“[Saruman] is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” – Treebeard “Shepherd of Trees”, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
J. R. R. Tolkien, best-selling author of The Lord of the Rings saga, was a committed Christian who helped convert his friend, C. S. Lewis. The battle of good versus evil takes place in the fictional land of Middle Earth. There are a few antithetical characters: Two kings – Aragon and Sauron; Two wizards – Gandalf and Saruman. Two hobbits – Frodo and Golem. Both sides use different methods for war. Beneath this epic battle, Tolkien weaves in a parallel narrative for environmentalism and creation care.
Saruman and his hordes of Uruk-Hai are seen as exploiters of creation. They use creation to forge weapons and machines for their own benefit. In the movie, Saruman’s camp is depicted as blackened industrial sites, with molten lava flowing and trees being chopped down. Creation is rampantly destroyed.
In contrast is the Hobbit and Elves who have a tight link with Nature. The Hobbit’s home in the Shire is filled with green plants and they tend it very well. Elves too have an appreciation of nature. Samwise Gamgee, a Hobbit, commented that these Elves, “seem to belong [in Lorien]…Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say.” He was right. Nature and man are interdependent.
Finally, Gandalf the Wizard chooses to respect creation such as plants, animals and the land. Unlike Saruman who destroyed trees, Gandalf’s respect of nature in turn enlists the help of Treebeard and the Ents in their fight.Treebeard mourns for his fellow tree who were cut down by Saruman and his army: “Curse him, root and branch! Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost forever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves.” Saruman in his quest of unnatural power lost sight of the intrinsic value of nature.
Tolkien anthropomorphizes Nature as a living entity to demonstrate that nature is alive and we must care for it. He said, “I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and have always been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals.”
“Well, that’s just a fantasy story,” you might say. But is Middle-Earth much different from ours today?
Tolkien disagrees. He declares, “Middle Earth is not an imaginary world…[it is] the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary world…the theatre of my tale is this era, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.” He crafted it as a message for us today too.
Sauron and Saruman are personifications of the industrial magnates on their quest for power in this world. Driven by capitalism and consumerism, they destroy nature at alarming rates. They also see little of nature’s intrinsic value. Deforestation in Brazil and oil -drilling in Greenland are just two examples of this malady. If we could only hear creation’s groaning (Rom 8:22)!
Like the Hobbits, Elves and Man, Christians must see the intrinsic beauty and value of Nature. God created creation and called it good (Gen 1). When we abuse creation for our own ends, nature can strike back. There is an unprecedented occurrence of volatile weathers in our world. Africa is getting drier, snow storms and floods are appearing and lasting much longer than expected, cold places are getting colder. Climate change doesn’t mean it’s just getting hotter. Weather is just getting wackier.
Sandra Richter provides a balanced view of creation when she concludes, “The earth’s is the Lord’s and all it contains; you may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.” That is good advice for Christians to follow today as stewards of God’s creation.