If you haven’t seen the still-new teaser for The Hobbit (part 1) yet, then congratulations! — to me, for I have one more Christmas present: being able to show it to you, right here.
My personal preference, having already done all those tasks, is to play the deep, somber Dwarven song (adapted from Tolkien’s own lyrics in The Hobbit book) repeatedly in my mind, and add to my anticipation of Dec. 14, 2012 — the film’s release date, in the U.S.
Both films will be in 3D, not converted in post-production, but filmed that way, in super-bright colors, so that Middle-Earth may appear even more incredible than it did in the first Lord of the Rings films. In my view, I think that will head off director Peter Jackson’s yearning (which makes sense) to top the first three films. I meant that instead of turning The Hobbit, which should be more “fun” than The Lord of the Rings, into a darker story, he may redirect that impulse into making the film better in technical quality, and in 3D.
Yet there’s yet another dimension to The Hobbit finally being made into a blockbuster live-action film, with all the same producers and actors (plus some new ones). By that I mean that Christians, and especially those who have promoted The Lord of the Rings in somewhat partial-truth ways, could be confused about how to react to The Hobbit.
I’ll have that question for readers, at the end of this year-end hodgepodge-topic column.
Tolkien in the Library
Because of our odd order of adding previously released books to the Speculative Faith Library, some time passed before we’ve finally began placing Tolkien’s classics on our cyber-shelves. Just this week, I added what happened to be our 300th title, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring itself. Before that, The Hobbit was also added.
The Library keeps growing, with classic Christian fantasy and contemporary novels being added all the time. In coming months, we will couple those with even more info about each book — interaction, links, and reviews that keep in mind readers of all ages.
The wizards’ Christmas quest
After Fred Warren’s overview on Tuesday of the (three?) wise men’s journey to see the newborn Jesus, I had to share this similar brilliance from David (not Johnny!) Mathis:
These Dudes Aren’t Kings
Now “We Three Kings” is a wonderful Christmas song. Perhaps the Beach Boys’ version is best, if that’s not too sacrilegious to say. I’m not eager to play the spoiler here, but these dudes aren’t kings. They are pagan astrologers, not too far from what we’d call sorcerers and wizards.
Gandalf and Dumbledore are coming to worship the baby Jesus.
These magi are not respected kings but pagan specialists in the supernatural, experts in astrology, magic, and divination, blatant violators of Old Testament law — and they are coming to worship Jesus.
We really should beware of having a narrower vision of who can come to Jesus than God does. We can be so prone to write off people like this, but God doesn’t. He draws. He woos. He’s seeking worshipers from among the priestly caste of pagan religion. There will be worshipers from Hogwarts, even from Slytherin.
From We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t, David Mathis, DesiringGod.org, Dec. 24, 2011 (boldface emphases added)
Now it would be one thing if someone from Speculative Faith, or a Christian fantasy author, had written this. Yet this comes from one of those nonfiction-prone Christian-Leader types. They are doing just what we may hope: using even “secular” stories, with discernment, to back up (not prove!) the Bible’s greatest Story, whose Hero is Christ.
Mathis added, in a shorter piece the following day:
This is astounding — that God is welcoming the magi, and not on the provision that they first abandon their life of astrology and magic. No, he comes to them where they are, in their sin. He goes as far as to exploit the very channel of their deepest idolatry to draw them to Jesus.
From That Crazy Star of Bethlehem, David Mathis, DesiringGod.org, Dec. 25, 2011
In the new year, may we all grow in Biblically balanced discernment — not accepting stories with false beliefs or enjoying them only because of baseless “freedom,” but for the truths they do include and the glories God dares to reflect even in a fallen world.
That’s especially true, given the sobering risks of falling to one extreme or the other …
Dark books, the Devil, and Driscoll
Once again, a popular and solid Christian leader shows — even if not a severe lack of grasping true speculative-story discernment — an ironic contradiction of his own ethic.
Today’s installment in this recurring meme comes courtesy of Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. Overall, I like this guy. He preaches the Gospel of repentance and faith, and talks tough (mostly for right reasons). For all of you folks who dislike legalism and fake religious systems, Driscoll comes across as delightfully contrarian. He doesn’t wear a suit and tie, does the contemporary-worship-but-with-substance thing, and writes books about doctrine in popular language (or his best attempts at replicating it).
So how come Driscoll issues such cultural-fundie-sounding critiques of popular books?
