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Archive for the ‘J. R. R. Tolkien’ Category

Changes are everywhere. The New Year approaches. Soon we will change our calendars to 2009.

Historic changes are underway in Washington, DC as Barack Obama prepares for his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.

Changes in jobs, retirement funds and consumer confidence levels happen daily across America as unemployment rises.

How do we deal with changes in our lives? Do we view changes as opportunities in which to excel or tragedies in which to wallow in doubt and fear? To whom should we turn for comfort and guidance?

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. (John F. Kennedy)

harry-potter-5-posterThere’s a moment near the end of the fourth film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry, Hermione and Ron are talking about Lord Voldemort, who has taken shape again to terrify the wizardry world and the students at Hogwarts.

“This is all going to change, isn’t it?” asks Hermione.

Harry, who is the object of Voldemort’s hatred, courageously answers “Yes” with a certainty that is far wiser than his years. He and his friends realize that their world will be different in the future, that there will be hardships to bear and battles to fight.

But who will fight the dark forces in their world? Should they follow the suggestions of the elders at the beginning of the fifth film (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and just stay out of the way? No, says Harry, if Voldemort is gathering an army of Death Eaters to change the world as they know it, then he and his friends want to fight. He teaches his friends defenses against the Dark Arts and they succeed in helping the elders win the first battle.

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. (Andy Warhol).

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Faramir is presented with a great opportunity to profit from the changing fortunes of war. The second son of Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor, Faramir grew up in the shadow of his older brother Boromir, who was favored by his father.

One day while patrolling the woods of Ithilien, he captures the hobbits Frodo and Sam, who are on their way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Sauron.

All Faramir has to do is reach out and take the powerful ring, and he can win the favor of his father. “A chance for Faramir to prove his worth,” he mutters to himself. This acquisition would change the war for Gondor and garner considerable wealth and power for Faramir.

In the end, however, he does not succumb to the ambitions that destroyed his brother. Despite the attraction to profit from the changes to his own world, he finds the strength to remain true to himself, setting Frodo free to continue his quest.

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

For the past couple of months, I changed my regular weekend schedule to sing during Advent with the Chancery Choir of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church on Franklin Road. While the rehearsals and services have added more miles to the Mercury, the time spent has been very rewarding, for a couple reasons.

First, it reminded me of my teen years when I went to Mass on Sunday mornings and then sang in the First Baptist Youth Choir on Sunday nights with my high school girlfriend. Worshipping with friends at other Christian churches is usually a step outside my comfort zone. Yet these special events help me realize that the similarities of our Christian faiths greatly outnumber the differences.

Secondly, I was introduced to an inspired homilist, Dr. Mark Bryan, the pastor of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church. Each week he delivered a fresh look at Holy Scripture and its place in our lives.

Recently he was speaking about the prophecies of Isaiah and their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus the Christ. Even though our lives are like the grasses of the fields (Is 40, 6-9), soon to wither and die, there is comfort to be found.

“Though the world is changing, though we are constantly in transition, though our lives are short and fleeting, there is one constant and stable thing…God’s Word,” said Dr. Bryan. “God’s promise of faithfulness to us, God’s covenant with us is constant, though all of life and all of the world is changing around us.”

May God’s Word be a constant comfort and companion to you and your family as we step forward into the New Year.

CF

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First published in the December 28, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Based upon the Gospel for February 3, 2008 Matthew 5:1-12a

The journeys continue in the new year, looking for Light in all the right places: the quiet corners of prayer, next Sunday’s readings, and the faces of our children.

Yet inspiration is also found onscreen in celluloid characters who embody the values we long for, search for, try to emulate. Fictional or factual, they strike a chord that resonates in our lives. Oh, that I could be more like them.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land – like Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbits by nature are quiet, peace loving beings. They shy away from Big People like us, preferring instead to till the earth, enjoy a hearty meal and savor a cold pint. They usually avoid adventures, yet are surprisingly resilient when adventure is thrust upon them.

FrodoWhile mortal men argue over power and who should be in charge, it’s the meek hobbit who speaks up and volunteers for the most dangerous task of all. He willingly accepts the burden of bearing the great One Ring, for he knows that he alone must destroy the evil at hand.

And while there are friends and wise counsel to guide him on his journey, he alone must decide what to do with the time that is given to him. He does not shy away from the new and difficult, though he prefers the familiar and the comfortable. His response to this treacherous task is simply “What must I do?”

