I just read a fascinating interview with Daivd C. Downing, the author of the Inklings novel Looking for the King. His comments on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams are very insightful and exhibit Mr. Downing’s great knowledge of the Inklings’ personalities, interests, and other biographical information. I really love what he had to say about the quest for the Spear of Destiny and the theme of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings:
DOWNING: The spear of Longinus (the traditional name given to the soldier who thrust his lance into Christ’s side) is only one of many ancient artifacts associated with the Crucifixion. But it has a special aura about it because of its alleged powers. It is said that the Emperor Constantine claimed to have the spear, given to him by his mother Helena after her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Legend has it that Constantine boasted he would never lose a battle so long as he possessed the spear. After that, all the conquerors seemed to lay claim to it.
Charlemagne said he had the spear, adding that it always brought him victory and even allowed him to read the thoughts of his enemies. As the fabled lance came to be known as the Spear of Destiny, it is said that both Napoleon and Hitler tried to lay their hands on it — though accounts differ widely about the veracity of these claims.
But if the Spear is seen as a talisman of power, that would make it almost the opposite of “Christ-centered.” Christ emptied himself of power on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to come to his aid. As Tolkien suggests in his Lord of the Rings epic, perhaps the truly Christ-like act is not to seek out such power, but to renounce it. That is a question I try to explore in Looking for the King.
Renunciation of power as a primary theme in The Lord of the Rings has intrigued me ever since I read Rendel Helms’ explanation of it in Tolkien’s World. Nearly all of Tolkien’s most noble, heroic, and admirable characters are tempted by the Ring (or some other type of power), and they exhibit their true worthiness by renouncing it. In the novel and in the films, we see that Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel,and Faramir are all tempted by the power of the Ring and all of them exhibit great moral courage and strength of character by renouncing it. Another example of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings is when Eowyn renounces her “love” for Aragorn when she finally realizes her first desire was for honor and glory as a warrior and then afterwards, her desire was for power as the wife of a king. She then confesses that she no longer wants to be the Queen of Gondor when she finds true love with the humble steward, Faramir. The depressed and lonely Eowyn finds true love and happiness only when she renounces the selfishness of honor, glory, and the tempatations of power.
This Christian theme of renunciation is also found in the Harry Potter series. In the first novel of the series, Harry is able to take the Philospher’s Stone from its hiding place in the Mirror of Erised because he only wants to stop Voldemort from using it to obtain an immortal body. Harry has no desire to use the Stone for himself and gladly renounces the temptation to use it to obtain as much life and wealth as anyone could ever want. In the seventh novel Harry renounces two of the Deathly Hallows: the most powerful wand ever made–the Wand of Destiny–along with the Resurrection Stone. The uncanny similarities between the Wand of Destiny and the Spear of Destiny are described in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
I also agreed with David C. Downing’s remarks about the recent controversial opinion voiced by actor Liam Neeson with regards to who or what Aslan represents in The Chronicles of Narnia.
LOPEZ: Could Narnia’s Aslan be Mohammed, as Liam Neeson recently suggested?
DOWNING: Neeson is a fine actor, but he is not a theologian or a Lewis scholar. Of course, Mohammed said he was a prophet of Allah; he did not claim to be divine himself. So the analogy doesn’t really work.
I suppose what was meant is that Aslan could represent the God of any religion. That is high-minded and well-intentioned, but it doesn’t do justice to the Chronicles. You can pick up just about any guide to the Narnia books to discover how deeply rooted they are in Lewis’s Christian faith. In my book Into the Wardrobe, I argue that the Chronicles constitute Lewis’s Summa Theologica, the fullest and most comprehensive expression of his Christian worldview.
I wouldn’t presume to give Mr. Neeson any tips about acting. And I think he would do well to avoid any politically correct but puzzling remarks about the spiritual foundations of the Chronicles.
You can read the entire interview with David C. Downing here: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255485/thinking-and-believing-interview?page=1
Also, I’d like to recommend this blog post to Christian fans of The Lord of the Rings. This is a link to a blog post about Samwise Gamgee made by my friend and fellow author Michelle Weston: http://www.mbwestonblog.com/2010/12/somewhat-daily-inspirations-i-am-samwise.html
Comments are welcome!