The Lord of the Rings, the concept of 'white magic' and the thinking Christian

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Kesed

Puritan Board Freshman
Question about the Lord of the Rings

So, hello everyone,

A little bit of background on the title before I get into my question. I have grown up in a conservative Reformed family where we have been very cautious in regards to magic in movies. [and other places too.] in fact, it was only a couple of years ago that we 'approved for the most part' Star Wars. Harry Potter I have never and don't want to read or watch---because of the presence of the occult, sorcery, and wizards --good or evil.

The real question I have is on the Lord of the Rings. I have never read the books, [aside from the Hobbit], or seen any of the movies. However, I have been told by many friends the plot, who the characters are, what they do, and how generally 'awesome' the movies are. Never really doubted what they said.

So, just the other night, we decided to start the first one. I guess I became confused because what I was told about the movie didn't seem to correspond with what I saw. I was never told about all the 'dark magic' in the movie; or the strange propensities of the ring, or the wraith-like figures that were chasing Frodo [neither dead or alive]--True: there was a great storyline, but...I guess I felt like I didn't hear the whole story about everything. I guess if I had heard what exactly the movies entailed [and I realize that they are probably a little more scary then the books--which may be perfectly fine], I probably would not have watched it. That's my conscience, and of course I'm not condemning someone's perfectly good Christian liberty. But could someone explain their reasoning for watching a movie like LOTR under "Christian Liberty" so I could learn more about your position?

Also: I have heard different things about Toliken making this to be Christian fiction[having Christian elements and whatnot] and also that it is not 'christian'. So, I guess you could call me confused. :p

Thanks :)
 
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JML

Puritan Board Junior
Sarah,

I too always thought it strange that the same person could approve of the Lord of the Rings yet disapprove of Harry Potter. In my pre-reformed days I saw some of both movies and truthfully don't see much difference between them. Either magic and sorcery is wrong or it isn't. Clearly the Scriptures say that it is. Somehow though, some justify it in one set of movies and condemn it in the other.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Oh. And they're supposed to be a Christian allegory too.

Tolkien is rolling over in his grave. He didn't intend for it to be allegory of any kind. He (unlike his good friend C.S. Lewis) did not like allegory, and instead thought in terms of the Christian themes that influenced and drove the work. He was a Roman Catholic and wrote The Lord of the Rings beginning in 1937. Much of the imagery he uses is influenced (directly or indirectly) by his experiences in the trenches of WWI and the world crisis that he saw unfolding. Calling him an occultist is another thing he would have taken great offense at, given that this was his critique of fellow Oxford fantasist and theologian, the Anglo-Catholic Charles Williams.

For good reasons, Tolkien (along with Lewis) has been credited with reinventing the genre known as "high fantasy," which is patterned after the Norse and Celtic myths that Tolkien, as one of the leading experts in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English literature at the time, was steeped in professionally.

The themes that he drew on, though, were directly influenced by his faith as a Catholic. For example, several of the characters in The Lord of the Rings take on a suffering servant role in different ways. In addition, if you read carefully the background material for Tolkien's mythos, one finds out that Wizards like Gandalf (for instance) are indeed akin to angelic messengers, sent to help the "Children of Eru," while beings such as Sauron are demonic and their works are always corrupt. In addition, Tolkien includes themes of depravity, redemption, and providence as parts of the mythology.

As for the subject of magic: Tolkien's work (read closely) is rather ambivalent about the subject. Elves, for instance, are given special gifts that they can use, as are dwarves, and there are mentions of enchantments, and of course the various angelic and demonic beings have their power under the jurisdiction of God (again, much of this is found in the apppendices or the posthumously-published Silmarillion). But whenever mortals attempt to use powers like this (such as the nine rings given to lords of men), it turns to evil. Power is this thing that, for Tolkien, always corrupts, and the desire for power, even to do good, always becomes evil.

So what is a Christian to do with this? Take it for what it is supposed to be: mythology. I am more bothered by the King Arthur legends (which I love, by the way) than by The Lord of the Rings. I'd say read the books and decide for yourself, but keep in mind that in Tolkien's mythos, "magic" is always power innate to the person and its moral value is reflective of the person, and in those cases where mortals attempt to take power, it is always presented as evil and unnatural.

