stories

Is the first Hobbit movie a ‘religious word’ or principle or something which can change at the heart level?

2013. This is Anglican Archbishop David Moxon’s “review” of the first Hobbit movie via an interview I did with him in 2013.

With the release of The Hobbit, I wonder if you can share with me your opinion of the first movie and as it relates to the book, if you’ve had time to see it yet.

 

Archbishop David Moxon: I have seen the movie several times with family and friends. Once again Peter Jackson [the director of the film and the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy] has sought to be true to the book, but to expand on the content for filming purposes, while being true to Tolkien’s attitudes and themes. For example, the character of Radagast is very obscure in the book but becomes much more significant and powerful in the movie, while keeping an authentic representation of who he was and what he did in the world. Radagast probably derives, for Tolkien, in part from some principles that were embodied in St Francis of Assisi, but Peter Jackson works this into a very graphic and plot changing role in Fransiscan terms. The White Orc doesn’t exist in The Hobbit book but embodies much of what Tolkien described in the malice and cruelty of the orc culture, so the white orc is an archetype of those negative themes and actions in the book.

 

How would you personally describe the outcomes you want in the power of story, such as in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, or whatever story.

 

David Moxon: Every good story has echoes of the goodness of God. Wherever there is goodness there is God, who is the author of goodness, so I hope that good stories, stories of the good news will continue to transform our living and contribute to the healing of the world, which is the universal passion of God.

 

 

Is the first Hobbit movie a ‘religious word’ or principle or something which can change at the heart level?

 

David Moxon: There are clear Christian principles and values in The Hobbit. Tolkien wrote it for his children and embedded, even if subconsciously at first, his faith, beliefs, and ethics. They are echoed everywhere and hidden like buried treasure on every page. The more you read the story the more the morals of the story plant themselves in your mind. This is not Christian allegory, but it is Christian metaphor for different kinds of faith, hope and love, even if God isn’t mentioned. For example the supreme value of restorative justice, of courage even when the odds are stacked against you, and the primacy of hope , even when all seems hope less, and the fact that even though we make serious miscalculations, and act of selfishness and greed very often, nevertheless we can learn and recover our lost humanity and dignity. We can rise again into new forms of generosity and can grow in kindness and understanding through adversity. And when we do this some mighty force comes to our assistance.

 

 

Is the Tolkien book more transformative?

 

David Moxon: Yes it is more transformative because when you read, you make up your own images and they tend to go deeper than images given to you by a movie. You internalise the themes more. A movie doesn’t become so much a part of you the way well crafted words and lyrics and ideas do.

 

What is your view on any sort of story (even Apocalypse Now) speaking to individual personal experiences to transform?

 

David Moxon: Stories can be very powerful agents of transformation if we take them seriously and identify with some of the people or the events in them. When we identify this way, we are letting the story speak to our own personal story in a powerful way. The story can pick up a theme in our lives and give it a new turn or a fresh expression, and so shape us, or even drive us for a time. That is why a good story is so important, because it can “read” us. Movie stories can do this as well as books, especially in this age of fast moving images, but I think a written story can go the deepest, and write a word in our hearts, because we are more actively and wholly engaged when we read, than when we watch.

 

How would you personally describe the outcomes you want in the power of a story, such as in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, or whatever story.

 

David Moxon: Every good story has echoes of the goodness of God. Wherever there is goodness there is God, who is the author of goodness, so I hope that good stories, stories of the good news will continue to transform our living and contribute to the healing of the world, which is the universal passion of God.

 

 

Tolkien was a Catholic, so I understand. How is this Catholicism reflected in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit?

 

David Moxon: Tolkien said a number of times that his Catholic faith was implicit in his stories and that as time went on he realised how much a part of his work it had become. For example, he agreed that lady Galadriel (“Galad” meaning light in Elvish speech) was an echo of Mary the mother of Jesus. It has been said that the Lembas bread of the hobbit journey in the Lord of the Rings, which fed the will as well as the body, was an echo of the bread of the mass, and so on, in many other ways.

 

How do you, as an Anglican, relate to this Catholicism in his stories?

 

David Moxon: I think he expressed what is called in Catholicism a “ natural theology”, meaning he believed that the God who made everything and is an invisible presence behind and within all life, was reflected however dimly,  in the things that God created. Nature can be read in tooth and claw and the world can be horribly marred, but nevertheless the sacred gift of life itself and its instinct to be interdependent, to cooperate and create , are signs of the divine image within us, even if we don’t know this, and even when we fall and sin. The gift of life goes on and redemption and salvation are always being offered and always abounding and growing, no matter what.  I think this approach is found in some seminal Anglican thinking as well, including people like Richard Hooker and Rowan Williams. So, I warm to Tolkien’s catholic faith in this sense, even though there would be some things we might not agree on.

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