My Favorite Moment Reading the Lord of the Rings

Posted On January 09, 2017

The students at Reformation Bible College know that I am a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (The books, mind you, not the Peter Jackson recension). I think the students get their first hint of my love for these books during new student orientation when they see the miniature model of Minas Tirith that I use as a bookend on my desk. For those who have not read the Lord of the Rings, Minas Tirith is one of the cities in the story. It consists of seven levels, each fortified by a wall. When miniaturized, it can also fortify a stack of books.

At one time, I read these books once a year. Now, with the reading required for classes, I usually read them once every few years. I’ve tried to avoid watching the film versions for the last several years in order to let Peter Jackson’s idea of Middle-earth fade from my memory. I want to read it using my imagination again – not his.

Every time I read this work, there is one scene that stands out. It occurs after Frodo and Sam have destroyed the ring. Sam discovers that Gandalf, someone he had grown to love deeply, is actually alive. He is stunned and exclaims: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” When I reach this point of the story, I get goosebumps every time. Why? It’s because of Sam’s question: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Sam is overcome with surprise and joy when he sees Gandalf.

Tolkien’s works clearly evidence a knowledge of the sadness that exists in the world. There is a sense of melancholy mixed with hope that permeates all of the stories. Middle-earth is a bittersweet world because of the results of sin. Here, Tolkien’s fictional world mirrors ours. We too are surrounded by sin and decay and death as a result of sin. And we too look forward with hope to the end of such things.

Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to describe a positive and surprising turn of events at the end of a story when everything looks bleakest. He believed the biblical narrative contained such a “eucatastrophe” in the resurrection of Christ. It is that moment, the turning point of history that ensures that everything sad will come untrue.

The moment that Sam discovers that Gandalf is alive is my favorite part of The Lord of the Rings because it reminds me of the joy and hope of the Gospel.    

Dr. Keith Mathison is Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.