When his deeds are over and evil is vanquished, he sets his affairs in order and says goodbye. To leave his middle-earth, he boards the ship that sails to the horizon. “The grey rain-curtain of this world will roll back to see…white shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

An inheritance worth living for.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God – like Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump. While his intellect may be below average, his instincts are deeply rooted love.

GumpHe loves his mama, who raised him to believe that no one was any better than anyone else. We are all God’s children, loved by the Father, saved by the Son, inspired by the Spirit. We each have our unique talents and tastes, which we use when we open the box of chocolates called life.

He loves his wife, navigating the twists and turns of their separate roads until they merge into one loving freeway. Together they produce a family that will live on in future generations.

At times Forrest is floating like a feather on the wind, intersecting with the lives of the famous and the faithful. Other times he looks back and believes he was destined to follow the path he’s on, though he doesn’t know where it is going.

Yet on his journey, he takes time to recognize God in his surroundings. “In the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began.”

A vision of God worth living for.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – like Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.

AnakinHis life started with so much promise. He was the promised one, heralded to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

He had a special sense of the world around him and learned that his gifts solved big problems. He focused his youthful ambition first on helping people, even if it meant leaving his mother and his home. He fought through his fear of separation and joined the righteous warriors.

But as he grew older, he allowed Fear to creep back into his life, along with its cousins Doubt, Greed and Anger. Under the influence of a powerful dark force, he turned away from the righteous path. He encased his humanity in a machine and became an instrument of evil.

Yet his humanity and sense of righteousness remained inside, dormant until kindled by the love of his own son. In his son, he saw the look of steadfast faith and unconditional love.

At journey’s end, when faced with the finality of evil’s triumph, Anakin regained his humanity and destroyed the evil, even though it proved fatal to him. But with his sacrifice, he fulfilled his destiny, succeeding to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

A righteous cause worth dying for.

So now there are no more auditions, you’ve got the part. You are the lead actor in a film that is still in development. While it is sometimes tempting to go on strike, you have to keep writing, keep living, keep creating the next scene in your film.

There are times when you are adapting someone else’s screenplay to fit into your own life, but the best screenplays are true originals.

Produced by family and directed by God, it’s up to you to create a film that resonates in the lives of others.

Quiet on the set. Action!

CF

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First published in the January 25, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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LembasExcerpt from Lembas for the Soul

Strolling into the auditorium after the bell, my daughter’s friends and classmates slowly took their seats. Getting out of regular class for a video presentation was a rare event and they were going to savor every minute.

“Your dad is going to talk about The Lord of the Rings films?” they asked Kristin. “Yes” she told them, silently praying that I would not embarrass her in front of her friends.

I was saying the same prayer myself.

The school’s Theology Department had invited me to speak on the religious themes in the three Peter Jackson films. But with just a PowerPoint presentation and a videotape, could I keep her friends entertained for the next ninety minutes? What if they were not fans of The Lord of the Rings like me? Would I waste their time or would they be inspired? Most importantly, what will my daughter think after her father speaks to the entire junior class of her high school?

I got the invitation because months ago I wrote three articles for our local diocesan newspaper. Writing about religious themes in popular culture, especially films, is one of my passions.

The editors liked my short devotionals about the three main characters: Frodo, who time and time again made a conscious, willful decision to do everything he could to fulfill the quest; Gollum, who struggled with the good and bad within himself and who found a trusting response from Frodo, but a suspicious one from Sam; and Aragorn, who conquered his own doubts and became all that he could be to defeat Sauron the Deceiver.

I could center my speech on these themes, but I was still not sure I could keep the attention of the students. High school students can get bored so quickly. They will probably want more.

Perhaps they would be interested to hear how I flew to Hollywood for the press viewing of the third and final film, The Return of the King. I could describe how I checked into the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and later met Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and producer Barry Osborne that evening in the lounge.

I could also tell the students how we had to surrender our cell phones and cameras before we were admitted into the theater. New Line Cinema wanted to prevent images from being uploaded onto the Internet two weeks before the film was released. I could describe how we sat there with an Arwen bag of popcorn and an Aragorn cup of Diet Coke, cheering for Eowyn when she slew the Witch-King of Angmar and tearing during Sam’s determined words to Frodo – “I can carry you.”

No, these stories might hold their attention for a little while longer, but it wouldn’t last. The students needed more details to help them relate to the films on a deeper, more personal level.

After showing excerpts from the three films and summarizing the main religious themes, I asked the students “If you could have a real conversation with one of the actors, what would you say to him or her?”

Without waiting for an answer, I described the interviews that I conducted on the morning after previewing The Return of the King. In a small room with twelve other religious journalists, we sat around a small table with an empty chair. One by one, for twenty minutes at a time, the actors, writers, producers, composer and director sat with us and discussed the film.

Not only did we learn lots of background details on script composition and the film-making process, we also saw the actors in a brand new light. Each of them had developed a strong connection with the character they portrayed. Many of the actors also shared personal insights to their work, insights that left a lasting impression on me.

For instance:

Elijah Wood (Frodo) – a thoughtful and energetic young man who said his scenes with Smeagol/Gollum were motivated by a caring nature for someone addicted to a powerful substance.

Dominic Monaghan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) – two pals who not only had a good time but also took up the cause of caring for the environment, especially worldwide reforestation projects.

Andy Serkis (Smeagol/Gollum) – a humble man who was genuinely thankful when we praised his work.

Sean Astin (Sam) – an accomplished actor who said the best part of the filming process was that his family could be with him in New Zealand.

Liv Tyler (Arwen) – a newlywed who implored our students to “be nice to each other” and “care for your friends.”

Orlando Bloom (Legolas) – who in a quiet, but well-spoken manner, talked about Elves and Dwarves getting along as friends. If they can get along, why can’t other people follow their example?

As I described these real people and the motivations behind their acting, the students listened and watched with great attention.

I hoped that they would identify with the actors, realizing that they share many of the same feelings, insecurities, desires for stable relationships and the need to be part of a cause for the greater good. By taking care of their friends, preserving the environment and respecting the cultures of people they don’t know, these high school students could help make our own world a better place in which to live. For as Galadriel says to Frodo in the first film, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

As I finished my speech and the lunch bell rang, the students rose to leave the auditorium. My daughter and a few of her friends, however, walked down the aisle towards me.

“Dad,” she said, “that was pretty cool.”

I smiled and said “thanks,” knowing that those words were indeed high praise from my teenage daughter.

CF

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Excerpt from Lembas for the Soul, How The Lord of the Rings Enriches Everyday Life, edited by Catherine Kohman and published by White Tree Press 2005. Click here to order your copy.

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Frodo offers the Ring to Aragorn and asks, “Would you destroy it?” As Aragorn considers the gift, the Ring calls out to him. “Aragorn. Elessar.” He kneels down and closes Frodo’s hand around the Ring. It is time to let the Ringbearer go. – Description from The Fellowship of the Ring 2:43

Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life. – James 1:12

There are many times when taking a shortcut seems like a good idea. You may want to avoid a traffic jam by taking a different route. You might try to finish a book report by skipping to the last chapter. You might even ask someone else to do something because you don’t think you’re good enough. However, many times the shortcut takes longer or ends up worse than sticking with the original plan.

AragornBAragorn has many opportunities to take shortcuts to success in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. And while he struggles with doubts about his own abilities, he recognizes that there is a better chance for success along the longer, more difficult path.

Strider (Aragorn’s name among the local folk in Bree) is described as “one of them Rangers, dangerous folk from the wild.”

His rough exterior, piercing eyes and dark clothing spark questions about whose side he is on. Frodo, a young but sensible Hobbit, sees clearly when he says, “I think a servant of the enemy would appear fairer and feel fouler.”

Little do the Hobbits realize that the “foul” Aragorn is a direct descendent of Isildur, the man who cut the One Ring of Power from Sauron’s hand. Aragorn is the last of the bloodline of the Numenor kings, whose images are displayed in the huge stone statues towering above the Anduin River.

Long hidden from the enemy, Aragorn could step forward and rightly claim the throne of Gondor, if he has the strength and courage to become the man he was born to be.

Hidden as a young child by his mother, Aragorn is placed under the watchful eye of Elrond and the Elves. To hide his true identity, Elrond gives him the name “Estel,” the Elvish word for “hope.” At Rivendell he learns much about the people, creatures, history and power of Middle-earth. He learns about Isildur’s failure to destroy the Ring and the words that “all in my bloodline shall be bound to its fate.” However, Aragorn gains more practical knowledge during thirty difficult years in the wild, serving in the armies of Gondor and Rohan under many names and disguises. He sharpens his battle skills, learns the hearts of men, and helps expose the evils of Sauron’s allies.

