True Heroes in The Lord of the Rings

John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

"Look, Legolas! What do your elvish eyes see?"

Prince Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor and one of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings, could be expected to do his own looking. He is, after all, a paragon of manhood: strong, swift, brave, true. But he isn't an elf, and he is wise enough to acknowledge that his elf companion, Legolas, can see farther and better than he can. So he asks him for help.

This fundamental principle runs like a life-giving stream throughout J. R. R. Tolkien's masterwork. No one can accomplish greatness on his or her own. And everyone has something valuable to contribute to the accomplishment of greatness.

Many fantasies - whether as sophisticated as Tolkien's or as basic as your kid's video game - make this point in vivid terms. Some characters are especially strong; others are especially swift; still others are especially wise. No one has the whole package. Everyone needs help.

Little children amuse us as they learn new skills by declaring, "I do it myself!" We applaud their desire to leave behind infant dependency and to grow into more and more independence.

But we never outgrow dependence entirely. When an adult always says, "I'll do it myself," this isn't either amusing or admirable. It is literally megalomaniacal: the insanity of thinking you're much bigger, and more powerful and wiser than you really are.

The ancient wisdom of one of Christianity's great thinkers, the apostle Paul, speaks powerfully to each of us, whether we're Christians or not:

The body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

Paul was writing especially of church membership, but what he says is true of every sphere of our lives. We're all members of various bodies: businesses, families, clubs, and charities. And none of us can do everything ourselves. We each have gifts to bring to the common good, and we each must humbly receive gifts from others.

That humble wisdom is part of the greatness of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings. No matter how brave is Aragorn the warrior, no matter how wise is Gandalf the wizard, no matter how skilled is Legolas the archer, each of them defers to the others in their expertise. And all of them vow to protect the smallest among them, the hobbit Frodo Baggins - even his name bespeaks lowliness - who has the deep gift of humility. Only he, therefore, can bear the Ring of Power to its final destiny without succumbing to temptation.

So it's perhaps time to take stock and look around. Whom do you need to help you? What colleague have you overlooked and should now humbly ask for assistance? What friend or associate can you call upon to partner with you for your mutual benefit?

Or do you want to keep trying to do without hearing or smelling--or seeing with elvish eyes?


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