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Archive for the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Category

Dear Readers,

After writing more than 70 columns about films, faith and family, I’ve decided to take a break.

I would like to tell you that I am flying to New Zealand for a small part in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”

But the simple truth is that I have a number of writing projects I would like to complete in the next twelve months. Discontinuing my monthly Reel Life Journeys column will free up the time I need for these new projects.

However, I did not make this decision quickly. Only after much thought and prayer did I see that this was the best road to take at this point in my writing career.

“My writing career”… I like the sound of that. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and thanks in large part to the interest and support shared by Rick Musacchio and Andy Telli of The Tennessee Register, I have a great start.

Looking back over these past six years of writing this column, I learned a number of important lessons:

~ Writing is hard work. I can remember only a few magical moments when whole paragraphs flowed through my fingertips. For the most part, I wrote my 850-word columns after purposefully sitting down at my laptop many times to write.

The editors asked that I e-mail my column to them on the Tuesday before the newspaper is published on Friday. That means during the previous week I would ponder the column’s topic, what movie to feature and other quotes or song lyrics I could use to illustrate the topic.

The columns I like the most had a rough draft done by Sunday, extra quotes added by Monday and a final edit before e-mailing the text to Andy on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, too many of my columns, either through procrastination, family duties, my daytime job or other diversions (the Chicago Cubs, pizza, Notre Dame football) did not see a rough draft until Monday, some updates on Tuesday and a final edit early Wednesday morning. I know that most newspapers have a hard print deadline and I know it’s best to get things done sooner rather than later. I just hope I didn’t cause too many late nights for the TR staff.

~ Live each day to its fullest. Unless you are Phil Connors, the weatherman reporting from Puxsatawney, Pennsylvania in Groundhog Day, you can never repeat today. As many others have tweeted or posted on Facebook, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.

~ Show respect to everyone. A simple school project of collecting one paper clip for every life lost during the Holocaust continues to teach valuable lessons of respect and tolerance to the students, parents and community of Whitwell, TN Middle School. We should remember that lesson and stop judging people because of their looks, their wealth (or lack thereof) or their religion and show them respect. We would all hope to receive the same.

~ There’s no crying in baseball.

~ Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. As Master Yoda so eloquently states, fear is often the root of many evils. But when we sing John Michael Talbot’s lyrics “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest,” we know that our God is ever before us, guiding us in love.

~ Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. This theme from The Lord of the Rings is much more than supporting a three-foot, seven-inch hobbit on his quest to destroy the One Ring of Power. One individual, standing upon this rock in space we call Earth, is a minuscule part of the world’s population of 7 billion people. Yet that one individual, by his or her acts of kindness and love for other people, can start a chain reaction that will transform this world into a better place to live. You are just one person, but you have a very important role to play.

~ All you need is love.

~ The richness of life is not found in a large bank account. The first Reel Life Journeys column I wrote centered on the song “If I Were a Rich Man” sung by Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof. In this column I imagined what I would do if I won the Powerball lottery. I realized that the things I wanted to do most (write, talk to Grandma more often, spend time with family and friends) were things I could do now without the winnings. Carpe diem!

So thank you, dear readers, for your interest and encouragement through the years. It has been a pleasure and an honor to write this monthly column. I may yet show up on these pages again in the future. “God only knows when we will see each other again,” Hodel says to her father Tevye before boarding the train to Siberia. “Then we will leave it in His hands,” he replies.

The von Trapp family said it best in The Sound of Music when they sang: “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”

CF

Christopher Fenoglio is grateful for the loving support of his wife and family, to whom these columns are dedicated.

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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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Ever since the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France was completed in the early 13th century, sunlight streams through its windows and bathes the worshippers at Mass in glorious technicolor.

Each of the three stained glass rose windows tells a different story. The one on the north transept shows the Glorification of the Virgin. The one on the south portrays the Glorification of Christ, while the one on the west front depicts The Last Judgment.

For the first visitors to the Cathedral, the windows were an artistic portrayal of inspirational stories, whose messages of sacrifice, good works, repentance and love enriched their lives outside of the church.

These windows (and the beautiful examples in our local churches) continue to inspire us to this day.

But thanks to modern technology, we have many more media formats in the 21st century through which inspiration touches our lives. Readers of this column know that one of our favorite formats is film.

Robert K. Johnston writes in his book Reel Spirituality that “film has the power to disturb and to enlighten, to make us more aware of both who we are and what our relationship with others could be. It can even usher us into the presence of the holy.”

Some films were created specifically to be inspirational stories of faith:

> A young French shepherd girl holds fast to what she saw, heard and believes, despite the ridicule of her family and the townspeople. (Song of Bernadette)

> An Olympic runner refuses to run on Sunday, but runs on another day, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure. (Chariots of Fire)

> A non-Italian cardinal is elected pope and takes drastic measures to feed the starving people of the world and diffuse the growing threat of nuclear war between two superpowers (The Shoes of the Fisherman)

> A widow and her son offer gentle help and heartfelt words to a recovering alcoholic country music singer, helping him reclaim his life and advance his career. (Tender Mercies)

Other films, while not specifically stories of faith, have scenes that mirror the choices we have to make every day.

> When it is clear that Lord Voldemort has returned, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

> In the heat of battle, Luke Skywalker realizes that his anger serves the wrong purpose. He regains his peaceful composure, throws away his light saber, and tells the Emperor “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side…I’m a Jedi, like my father.” (Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi)

Movies can also be metaphors for classic themes (good vs. evil, individual vs. establishment) or for contemporary issues. Consider a film currently in theaters Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell.

