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Volume 14, Issue 2: Flotsam

Wanna Save the World?

Nathan Wilson

When you read Tolkien's trilogy, which characters, if any, do you relate to? Do you want to be Tom Bombadil? Do you have a lot of things in common with Fanghorn? Aragorn? Frodo?

Tolkien crafted his story in a very Christian way. The heros are unrelatable. Not for all people, but for most. One of the modern complaints that movie makers had to work around in producing their film is the completely unrelatable character of Arwen. She is the pure, immortality-sacrificing elf maiden who cannot marry any mortal lower than a king of all of the West. She doesn't have much in common with your average female viewer.
But Eowyn. She's got it. She is the shield maiden with a longing for greatness. She reaches for Aragorn but falls beneath him. She has angst, discontent, drive, and desire. She disobeys her king to fight with the men. She's human. She also is nothing like the modern theater-going female. But she is a character that watching girls could claim to be like. They would love to think they are of the same mold. Why doesn't she get Aragorn? She's so much cooler than Arwen.
And so, in the film, Arwen needs a greater role. She needs to compete with Eowyn. The modern American teen needs to be satisfied when she gets the guy, and the modern American boy needs to be more attracted to her than to Eowyn. Otherwise how will he be satisfied when he is pretending to be Aragorn and ends up with the one he didn't like? What's he doing relating to Aragorn in the first place?
One of the truly Christian beauties of Tolkien's stories is their hierarchy. He paints a picture of the world as Scripture does. There are those in the story who mirror the angelic, or are Christ figures. There are those who are the lords of men, there are the faithful servants of various degrees, and unfaithful servants.
We are not meant to relate to Aragorn or Arwen. We are not meant to relate to Gandalf, Bombadil, Elrond, or even, quite possibly, Frodo. They are our superiors. We are meant to view Aragorn as a lord, Gandalf and Elrond as angelic, and Bombadil as an odd Adamic-Christ figure. We are not meant to fall in love with Arwen because she is our queen. We are not meant to view ourselves as the one called up to carry the burden of the world, because we are not meant to be arrogant.
We are the Sams, the Eomers, the Beregonds and Faramirs. We are Pippins and Merriadocs. We are even Boromirs, but we are not Aragorns. We may love Eowyn because she is beneath the king, meant for his faithful steward Faramir. We can strive to be like Legolas and Gimli, but never Galadriel and Celeborn.
The characters we are meant to relate to are also vastly our superiors. But they are set up for us as models of imitation. If you were to strive to be like Faramir, you would do a good thing. But if you want to get inside the head of Aragorn (unless you are a king yourself, and called to that breed of typology) then you do an unhealthy thing. We are called to mirror Christ as best and as faithfully as we can, as Faramir does Aragorn, but not to pretend to be Christ, or try to get in His head, or marry His bride. We love ours in imitation of His love for His.
This is also true for Lewis' Narnia. While boys are happy to pretend to be lions, you generally won't find them pretending to be Aslan. The stories don't lend themselves to such imagination.
This is not true for the Harry Potter stories. The difference is substantial. It is also not an evil. The Harry Potter stories should not be chucked because you relate to the main character. This is a stylistic literary difference which betrays both Lewis' and Tolkien's wisdom and Rowling's popness.
In Tolkien all the relatable characters surround the hero. In Rowling the only relatable character is the hero. We don't relate to Hagrid the half-giant, or Dumbledore the wizard. We don't relate to Harry's friend Ron (generally), though Hermione is thrown in there to give girls something to pretend. The only head we get inside, and this is quite literal, is Harry's. We constantly dwell in his thoughts, and very rarely (I can't remember an instance) in any other characters'.
In all of the stories, Harry serves as the Christ figure. He is the messiah of this particular world. He is also the one whose head we are all in. While it is evil to try to get into the head of Christ, passion plays and Jesus films included, it is not evil to try and get into the head of a Christ type. We read the Psalms and see more of David than we ever do of Aragorn. We read of Samson and want to understand him.
But Harry Potter and Aragorn exist for different reasons. Aragorn exists in a conscious attempt to paint truth and reality in the most effective and accurate way possible, faithful service and lordship. Harry Potter exists to give kids an interesting hero in an interesting world and a reason to read.
Harry Potter is fluff when compared to the depths that are plumbed in Narnia and Middle Earth. And Rowling was not aiming for depths, she was aiming for a pop story. She emphatically got one, and lots of money besides.
Harry Potter is a not a healthy diet for children if they live on it exlusively, and it creates their imaginative paradigms. If they are fed only dreams of being the most magical of all the little boys and girls, and mixing up potions, then you are killing them. But if your children have been fed on dreams marinated in Lewis and Tolkien, they'll have no trouble surviving a corndog from Potter.

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