There were many passages in the books that seemed to have more meaning than in the past. It was like reading a book about parenthood after you have children. Before it was academic, but now you really know what they are talking about. This time around I'm more familiar with the temptation to give up hope in the face of a powerful adversary.
I have thought about the stories of Théoden and Denethor in the past, but this is really the first time I've considered them in apposition to each other. Their stories are basically the same. Théoden has been seduced by the poisonous advice of Gríma Wormtongue, the tool of Saruman, and has given up all hope of victory. He has laid aside his sword and spends his days in darkness and despair.
Denethor, on the other hand, thinks he is still in control, but he is, all unknowing, being controlled by Sauron. Denethor has a palantír by means of which he sees what is going on in Middle Earth. He thinks he knows the truth; however, the things he sees are being edited by the Enemy, and so he, too, believes all is lost.
When Gandalf comes to see Théoden he overpowers Wormtongue (in some way I don't really understand), and Théoden's eyes are opened to the treachery of his advisor. He turns Wormtongue away, takes up his sword, and becomes again the great warrior he once was. He dies a valiant death on the battlefield, and his memory is honored in Middle Earth.
Denethor at first listens to the admonishments of Gandalf, but worried that he will lose his power, he returns to the palantír where he is drawn back into Sauron's web of deceit. He despairs, and in his despair he abandons reason. Tragically, he dies horribly by self-immolation.
In the end the difference between triumph and tragedy depended on the voice they chose to hear.
All Christians are, and always have been in a great battle. The imminent dangers wax and wane, but never completely cease. Now, we seem to be surrounded on every side, and from every direction, both without and within, there are voices that will overwhelm us if we listen to them. Each of us has advisors who counsel despair, and each of us has his own little palantír insinuating half-truths into his mind. You're looking at yours right now. How do we escape?
Well, first we have to silence some of those voices by just refusing to listen, and then in their place we have to put the truth. The scripture of course is the first thing that comes to mind. It's an old answer. We'd probably like a new and astounding answer, but it wouldn't be as good. What would happen if we all spent as much, or even half as much time as we spend online or listening to the media reading scripture?
When I read the Old Testament I find time again that God saves his people by means that seem almost ridiculous. In the story of Gideon, He makes Gideon reduce his army to 300 men and then has them break jars and yell, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" At Jericho they march around the wall and shout. In yesterday's first reading in the Office of Readings, He tells Jehoshaphat to have his army do nothing! They just go down and find their enemies lying dead on the ground after tribes turned on one another. We don't have to see the big picture or understand what the Lord plans to do. We just have to do whatever it is that we are called to do that day.
It may be that we will suffer and suffer greatly and lose everything in this world. That's another thing that we will find in the scripture. It's what we're told to expect when we come to serve the Lord. If Paul is right, it's cause for rejoicing. It's a tremendous help to be so familiar with these kinds of scriptures that when trials come, they are the first, or near the first thing that comes into our minds.
And then, we can also fill our minds with books like The Lord of the Rings. Books by men who knew the Truth and knew how to share it. Books where you kind find passages like this one:
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. Haldir in Fellowship of the Ring