Hope vs. despair: Tolkien vs Game of Thrones

I almost stuck this away in the Penner/apologetics thread - but this is worthy of reaching a wider audience.

A friend of mine sent me this link to an article by commentator David French (whom I really know nothing about - but this particular article of his is really needed right now.)

It’s about why we (here in the U.S.) really need to be remembering Tolkien right now.


And the link given at the end of the article to the podcast about “recency bias” is also worth listening to before one gives in to all the now-so-popular thought that the U.S. (and/or the world) is just going to hell in a handbasket. Just click here to go straight to that podcast.


Couldn’t find a transcript option. Do you know if there is one? But I agree with the sentiment.

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Some good stuff in that article. But when the author says,
“So don’t read his work like you [read] C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia.’ There is no direct Aslan/Christ figure in Tolkien’s books,” he is not quite correct. The three offices of Christ are represented by characters in the story. Actually, LOTR is stuffed with Christian themes and imagery. Not that I caught any of it when I first read the series in high school! I’m glad I re-read it all as an adult.


Yeah - I agree. You have me curious, though. Prophet, priest, and king, right? Aragorn would obviously be the king. Gandalf would be … the prophet? Who is the priest? Frodo? Sam?

I have no fascination or use for Game of Thrones, but my son, who has watched it thinks French’s castigation of Thrones is a bit exaggerated. He recalls multple “better” characters who made virtuous or honorable choices and survived. I’ll take his word for it. It’s probably something like the book of Judges in the Bible. Cruelty on full display, and a cautionary tale to be kept close by.

Yet still - I think French’s narrative is prophetic for our country right now - even if he takes liberties with both stories to arrive there. They are (and always were) fiction after all. And so can be appropriated and pressed into service as a prophetic voice to the times.

I did not see any transcript options offered. Sorry! It isn’t a super long listen. And I did listen on my PC (not any Apple device).

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Frodo. He’s both priest and sacrificial victim. He bears away the evil ring and destroys it. Sam is the “beloved disciple” figure.

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Now I really need to hear this French for myself. I admit to getting drawn in to the GOT story to my surprise. It sounded hokey when I started hearing it hyped but I didn’t catch an episode until late in the first season. But then I went out and bought and read the first book and ended up reading all the books over the summer before the start of season two. After that I was hooked on the series. But while the writing and characters are enough to pull a reader along I can’t say there was any uplift or satisfaction in reflecting on the story after consuming it. The relentless cruelty and gore along with abundant magical elements made it hard to relate to our own world.


At last, … in an environment without others who “travel” with me through movies or TV series, I collect morsels where I can find them and then forget them because I didn’t have someone to discuss them with. French’s article gave me the compare/contrast of George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien that I remember once wanting. [Just saw the first two episodes of the Rings of Power, and French’s article tells me to look for the GOT prequel.]

Confessing unsophisticated marvel for the GOT series, I had the post-series “ennui”, is that the word I want? I think so, it goes with “despair”.

  • Lessons from GOT:
    • Virtuous Ends
      • “Pursuing virtuous ends by virtuous means is a fool’s errand.”
      • “Pursuing virtuous ends by vicious means had its own costs. Either way, virtue is lost.”
    • "Aside from the fight against the White Walkers in the north, the heart of the story wasn’t a classic tale of good and evil, but rather something far more grim. As I wrote, the show (and books) depicted an “amoral society, unmoored from its traditions and full of entitled and ambitious men and women who compete for power with unrestrained viciousness.”
      • Reading that, I realized or decided that the word for the GOT world was: “the Unredeemed world”. Even it’s religion, with the “New Gods” seems contrived: "GOT’s “Seven” trumps Christianity’s “Three”.

Tolkien, on the other hand,

  • “… is fundamentally different. If Martin’s work is a mirror, Tolkien’s is stained glass. When you walk into an ancient cathedral, aside from the sheer grandeur of the building itself, the first thing you notice is the stained glass, but not just for its beauty. The glass is a source of light, and the glass typically tells a story—the story of sin and redemption.”
    • Terry says: “Amen.”

My take away from the “Good Faith” podcast:

  • God play’s “the long game”.
  • It’s all about “the long game”

I probably could have been drawn into them too as I enjoy a good story as much as the next guy - but I also have something of a practical bent baked in by now that if I don’t find anything edifying in the fiction (or nonfiction!) then I won’t give it much effort to reach that threshold of being drawn in. I still don’t consume alcohol or coffee to this day because … why? What’s in it for me? Other than the obvious - that I would love to “grab or share a beer” with any of you all if the opportunity arose - and for that social aspect alone I would probably make a Herculean effort to pretend to enjoy a can of the stuff though it would be 100% your company I would actually be enjoying instead. It’s unfortunately a social non-starter to say “let’s go grab a water together”. I would have gotten on just fine with lemonade Lucy - but apparently very few others would join us.

