Perhaps I should have written this shortly before Christmas, but today seems more appropriate as we celebrate the visit of the Three Kings to the King of kings on this 2004th Epiphany of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Each year for the past two millenniums the kings return liturgically on January 6th to adore and worship the Sovereign King. You might call it "The Return of the Kings."
The whole purpose of the True Faith Christ founded and passed down through His Spirit and His Apostles was to sustain His children until He returns a second time - the Second Coming of the King, which seems more expedient than ever in the history of the Church. Yes, truly "The Return of the King."
Naturally that segues into my theme today, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's masterful and, yes, prophetic trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" which has been an astounding success, having already surpassed the billion dollar mark worldwide and heading towards even higher strata. Ol' J.R.R. would never have believed it.
Then again, yes, he would for it was that very theme he wrote about - the 'brass ring', if you will that man, in his state of vulnerability due to Original Sin would be susceptible to the lures of that which is not possible. It is not a new story, not by a long shot. Many say that after William Shakespeare, another Roman Catholic, there are no new plots. But the plot the devout Roman Catholic Tolkien based his trilogy on goes back to the first plot - that of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, and even before that for that matter with the banishment of the fallen angels.
Many attribute Tolkien's analogy to his experiences in both world wars, but I beg to differ. Other than his obvious reference of the Black Riders as the Nazgul - a definite reference to the Nazis, I find it more a spiritual, Catholic story than any secular war epic. Indeed, it is a spiritual war of the widest span. Therefore, in addition to calling this masterful author an artist of genius with word and imagination, I would also call him a prophet.
Consider that, while employed as a full time professor at Oxford with a permanent chair in the Merton Professorship of English Language and Literature, he and his beloved wife Edith were rearing three children - John, Michael and Christopher. Tolkien's love for storytelling began when, as a loving, doting father he sought to teach the boys the Faith. The world had already infiltrated many doctrines and he wanted to imbue in them the beliefs that would stick, while not going over the heads of young, distracted minds. Thus he chose his strength to convey to them the power of God and relate with their make-believe world, which so many children today have been deprived of thanks to the need to bring 'reality' into everything blatantly and with no holds barred.
The "Hobbit" came from the early days of teaching his children. That led to "The Fellowship," followed by the next two books. It was his best friend and a man he so admired and emulated, C.S. Lewis who gave his work on the trilogy the highest praise, "Here are beauties that pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a work that will break your heart."
In much the same manner as persecuted Catholics utilized the hymn "Twelve Days of Christmas" to keep the Truths of the Faith alive in the times of the Reformation and the turmoil of the French Revolution, so also J.R.R. sought to impart to his children and future generations these same truths, albeit masked in a fable that would not only withstand the test of time, but sustain hearts and perseverance in times when the Faith was so under attack and undermined as it is today. I find it ironic that in these early years of the third millennium when the tenets of the True Faith are practically being shoved into oblivion, that Peter Jackson took on the massive and most laudable task of putting Tolkien's words and imagination on celluloid, delving into the incredible mind of this master Englishman who will go down as one of the greatest authors of all time. I find it even more ironic that Jackson's trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," and "The Return of the King" have become the most successful trilogy ever seen on the large screen - not to mention videotape and DVD sales. Don't tell me the Faith is dead. It lives on in the lesson Tolkien left us if only we understand his motives and clever analogy.
I have maintained, and after seeing the "The Return of the King" twice now, am even more convinced that J.R.R. Tolkien was incorporating the entire Communion of Saints in his stirring epic of Middle Earth, that in essence is a saga of Salvation history. The innocence of the Hobbits personified in Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Peregrin "Pippin" Took, and loyal Merry represent those who were the hermits, monastics, if you will in the state of grace, free from the temptations of the world. The stature of these Hobbits and their names themselves which Tolkien chose speak volumes. But the world had begun to penetrate Hobbiton due to the possession of "the Ring" by Bilbo Baggins. Despite the pull, Bilbo proved a saved soul and, with difficulty gave up the prize knowing its consequences. It was left to the most innocent of the lot - Frodo, accompanied by his fellow 'missionaries' Sam, Pippin and Merry to rid the Shire and, ultimately, the world of Middle Earth of the power of evil.
