'Honestly? I'm just very happy to be back in Middle-earth.'
After all the waiting and debating, that's how a friend of mine summed up The Rings of Power.
In case you've been living Gollum-style under a mountain recently, ROP is Amazon Prime's take on JRR Tolkien's beloved The Lord of the Rings universe. It's set a few thousand years before Frodo simply walks into Mordor, and at $1bn, it's slated to be the most expensive series ever. 25 million people streamed it within 24 hours of launch. It's fair to call it A Big Deal.
Anyway, back to my friend's comment. Note those fourth and fifth words: 'very happy'. Admittedly this is a person who owns a life-size LOTR sword (right on). But still – there aren't many sane folk who'd claim to be 'happy' about being in Westeros, the setting for George RR Martin's Game of Thrones, which also gained a blockbuster prequel series this month: House of the Dragon.
Martin's world is 'gritty'. Rape and murder are always just a panning shot away. What goodness its characters display can be put down to innocence – or naivety. And it joins a wider trend for anti-heroism in the stories we tell, implying that hope and altruism are always tainted by futility and selfishness.
Tolkien, on the other hand, wrote a sure and certain hope into his legendarium. A devout Christian, he said that 'The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work'. As in the book of Ruth, God is nowhere, yet everywhere. Throughout Tolkien's tales, the one god Eru guides events, inspiring characters like Galadriel, Gandalf, and Frodo with pure goodness and selflessness of heart.
That's why people are 'very happy' to be back. Because in the characters and plotlines ROP is picking up, we see a powerful vision of Christlike, agape love. Tolkien's characters are not uncomplicated. But their motives are. They pursue what is right and good – not perfectly, but with conviction, demonstrating heroism through humility.
Of the two authors, Tolkien was the one who fought in a war, witnessing the worst of humanity first-hand. That darkness is present in Middle-earth, no question. But it is beaten back by the light of a goodness that endures forever, often carried by ordinary folk.
The Rings of Power will share that message with millions. May we each do likewise: extending the hope of true goodness as God works through our ordinary words and actions.
Josh Hinton is Head of Communications at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC). This article first appeared on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and is printed here with permission.