I finished The Hobbit last night, so you can give a sigh of relief–my fantasy/Bible analogy posts will likely taper off now. ;-)
Towards the end of the book I was reminded of a reaction I had to The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, the first time I read it. For one thing, I was disappointed that Bilbo was only a secondary character. As significant, I didn’t like that the Ring was evil.
In The Hobbit the Ring gave Bilbo a decided advantage over his enemies. He used it to escape goblins, to lure the spiders away from the captive dwarfs, to get his friends out of the elvenking’s dungeon, to sneak into the dragon’s lair, and to stay alive during the War of Five Armies.
The Ring’s main property was to make Bilbo invisible, and he used it as often as needed, which you can see, was pretty often. With the edge it gave him, he did heroic, selfless deeds. He appeared courageous and wise to the dwarfs with whom he shared his adventure.
How, then, could Tolkien turn something so good, so ennobling into something dangerous, destructive, and evil?
I remember time and again, as I read The Fellowship of the Ring, thinking Frodo should use the Ring even though Gandalf told him above all to avoid putting it on.
I liked the Ring and the power it gave Bilbo.
For Frodo, though, the Ring was a burden, a danger. It exposed him to the evil lord, it became an obsession, it weighed him down, and in the end, it mastered him.
How could the same object be so different in the two books?
By the time I reached the end of the third book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King, I had forgotten my initial thoughts about the Ring. I saw it as a metaphor for sin and Frodo as a type of Christ–one of several in the books.
Sin, after all, is a lure, a destructive power that only The Sin-Bearer could carry away–in the same way that the scapegoat carried away the sins of the nation Israel once a year. Only our Sin Bearer did so once for all.
But I was reading The Hobbit, remember. And this time, I’m aware that the Ring, though giving an advantage to Bilbo, will be the pivotal object for all of Middle Earth. I’m reading, watching for any hint of what is to come. And there is none.
Bilbo had no clue that the Ring had any adverse effects. Out of his ignorance, he used it at will. None of the dwarfs, nor the wizard Gandalf, showed any sign that Bilbo might be onto something that could harm him.
And then it hit me–that’s also like sin. Generally sin is attractive–it’s the tasty food of Egypt instead of the meager fare in the wilderness. It looks good. It seems like the answer to a need. It might even “work” a time or two or fifteen. In other words, our sin gets us what we want. Which makes it harder to think that the thing we’ve grown to love, our own dear precious, needs to be left at the foot of the cross and done away with forever.