Once satan realized the purpose of these innocents, he unleashed his "Ring Wraiths" to stop them at any cost. Sound familiar? Now the analogy of the "Wizards" - Gandalf and Saruman. I see these as Archangels. The former is loyal to God - much in the manner of Saint Michael, beautifully depicted in the "Two Towers" when early on we see him fighting the mighty Balrog beast as they hurtle downward into the abyss of the massive cave of Moria; then Gandalf riding majestically and mightily to the rescue on his white steed to save Helms Deep as well as riding into the magnificent white city of Minas Tirith in "The Return" to confront the imposter king. I see this as bringing us right up to present time which I will explain later.
The latter wizard is a fallen angel who was enticed by the false promises of Melkor who Tolkien clearly delineated as lucifer. One of his chief agents was Sauron (satan). Saruman turned against Eru (The Triune God). Saruman represents the agents of mammon who prize the world, the flesh and the devil. Saruman stands for those apostates who broke away from Christ's True Church, gathering the ghosts of Gnosticism, Pantheism, Mannachaeism, Arianism, Kabbalism, and every other heresy including Freemasonry up to the twentieth century. These were the Orcs. But even these could not withstand the forces of goodness, and so, in the manner of desperate mammon Saruman created even more powerful forces - new heresies such as Marxism and Modernism which incorporated the strength of Ecumenism and voila uncovered from the depths were the new power to fight the forces of good - the Uruk-hai
Now let's look at Isildur. I see him as David of the Old Testament, youngest son of Jesse who, despite his inspired Psalter, was a man greatly enthralled with riches passed on to his son Solomon through the power of the Ring which the Lord had given him, taken from satan as David had pleaded in the Psalms. His heir through the generations was of course Aragorn who also went by the name of Strider. Just as Jesus Christ was also known previously as Emmanuel so also Aragorn. The films, through the masterful portrayal of Viggo Mortensen makes him all the more Christ-like in features. Of course, the big difference is that Aragorn was not divine, but in his virtuous mission he was like Christ in every way except he was born with Original Sin. Therefore he was, after all mortal. With that in mind, another reference can be made to Aragorn - as Saint Peter - especially in the fact of his eventual marriage to the ravishing Elven Arwen - representing the Church - the Mystical Bride of Christ. Aragorn then is the Vicar of Christ.
When Isildur cut off the finger of Sauron, it represented the lost power of lucifer to physically manifest himself as the devil incarnated. Yet, as every Catholic knows, satan is ever-seeing and tempting. Therefore Tolkien's depiction of the lidless eye of Sauron was masterful and brought to even more vivid reality by Jackson's cinematography. I find it most significant that the eye is centered within a crescent which I saw immediately as the symbol of Islam - the pagan religion which today's Vatican praises and panders to so.
Before I delve into more on that, let us consider some of the other characters in Tolkien's epic. In many ways the Lady Galadriel represents the Blessed Virgin Mary save for the fact, again, that Galadriel was not a virgin nor born immaculately, but Tolkien's description and Jackson's depiction of Rivendell and Lothlorien represent the peace and serenity of the golden years of the Church - the way it should be where great fruits were realized. Galadriel could also represent the great women saints of the Church. The statues illustrate so well the traditions of the Church. It is there also where the sword was rewelded - the "sword of truth" which would recapture the glory of God for His Holy Church. The fact Galadriel appears in a vision to Frodo just solidifies the essence of what Galadriel represents: goodness.