There is a lot of darkness, but there is also light. Tolkien's vision in this work is that no matter how dark evil gets, good will be brought forth: evil brings about its own destruction and the result is good. Sauron never conquers forever; Gandalf returns from the dead; the King returns to his kingdom. The imagery of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation is deliberate on Tolkien's part. The imagery is dark because Tolkien lived in a dark time, because he isn't naive about the reality of evil---but he's also confident that in the darkest hour, when it looks like Satan has won, that that is when the great eucatastrophe takes place, and evil is defeated.

So would I say the books are Christian? No---books can't be Christians, only people can. Tolkien was, I think, a believer, and his work is permeated with Christian imagery and themes. I say this as someone who has read much of Tolkien's work as well as many of his letters, drafts, and scholarly achievements (he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Merton College, Oxford).

Here are some articles I would recommend:
"Good and Evil in Lord of the Rings" in Tabletalk (August 2011)
Tolkien's Faith
Meeting Professor Tolkien
 

Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Sarah,

I definitely understand where you are coming from. I myself was raised in a more 'open' Christian home (I only became Reformed after I graduated college). What I mean by 'open' is that there was not a real limit placed on what we could watch, listen to, or the games we could play. There was the usual limit against overtly sexual material, horror films, or excessive violence, but that is about the extent of it.

Today I still enjoy watching Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix, and the Lord of the Rings. There is no doubt that Star Wars has non-Christian religious undertones in it (you might even call 'the force' a type of magic). Star Trek has more political undertones than religious undertones (yet it does not seem to advocate Christian values at all). The Matrix definitely has ALOT of religious undertones, although it would be hard to say how many of these are Christian.

As for movies that have more 'magic' in them, this includes the Harry Potters series. Interestingly enough it also includes the Chronicles of Narnia (which definitely has magic in it). I myself believe that Lord of the Rings has more political undertones than religious undertones, whereas the Chronicles of Narnia are more religious than political.

In the end we must understand that we all have a slightly different perspective on these things. I myself refuse to watch horror movies, especially ones that involve exorcisms or anything like that. As for movies that contain violence, I refuse to watch gory movies like the Saw series. Of course, I still enjoy movies such as Gladiator and Braveheart (which involves gore and violence as well). I certainly am a big fan of WWII movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, but these also contain a large amount of violence.

When it comes to movies that contain spells or magic, I generally am not bothered by it at all. I know that it is not real, and that it is just a fiction film. This is true whether I watch Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or the Chronicles of Narnia. It is hard to draw the line. The Harry Potter films use magic to appeal to young audiences (as well as depict a battle between good and evil). The Lord of the Rings depict more of a political struggle rather than a religious one, but still depicts a fight between good and evil. There is no doubt that C. S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia as a way to depict the Christian faith (which includes a struggle between good and evil). In all cases there exists magic and spells. Where do we draw the line?

With that said all I can recommend is that you continue to pray about these things, and continue to dialogue with fellow believers. No one should look down upon you for refraining from these things. We should not do anything that might cause our brother or sister to stumble, but at the same time it is important that we do not judge harshly a fellow believer who does partake in the things that we refrain from. I think that there is freedom in Christ to abstain or to partake, as long as we seek to honor and glorify God.

Thoughts?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Somehow though, some justify it in one set of movies and condemn it in the other.

John, "magic" in the sense that Scripture uses the term, is not to be found in Harry Potter, and when it is found in Tolkien's work, it is universally condemned. Magic in the sense of a Neutral force does not exist---therefore Harry Potter magic isn't really dangerous. In Tolkien, where it is tied to persons, it is also bound up with spiritual beings, such that mortals (such as humans) who attempt to gain such power are always in rebellion against their creator.

If you want to understand the theological assumptions about good and evil and power that Tolkien is operating under, read Augustine.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
My background is that I was raised Catholic and didn't become an actual practicing Christian up until 4 years ago. Before I was a Christian I was a heavy drinker, and when I become a christian I felt like I should give up drinking all together. Other Christians drink socially and I would not condemn them for it, but it is something that I will not do.

