Peter Jackson wasn't the first to put J.R.R. Tolkien's books on film. Two decades before the first of Jackson's live-action/CGI films hit theaters, three animated versions were crafted in the space of three years, and by two different animators. The first two are well worth checking out. The third is not. THE HOBBIT Animated 77 minutes / 1977 RATING: 7/10 The Hobbit was the first Tolkien book to be filmed, in 1977. Director Authur Rankin chose a particularly cartoonish style of drawing that made it clear from the start that this was intended as a children's film. But his work had some humor to it – just as the source material does – which makes it pleasant enough viewing for adults too. Our hero Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, creatures that look much like humans, though they are half as tall and have far hairier feet. Normally Hobbits like nothing better than to stay close to home, but when the wizard Gandalf brings 12 treasure-seeking Dwarves to his doorstep Bilbo signs up for the adventure. And with the help of a magic "ring of power" Bilbo finds, he helps his new friends fight Orcs, Elves, and even a dragon. At 77 minutes long, readers of the book may be disappointed as to just how much the film condenses the story. However, as children’s films go it is quite a nice one, and a good introduction to Middle Earth. That said, for a children's film there are some fairly scary bits, including attacks from Orcs, giant spiders and a "Gollum" so this isn't suitable for the very young. Parents will want to preview this to see how suitable it is for their children. I know I can't show this to my girls yet, but will when the youngest hits about nine or ten. THE LORD OF THE RINGS Animated 133 minutes / 1978 RATING: 7/10 A year after The Hobbit was released, another animator, Ralph Bakshi, decided to try his hand at The Lord of the Rings. The story begins with an aging Biblo Baggins passing on his magic ring to his nephew Frodo. Shortly after the wizard Gandalf shows up to warn Frodo of the ring's danger. It turns out this ring is so powerful that whoever holds it could use it to rule the world. This is why the evil Sauron wants it, and why the good Gandalf knows that it must be destroyed – this all-encompassing power is too much of a temptation for even the best of men to contend against. It is up to Frodo, who as a little Hobbit is far less tempted by the pull of power, to take the ring deep into the enemy's lands to destroy it in the lava of the mountain where it was first forged. And on the journey he has the company of hobbits, men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard to help him. Animator Ralph Bakshi used a style of animation that involved filming scenes with real actors and then tracing over each frame of film to create a line-drawing picture of it. This "rotoscoping" allowed Bakshi to incorporate the endless possibilities of animation with the realism of live-action. The realism also meant that this is a scarier film than The Hobbit. The lurching Ringwraiths (see the picture) are freaky, and some of the combat scenes, especially at the very end, are quite bloody. Though this is animated, it is not for children. There is one major flaw with the film: it is only half of the story! The director planned it as the first part of a two-film treatment, but the second film was never made, so things wrap up abruptly. While it lacks a proper ending, the story it does tell is intriguing. THE RETURN OF THE KING Animated 97 minutes / 1979 RATING: 4/10 This is sometimes treated as a sequel to Ralph Bakshi's film, but it isn't. Arthur Rankin directed, and he returned to the cartoonish animation style of The Hobbit. And while the events in this story do, loosely, follow after the events of the Bakshi film, Rankin seems to have been envisioning this as a sequel to The Hobbit, so he begins with an overview of everything that took place between it and The Return of the King. Or, in other words, it begins with a quick summary of two 500-page books – as you might expect this overview doesn't do justice to the contents of these enormous tomes, and the continuity of the story is completely lost. If a viewer isn't already familiar with the books he'll have no idea what's going on. Things don't get any better once the overview is complete - there is no flow to the story. Huge plot elements are skipped over, and random snips of scenes are stitched to other scenes with stilted narration and cheesy ballads. In addition, Frodo Baggins twice calls on God to help him. Some might argue this could be an appropriate use of God's name, but in the context of a fantasy world in which God is never otherwise mentioned, this seems a misuse. In short, The Return of the King is a dreadful film that is not worth anyone's time.
