Apocalypse Now

Brian D. McLaren talks about beginnings, endings and the Bible in best-picture nominee 'The Return of the King'

Brian D. McLaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Washington, D.C. area, is the author of the groundbreaking 2001 book, "A New Kind of Christian," in which McLaren challenges Christians to discard liberal, evangelical and conservative labels to reinvent the church in a postmodern, post-Christian world. He is a founder of Emergent, a network of Christian leaders.

"The Return of the King" is the third installment of director Peter Jackson's filming of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In this final chapter, Frodo the hobbit, with his friend Sam, make their way to the Crack of Doom to destroy the Ring of Power, while the future of Middle Earth is settled with the crowning of Aragorn as king of Gondor.

I want to talk about how good and evil are portrayed in "The Return of the King." It's been suggested that Frodo and Gandolf come across as too pure and the Orcs so evil in the movie, where Tolkien's books depict all creatures as flawed. Do you agree?

Well yes and no. Those Orcs really do have bad teeth, true. But look at Gollum. He has really bad teeth too, but in this despicable creature is still something remotely lovable and some trace of dignity, and he has a very important role in the story. The great continuing flaw of Sam--probably the most lovable character in the whole story--is his inability to have compassion for Gollum.


In defense of the movie and the Orcs, though, I think revulsion is part of how fairy tales work. They teach us revulsion, which is underrated. We need to develop a sense of revulsion against the abuse of power, for example.

How do you think it compares to the Christian story, which Tolkien famously worked from. Does Christianity portray good and evil starkly?

In a "whodunnit," the bad guy is often the person you least expected. And there's that dimension to the story of Jesus, as you can see in the hot debate recently about Mel Gibson's film--Jesus, the good guy, is Jewish, but some of the bad guys are Jewish too. And the Romans are bad guys, yet there are a couple of Roman good guys in the story.

So the Gospels tell about the obvious kind of evil, but they have some surprises. A great example is Peter, when he makes the confession about Jesus being the Messiah. In the next breath, Jesus tells him '"Get behind me, Satan." It's just fascinating. Sermons tend to turn everything into a kind of a Sunday school moralism, but the Bible itself is a lot more ambiguous.

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