Friday, January 10, 2014

This is me pretending to be a “Lord of the Rings” expert

I just started reading the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Return of the King”.  I have wanted to read the books for a long time, ever since the first movie came out when I was in high school.  Many many many times, I read the beginning of the first book and lost interest during the Tom Bombadil part.  I would get discouraged – thinking I must not be a “good reader” – and end up just watching the movies instead.

This time, however, I pushed through the dry spell and, after that, the pages have flown by.  I am so glad I finally broke through the barrier because it has been a joy to read every word.  For me, the ticket was that I had to tell myself it is more about the journey of reading then just “getting it done”.  Also because I am familiar with the movies, I wasn’t confused by the countless names of characters and places.

Many of the lines written by J.R.R. Tolkien strike me in a unique way.  His words are as prophetic and relevant today as they were when he first wrote them down on paper.

In the first book, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Gandalf leaves a letter for the Hobbits at the Prancing Pony.  At the end of the letter, he writes:

All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
    The crownless again shall be king.

There are many meanings that can be derived from this poem, but I am no expert nor claim to have any insight into the mind of the author.  Personally, on the other hand, these words move me and cause me to ponder deep things.

The line, “Not all those who wander are lost”, reminds me of my own life.  Often times, I feel like I am not where I am supposed to be, traveling down unknown paths.  But that doesn’t mean I am lost.  I know where I am intended to go.  And I know I am meant for something greater.  Yet, constantly, I am searching for that meaning and purpose in my life and do not find it.  But that does not mean I am lost.  It is in the wandering and the journeying that signifies I am not lost.  We must wander, we must journey, and we must keep walking.  “Seek and ye shall find.”  It is when we stop wandering that we get lost.

“Deep roots are not reached by the frost” is also one of my favorite lines.  Difficult times are coming.  The journey is going to become more difficult.  Yet, if our faith is deep, it will not be broken.  The way to prepare for the battle ahead is to continue to grow strong in the faith – not physically but spiritually strong.

This poem ends with such hope that my heart leaps every time I read these words, “The crownless again shall be king”.  In our world, the crown is with the wealthy, the famous, the successful, and the fleeting pleasures.  But it will not always be so.  When Our Lord comes again, He will once more have the crown and reclaim His throne on this earth.  Where then will my allegiance lie?

There is another line toward the end of the first book that struck me as I read it.  The words are those of Gandalf, speaking at the council of Elrond before the fellowship is established and Frodo is chosen to be the Ring-bearer.  The task ahead seems impossible and many are questioning whether or not it can be done.

Gandalf responds, “It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”  Those words moved me especially because of my experience with depression.  During the darkest moments of my illness, I often despaired to the point of contemplating suicide.  In those moments, I did feel like I knew what the end was – it was all suffering and pain – and I could not escape.  I could not see anything beyond the pain of the moment.  I thought the only way out was to take my own life.  But I did NOT know the end, and I still do NOT know the end.  Everyone has some doubt as to what will happen to them when all is said and done.  Even those people like me, who thinking the end must be bad, have some doubt that it might actually turn out OK.

I don’t know if contemplating Gandalf’s words would have helped me in the past or not.  But I do know now that it will be much more difficult for me to fall into despair again.  There is always doubt and there is always hope.  And sometimes, you need to see the doubt in order to have hope.

This next line needs a little more unpacking because of the sentence structure, but it still made me stop and think after my eyes skimmed the words.  “Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”  Meaning, the enemy uses the division of the good peoples to his advantage.  I can think of many things within the Church that separates and divides those who are a part of it: certain teachings, past hurt, grudges, not forgiving, etc.  Divide and conquer is a motto we are familiar with and don’t need much explanation for.  Yet, it is important to be aware of this strategy of the enemy in order to combat it wisely.  We must have unity with our fellow brothers and sisters or we will fall.

Since I just started reading the third book, I don’t have any good lines to highlight yet.  (I am sure I will have many to talk about later after I’m finished.)  But, I do have a line that I like from the third movie.  Each time I watch the movies, something new sticks out to me.  This time I was caught contemplating the character of King Théoden of Rohan.

The scene is at the great battle of Gondor after Théoden is struck down by an Orc and lay dying.  His niece is by his side grieving his mortal wounds.  He face is overcome with peace and acceptance.  Maybe, in order to soothe his niece’s anguish he speaks these words of hope.  Théoden says, “I go now to the great hall of my father, where in his mighty company I need no longer be ashamed.”

What hope do I have to be able to say these words on my own deathbed?  If I were to die today, would I be able to stand before My Father and need not feel ashamed?

I know I will never “feel” worthy of Heaven.  Without the sacrifice of the Cross, I am not worthy at all.  Yet, after contemplating Théoden’s words, I am inspired to make of my life something honorable – a life that would make my Heavenly Father proud to call me His daughter.  I am thankful that I have at least a lifetime to accomplish this task for I know I have a long way to go yet.  Oh the glory to be able to repeat the words of Théoden or to hear those of the Lord when he says, “well done, good and faithful servant”.


  1. Mary, this was such a beautiful reflection--thank you for writing it. I admire you for getting through the books; I've never been able to get past the first few minutes of the first movie!! Now I want to try again. :)

    1. Thanks Rachel! I think you would really like the books. I am not a big fantasy person but these have so much depth and meaning beyond the surface. They have quickly climbed the ranks to my top 10 ;)