Coming in at #40 on the American Library Association’s banned book list, surprisingly to many, is J.R.R Tolkien’s epic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. The classic trilogy, along with The Hobbit, has been banned in many schools and public libraries across the nation.
These works have been celebrated around the world as benchmarks of fictional literature, and for inspiring the work of several modern fantasy and science fiction authors around the globe; yet some claim that there is a darker, more menacing side to these childhood standards.
According to a National Health Service anti-smoking group in Plymouth, England, children should be banned from watching films like Lord of the Rings because they feature people smoking. NHS Plymouth states that about 40% of school-age children have admitted smoking regularly and that research showed children were more likely to start smoking if they had been exposed to certain images, including people smoking on television and in films.
Russ Moody, from the Plymouth Stop Smoking Service, said, “This is not about being a busybody – this is about protecting young people from harm and the aim is not to stop children from watching otherwise “enjoyable films”, but to put pressure on film makers not to include any smoking scenes.”
The other, most popular, reason behind censorship attempts is that some find the story to be “irreligious.” This comes as a shock since Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and long-time friend of Christian fantasy author C.S. Lewis. He even wrote in a letter to Lewis that the creation of the LOTR was a “fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” This is reflected in several pages with quite noticeable Christian themes and subtexts. When Tolkien began creating the world of Middle-earth, he foresaw one that would reflect Christian views and incorporate basic elements of Christianity into the world of fiction.
Nevertheless is has been repeatedly banned in Christian schools (and homes) as being anti-Christian, and generally anti-religious.
One of the most recent, and highly criticized, reports of banning the work occurred in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 2001. A local group claimed the books were satanic and promoting witchcraft, and consequently, set about burning a large cache of the books outside the Christ Community Church.
This might shock some readers, but New Mexico has a rather dark history with regards to its views on witchcraft. In 1877 five people were burned alive for suspicion of practicing the religion. There are also some reports of a New Mexico woman being burned at the stake as recently as 1931.
“There are definitely elements that Christians can find in the movies,” said Robert Stewart, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “The themes and symbolism remain consistent with the Christian message. Not everyone will get the symbolism, but it is still very prevalent throughout the films.”
“The idea of a king returning is very clearly Christian,” he said.
Some very positive books about the Tolkien trilogy have been written in the past few years, such as “Finding God in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ ” by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware.
The authors contend that Tolkien’s basis in Christianity becomes apparent as the story unfolds, unveiling Christian elements throughout the tale.
Frodo Baggins is chosen as the only one capable of carrying the ring.
Similar to the chronicles of Moses and Pharaoh, or David and Goliath, many feel that Tolkien is showing how God uses ordinary people to accomplish his will.
The ring, the central image, has symbolism in that it demonstrates the power given by God.
“The fact that the ring cannot be worn and used goes along with the Christian ideal that the power we have is not the power to dominate, but the power of the Spirit to serve,” Stewart said.
Even without the Christian influences, most would still promote the movie, encouraging others, especially young people, to watch it.
“I would definitely encourage my youth group to see the movie,” said Stuart Whitlow, youth pastor of First Baptist Church of Houma. “I think just the closeness of the people, the friendships, and the fact that they work together and stood by each other and those types of things. That’s definitely positive.”
As with any work of art, the meanings can come from a very personal interpretation. That’s the power of art. To create not just something that stands on its own, but something to inspire, encourage, and ponder.
The thought that a singular viewpoint in the vast and varied intellectual minefield of discourse can have more merit over another is the truly disturbing thought to come out of these incidents. Those differences of opinion are what make the questions, and the resulting dialogue, all the more engaging and thrilling.
Sources: American Library Association, Censur.org, The Telegraph (UK), Yahoo news
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions
*NOTE FROM AUTHOR: This article has been modified from its original version. The name of Alamogordo, New Mexico was incorrectly misspelled in its news source.