"You know Daddy..in the end..Gollum got what he wanted." - Lorelei (my 9 yo)
I LOVE The Lord of the Rings. I've read the books and I've watched the movies more times than I care to admit. I think Peter Jackson did an absolutely fantastic job capturing the feeling that the entire world and destiny of all living things rested on the outcome of this one great quest, that all of the world was heading toward this great moment of destiny. The intro to the Fellowship of the Ring does a great job of portraying this and giving you this feeling. You can see it by clicking the link below.
Before I began the process of converting to Catholicism, I had been told that Lord of the Rings was a story about Christianity. With my grounding in Protestant theology, I really struggled to identify how this was a Christian story. There was no obvious God figure or Jesus figure. Both Gandalf and Aragorn were flawed men who made mistakes, had weaknesses and admitted as much. Furthermore, it wasn't one of these two that destroyed the Ring of Power and while Frodo is the "ring bearer" he couldn't have destroyed it without Gollum and Sam.
During my journey to Catholicism, I discovered somewhere that Tolkien was Catholic and he intended LOTR to be an allegorical portrayal of the Catholic faith. I found that interesting, but I still didn't understand how, until one day in the car, a couple of months ago, my oldest daughter, Lorelei, spoke up and said
"You know Daddy..in the end..Gollum got what he wanted."
And suddenly, it all clicked.
Frodo, while showing great ability to resist the temptation of the ring, is not able to ultimately resist it. If you watch the trilogy you can see this play out over the course of all three movies. He slowly descends into darkness, eventually succumbing to his fleshly desire to rule over all things with the power of one ring. In the video clip below, Frodo chooses the ring just as Isildur did, but it seems that fate (God actually) had other plans.
There is absolutely no real difference between Isildur, Frodo and even Gollum. Frodo chose the ring just as the other two did. While Isildur and Gollum were seduced by the ring through completely different circumstances and sequences of events, they all ultimately chose their own selfish desires.
So what is different? Samwise Gamgee.
The only difference between Frodo and Gollum and Isildur is that, by the Grace of God, Frodo had Sam. Samwise quite literally represents that Grace of God reaching out to Frodo, even after he's already completely fallen into his sinful desires, to save him from eternal destruction in the fires of Mt. Doom.
Samwise, i.e. the Grace and Spirit of God, continues to chase Frodo even after Frodo has already chosen his flesh over his God given purpose (to destroy the ring). Why? Because Samwise loves Frodo.
So you're probably thinking: "Great, what makes this a Catholic story?".
The answer? Suffering. Watch the clip below and maybe it will be clearer.
I've catalogued this in other blog posts, but Christ, through the Eucharist, takes our suffering and makes it our sacrifice. As Peter tells us in the Bible, we are called to suffer, just as Christ suffered. We don't get the "free ride" of life without suffering.
No, quite the opposite. At the end of the video above, you can see quite clearly that both Bilbo and Frodo still long for the ring. At the beginning of the trilogy Frodo's skin and appearance are full of color and life. Here, he looks almost a deathly grey. A look that represents the suffering he endures because of his fleshly desires for the old sinful ways that he was saved from.
He realizes that he will carry this suffering until the day he dies. That the wound of the darkness he received on Weathertop, which injected the darkness into his soul, will never heal. As Peter tells us
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" - 1 Peter 2:21
So how is this suffering resolved? By making the voyage to the undying lands, which is an allegorical representation of the journey to Heaven. Watch the clip below.
As Frodo boards the ship to the undying lands with the last of the Elves, Gandalf and Bilbo, he pauses, turns to look back at Samwise, Mary and Pippin and smiles. His face is once again full of color, free of the burden of his suffering.
So what does all of this mean? It means that we are all sinners. It means that we're all Frodo and we're all Bilbo and we're all Gollum and we're all Isildur. The difference is that for some of us, God sent us Samwise. God, by his Grace, has shown some of us the truth and sent for us a redeemer who takes our suffering and makes it our sacrifice, offered up to God to secure our passing to the undying lands.
This Grace may not heal all of our earthly wounds caused by the profit of our flesh, but it does promise us the hope of one day, journeying ourselves to the undying land, where this suffering will be replaced with eternal Joy.
Peace Be With You!