Warning: This post contains some very large spoilers to the plot of Lord of the Rings. If you have somehow missed this phenomenon and would like to experience it spoiler-free I ask that you not read this post.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is by far my favorite set of fiction writing. I can honestly say this because I used to re-read them almost every year, and yet, years later re-reading them again, I still get so much out of the language, the storytelling, the characters. Only a truly classic can become better and even change with you as you grow. It is a 4-course meal when most books are just snacks.
We named Tabitha Lorien after a place in The Fellowship of the Ring, some of Brett and my first correspondence ever was me sending him quotes from Return of the King when he was in Ranger School. And when I was pregnant with my very first child I remember thinking about how one day I’d get to read these books to him (basically I was saying all that morning sickness was going to be worth it.) These books are a part of our family heritage.
I remember my very first time hearing the story, and I say that because it was read aloud to me. I think, according to my mother’s memory, I was probably in the 2nd grade and my mother was actually reading it to my older sister, but as the luck of all younger sisters goes, I was listening too.
I clearly remember the absolute devastation of Gandalf dying. It was shocking. Gandalf was the comforting character. The guide. The father figure. It seemed completely impossible for him to die! But he definitely did. In fact, about 200 more pages go by, the end of the first book comes and goes. Gandalf does not come back. He was definitely dead. I remember at the time feeling the vulnerability of the characters as they tried to carry on without their fearless leader. Gosh, it was so rough! It made what happened next all the more glorious….
All this to say, we’re reading the Lord of the Rings aloud to our kids right now. And Gandalf died all over again. And one of my children, the one who was definitely the most excited about the book, in the first place, LOST. THEIR. MIND.
There was crying. There was wailing. There was “Are you sure he’s really dead!?” and as I sat there letting hot wet tears soak into my shirt, I had a really moment of crisis. Should I really let my child suffer like this?!
I’ve read LotR at least 8 or 9 times at this point, and while I always get something new from it, I’ll never be able to read it the FIRST time again! I’ll never be able to experience the grief you feel right along with the other characters quite the same way, again. And so I held my child and let them cry. As much as I wanted to make it all better, I knew the joy of Gandalf’s return in the next book would be more exciting, more surprising and more wonderful if I didn’t stop the grief with a spoiler.
I couldn’t help seeing the spiritual parallels here. I know the Lord often allows me to experience grief and sadness, He allows me to be angry and upset at how my life is going, He even allows me to say things like, “is this really happening!?” And he does not spoil the ending. The ending with the Lord is always good, by the way, but it wouldn’t be AS GOOD if He just told us what was going to happen every time. We wouldn’t learn the important lessons, or learn the depth of God’s character if we didn’t have to walk through experiences.
But the spiritual parallels didn’t end there, fast forward and… a month later, I’ve calculated that we’re just about to the part where the Gandalf Return takes place. Brett and I announce we’ll be doing some reading after we finish dinner and homework time. So the kids gather around with puzzles and coloring as they listen. But it gets later and later, the story is moving rather slowly, actually (it had been a few years since I’d read the books and I hadn’t calculated how long it takes to get to the big reveal). The kids are tired and grumpy. Everyone’s mildly distracted. And yet against all my better mom judgment I kept pushing us forward. I was so excited! I wanted to experience the good part! I kept telling the kids “don’t worry, a good part is coming up!”
Yet right when we got the crucial moment, my child, the one who had been most upset at the time of Gandalf’s death, shifted in their seat. They announced with the confidence, only a child of mine can muster, that they knew what was happening and GOT UP AND LEFT THE ROOM.
My child went to go get a drink of water right when the person you think is the enemy is actually revealed to be Gandalf. I started yelling. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!?! YOU’RE MISSING IT!!!” Everyone starts freaking out, the kid starts crying. I start crying.
It was the worst Gandalf reveal in history.
How often have I been in my kids shoes though? I’ve been so certain I know what God is doing. I check out, hoping things will “get more interesting later” and miss something really special? Although, that’s honestly where the analogy stops, because my behavior was decidely unGod-like. He is ever patient, He never has horrible timing and never decides to read important details right at bedtime when no one is listening.
Anyway. That’s what happened. And probably my kids will need therapy.