As for the movies I was never a fan of Harry Potter but I do like LOTR. The movies that portray "Magic" (LOTR and Harry Potter) would be in the fantasy category, and are make believe, in other words they cannot happen. However, some people within the occult, for example, those with backgrounds in Wicca (Wicken), may be convicted of watching such movies even though they are fantasy (the same way I am convicted when I drink a drop of alcohol). I wouldn't condemn either movie type as it is make believe and it's not intended to be real.

However, some say the reason Harry Potter is wrong and LOTR is OK, is because you can clearly define good and evil in LOTR, but you are unable to do so in Harry Potter.
 

Rufus

Puritan Board Junior
In the end we must understand that we all have a slightly different perspective on these things. I myself refuse to watch horror movies, especially ones that involve exorcisms or anything like that. As for movies that contain violence, I refuse to watch gory movies like the Saw series. Of course, I still enjoy movies such as Gladiator and Braveheart (which involves gore and violence as well). I certainly am a big fan of WWII movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, but these also contain a large amount of violence.

At a young age (4 or 5) in a nominal "christian" home (i.e. prayers at bed time and we believe in God) I was always allowed to watch the goriest war films with language (as long as I didn't repeat what I heard) but not allowed to watch movies with sexual themes. I was also allowed to play rated M war games but not play Grand Theft Auto, this was because war can be justified while gunning down people and stealing their car isn't. I watched all of the classic war films by five or so, saw The Patriot at 6, and Band of Brothers at seven or so. Perhaps I won't do the same with my children but no matter how much we cover it up war is a reality.

I guess overall you have to look at this as a possible issue of Christian liberty, personally I've never liked Harry Potter, tried reading the books but couldn't get into it. LOTR on the other hand was something I enjoyed. And I believe there is a difference between LOTR "magic" (I hate that word, simply because sometimes the way we use it, it makes it seem as if we believe people have "magical powers") and Harry Potter "magic", I also don't believe that somebody is a hell-born God hater if they watch Harry Potter, but discern it. This issue is so complicated we really can't come to a decent conclusion.

Some people say we shouldn't read any fiction simply because it's fiction, so be it, Christian liberty. Personally I'll continue reading my Dostoevsky. Others say we shouldn't drink alcohol, others say its fine. But than where do we draw the line on liberty? Reading Fyodor Dostoevsky is different than reading Alister Crowley (but hey, if you want to read it to understand the subject and won't be affected by it go ahead, but than again, maybe it is sin). But like I said above this is an extremely complicated situation.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
My son is only 2 and half months old, but I plan on teaching him the difference between make-believe and real-life. For me this means watching Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR is okay as long as he is mature enough to understand the concepts, but playing with a Ouija board is not. I will also let my son watch Arnold Schwarznegger movies when he is mature enough to handle them properly but he won't be allowed to play with rocket launchers and beat people up.
 
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Kesed

Puritan Board Freshman
Charlie,

I understand your point about coming across as divisive to other people who may be LOTR fans. Please understand that was not my desire. I apologize if I have offended anyone. Perhaps if I explained myself a little bit more, then I wouldn't come across so--so final, I suppose in my statements. I have been told all my life about these movies--had no previous presupposition against them--I guess I'm just baffled and trying to understand other viewpoints. If it helps, please think of me as confused about this and not trying to stamp over someone's perfectly well-thought out Christian liberty or avid fandom.
What I'm confused about is-- I suppose the difference from what I've been told about the movies and what I experienced. [BTW, I am talking aboutThe Fellowship of the Ring.] I've been told it's a good movie--there's great lessons in it--great story--great fantasy--good triumphs over evil--wonderful. That is the supposition I took into the movie. But I wasn't prepared for the evilness that the bad side showed. "isn't that what the bad side is supposed to be?" , you could say.
So: I guess the question is that I'm trying to figure out is what is the reasoning behind watching this movie? Does it go under Christian liberty or a different perspective? I'm just trying to understand the relationship between this film and the fact that Christians watch it and like it. I'm not saying that your view is wrong, or that mine is right [why would I be posting here if that were the case]? I'm simply trying to understand different viewpoints on this issue.

Thanks.