With the finding of the One Ring of Power, Aragorn is faced with a greater challenge – protecting the Ringbearer during the Fellowship’s journey to Mount Doom, without giving in to the temptation to use the Ring. Fortunately, through Elrond’s influence and Gandalf’s counsel, Aragorn knows beyond a doubt that the power of the Ring cannot be wielded against the enemy. The future of Middle-earth depends on their combined efforts to destroy the Ring before the enemy finds it.

Aragorn’s greatest challenge, however, is to use his many talents with confidence. Through all his trials, he shows glimpses of greatness and an innate ability to lead his men to victory. But he must not let persistent fear and doubt hinder his actions. He must find the strength to succeed where his ancestors failed. As Galadriel says at their parting, “you have but one choice – to rise above the heights of all your fathers since the days of Elendil or to fall into darkness, with all that is left of your kin.”

Arwen, ever mindful of Aragorn, feels the uncertainty in him. Gently, she helps him face his past and his future. “You are Isildur’s heir, you are not Isildur himself,” says Arwen. “You are not bound to his fate.” Aragorn, full of doubt, says “His blood flows in my veins, the same weaknesses.” “Your time will come,” says Arwen. “You will face the same evil and you will defeat it.”

How often do we doubt our own abilities and worry that we won’t be “good enough?” How many times have we turned away from the actions we should take as Christians in this world? Do we also take shortcuts to avoid a difficult task, even if we know that our faith calls us to action? How do we find the courage to live a Christian life without being distracted by material needs and entertainment options?

Every day we face many tests of our character and strength. It can be hard to remain calm while stuck in traffic. It takes effort to be truthful about forgetting a homework assignment. It takes courage to act alone in a difficult situation, especially if it is a new experience. But through these tests of our character, we should have faith and believe in our abilities.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that we should be steadfast in our faith and what we do in this world. “Be awake to all the dangers; stay firm in the faith; be brave and strong. Let everything you do be done in love.”

In his conversations with Boromir, Aragorn realizes who needs him the most – the world of men. “I do not know what strength is in my blood,” Aragorn says to Boromir. “But I swear to you, I will not let . . . our people fail.” His own people, the men and women of Gondor and Rohan, need his strength, convictions and leadership.

From this moment on, Aragorn grows in confidence to lead and make his presence known in the world of men. He leads Legolas and Gimli across the plain in pursuit of the Orcs, he commands the forces at Helm’s Deep, and his words inspire Theoden, king of Rohan, to ride out and defeat the enemy. He then takes the most difficult path to success – the Paths of the Dead. Only the true heir of Isildur can claim command over the spirits of The Dead and engage them in the war against Sauron.

As heir, Aragorn can rightly claim the shards of Narsil, the broken sword that Isildur used to cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand. Upon Arwen’s request, the skilled Elves of Rivendell take the shards of Narsil and create a new weapon – Anduril, the Flame of the West. But only the true king has the power to wield it against the enemy. As Elrond presents the sword to Aragorn, he challenges him further by saying, “Become who you were born to be.” With the acceptance of Anduril, Aragorn’s transformation to a leader of men is complete.

With our birth and Baptism, we make our presence known in the world of men. As a member of the Church, we are challenged to live an active, Christian life in the midst of poverty, injustice, jealousy and evil in this world. We become the true heirs to the kingdom of God, taking on the name of our true self in this world.

There will come a time, when you will be faced with a personal challenge. Will you look for a shortcut or will you believe in your abilities and fulfill your destiny as a Christian in this world?

Have you become the person you were born to be?

CF

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First published in the November 22, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Sam believes Gollum shouldn’t be trusted. “There’s naught left in him but lies and deceit.” “I want to help him Sam,” says Frodo, “because I have to believe he could come back.” – The Two Towers 1:28

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Leviticus 19:18

There are many obvious examples of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings films, especially in The Two Towers.

For one, consider the colors. The goodness of the Elves glows through their clean, white robes, accented with silver and gold threads. The Orcs, on the other hand, wear stinking, muddy black leather apparel with coarse iron battle gear.

For another, consider the treatment of nature. The Hobbits and Elves love the landscapes of Middle-earth, while Saruman and the Orcs cut down the trees in Fangorn Forest to fuel the metal works of Isengard.

But for less obvious examples, we should look at those characters in which goodness and evil co-exist. In them we find examples that more closely match our daily struggles.

For instance, Boromir is a brave soldier from Gondor, a born leader of men. But his thirst for power and the desire to please his father lead him down the path of covetousness and anger. He succumbs to the power of the Ring and tries to take it from Frodo.

