Gandalf Lives! Jesus Lives!
by Richard Nathan
Full of curiosity and excitement,
the young man wandered into one of the head shops springing up like weeds along San Francisco’s Haight Street. It was the early Sixties, and the shop was only one among many devoted to drug paraphernalia for LSD and marijuana. Its gaudy assortment of lights, crystal figurines, colored and flavored rolling papers, and flamboyant posters drew him on.
Struck by the electric message of one poster, he halted. Scrolling in psychedelic style beneath the picture of a wizard the words, “Gandalf Lives!” leaped out. He studied it for a moment, vaguely reminded of a similar term describing Jesus Christ: “Jesus Lives!” But in his new philosophy born of the emerging LSD/Eastern religious culture, it seemed a proper twist. Yes, a wizard instead of Christ! Excitement and magic—not that “old rugged cross” stuff! That day, an interest was kindled to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which, just like magic, the citizens of hippie town were already devouring.
The world of elves, sorcerers, nature spirits, and witches soon filled his impressionable mind and blended seamlessly into the early LSD-New Age culture springing up like mushrooms after a rain of enchantment. And although he thought in the monistic terms of Hinduism, he wasn’t bothered by the apparent dichotomy of good and evil The Rings presented. After all, the books made “white” magic charming and the idea of a cosmic battle exciting. Theosophy, too, had its White and Black Brotherhoods—with “white” magic fighting “black” magic on the earthly plane. What else could the Brotherhood of the Ring be except the White Brotherhood?—proven (ever so romantically) by the figure of Gandolf, the wise magician who used his magic for “good” (white witchcraft).
And then there were the elves, beautiful, graceful beings who moved effortlessly in supernatural, clairvoyant ways without a word about Jesus Christ or holiness or God’s abhorrence of strange fire. The world of witchcraft beckoned sweetly throughout the pages, its poison obscured by the exciting battle between what seemed “good” and what was obviously evil.
As my wife Linda and I moved smoothly from LSD into occult fantasy and spiritualism, these same images peopled our world. There again we encountered the great adventure of the White Brotherhood with its Ascended Masters guiding us as we sallied forth to defeat the Black Brotherhood (i.e., black witchcraft or Satanism).
* * *
Many years have passed since Christ rescued us from that glittering web of deadly deception and brought us into the His Kingdom through His pre-eminent grace. The culture has changed immensely from that early, naïve time. I thought I was safe.
Then I saw Evangelical Christians everywhere lauding The Lord of the Rings.
What was going on?
When I was enmeshed in darkness, did the Ring Chronicles bring me the Light of Christ? In all honesty, I must say they only increased my spiritual darkness by lending a cozy loveableness to witchcraft and nature spirits.
Did a vague hint of the saving Gospel shine through to lead me out of darkness?
No! There was no hint; rather, there was another gospel entirely—the gospel that it’s “heroism” that stands against evil!
A professor at my seminary once talked about the difference between the Gospel approach to life and the Quest approach popularized by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth. This made startling sense to me of the strange dichotomies woven through the Middle Ages, where the medieval syncretism of Roman Catholicism, classical culture, and German paganism gave birth to chivalry—a peculiar amalgamation that justified being a “killer for Christ.”
The Lord of the Rings springs from this same worldview, which has pushed today’s science fiction market into the fantasy realm and transformed the world of fiction. It has launched an avalanche of books and movies in the same genre, until we not only have sword and sorcery and speculative fiction, but Christian Fantasy, Christian Science Fiction, and Christian Futuristic Fiction (often apocalyptic). Furthermore, some popular and even Christian authors are now emphasizing disturbing elements common to pagan, occult, and secular novels.[i] It was to combat this avalanche that we wrote The Glittering Web and our Omega Point Series.[ii]
It must be said: The promotion of a worldview that reduces the struggle of humanity to a battle between white and black magic is nothing more than neo-paganism. And this worldview is a flood that undiscerning Christians are consuming in great draughts today. Media ministries are promoting it, and discernment ministries, which should be pointing it out, are lauding it instead.
Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission and publisher and editor-in-chief of MOVIEGUIDE(r): A Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment, stated many years ago:
The movie also includes a brief occult element not in the book. Happily, however, the filmmakers have left in plenty of Christian author J. R. R. Tolkien's biblical, metaphorical Christian references. In doing this, they have fashioned a masterful blend of fantasy and adventure that has positive Christological implications.[iii]
Recent opinion polls have ranked The Lord of the Rings as one of the most popular literary works of this century.[iv]
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Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctly biblical, Christian answers? With tears we must say it is not there and that a large segment of the evangelical world has become seduced by the world spirit of this present age.
–Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1984, p. 14.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
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[i] For more on this topic, see the following articles by Richard and Linda Nathan:
[ii] Read “Glorifying the Savior / Exposing Deception: Why We Wrote The Omega Point Series. Richard and Linda Nathan (3/8/21 on this blog).
[iii] Baehr’s organization states that “MOVIEGUIDE(r) and the Christian Film & Television Commission are non-profit organizations dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment media according to biblical principles by influencing industry executives and by equipping the public to be active, media-wise consumers.”
[iv] From “Influences on The Lord of the Rings: The Impact of the Lord of the Rings.” Online at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngbeyond/rings/influences.html Actually, there’s nothing “brief” about the book's occult elements. The entire worldview illustrates it.
Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash