“Farewell! O Gandalf! May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
The stories of Middle-earth are stories of comings and goings. Which sounds simple but it is at the root of a good adventure. J.R.R. Tolkien understood that a good tale had to have twists which of course would revolve around deaths but also introductions of characters. These comings and goings were after all the fate of the world playing out. It may not seem it but Smeagol or Gollum as he began calling himself was in fact fated to take the ring into the fire of Mt. Doom. On the surface Gollum does not look nor act like a hero of valor. Yet it is through his obsession he takes on a heroic course. Showing us that fate or in the theological terms of Mr. Tolkien God uses even the lowest of creatures to help save the people of Middle-earth. It is in this way Tolkien subverts our expectations and gives us surprise and sudden shocking turns of events but you realize they were fated to be. On the surface Frodo as given the task of Ring-bearer should you think have destroyed it but we are not paying attention if we make that assumption. Yes Tolkien is fine with us making that but it is only because the character around Frodo also have this hope.
I find it totally interesting to connect the dots from Isildur to Gollum to Frodo. On the surface Isildur is wise and brave. He himself cut the ring from the hand of Sauron but inside his heart was the same ugliness that deformed Smeagol into Gollum. Tolkien is warning us not to take packages on their appearance alone. This is a common set up through out the stories but it is a huge central theme of Tolkien’s. Not only does he not wanting us judging people on their appearance but he also wants us not to make assumptions about the situations our heroes find themselves in. Well he expects our nature to do a little of that but he corrects that flaw in the midst of telling his stories. For Tolkien this core tenant of his myth is directly tied to Christ and the story of his Incarnation. All the way from the birth of Christ to his death, Jesus never seems to do or be the person a lot of people around him want him to be. It seems almost Tolkien himself was involved in the story of the Messiah. The birth of small baby in a manager is the King promised to bring joy and peace. The boy who grows up in a small backwater town to be will be the one who redeems the whole world. The victory of the world will be won by the death of a man on a cross. No doubt Tolkien brought his Christian faith and sensibilities to his myth. For Tolkien the two were unavoidable. He sees the story of Middle-earth similar to that of the Christian truth of the world. While Tolkien does not go out of his way to tell you this it is evident in his view of the world which in extension Middle-earth is a part of.
The truth is that joy and sorrow of the real world are a very real part of Middle-earth. It is no accident that the day the Ring is destroyed that it is on the traditional day we observe Easter and Good Friday which is March 25th. The supreme joy of Christ is fundamental to the work of Tolkien. So it goes without saying that there is a something we can take away from it this Christmas. The joy of Christmas is that King who came to die will return in full glory to take us to his kingdom is seen the rise of Aragorn as king of Gondor. He ushers in a period of long lasting peace at the end of the third age. The same time Frodo and Bilbo sail to the undying lands with the last of the elves and Gandalf.
So this Christmas bring your smiles out and remember that despite the grief and hardships of these times the great joy of knowing our King will Return will suffice.