Saruman is another example of good gone bad. Once the wisest of wizards, Saruman wears the symbolic white robes as the highest in his order. But in his lust for knowledge and power, he looks at the world through the palantir and has direct contact with the Dark Lord Sauron. Saruman is shown the strength of Sauron’s army and is convinced that joining the forces of evil is the only hope for survival.

GollumPerhaps the most tormented character in the entire trilogy is Gollum, who has a split personality. The good personality is known by his birth name, Smeagol. The evil side goes by Gollum, named after the guttural sounds he develops after living hundreds of years in dark, wet caves, sustained by the power of the Ring.

The story of Smeagol and the One Ring of Power is similar to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Smeagol, whose ancestors are related to the Hobbits, grew up in a wealthy and happy family near the Anduin River. This is the same river into which the invisible Isildur swam to escape the Orcs, only to be killed when the Ring deliberately falls off his hand. For centuries the Ring lay in the riverbed, waiting to be picked up.

Then one day Smeagol and his friend Deagol are fishing. Deagol hooks a huge fish and is pulled into the river. Looking down, he sees something glistening in the river bottom. He picks up a handful of mud, which soon reveals a bright golden ring. Smeagol is immediately jealous of his friend and covets the Ring, suggesting that he have it as a birthday present. When Deagol refuses, Smeagol strangles his friend to death.

Wearing the Ring, Smeagol returns to his village and realizes that no one can see him, a condition he quickly uses to his advantage. The community grows to distrust and avoid him when he is visible. Banished by his family, Smeagol leaves with the Ring and finds solitude in the caves under the Misty Mountains. For 500 years, the Ring sustains Gollum with a life force upon which he grows totally dependent, much like a drug addict who depends on the high of narcotics.

After losing the Ring to Bilbo, Gollum desperately searches for it. He will do anything to get his “Precious” back and expects the Ringbearer to fight just as hard to keep it. But when he finally meets up with Frodo and Sam in the labyrinth of razor-sharp rocks of Emyn Muil, Gollum is surprised by Frodo’s empathy and trust. Sam, however, is highly suspicious about Gollum’s evil nature and wants to protect his friend. He treats Gollum harshly, calling him names and threatening physical violence.

In today’s world, we often meet people tormented with addictions or harboring hidden agendas. How do we act towards them? Do we treat them with kindness and patience like Frodo, or do we treat them with suspicion and hateful words like Sam?

In addition to the passage above to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we should also remember the words of Paul, who wrote that “love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love…does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.”

We know from Scriptures that Christ is in each of us. Every day we have the opportunity to see and relate to the good in everyone, no matter how troubled or addicted they are. This is our true Christian response to the evil we see in this world. How often do we treat people this way?

More importantly, how well do we see the glistening elements of evil in ourselves? Do we recognize the times when we are jealous or envious of someone’s possessions? Does our pride or anger make a difficult situation even worse? Would we rather lie around and pig out on junk food than use our talents to help someone else?

There’s good in each of us – grace from God that is given to us at our Baptism and shared again during the celebration of the Eucharist. Through thoughtful prayer and heartfelt confession of our sins and weaknesses, we can more fully appreciate the good in ourselves, and thus give a more Frodo-like, Christ-like response to this world.

It’s a difficult journey, one that’s met with many perilous times and events. But as Sam recounts below, this is a journey that counts.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” said Frodo, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, “and it’s worth fighting for.”

Are you fighting for the good that is in you?

CF

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First published in the November 15, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people…they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth. – The Fellowship of the Ring 1:2

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8


There are moments in life when you must take action, even if it is beyond what is comfortable and routine.

You may be leaving for college, walking into a job interview or buying a new home. You could be faced with forgiving someone you don’t like, or helping someone you don’t know. Despite your inexperience or discomfort with these important events, it’s up to you to act now and accept the outcome, whatever it may be.

FrodoFrodo Baggins faces just such a moment in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film of the trilogy. Standing on the banks of the Anduin River, Frodo must decide if he should continue his quest, despite the overwhelming forces of evil bent on capturing him and the One Ring of Power. It is a very challenging moment for Frodo, one that goes against his Hobbit nature.

Most Hobbits do not seek adventures or look beyond the Shire. A common sentiment heard in a Hobbiton pub is “keep your nose out of trouble and no trouble will come to you.” Frodo followed this sentiment as he grew up with his uncle Bilbo and friends Merry and Pippin, enjoying the simple things of life – a good meal with a hearty brew, fun times with friends and peaceful walks through the gentle, rolling hills of the Shire.

