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.
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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.
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