P.F. Pugh:

Thanks for all your information. [And I apologize, again. Today has been kind of a stressful day; perhaps I wasn't as clear as I should have been] I don't believe that The Lord of the Rings movies are Christian or have Christian themes. Others, however--well meaning professing Christians have told me that the LOTR have Christian elements to them. Books and movies. Having not read the books myself or seen the movies--I had no idea other then what they had told me. Perhaps its the popular view?

Loopie:

That is the question. Where do we draw the line? It's going to be different for every Christian to some extent, I know. But should it be? I guess I'm trying to figure out where to draw it myself.

John Lanier:
I agree with you. It is strange and confusing. Hopefully, the PB members can clear up the mist for me!

Rufus:

I tried to elaborate what I meant under my response to Charlie; you can look up there.

Thanks for the replies, everyone and the information. I'm going to pray about this issue; hopefully it will be resolved, God willing.

Sarah
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Sarah, I'd also encourage you to prayerfully read and study Chapter 20 of the WCF. A statement like the one below isn't offensive to LOTR fans; it's offensive to those who confess Christ.

I don't want to offend any LOTR fans on here, but I could not see how any person who confesses Christ could watch such a dark movie.
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
Consider also "The Chronicles of Narnia," lots of magic/witchcraft to ponder, there.

And I have friends who will not read any storybooks with talking animals in them, because they think that concept is satanic.

I figure the parents have the right to set the standards for their children.

But when someone argues against Harry Potter, I do ask if they like LOTR and/or Narnia, and I get "yes," back, and then I say, what is the difference?

I disagree that good and evil are not obvious in the Potter books. Good and evil are quite distinct. It is through the sacrificial death of the head of Hogwarts that the world (human and magic) is delivered from the evil Lord Voldemort. In Potter, we have a God metaphor and a Satan metaphor, and it is rather heavy handed throughout if you ask me. More young adult literature than adult novel.

In the Potter books, the heroes are faithful, loyal, try to deliver people from torment, try to understand other people, suffer wrong without paying back, sacrifice themselves for the good of others, and are very brave and resourceful. They are compassionate. They forgive others who come from the other side and want to join them. They overlook weaknesses.

The bad guys simply delight in others' suffering and try to dominate. They hate non magical and mixed blood humans with a passion and rule through terror and murder.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't believe that The Lord of the Rings movies are Christian or have Christian themes. Others, however--well meaning professing Christians have told me that the LOTR have Christian elements to them. Books and movies. Having not read the books myself or seen the movies--I had no idea other then what they had told me. Perhaps its the popular view?

Again, I would refer you to the articles I posted earlier, as well as the hundreds of articles, both scholarly and otherwise that talk about Tolkien's personal faith and its manifestation in his creative work (also, his letters have been published, not to mention his scholarly and theological work). The films are admittedly less clear on these points, given that Peter Jackson is in no sense a believer, but I cannot read Tolkien's themes of redemption, original sin, and eucatastrophe (the providential victory when all seemed lost) without understanding the Christian influences and elements of the story.

Simply because something is not allegory or symbolic does not mean that its themes are not Biblical or that it is not applicable. Not every fantasy has to be Pilgrim's Progress.

EDIT: I would particularly recommend the Keith Mathison article (from Tabletalk's recent series of literary articles).
 

JML

Puritan Board Junior
My son is only 2 and half months old, but I plan on teaching him the difference between make-believe in real-life.

I don't disagree with Andres here. I don't think make-believe in and of itself is wrong. I just think we must be careful what kind of make-believe we approve of. For me personally, magic, etc. are not acceptable even in a make-believe movie. To me it is clearly portrayed as wrong in the Scriptures and these movies do not portray it the same way in that there is always "good" magic and "evil" magic in them. The Bible makes no such distinction. Even the "evil" magic comes across as neat, interesting, and entertaining.

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so."

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

The Scripture calls it detestable. Therefore, it shouldn't even be enjoyed in make-believe. :2cents:
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
So, hello everyone,

A little bit of background on the title before I get into my question. I have grown up in a conservative Reformed family where we have been very cautious in regards to magic in movies. [and other places too.] in fact, it was only a couple of years ago that we 'approved for the most part' Star Wars. Harry Potter I have never and don't want to read or watch---because of the presence of the occult, sorcery, and wizards --good or evil--Harry Potter could do more harm then any sort of good......