In this film, Carrell reprises his weatherman role from Bruce Almighty and wins election to Congress. But his wife and three sons recognize Congressman Evan as the same old Dad, who brings work home and never has time for them. Late one night, Evan learns that his wife has prayed that they grow closer as a family. Evan also decides to pray, asking God for help to fulfill his campaign promise to “change the world.”

God listens and asks Evan to build an ark in the middle of his subdivision. God makes the clear distinction that he is not answering Evan’s prayer by changing the world, but that he is giving Evan the opportunity (along with a large supply of gopher wood and the necessary hand tools) to change the world himself.

evan-almighty.gifStill, it’s up to Evan to make the right choice and do what is necessary, even at the risk of losing his job, his family and the respect of his community.

The film becomes a metaphor for the internal conflicts we experience when making a choice in our lives. Do we follow God’s way or the path we want? Evan Almighty also explores the themes of man’s improper use of the Earth’s resources, the misuse of legislative power for personal financial gain, and the influence that Biblical stories should have on our lives and the operations of our government.

Films can inspire us to lead better lives, to respect others and make good choices that affect the lives of our family, friends and even our planet.

In The Lord of the Rings films, we see Frodo’s courage and hear from Galadriel that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Imagine what we could do for our planet if we combine that sentiment with the suggested energy-saving measures in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

We truly could change the world.

CF
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First published in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
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Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Song of Bernadette

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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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Analysis

Movies can transport us to another time and space – the wild West, the streets of Casablanca, or even another galaxy, far, far away. In the genre of fantasy / science fiction movies, the original Star Wars trilogy was huge, both in ideas and ticket sales. It captured the imagination of a worldwide audience with a story that resonated on a personal level while also touching on a deep history of fantastic cultures and creatures.

Star Wars was once the king of fantasy movies, but no longer. The new king is The Lord of the Rings, which ends on a resounding high note with this week’s release of The Return of the King.

Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King reaches the grand heights that every movie studio dreams about, but rarely achieves. His visualizations of Middle-earth, using a combination of the natural New Zealand landscapes and state-of-the-art computer effects, sets a beautiful stage for the many story lines that converge in this final film of the video trilogy.

AragornCBut while the panoramic vistas and special effects are well worth the ticket price (Legolas’ battle action is really cool!), the personal stories make the movie soar to the heights of eagles. The movie explores many individual themes: living up to one’s potential, keeping hope alive amidst overwhelming evil, and the tragic sacrifices of a few for the good of all. Under Jackson’s direction, the ensemble of well-known and unknown actors delivers heartfelt performances that amaze, delight and endear the audience to these characters.

When we last saw our heroes in The Two Towers, Gollum was leading Frodo and Sam to a secret entrance into Mordor. Into this barren and desolate land, filled with grey ash and volcanic rock, the little hobbits must find a way to Mount Doom where they will try to destroy the evil One Ring of Sauron. They do not realize the full extent of Gollum’s treachery and his plan to lead them into a trap, from which he hopes to get back “his precious.”

After the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and the Rohan must decide how best to fight the overwhelming forces of Sauron. Though they defeated Saruman’s 10,000 Uruk-hai orcs, they must find a way to rally the men of Gondor and fight more than 100,000 orcs, evil men, massive elephant-like mumakil, and catapults in Sauron’s army. But the good guys must fight more than a huge army. They must also battle against the fear and terror that travels with the general of Sauron’s army, the Witch-king of Angmar, the top Nazgul that stabbed Frodo on Weathertop in Fellowship of the Ring. It is said that no living man can defeat him in battle.

Leading the forces of good is Aragorn, a descendant of Isildur and the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. But as the Rohirrim troops gather to answer Gondor’s call for aid, Aragorn leaves the army on another mission. He is presented with a challenge that tests his courage and resolve, a task in which only the true King of Gondor can succeed where many others failed.

There are no thoughts of failure with Merry and Pippin, the two young hobbits who are feasting on the spoils of Isengard, now flooded after destruction by the Ents. With war quickly approaching, even these two hobbits must learn how to leave their friends behind and take different paths into the final battle at Pelennor Fields.

So many men going off to war – what about the women? Tolkien’s work is decidedly one-sided towards male main characters, but he reserves one the most complex characters for Eowyn, the niece of Theoden, King of Rohan. She has the heart of a warrior and longs to ride into battle with her countrymen. Yet she is commanded to stay in Edoras and rule the women, children and visiting hobbits until the King returns. Torn by her duty and deep feelings for Aragorn, the embodiment of all the qualities she loves, she makes a fateful decision that affects everyone.

As the advancing war clouds the horizon and darkens the sky, Arwen, the Evenstar of the Elves, becomes weak. She had committed herself to staying on Middle-earth to support Aragorn, but now her father Elrond wants her to leave and spend eternity with the Elves across the water. Through her intercession, a powerful weapon is delivered to help Aragorn in the war.

In the end, it’s not the war, the sacrifices or the treachery that lingers. Jackson’s vision of The Lord of the Rings gives us all hope – a belief that even the smallest person can change the course of the world.

And judging by the movie masterpiece completed by the Peter Jackson, a small New Zealander among Hollywood men, that belief rings loud and clear.

CF

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First published in the December 19, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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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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