Late last night, after Amy got in from the ladies’ “Christmas Cookie and Candy Swap” we rode back into town with some friends to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second installment in the trilogy that narrates the prequel to the equally epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.
This has become a regular tradition for Amy and me in December, and for me at least it goes back even further. When I was a student at Mississippi College my dad and I went to the theater to watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies soon after they released. On one occasion I also went with my roommate to the midnight opening of The Two Towers. I was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, and on that night I was far more amazed by all the people dressed up like elves, hobbits, and wizards than by the movie itself! I promise you, Gollum is never more frightening than when he is being portrayed by a twenty-something Mississippian at midnight! Trust me on that one.
I’ve read the books multiple times. I’ve immersed myself in the world and writings of Tolkien, and Lewis, and the Inklings. So the movie releases are always an anticipated time for me to “geek out!” Yet each year as I watch the movies again I am struck far more by how much gospel their stories contain. Tolkien’s world breathes the air of the biblical storyline.
The plot to The Hobbit is pretty simple. There is a great kingdom of dwarves who have reigned in splendor from the distant reaches of time, and yet in the midst of their matchless kingdom something has gone horribly wrong. An evil dragon, Smaug, coils into the cavern-kingdom and usurps the royal power. The dwarves are exiled. The dragon destroys the world around their mountain’s majestic splendor. Their world descends into darkness. The throne of the “king under the mountain” is filled by an imposter. All is lost, and in the shadow of that loss all foul things begin to rise, even the dark overlord himself, the Necromancer (Sauron) begins to rise and reassemble his demented and demonic armies.
Something must be done. And it is. The heir to the throne, the true and rightful king, Thorin Oakenshield, the son of Thrain, embarks on a quest to reclaim his kingdom and to destroy the dragon’s power once and for all. Accompanied by a hodge-podge group of Dwarf compatriots and a much bewildered and often bumbling hobbit from the Shire named Bilbo Baggins, the group (under the protection of Gandalf the Grey) sets out to make the world right again.
Along the way there are lots of curves, obstacles, and dangers. There are hidden snares and temptations. There are powers that ensnare the hearts of the true and begin to corrupt the souls of the courageous. And yet the quest is made all the same. Too much is at stake. The imprisoned kingdom must be set free and the forces of evil must be confronted and defeated.
Now, you might think that this fantasy adventure doesn’t sound must like the gospel story you know, but I’d beg to differ. At their heart, all of our greatest longings and the core reality to the deepest stories that we’ve ever loved to tell are a reaching into an oftentimes dormant memory of the true story that is the heartbeat of everything we hear, see, and feel around us. Like all the great fairy tales, The Hobbit unfolds in the shadow of and shines with the sparkling truth of the greatest story ever told.
That’s the very message of Christmas that we celebrate each December. Yes, there are traditions this month far deeper and far more important than watching a three hour movie. We get to celebrate the real story, the story that all other stories only hint at.
There is a true king, and there is an evil dragon.
A world has been dragged down into darkness. The great serpentine sorcerer has corrupted the creation of the good and great high king. This dragon-scaled fraud has laid claim to a throne that he has no right to, and in the hiss of that flaming breath he has subdued humanity into the mist of forgetfulness, evil, pain, hurt, rebellion, death, and sin.
Something must be done.
And something was done. In the disguise of an infant’s cries and in the innocent armor of swaddling clothes, the true king has marched into the dragon’s lair. He has stared down his evil grin, and has laid him in his grave by the power of his own death and resurrection. Death has been dealt a deathblow in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the real story.
C.S. Lewis (a good friend of J.R.R. Tolkien) wrote in his classic Mere Christianity this description of the gospel:
One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong…this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage…
Somewhere in the midst of the movie last night, the Necromancer (who is really Sauron himself) confronts Gandalf the Grey and proclaims that the light of good cannot drive back the darkness of evil. All of us who have read the story, however, know the truth. The dragon will be killed. The dark lord will be defeated. The darkness will be eradicated. “A light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not be able to extinguish it.”
All of us who have read the end of our Bibles know that this is the deepest and greatest truth ever written. Lewis and Tolkien in their own ways remind us of that truth that we need to be reminded of. We live in a world that is caught up in the greatest epic of all. Eternity is at stake. The glory of our king is our prize. The defeat of our enemy is a certainty. This is how the book of Revelation describes the end of all things, which is really just the beginning of all things:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:7-11)
That’s a story, that’s an ending, that’s a beginning that is far better than The Hobbit, but I’m thankful that God uses movies like The Hobbit to remind me of the story that I’m really a part of.