This post was written by my husband, Dave. --Mary
A couple weeks ago I finished reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Though I have watched the movies many times, I never realized what I was missing in the books until I picked up the first one about a year ago. To sum up my feelings, it was the simply the most beautiful piece of fiction I have ever read.
Don't worry though, I'm not writing to review a book that everybody knows. If I have to convince someone that these books are worth reading, it's probably already a lost cause. Instead, I wanted to talk about some of the many themes in the books that really stood out to me, themes that spoke to me during a very transitory time in my life.
I'll start by ordering the themes in a very original way: Theme #1, Theme #2, Theme #3, and Theme #4.
Theme #1 - We All Have Burdens to Bear
One thing is evident during the course of this adventure: Middle Earth, while beautiful and wonderful in many ways, is marred by darkness and trial. Tolkien does not hold back on descriptions of hard times faced by the main characters, who are forced to deal with both personal and circumstantial struggles against darkness that often leave them feeling utterly spent and hopeless. Frodo knows this more than most, as he carries a burden heavier than any other -- the Ring of Power. Nobody can bear it for him and neither can anyone fully understand all that he is going through.
The dark chapters made this book very real to me, because reality is very dark at times. We can try to avoid hard times, but like the hobbits of the Shire, we cannot escape suffering and struggle. Our transition and move to Minnesota has been very tiring and stressful at times, and it was somehow very comforting to be walking through it alongside the journeys of Frodo and Sam. Sometimes my vision is gray, and sometimes things can feel hopeless, but that's OK. It's a reality of the adventure we go through, and thankfully we do have a hope beyond our own strength and endurance.
Theme # 2 -We are Not Meant to Walk Alone
The uniqueness of Frodo's burden really struck me. It was clear that fate had called on him to carry the One Ring, yet the temptations, deep wounds, and trials the Ring brought him seemed wholly unfair and undeserved. What's worse, most could not understand or fully appreciate his sacrifice and his burden. And yet, there was hope: Samwise Gamgee summed up his service and friendship best when he told Frodo "I can't carry [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you."
We all need a Sam in our lives to walk with us and sometimes carry us through the hard times we face. I have been blessed with a wife who loves, supports, and encourages me when I feel inadequate or not up to the task. I could not imagine going through a big job change or move like this without her. And I know she feels the same way. We have different backgrounds, different "Rings" from the past that we alone have been burdened with. And yet God has given us each other on this journey to strengthen each other and walk down the road together.
Theme #3 - Ours is a Part of a Greater Story
I think it's wonderful that within the framework of Tolkien's story, his characters Bilbo and Frodo are writing their own books of their travels. In fact, all of Middle Earth is chock-full of lore and stories passed down in writing and in song. Frodo and Sam discuss a couple times during their journey how people will talk of their adventures. And all of it speaks to a grander story than any one person or hobbit could ever author for themselves.
This is an encouragement to me as I look back and look forward in my life. My past seems much more redeemable and my future much more hopeful when I look at it in the context of God's bigger plan. Like the hobbits, I may be one small person in a big universe, but my importance and my value is elevated (not decreased) because I have been created to be part of an immeasurably bigger story than my own.
Theme #4 - This Is Not The End
No story says this better than The Lord of the Rings. While the characters constantly talk of good times long ago, before the dark powers of Mordor existed, they also talk of the lands beyond Middle Earth to the West across the sea. This is the land that Frodo journeys to at the end, the place of final healing and rest.
When I finished the book I had a pit in my stomach, but it was a good feeling. Excitement, sadness, wholeness, and yearning for more all at the same time. It's really hard sometimes to picture heaven and have a desire for it, and too often I'm too caught up in my daily ups and downs to even attempt to look beyond them. That's why I'm thankful for these beautiful images in stories like the Lord of the Rings of places where the fellowship is unmarred, the beer and food are rich and plentiful, and the daylight is unending. How my life would be different if I could live with that perspective and anticipation each day.
The imagery and themes in The Lord of the Rings are so rich that I feel like I barely scratched the surface here. I'm very grateful for good fiction that can share such important truth in such a vivid and tangible way. And though I'm sad to be done with the books, I'm looking forward to revisiting the story again shortly through a different and (almost as enjoyable) medium: extended-edition Blu-ray. :)