The Battle for Middle-Earth by Fleming Rutledge
As a kid, I grew up with C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, but I missed out on The Lord of the Rings until much later. Several of my classmates in high school were huge Tolkien fans, and I was curious enough to give him a try once I graduated. I read The Hobbit between high school and college, and with the last film coming out, I spent the first semester of my freshman year in college reading The Lord of the Rings books in preparation for marathoning the films with my sister over Christmas break. It’s been a love affair ever since. I always find interesting tidbits in the books each time I read, although I confess that the theological threads have been more difficult to pick up.
This is where Fleming Rutledge’s most excellent The Battle for Middle-Earth emerges. Rutledge, a priest, emphasizes the theology behind The Lord of the Rings and sticks to a theological reading of the texts. Because he is clear about his methodology and does not focus on the literary aspects, it works. Rutledge explores the divine aspects of the texts, Christian fellowship, and the many thorny problems that tangle up the text and make it an unclear allegory. He argues that unlike Lewis’s texts, Tolkien’s are not traditionally allegorical and instead mirror the complex process of Christianity.
I’ve always struggled with the Gollum storyline at the end of The Return of the King. I wondered if this was a book about the Christian journey, how could Frodo possibly fail his quest? Rutledge declares that it’s the crux of the Christian experience: you can’t succeed on your own. You require Divine intervention to be able to do anything. This, to me, was a freeing concept, and one that has spurred me to rethink my journey a little less simplistically.