To me Moria represents the catacombs of the early Christians, slain by the Orcs but from their blood the strength of the Faith is carried on in the persons of noble, if not at times foolish warriors, like the lovable Gimli who has a deep devotion to the Lady Galadriel, translating to a Catholic's undying devotion to the Blessed Mother. I saw Edoras, the capital city of Rohan with its rocky climbs and sweeping vistas, as the Holy Roman Empire replete with the Germanic Norse-like motif to better emphasize the role of the German rulers in converting northern Europe to Catholicism. In the same way they rallied at Helms Deep I see that fortress as Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades with the great walls attacked by the infidels, the noble crusaders inside - an amalgamation of many cultures - represented by Elrond, the wise Elf Lord - a combination of the Popes of the Crusades, King Richard III and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux if you will, rallying the diverse people to band together to fight the threat of Sauron - again the Saracen symbol: the crescent which is so prominent in encasing the Eye of Sauron. Another is the master archer Legolas, a Prince of the Elven Kingdom of Mirkwood - very much a young saintly King Louis IX. Yet another is Eomer, nephew of King Theoden representing, as I interpreted it, the great warrior riders of the Holy Roman Empire. He had to fight off the influence of Wormtongue who I perceived as the French king Philip the Fair in depleting the power of Rome by enticing the Popes to Avignon with the promises of riches, comforts and safety. Like King Theoden, representing the Popes of the Avignon Exile, he was greatly drugged by the power of the French king who so hated Pope Boniface VIII.
In that same vein and linear time element, the niece of Theoden the beautiful, but feisty Eowyn represents in many ways a combination of Saint Catherine of Siena in seeking Gandalf (St. Michael) to cast out the spell of Wormtongue on Theoden so that the Papacy will be returned to Rome, and later at Helms Deep Saint Joan of Arc in taking up the sword to fight for the cause with the other warriors rather than retiring to the safe climbs deeper within the castle with the other women and children.
Then there is Treebeard and the Ents. To me I see Treebeard as a composite of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and the Ents as the absolutes of the traditions passed down through the centuries. Just as evil mocks good, the antithesis of the Ents are the Trolls, formed and corrupted by the forces of evil. The ancient Ents are content in the tenets of the Faith and seemingly assured, thanks to failsafe measures such as infallible councils, papal decrees and dogmas, that the gates of hell shall not prevail. Their forest is safe. Yet, like so many prelates over the past few centuries, they didn't realize that the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church were being felled, a little at a time at first, and then more as the years mounted. The Orcs and Uruk-hai were intent on building up a powerful force for Sauron under the direction of Saruman. Deep within Fangorn Forest, Treebeard and the Ents were not immediately aware that the secular agenda was tearing at the roots of the Faith, chopping down the trees burrowing deeper into the forest. It was an excellent depiction of how we become too comfortable in our ways and think we are safe. Once Treebeard realized what was happening, he convinced the rest of the Ents to marshal the forces of good in order to create a flood to wipe out the Orcs of Isengard.
The Witch King of Angmar, enslaved to the will of Sauron, represents in my thinking Judas Iscariot, Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and every apostate that ever lived. Once noble and endowed with special privileges, they sold out Our Lord for the silver of temporal things and having been swallowed up by mammon, now reap the bitter manifestation of that in the horrific shroud of the Nazgul. Now just a spirit, the Witch King could not disguise himself from the innocent heart of Frodo who saw him for who he was, the chief lieutenant of the Dark Lord: evil and disgusting.
That brings us to the victim, if you will of free will, and a brilliant depiction of how sin corrupts man and takes something beautiful, turning it ugly. Gollum is the perfect example of that. Once a Hobbit himself, Smegol came upon the Ring and it turned his heart. Just as sin can look so alluring - so magnificently portrayed in the opening of the Ark of the Covenant by Nazi operatives in "Raiders of the Lost Ark (still, to this editor's thinking, one of the greatest adventure films ever made and so loyal to the popular cliffhanger serial format of the late 40's and early 50's) - so also the Ring, which to this writer's thinking represents man's stubborn will in trying to force man's will over God's will, turned Smegol into a monster. A very devious and clever mongrel at that for Andy Serkis' portrayal shed a new light on the Gollum I had read about years ago. I think Jackson's depiction even surpasses Tolkien's for that particularly tragic character. Lured by the sirens of satan, the soul is torn. Does he listen to what good still remains of Smegol's conscience or to the false promises of what he thinks he can attain? In a very certain sense Smegol illustrates man's soul when revealed in all its nakedness before God.
If the soul is in venial sin, it will bear the fallible characteristics and foibles of Smegol. If it is in mortal sin, it will appear uglier than Gollum, full of despair and desperation. Conversely, if the state of the soul is in sanctifying grace, it will shine brightly - more brilliant than Galadriel.