The real question I have [and sorry for the rambling :p] is on the Lord of the Rings. I have never read the books, [aside from the Hobbit], or seen any of the movies. However, I have been told by many friends the plot, who the characters are, what they do, and how generally 'awesome' the movies are. Oh. And they're supposed to be a Christian allegory too.

So, just the other night, we decided to start the first one. I don't want to offend any LOTR fans on here, but I could not see how any person who confesses Christ could watch such a dark movie. True: a lot of the magic was 'bad'--which in a sense is 'good' because that's what magic is supposed to be--evil. The dark, evil images of the bad lord's men--the strange properties of the ring--and even the specter like lords that were chasing Frodo--neither dead or alive--is that not what God condemns? Sorcery 'good' or evil, the occult--how in the world did Tolkien's works be branded fit for Christian allegory?

[btw, I am well aware that Tolkien did not say this was Christian at all. It is the Christian world today that has branded these movies and books as such. I think there's even a book called Finding God in the Lord of the Rings --]

So: conclusion. We shut the movie off and are not going to entangle our souls in such books and movies.
From a purely wanting-to-know stance, how do people justify watching such evilness wrapped up in [yes, I must admit. Frodo and rest are interesting and have an interesting journey]....in Christian approved 'allegory'??

Do enlighten me, please :confused:

Sarah, I think you are asking good questions. I did not grow up in a practicing Christian home and I'm currently dealing with similar questions regarding what is permissible and pleasing to our Savior, albeit from the opposite end. I would say Andres is right on when he points out the difference between presenting things as make-believe and real life. There certainly is a "dark side" to the Lord of the Rings, but that does not mean that it is not permissible for the Christian. Like you said, evil portrayed will always be dark. I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings and, to answer your question, I am able to justify enjoying it by acknowledging that it is pure fantasy and that it falls under Christian liberty. Hope that is helpful. :)

My son is only 2 and half months old, but I plan on teaching him the difference between make-believe in real-life.

I don't disagree with Andres here. I don't think make-believe in and of itself is wrong. I just think we must be careful what kind of make-believe we approve of. For me personally, magic, etc. are not acceptable even in a make-believe movie. To me it is clearly portrayed as wrong in the Scriptures and these movies do not portray it the same way in that there is always "good" magic and "evil" magic in them. The Bible makes no such distinction. Even the "evil" magic comes across as neat, interesting, and entertaining.

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so."

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

The Scripture calls it detestable. Therefore, it shouldn't even be enjoyed in make-believe. :2cents:

John, I must respectfully disagree. The Scripture says that whoever does those things is detestable to the LORD. It is the act of doing them that makes them such detestable things. I think enjoying LOTR or the Potter novels is very different than actually practicing magic, which is what the Scriptures condemn.
 

asc

Puritan Board Sophomore
So, just the other night, we decided to start the first one. I don't want to offend any LOTR fans on here, but I could not see how any person who confesses Christ could watch such a dark movie.

I'm no Tolkien expert, but from what I can recall, the books are not nearly as dark. And if i remember correctly, the readers perspective is always on the heroes in the book. Jackson obviously had to change things around to compress the book into a movie. I think it was faithful for the most part, but it's not exactly the same. The dramatic style worked to make the movies a big commercial hit. But if you've lived a very sheltered life when it comes to the cinema, I'm not surprised you found to it too much.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Even the "evil" magic comes across as neat, interesting, and entertaining.

If this is your criterion, then you will conclude that no Christian should read Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare's MacBeth, or Milton's Paradise Lost.

The Scripture calls it detestable.

Tolkien would agree with you: men are not to claim for themselves power beyond what God has given them. His cosmology is (as I said) more or less Augustinian.

I won't comment on the type of magic practiced in Potter, given that it doesn't exist.

Here's one (very powerful) character's commentary:

"For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy"
 
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Loopie

Puritan Board Freshman
Loopie:

That is the question. Where do we draw the line? It's going to be different for every Christian to some extent, I know. But should it be? I guess I'm trying to figure out where to draw it myself.