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” – Isaiah 65:17 Scripture reading: Revelation 21:1-5, 22-27; 22:1-5 The story of the Bible ends where it began: in the Paradise of a newly created world. The first Paradise was ruined by sin and cursed by God. Pain and punishment, sickness and sadness, disease and death resulted. But the story of the Bible has a “happily ever after” ending for all who trust in Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes again, the heavens and earth will be cleansed by fire (2 Peter 3:7,10-13). This is Good News. It will be a purifying fire that destroys all evil and purifies all that is good. It will be step one in God's work of “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Notice God does not say He will make “all new things” but that He will make “all things new.” While the absence of sin and its consequences will make the new creation feel very different from this fallen one, it will also feel very familiar: we will build houses and dwell in them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit, long enjoy the work of our hands; animals will populate the earth, living in peace without preying on each other; we will feast on the best of meats and finest of wines at the Bridegroom's banquet (Isaiah 65:21-25; 25:6-8). There will be no more curse. We won't even remember that sickness, sadness, sin and death once existed. We will dwell with God and each other in perfect harmony forever and ever. We cannot even imagine how amazing it will be (1 Corinthians 2:9). Suggestions for prayer Pray that you, in keeping with God's promise, would live each day looking forward to the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness, which God has prepared for those who love Him (2 Peter 3:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9).
This daily devotional is available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional. Rev. Brian Zegers has been serving the Lord by working with Word of Life Ministry as home missionary to the Muslim community in Toronto, Ontario since 2015.
In my idyllic and very Christian small town I keep forgetting that even here there’s a spiritual war going on. This past weekend I got a reminder in amongst the books we borrowed from the public library when two titles were pushing the same agenda. The first was by well-loved children's author Patricia Polacco about a family with two moms. God's view of marriage – as being between a man and woman – was represented in the story by a snarling, glaring neighbor. The second was a chapter book about a girl competing in a TV game show who had two dads. While we parents should know what our kids are reading, if you have a child who reads a lot this becomes harder and harder to keep up with as they get older. But, as the Adversary knows, you are what you eat. And if he can sneak in a diet of "homosexuality is normal," he can win our kids over before parents even know a battle is happening. So, what's the answer? Should we monitor our children’s book intake closer? That's part of it. Should we rely on Christian school libraries more (if you have access to one)? That seems a good idea. Would it be wise to invest in a high-quality personal home library – only fantastic (and not simply safe) books? That’s a great idea. But, as our kids get older, it's going to come down to talking through this propaganda to equip them to see through it. It will mean explaining to them that we oppose homosexuality because God does, and that even in prohibiting homosexuality God shows his goodness. As Cal Thomas put it:
“God designed norms for behavior that are in our best interests. When we act outside those norms – such as for premarital sex, adultery, or homosexual sex – we cause physical, emotional, and spiritual damage to ourselves and to our wider culture. The unpleasant consequences of divorce and sexually transmitted diseases are not the result of intolerant bigots seeking to denigrate others. They are the results of violating God’s standard, which were made for our benefit.”We have to share with our children that our Maker knows what is best for us, and homosexuality isn't it. Like many an idol (money, sex, family, career, drugs) it might even bring happiness for a time, but, like every other idol, it doesn't bring lasting joy, it won't save us, and it will distance us from the God who can.