So it would seem ironic that the greatest task in the history of Middle-earth – destroying the evil One Ring of Power – would fall into the hands of a Hobbit. For as the Ring comes first to Bilbo and then to Frodo, these two Hobbits seem to be the most unlikely creatures to bear such an evil burden.

But it is not fate or mere coincidence that the Ring comes to them. The power of good in Middle-earth knows that Bilbo and Frodo are best suited for the task, even if they don’t realize it. Bilbo and Frodo have always lived with an uneasy restlessness, dreaming of adventures beyond the Shire. Bilbo’s mysterious disappearance on his 111th birthday party just confirms what other Hobbits really think – that the Bagginses are a bit odd, even by Hobbit standards.

There’s a wiser power of good at work that guides the Ring into the hands of the humble, peace-loving Frodo. His simple life, stout heart and uncharacteristic curiosity about lands outside the Shire make him a good carrier for the Ring. Weaker folk, such as men, would more quickly succumb to the temptation to claim the Ring and use its power.

As Gandalf explains while climbing through the mines of Moria, “there are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought,” says Gandalf.

Just as in our world, the power of good is quietly at work through the hands of the meek and the humble. Are we one of those people who quietly look for opportunities to do good deeds? What motivates us to do good works in this world? Do we reflect on the life of Jesus and see examples of how we can make our world a better place in which to live.

Living such a life is very hard. We all have faults, which are shown not only in what we do, but also in what we don’t do. Boromir could have been talking to us when he says to Aragorn about the race of men, “Yes, there is weakness, there is frailty, but there is courage also, and honor to be found in men.”

When the moment calls for action, will you have the courage to act in a Christian way? Will you make up your mind to follow through with what is right, or will you shrink away and hope someone else will do it?

The courage to act may not come naturally. At first, Frodo wants to get rid of the Ring. When he learns that he has the One Ring of Power from Sauron, Frodo tries to give it to Gandalf. But Gandalf knows that he cannot use the Ring to do good deeds. The Ring would eventually corrupt his powers and turn them to the purpose of evil.

Later in their journeys, when the road becomes difficult, Frodo struggles with the burden of the Ring. He has a strong desire to return to his comfortable life in the Shire and recounts his wishes to Gandalf.

“I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened,” he says. “So do all who live to see such times,” says Gandalf. “But it is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us.”

At three different times, Frodo finds the courage to close his hand around the Ring and accept the burden of carrying it to Mordor. The first time is in his home at Bag End, when he asks Gandalf “what must I do?” The second time is at the Council of Elrond at Rivendell. In the midst of mighty men, powerful Elves and hard-nosed Dwarves, the smallest of all steps forward to take on the task. “I will take the Ring to Mordor,” says Frodo.

Finally, as the Fellowship breaks apart from within (when Boromir tries to take the Ring) and from without (when they are attacked by the Uruk-hai Orcs), Frodo stands at the river’s edge with his final, troubling choice.

His decision goes to the heart of The Lord of the Rings, that even one insignificant person can make a difference in the world. Frodo could throw the Ring into the Anduin River and sneak back to the Shire, though Gollum would probably find the Ring. He could stay with Aragorn and the Fellowship, though the Orcs would probably capture him and take him to Saruman. The hardest choice of all would be to leave his friends and attempt to fulfill the quest on his own.

Despite the enormous power of evil chasing him, and his Hobbit nature to avoid trouble, he realizes that he alone must find a way to fulfill this task. Frodo accepts responsibility for the evil One Ring of Power and decides to carry it to destruction, even if he has to die in the process.

Jesus faced a similar decision in the garden of Gethsemane, when he asked the Father to “take this cup away from me.” It was part of his human nature that wanted to avoid the task at hand. But knowing that he alone must find a way to fulfill this task, Jesus accepted responsibility for the evil of our sins, bearing them to destruction, even if he had to die in the process.

Do you have the courage to accept responsibility and do good works in this world of ours? Even though there are many ways to avoid the tasks at hand, will you decide to follow through with what you know is the right thing to do? Can you find the strength of God’s love in you that will help you act for good in this world?

If ever you doubt your abilities or don’t believe you have the experience for success, remember the words of Galadriel, the Lady of Light: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

CF

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First published in the November 7, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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