Sarah

Sarah,

It certainly is tough, and I very much understand your concern. My parents let me do things and have things that I will not let my children have. I was allowed a TV in my room (and my own private computer in my room) during highschool (and my last year of middle school). Knowing what I know now, I won't be allowing this for my own children.

When it comes to drawing the line, I honestly believe we have to simply look at what clear lines scripture draws. Consider the example of alcohol. Scripture does not condemn alcohol itself, but scripture does condemn drunkenness and debauchery. Scripture also tells us not to cause our fellow brother to stumble. For this reason I refrain from alcohol around those who I know are tempted by it, but I myself will partake when such a situation does not exist (privacy of own home, having anniversary dinner with wife, etc.).

As for ANY form of entertainment, we simply should know what our own personal limits are. Whatever limits you set for yourself, do not cross them. Your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ should respect that and not cause you to stumble or make you uncomfortable. If someone else is more open to certain things, that is ok as long as they are not: 1) causing others to stumble 2) dishonoring God 3) engaging in idol worship (which can happen with ANY form of entertainment). In the end, the freedom we have in Christ means that each person is going to draw the line at a different place. What matters is that everyone stays within the bounds that scriptures makes.
 

JML

Puritan Board Junior
John, I must respectfully disagree. The Scripture says that whoever does those things is detestable to the LORD. It is the act of doing them that makes them such detestable things. I think enjoying LOTR or the Potter novels is very different than actually practicing magic, which is what the Scriptures condemn.

I also respectfully disagree with you. :D To watch and be entertained by something detestable to God is not pleasing to Him, even if one is not participating in the act itself (even if it is make-believe). Should we watch make-believe stories of adultery, idol worship, etc.? Is God pleased with this?


If this is your criterion, then you will conclude that no Christian should read Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare's MacBeth, or Milton's Paradise Lost.

I have only read MacBeth and that was when I was in High School, which has been 13 years ago now, so I can't comment either way on them. I do remember MacBeth was very strange but I can't remember details of the story.


Tolkie would agree with you: men are not to claim for themselves power beyond what God has given them. His cosmology is (as I said) more or less Augustinian.

I won't comment on the type of magic practiced in Potter, given that it doesn't exist.

I'll take your word for it on the first two sentences. I think we can get to the point of splitting hairs when differentiating between different types of magic. All I know is what the Scripture says about God's view of it. Something that God feels that strongly about in a negative way, I want nothing to do with. Even to the point of not watching make-believe representations of it. There are plenty of other ways to find entertainment that don't involve things that God hates.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I think we can get to the point of splitting hairs when differentiating between different types of magic.

I don't think so. To me this is simply drawing lines between fantasy and reality. The "magic" of Tolkien is not the "magic" that Scripture condemns. When Scripture condemns magic, it's not talking about high fantasy: it''s talking about the forces of darkness and attempts to channel Satanic power. It's talking about the prophets of Baal and Moloch, not Gandalf and Galadriel.

I found this article helpful: Harry Potter vs, Gandalf (I should note that the worldview of Harry Potter, since the article was written, has become more clearly defined in the series as Liberal Protestant).
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
I think we can get to the point of splitting hairs when differentiating between different types of magic.

I don't think so. To me this is simply drawing lines between fantasy and reality. The "magic" of Tolkien is not the "magic" that Scripture condemns. When Scripture condemns magic, it's not talking about high fantasy: it''s talking about the forces of darkness and attempts to channel Satanic power. It's talking about the prophets of Baal and Moloch, not Gandalf and Galadriel.

For me this is the issue as well. This is why I'd let my children watch LOTR, but I'd never let them play with a Ouija board or Tarot cards.
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
John, I must respectfully disagree. The Scripture says that whoever does those things is detestable to the LORD. It is the act of doing them that makes them such detestable things. I think enjoying LOTR or the Potter novels is very different than actually practicing magic, which is what the Scriptures condemn.

I also respectfully disagree with you. :D To watch and be entertained by something detestable to God is not pleasing to Him, even if one is not participating in the act itself (even if it is make-believe). Should we watch make-believe stories of adultery, idol worship, etc.? Is God pleased with this?