Last month I attended a particularly moving live stage production called Solitary Refinement. The play is based on true stories of persecution. It focuses on the suffering of Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, imprisoned and tortured for 14 years – including two years in solitary confinement – for placing his faith in Jesus above his allegiance to the Communist government. (The play is currently on tour, and I encourage you to attend or have it come to your church. There is also a movie of Wurmbrand’s story that came out this month) In the play Wurmbrand recounts a refrain that reverberated continually between the loudspeaker and the concrete prison walls: “The State is Progressive. Christianity is Regressive." This same mantra was dogmatically drilled into all the students attending the mandatory State-run schools. In the weeks that followed, the play moved me to think about three things: First, the damage and terror inflicted by communism, socialism, and other totalitarian governments Second, how particular episodes in Canadian political drama of the last few months have an eerie similarity to the first experiences of Wurmbrand with communism Third, how unprepared Western Christians are to face such totalitarianism It's simple; just comply In present-day Canada, two government institutions require citizens to affirm State ideology in order to enjoy the equal benefit of the law or government programs. The first is the Law Society of Ontario. It announced several months ago that all licensed Ontario lawyers are now required to affirm that they will:
abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.All that lawyers have to do is “just check the box.” Then, right around Christmas, the Hon. Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced that citizens applying for a Summer Student Jobs grant had to “just check the box” to affirm that:
the job and the organization’s core mandate respect … the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights…Thousands of Canadian Christian charities doing wonderful work in refugee resettlement, summer camps for underprivileged kids, poverty relief, addictions help, and assistance for at-risk youth, must “respect” “reproductive rights” (which include unfettered abortion, according to the government’s explanatory manual) or risk losing out on thousands of dollars. When pushed on this, the Minister said it’s no big deal to “just check the box,” even if you do believe that the pre-born child is a human being worthy of protection in law. So, what’s the big deal? Is checking a box really the end of the free world? Let’s look at the communist regimes of not so long ago to understand what is at stake. When the power of the State is unrestrained Václav Havel was a dissident writer in communist Czechoslovakia. His plays ridiculed communism. As Havel became more politically active, he fell under surveillance of the secret police. His writing landed him in prison multiple times, the longest stint lasting almost four years. He later became the president of the Czech Republic (which formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union). His most famous essay is The Power of the Powerless – well worth studying as statism increases in the West and the terrors of communism fade from memory. Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option, describes a central point of Havel’s famous essay:
Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power – and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.That is what’s happening with these check boxes today. It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license. As Dreher further explains,
Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” – and it’s going to cost him plenty. He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him.Someone needs to speak up But we must dare to dissent. We need to live within the truth. We have a better and deeper and richer understanding of “diversity” and “inclusion.” We know what murderous lies are hidden behind the euphemism of “reproductive rights.” Because we love our neighbours as ourselves, we dare to dissent because we know what is true, good, and beautiful. And it’s worth fighting for. As Dreher says, channeling Havel, when we do dissent,
“by bearing witness to the truth, [we] accomplish something potentially powerful. [We have] said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by [our] action, [we have] addressed the world. [We have] enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. [We have] shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.”And so, when I filed my annual report at the end of 2017, I declined to check the box. I wrestled for a long time about whether to check the box. I rationalized checking the box. After all, what’s so wrong with a statement on “diversity and inclusion”? But I concluded that what was motivating me to check the box was fear: fear of professional consequences, fear of the hassle, fear of what others might think of me. And while I do fear the State in a Biblical sense, I can’t do what it is asking of me because I’d ultimately be lying. My statement of principles in not what they are actually looking for. So I checked no, and then explained myself. I wrote:
The Law Society of Upper Canada has no clue what the words “equality” “diversity” or “inclusion” mean as demonstrated in its unequal, exclusive and intolerant treatment of Trinity Western University graduates. I hold to an ethic that is deeper and richer and more meaningful than any superficial virtue-signalling that the law society cobbles together. However, the law society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand it of me. I, therefore, refuse on principle to report such a statement to the law society.It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve written. But I dissented. What's next? So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next? Are we prepared for what comes next? I’m not saying this is the way it will go. I am optimistic that when Christians stand up for what is right, good things happen. God blesses faithful witness. So I hope and pray for a revival in Canada and I know it is possible, by God’s grace. But if the trajectory we are on continues downward, are we prepared? How much Scripture have we committed to memory for those lonely days in a prison cell? (There are no Bible apps in prison.) How often do we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting, as Jesus expected us to do? If nothing else, it trains us to cope with hunger. Do we practice the discipline of tithing, which develops a willingness to part with material blessings? Are we prepared for whatever comes next?
André Schutten is the Director of Law & Policy with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. A version of this article was originally published on the ARPA Canada blog, is reprinted here with permission.