Let us hope and pray that we will be Frodos and Sams and not Gollums. In the climactic finale the latter finally gets what he had long lusted for - his "Precious" - the Ring, but it was too late. He plunged to his death even though he had finally retrieved the Ring. Tolkien knew Gollum was key to the story just as God knows man is key to the history of salvation. Just as in life, so in the trilogy God's Providence definitely comes into play. Gollum and man have a free will. They can choose good or they can choose evil. Though tempted and tormented, Frodo, though he ultimately fails in completing his appointed mission, chooses good and throws himself on the Mercy of God. Poor Smegol chooses otherwise. Watching Gollum plunge into the molten lava of Mount Doom reminded me so vividly of Our Lord's words in Matthew 16: 26, "For what doth it proft a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" We know what Gollum chose. Not wise.
One who was, however, was Sam Gamgeee who played a pivotal role in saving Frodo for he sees through the veil of pretense Gollum puts on and constantly warns Frodo. The young Baggins is too trusting, so much so that he turns against his friend Sam in favor of protecting Gollum. Noble, but not wise. Much in the manner Peter denied Christ, Frodo realizes when subjected to the doublecross by Gollum when led into the lair of Shelob that Sam was right. In one way Sam represents our conscience which is always with us, loyally guiding us if only we listen to its wisdom. A stroke of brilliance by Tolkien in naming him Samwise.
In another way Sam represents Saint Paul in his loyalty to Peter, but is not afraid to chastise him when he is wrong. Thus in a way Frodo, like Aragorn, represents St. Peter. Just as Peter was rightly rebuked by Paul in Galatians 2: 11, so also Frodo was wrong and Samwise asserted the absolutes - that Gollum could not be trusted.
After the spell of Wormtongue was lifted by Gandalf, the Grima hightailed it back to Isengard which, in so many ways represents Paris, even to its Eiffel-like Tower of Isengard rising above the low roofs of the rest of the city. It makes sense in light of the events of modern times when Islamism has inundated France and the City of Lights has practically abandoned the Light of the world in favor of diversity and tolerance. It was a place of major persecutions during the French Revolution. Keeping in scope the French connection, how many caught Tolkien's play on Pippin - as in the First Ruler to bring the Faith to the Franks - Pepin? Recall it was Pippin who warned Treebeard of what Saruman had done.
That brings us to Denethor, his sons Baromir and Faramir and Minas Tirith. Talk about analogies. First of all, Minas Tirith is the White City - representing purity - with seven towers. Get the connection? The city of Rome with seven hills. At the top of the city sits the great 'cathedral throne' which so greatly represents St. Peter's Basilica even to the long appia (Via Concilazzione) leading to the circular square and Baroque architecture, so beautifully depicted in the film. One immediately gets the sense that one is in a great basilica when we walk with Gandalf to the throne where Denethor sits, humped over and aged.
I could clearly see the analogy of his sons Baromir as the 'good son' the favored son of Denethor chosen to represent the race of men. Baromir, in a way represented to this writer those clamoring for change, the pre-conciliar prelates - indeed, John XXIII himself - who played an influential role at the Council of Elrond (Second Vatican Council?). Though his intentions may have been good, the Ring diverted him and its lure was too strong. He attacked Frodo in desperation for the Ring. Did not Angelo Roncalli attack the Will of God by daring to entertain changes in the evangelic constituted traditions? Just as Boromir was redeemed by giving his life to protect Merry and Pippin when the Uruk-hai attacked, so also many believe John XXIII may have redeemed himself when he demanded from his death bed that the Council be stopped.
The other son is Faramir, who I clearly see as the youthful Traditional Defender of the Faith in the backlash of Vatican II reforms who still loves Denethor in Christ-like love. Like Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and other orthodox priests and faithful, Faramir is not loved by Denethor and has been exiled to the outer regions just as so many bishops do to any priest who exhibits the slightest tendency to practicing the Traditions and Rite that sustained Holy Mother Church for 2000 years. Faramir is injured in the great battle on the Pelennor Fields and is brought to Denethor in the great white city. Denethor denies the inevitable. It is not his favorite son - the reforms of Vatican II, but the traditional one who has survived, though badly injured by the slings and arrows of Modernists. Denethor cannot deal with the fact that Boromir is gone and will never return. Denethor in his stubbornness refuses to call on the forces of Rohan to save Gondor and Minas Tirith.