I think WCF 20.3 is the helpful on this:

They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty; which is, that, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

I simply do not think that I am practicing sin by watching films with magic in them and I do not believe that watching Lord of the Rings inhibits my ability to serve the Lord.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
To add to this, Would watching a graphic war movie like Gladiator, Braveheart or Saving Private Ryan be sinful?

For the record, I do not think that watching LOTR or Harry Potter is sinful.
 

gordo

Puritan Board Freshman
So: I guess the question is that I'm trying to figure out is what is the reasoning behind watching this movie? Does it go under Christian liberty or a different perspective? I'm just trying to understand the relationship between this film and the fact that Christians watch it and like it. I'm not saying that your view is wrong, or that mine is right [why would I be posting here if that were the case]? I'm simply trying to understand different viewpoints on this issue.

I see it as recreation or entertainment. I don't think too much about it. To me it's no different then a Christian watching Jeopardy or a baseball game on TV. It's just a movie, with no real anti-Christian or pro-evil theme. There is also no excessive sexual content or gratuitous violence where it is not needed.
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I think we can get to the point of splitting hairs when differentiating between different types of magic.

I don't think so. To me this is simply drawing lines between fantasy and reality. The "magic" of Tolkien is not the "magic" that Scripture condemns. When Scripture condemns magic, it's not talking about high fantasy: it''s talking about the forces of darkness and attempts to channel Satanic power. It's talking about the prophets of Baal and Moloch, not Gandalf and Galadriel.

I found this article helpful: Harry Potter vs, Gandalf (I should note that the worldview of Harry Potter, since the article was written, has become more clearly defined in the series as Liberal Protestant).

I was skimming the article, until I came across this paragraph, which is nonsense.

Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.

Tolkien:
Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt. (...) Even in ancient days they were, as a rule, shy of 'the Big Folk,' as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find.

That is an explanation for why we, in our times, have never seen a hobbit.

Middle-Earth is conceived of as the distant past, not as a completely separate reality. And if anything, the cosmological explanations contained in the Silmarillion do more to make that world seem like the real world than to distance it.

As for Narnia, the intrusion of portals into another world into a world where children find London beastly is hardly a mechanism to distance that world, to suggest that it is entirely unreachable. I doubt I am the only one to wonder if, like the ancestors of the Telmarines, Narnia might be found at the back of a common cave in my neighborhood.

The Chronicles, whether of Narnia or of Thomas Covenant, can be distinguished among themselves and from other fantasy literature on the grounds of literary merit, content, message, and worldview. And of course each individual or parent has to decide what they are comfortable with in regards to each of those points. But many of the attempts to declare C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien good, and J.K. Rowling bad, strike me as merely ex post facto rationalizations of a preference. With regard to literary merit, obviously, there is no contest: J.K. Rowling might be the best writer of school stories ever to have lived, but there can be no rational doubt that A.A. Milne is a better writer. On the score of content, the Silmarillion contains torture and incest, Narnia describes the destruction of a civilization and the end of two worlds (the opening portion of The Last Battle is incredibly harrowing), and Harry Potter contains several murders. In message and worldview I think Harry Potter is likely to be the weakest or most objectionable - but people looking to Frodo as a protagonist or model need to reconsider the climactic events on Mt. Doom. Magic in Harry Potter clearly has a biological, genetic basis: hence the phenomenon of squibs and people like Hermione from muggle families.

To answer your question, Sarah, I won't watch the LOTR movies, and I probably won't watch the HP films I haven't seen yet; in both cases for the same reason, that the texts and my imagination seem to produce a better experience than the films can provide. But I will happily reread both, as I will Sophocles and Shakespeare and Jane Austen, because I like stories and language, and I think these stories have enough virtue and praise to be worthwhile for me.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I was skimming the article, until I came across this paragraph, which is nonsense.

That's one of a couple of factual errors that I noticed, indicating that the author hadn't been reading too closely and hadn't engaged with the surrounding material in Tolkien to any large degree. That said, the analysis of the barriers that Tolkien has on magic is fairly accurate---Tolkien didn't like the term, and points that out in the text.

---------- Post added at 07:16 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:12 PM ----------

I doubt I am the only one to wonder if, like the ancestors of the Telmarines, Narnia might be found at the back of a common cave in my neighborhood.

I've been known to scrutinize the backs of wardrobes myself.
 
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