I finally completed one of the goals I’ve had for the last decade: to read through Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety. I’ve owned the books since I was a small child – it was a gift given to me by my older brother. I avoided the books growing up because they intimidated me (I wasn’t much of a reader). I fell in love with the movies as an adult which has made reading the books challenging (since I had basically memorizing the extended editions of the movies).
But once I got about a third of the way through the second book, the distinctions between the books and their film adaptations started to become more apparent to me. I was able to more easily visualize the books apart from the movies and appreciate many of the new insights as well as the differences in characters and events. While I had come to really value how the movies depicted deep friendships, the books display friendship in a profoundly intimate way.
As I was reading these books, I happened to listen to a sermon by Dr. Tim Keller who used Lord of the Rings to illuminate the emphasis the Bible places on friendship. Keller pointed out how the main story Tolkein’s trilogy is entirely about friendship. If you want to read anything about romance, you nearly have to wait until the very end of the book, and even get into the appendices. But in the Hollywood treatment of the story, they move romance and romantic character motivations to the center of the story.
Keller’s point was this: every culture is going to suppress the value of friendship. In a Western, liberal, and individualistic culture like ours, romance is elevated because it is a means of self-expression. Thus, the importance of friendship tends to be minimized. In traditional and eastern cultures, family honor is elevated to the primary position (think of the well-known lyrics from Mulan: “She’ll bring honor to us all…”). Whether liberal or traditional, every culture will suppress friendship.