I think it's inevitable here that we can see who Denethor represents. Yes, he is a composite of Paul VI and John Paul II who have stubbornly persisted in pushing the Modernistic, ecumenical agenda at the expense of the Kingdom of God. John Noble's portrayal of Denethor vividly reminded me of the current physical stature of the Pope, bent over and obstinate in refusing to recognize that he has abandoned the Traditions he had vowed to uphold. Could this be why he has refused to acknowledge that all is collapsing about him and stubbornly resists calling on Rohan for help? Could this be why John Paul II has refused to acknowledge that the 'fruits' of Vatican II are rotting the vine of a withered, barren tree and must be cast into the fire? The actions of Denethor tell volumes of this very omen Tolkien could foresee back in the 60's when he wrote his masterpiece. Denethor himself seeks to sacrifice his own son on the pyre even though Faramir is not yet dead. Denethor knows this but is relentless in his obstinate denial and will do anything to rid himself and those he rules of any memory of Faramir and what he stands for. Is not John Paul II by his refusal to curb abuse and acknowledge publicly and forcefully that the Traditional Latin Mass has never been abrogated, doing the same by trying to destroy Tradition? Tolkien was right on. This is brought home all the more when we harken back to Gandalf's reminder to Denethor that he is not the true king of Gondor, but merely the Steward of Gondor in the stead of the absent King. Interesting.
The great battle on the Pelennor Fields represented to me the great battle for souls that is being waged right now. It is no myth. It is happening and has been for this past century, intensified so much more over the past 40 years and especially in this new millennium when 'Sauron' is frantically trying to stave off his ultimate defeat. That is why he has unleashed all the demons personified in the mighty and beastly characters of the Ringwraths on flying Fell Beasts, the Uruk-hai, the Easterlings (Moslems?), and Haradrim who are trying to lay siege on the mighty fortress of Minas Tirith (the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church). Another battle against ancient Rome was launched by a fellow named Hannibal who used elephants. This time, J.R.R., an astute student of history, dreamt up the enemies steeds as massive mastodons, so masterfully projected by Jackson in "The Return of the King" as the Oliphaunts.
There are so many nuances and scenarios I could deliberate on such as Aragorn's Christ-like descent into the Mountain of Dimholt and the cave of souls to allow the mutinous dead one final act of reparation: A chance to be redeemed and purified. So also Our Lord freed the souls of the Old Covenant from Limbo. The Dead Marshes as well represented Purgatory, souls trapped in a void between Heaven and earth - waiting for the waters of time to subside before being admitted to the Heavenly climes. Gandalf's words penned so brilliantly by Tolkien and kept intact by Jackson and his master screenwriter Frances Walsh still echo in my mind and heart: "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you."
The moral is clear: only those with a pure heart can survive in the land of Mordor (this world). The Shadows that mock them and breed manufactured monsters cannot kill the soul, only the body. Tolkien believed very much in the doctrine that Mary's Immaculate Heart will triumph and she will crush the serpent's head. He was very aware of the turmoil within the Church and the bad fruit of Vatican II. He did not die until September 2, 1973 at the age of 81. He lived to see the devastating effects of what the Novus Ordo would wrought. He was a devout Traditional Catholic who abhorred the fame his works brought him. I think deep down he knew what was coming and had that in mind when writing his prophetic epic. Thank God for J.R.R. Tolkien. Thank God for Jackson's persistance in translating it to film. Thank God the Faith will survive for imbedded within the myth of the Trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings" is hope for the Faithful for "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16: 19).
I know these discernments are mine alone, but I've been inspired to share them. Keep them in mind the next time you see one of the films. You just might grasp what I'm referring to and see the work in an entirely different light. I strongly feel it will survive the test of time and continue the tenets of Faith through these dark times in the land of Mordor.
While many consider him the ultimate storyteller of the Twentieth Century and others one of the great mythological writers of all time, I would consider him in another vein: Tolkien the Prophet!