The latest such critique is from Driscoll’s Facebook page, along with a photo showing a row of admittedly uniform-looking book covers, over which a sign declares that this is a bookstore’s Teen Paranormal Romance section. “Took Ashley book buying @ Barnes & Noble,” Driscoll explains. “We both nearly died seeing this section.”
Though he doesn’t say so here, Driscoll has previously claimed that books like Twilight are obviously “demonic” and should therefore Christians should avoid them.
I’m no Twilight fan. (Here are partial reasons why I’m not.) But neither do I agree with claiming things are “demonic” based only on appearances. Previously I’ve said Driscoll’s “discernment” here both fails to consider all Biblical principles and is self-contradictory. Here’s a guy who dresses in nontraditional dress styles, based on freedom in Christ and things like that, and (rightly, perhaps) believes that kind of presentation doesn’t matter. And then he goes off and judges books, quite literally, based only on their covers.
In this case, Driscoll’s Facebook photo post generated the expected level of controversy — actually, responses that (so far) never interacted with one another.
Also predictably, most of the responses took opposite and extreme sides:
- “I’m scared for my future children” vs. “A judgemental spirit is no solution”
- And (this was a single short response) “demonic attack” vs. (un-bracketed ellipses in original) “it is fiction…and there is nothing satanic about it…lighten up people..if it gets kids reading..I say good…. […] Kids KNOW it is fiction…”
These kinds of (in my view) equal-opposite and imbalanced responses are part of why Speculative Faith exists. We need to think Biblically about secular fiction, neither calling it “demonic” based only on appearance, nor assuming fiction has no effect on readers.
Also, I’m not sure how one guy saying “[Cuss redacted] you Twilight…” helps anything.
Last Christmas, I gave you — no, not my heart, but a list of 50 “un-gifts” that were likely lackluster because so many true-life holiday gift items are already ridiculously silly.
This year, to save me from tears, I came up with 50 “Christmas Un-Specials”: titles and quick summaries of holiday movies that, with only a few exceptions, have never been made and we hope will never be made. Examples:
1. “Christmas Crash.” After Christmas Eve wreck, family learns the greatest gift ever is a new car.
6. “Happy Holi-delays.” Working Dec. 25, TSA agents find peace, romance, and new gifts, on the job.
8. “Trans4mers: North Polarization.” Flat hero and hot elves fight Robots. Directed by Michael Bay.
21. “A Thomas Kinkade Christmas.” Sweet cottages full of light and hope may also hold dark secrets.
46. “Camping Christmas.” Radio evangelist stuns world by successfully predicting holiday on Dec 25.
The complete list is here.
Why should Christians hype ‘The Hobbit’?
“We come to it at last.” Here’s my final question for Speculative Faith readers, focusing on the upcoming The Hobbit film, part 1. It’s this:
Why should Christians promote reading, or viewing, The Hobbit?
You may know exactly why: it’s by the very Christian Tolkien (as Becky re-confirmed on Monday); the stories are unparalleled in originality and craftsmanship; and the world of Middle-earth is just as “real” and amazing a myth, if not more so, as any other.
We may know this, though we struggle to articulate it sometimes. But do others?
For The Lord of the Rings, Christian movie reviews, articles, and books fell uniformly into a rather singular promotion: Tolkien was a Christian; there isn’t much troublesome “magic”; and Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn are like prophet, priest, and king, respectively, very much like Jesus. Similar techniques were used to “sell” the Narnia films, especially the first. I worked at a Christian bookstore shortly thereafter, and well recall all the Finding God In … books for either franchise, or even a stack of tracts with Aslan on front.
Will all that occur with The Hobbit? I highly doubt it!
Do Hobbit characters have even slight allegorical references? Not that I can think of — not without already knowing Middle-earth’s foundation or what they did at other times.
Does The Hobbit have some messianic undertones, a la even the Harry Potter series? No.
Thus, all the usual means of Christian promotion of secular stories seem to be missing. Those who try to justify it as an “allegory,” or even a Biblical-like battle between good and evil, will have to stretch their interpretations a lot for this mainly-for-fun fairy tale.
Yet The Hobbit is a joyous, timeless story, interlinked with The Lord of the Rings and the vast world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s making. It reflects his Christian worldview implicitly, with its themes of heroism, beauty, striving for new adventure beyond one’s own comfort zones, and “eucatastrophe” — the sudden change of horrible evils into incredible good. This story need not be seen, or “sold,” to Christian audiences as any more than that.
Perhaps you agree. Or perhaps you see more specific “evangelical” elements that some Christian reviewers could pull out of (or push into!) The Hobbit and the film versions. If so, what would those evangelical-friendly elements be?