not be healed this side of heaven. *Even the best human relationships end at the shoreline between this life and the next. *Our happiest moments are tinged with sadness, memories of loved ones no longer with us. *To experience powerful experiences is to experience the rest of life as an anticlimax.
I was pleased that the movie captured the spirit of Tolkein’s ending. It isn’t easy moving a story from print to celluloid. A number of reviewers pointed out the many drawn out endings of the movie. Readers of the trilogy would understand that Jackson was trying to be true to the books.
I first read The Lord of the Rings in 1974, my first year in university. It has become the primary mythic narrative for my life. Through the books I learnt that:
*We can’t choose the circumstances of our life. But we can choose how to respond to them. *In life you do the right thing not the convenient thing. *Life can be very, very tough. Often you may be tempted to give up. *We all need key friends to see us through. *No one is above the corrupting power of evil. *The forces of evil can be very powerful. *There is much pain and loss in life. *The forces of good are unleashed by deceptively simple things like loyalty, faith and friendship. *Leaders lead through example and sacrifice. *The most unexpected people may become heroes. *True heroes are those who do not seek to do great things. They are the ones that give themselves to serve others. *Although it is often not obvious, there is a higher power in control of life and this power ensures that things all work out in the end. *We live and die but as we live in this world we all have the opportunity to make our contribution to the pages of history.
And the lessons from the bittersweet ending stated above.
In 1974 I was at the top of the world. I had left home for the first time. I was starting my studies in dentistry in the University of Singapore. I had absolutely no inkling of the painful twists and turns that would come in the later chapters of my life.
Looking back I am grateful that I discovered Tolkein when I did. I didn’t understand then why I was so drawn to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After all there had been little pain and struggle in life at that point in time. Now I can see that it was warning and preparation.
The lessons I learnt from Tolkein’s trilogy helped see me through many a dark moment. Perhaps you can understand why I have read the trilogy eight times till date. Like all good literature, it points you to the truth. And it helps strengthen your spirit.
So I join all those who are grateful that Jackson brought the Lord of the Rings to the big screen. Sure there were places where Jackson veered from Tolkein’s spiritual and ethical vision. But by and large the movies captured the spirit of the books. Or as Jeffrey Overstreet puts it in Christianity Today:
“The Christian virtues of humility, sacrifice, and faith filter through (the movies). The triumphant epilogue offers tangible hope rather than mere Hollywood sentiment. We can look back now and see that, while this edition of Tolkein’s epic is clearly tarnished, it stands alone as the most rewarding and accomplished fantasy trilogy ever filmed.”
Christians should applaud. We do not live in a reading age. Many more would rather see a movie than read a book especially thick books like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I am glad that a new generation will be exposed to the lessons found there.
Christians should also bear in mind that the books and the movies, wonderful though they may be, are just that — books and movies. We have access to a source of truth more reliable. And that truth teaches us one key difference between Scriptural truth and the books/movies.
The characters in the books/movies did what they did because it was the right thing to do. They soldiered on with no guarantee that right would triumph in the end.
Christians soldier on knowing for sure that God and right will triumph in the end. When the true King returns.
So may we be all found faithful, whatever our lot. Let us run the race set before us till the day when it is out turn to take “the hidden paths that run, West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan