Film critics and many Tolkien fans responded to the three-part Lord of the Rings movie directed by Peter Jackson (2001, 2002, 2003) with ecstatic praise. Some claimed it as the cinematic equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mozart’s Requiem or Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ludicrous praise of this sort aside, there is a certain magic about the films—a providential convergence of the newly developed CGI technology with brilliant acting, music and cinematography, all at the service of a story possessing unrivalled mythic resonance in the modern world.
For J. R. R. Tolkien’s story was an imaginative response of a cultured European soul to the two World Wars that mark the bleak “coming of age” of the modern experiment. Tolkien served in the first War, in the trenches of the Somme itself, and it was there that his imagination began to explore the darker possibilities of Faery. His son served in the second War, and the letters between them written at this time reflect both the intensity of their relationship and the slow progress of The Lord of the Rings towards completion. This experience of two world wars brought Tolkien face to face with the greatest evils of our time, and especially with the great temptation of our time, that of technological power, which he dramatized in the form of the One Ring.
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1. This paper is the revised version of an appendix that appears in Stratford Caldecott, The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings (New York: Crossroad, 2005), 125–32. An earlier version also appears in Flickering Images: Theology and Film in Dialogue, ed. Anthony J. Clarke and Paul S. Fiddes (Oxford: Regent’s Park
College, 2005), 193–205.