Wow, Andy, you found a link to the gospel in one of the Lord of the Rings films? You must be some sort of analytical genius.
It's kind of you to say so. And of course, Tolkien's world is full of gospel links. I would argue in fact that the full counsel of God is displayed throughout the pages of his magnum opus. But what's remarkable is how, even when presented on screen by secular film-makers, the allusions become even more striking. And we're not just talking about the idea of a pauper turning out to be the king, or a sacrificial journey leading to the destruction of evil. The unsearchable riches of Christ are found throughout the searchable richness of the trilogy.
Here's something I only noticed last time I watched it. It's towards the end of Fellowship, when they're being stalked on the banks of the Anduin by all the cockney orcs, Sean Bean gets killed as Sean Bean always does, and Frodo decides to make a break for it on his own, boarding the rowing boat and casting off down the river towards the Falls of Rauros. Sam (Sean Astin), the stupid fat hobbit so desperate to be faithful to his master, leaps into the water and attempts to get to Frodo. The problem is, pretty obviously, that Sam has had so many taters ('What's taters, precious??!') that he can't stay afloat and proceeds to start the process of drowning. Brilliantly, Peter Jackson lets us watch him struggle...and then abruptly stop struggling, so that even for those of us who have read the books, we worry that we've just seen Sam's demise.
Then, just as abruptly, an arm plunges down into the water and drags Sam to safety and fresh air. When this happens, as viewers we rejoice. We felt the nobility of Sam's struggle and the huge injustice of his seeming death. That's not how it's supposed to end.
The realisation I had was this: the storyline of every other world religion out there is of Sam before the hand grabs him. Every religion, save one, tells the story of a distant God, floating remotely and distantly, ordering humanity to come and swim to him. It's our efforts that get us there. And if we are strong swimmers, great; if we're not, tough taters. He might offer good advice such as 'Be a better swimmer' or 'Should have laid off the carbs, bro.' But he's not leaving the boat.
The story of Christianity, however, is the tale of the hand crashing down beneath the waves and grabbing Sam. In the Christian story, it comes with a voice that says, 'I know you can't swim – you were never supposed to get there on your own. Take my hand and I'll save you. This is not how it ends.' It's the story of a...no, the God who comes to find us – and not just one who would get a bit wet, but the only one who would plunge into the depths of hell itself and snatch life from the jaws of death.
That scene, secreted in one the most popular films of all time, just is the story of baptism. We resonate so strongly with it because we were made in the image of a God whose business is to give life to the dead and call into being things that were not (Romans 4:17).
Sean Astin was later asphyxiated in an episode of 24, which isn't relevant here but goes to show what happens when you don't have Christian allegory on your side.
Gareth Higgins says in his book 'How Movies Helped Save My Soul': 'There is only one meta-narrative: the story of God's redemption of the earth and the race of creatures he made 'a little lower than the angels.'
This series is based on the idea that all stories are trying to convey truth. In that way, they are attempts to tie themselves and us into the Big Story wired into the universe from the start: In the beginning was the Word. All truth belongs to God, and if we look close enough, we can find him hiding in plain sight in any film. For those who have eyes to see, ears to see and popcorn to nibble, movies contain plenty of seeds just looking for good soil.
Andy Kind is a comedian, preacher and writer. You can abuse him on Twitter @andykindcomedy. Or even better, book him to come to your town so others can abuse him in person. His book, 'The Unfortunate Adventures of Tom Hillingthwaite', is available here.