During the Christmas festivities this past December, I received a marvelous and majestic gift from my parents: the 50th anniversary hardback single edition of the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. It weighs about ten pounds and eclipses 1,100 pages. And it is glorious. It even has the original maps drawn by Tolkien so that I can completely nerd out as I read.
My ambition got the best of me as I embarked upon a journey to finish it all in the two weeks before classes started, but then I landed a job and (though I’m not complaining!) lost a lot of reading time. Nonetheless, I am currently 2/3 of the way through the trilogy and cruising right along.
A couple of weeks ago, I was about to finish The Fellowship of the Ring, which ends almost exactly where they closed out the first film. If you’re familiar with the movies, then you know this is the scene when [SPOILER ALERT] the fellowship is broken as Frodo and Sam separate from the rest and begin to make their solitary journey to Mordor. Before any of this occurs though, there is a poignant scene where Boromir of Gondor tries to take the Ring from Frodo believing that he can use its dark powers to defeat the growing evil of Sauron.
In order to escape, Frodo slips on the Ring, disappears, and eludes Boromir. Like the movie, he retreats to an ancient stone seat where he is able to look down from a high peak to the far-reaching lands of Middle Earth. It’s clear from the start that this Ring is bad business though and each time Frodo wears it, the eye of Sauron (“ever searching”) is drawn to his presence. I remember this scene well from the film, but I love the way Tolkien describes the interlocking wills within the hobbit.
And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was. Amon Lhaw it touched. It glanced upon Tol Brandir – he threw himself from the seat, crouching, covering his head with his grey hood.
He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!
The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points, he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again, Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger. He was kneeling in clear sunlight before the high seat. A black shadow seemed to pass like an arm above him; it missed Amon Hen and groped out west, and faded. Then all the sky was clean and blue and birds sang in every tree.
This is a striking picture of temptation. Though we largely know our sin to be ugly, villainous, and deadly we find ourselves, as it were, balanced between the piercing points of purity and treachery. Much like the dichotomy of Paul when he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19).
RED, a favorite band of mine, actually modeled one of their albums after this concept. They called it “Innocence And Instinct” and the opening track from the record, aptly named “Fight Inside,” plays like a schizophrenic conversation with oneself (“It’s nothing…IT’S EVERYTHING!“).
As believers, this is the daily fight we wage. We walk between the balance of two piercing points: one that hints at the sweet aromas of Heaven and desires to claim us for freedom and one whose seduction and lies seek to ultimately destroy what is already broken. And friends, when we wander out to fight alone we become lost in our own speech. We are not strong enough, smart enough, or free enough to liberate ourselves.
But Tolkien nails this scene. As Frodo hangs in the balance, a flash like “some other point of power” comes screaming into his mind bringing clarity and freedom to choose. For a moment, his thoughts are clear because of this foreign voice that shouts away the distractions and in that instant he takes off the ring. And he finds himself out from under the gaze of the Enemy, kneeling under a warm light upon a throne while listening to creation sing around him.
If this is not a picture of the faithfulness of God that we see in Scripture, I don’t know what else it could be. Tolkien paints this beautifully reminding us that even in the piercing balance, God has promised a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). And it is always found in the light of His throne, a throne of wondrous grace to which He bids us, “Come to me. I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
I love this scene.
I love J.R.R. Tolkien.
I love the Lord of the Rings.