All that to say - Game of Thrones may be empy of any (or much) edifying content, but in your enjoyment of it you sure do have a connection with wider culture (especially perhaps the younger set?) by having experienced that phenomenon with them. I’ll have to be content to vicariously hear of it through family and friends. And even the book of Judges does have its place in the canon - and so probably ought to be considered as “edifying” in its own way - at least through some bit of enlightenment or moral realism it may have on offer.

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I really liked this particular observation too.


As one who has personally watched GOT and is familiar with the cinematic brutality of its power struggles, I suppose that hearing tales of it through family and friends might become an opportunity to witness to Tolkien’s “stained glass windows”.

It would be interesting to know statistics about the overlap of those two audiences. How many GOT watchers were also LOTR readers/watchers? Or are they only vicariously aware of the older LOTR phenomenon like I am of GOT? Is it an “older” vs “younger” set divide? Or likely not that simple as a couple of you here would seem to anecdotally indicate.

I think the ‘staying power’ of LOTR is also significant. We’re still re-reading and discussing it several generations later. Do any of you see yourselves wanting to stay immersed in GOT if you were still around a couple generations from now?

I’m looking forward to this. The first I heard of David French was from a Biologos podcast, and I’ve shared the Redeeming Babel on vaccines with vaccine skeptics. Thanks!

Podcast Episode: Curtis Chang and David French | Christians and the Vaccine - Open Forum - The BioLogos Forum

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  • Who would I have to be to have actually read LOTR?
  • Personally, I am sure someone could enjoy the cinematic version of LOTR, … especially these days. [It leaves Lewis’ Tales of Narnia in the dust.]
  • GOT is on a par with watching gladiatorial combat games in the coliseum. Occasionally there are finesse moves, but not so much as to obscure the brutality and meaness.
  • Even now, and I suspect, especially now–after reading French’s article and thinking back over the visual impact of watching both series and reading both sets of books, I could see myself someday, being embarrassed to admit that I ever read and watched GOT. It’ll move into the category of “A niece’s friend’s grandsons admit to having watched all seasons and episodes of GOT, and they’ve never been right in the head since.”

As depresing as that sounds (although is true) losing hope is not an option. Since you are Christians as well you should never lose hope. Its not in our conciousness to do that . Unless someone has a mental ilness losing hope is impossible. What i believe though is that at the end even though it might sound like a fairytale “good” will prevail.It has to.

Tolkien did a good job potraying that. At the end of The Return Of The King(i saw the movies didnt read the books ) Aragorn marches his army into the black gate.Sarumans messenger comes out corrupted and tells them that Frodo is dead and all hope is lost. What does Aragorn do?

Not only he doesnt believe it because its not in our concisouness as i said before to even think of it,but he goes in with his army for the last time to fight HOPING Frodo is still alive and on his end of the quest. Frodo from the other hand fights his own battles feeling unworthy sometimes and feeling overwhelmed about the situation.Yet he goes forward and completes his task.

Both Tolkien and Lewis were Christians.Frodo represents Jesus who went alone to take the burden on himself and save humanity from death . Aragorn represents the believer who in a desperate fight against the forces of evil he has no other choise but to fight alone.But he has one hope.God . Just as Aragorn it might seem that sometimes we fight alone and are overwhelmed and doubts enter our mind.Yet if we fight a little bit longer Frodo is on the end of the journey ready to save us .

At least thats what i get from the trilogy.

Thats how good persevered trough history. By never giving in .Just a little more…Just one step .And soon youll reach the deadline.

My favourite quote is from the movie The Grey ,the one with the wolves.

“Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day”

Future is uncertain,but you know whats certain? Hope


To say nothing of the pointlessness and randomness. It certainly doesn’t pay to get attached to characters. They’re all as likely to be the author’s next victim. The characters all served plot trajectories. Frankly if Martin ever manages to finish another book I’m not at all certain I’d read it.


An old geezer, apparently! I used to think I was deeper into LOTR than most since I’ve read and re-read all the main books probaby four or five times (and the Silmarillion at least once). But then I hear of others that read it all, almost as a yearly pilgrimage or devotional. And I meet colleagues who can run circles around me with LOTR trivia. So now I recognize my status as a mere acolyte.

I suspect all that “going back to it” is probably the mark of a classic.


I read LOTR long ago. Got to say I found the descriptive passages of gardens and meals incredibly tedious but the magic was enchanting in ways it never was in GOT. And the message about power from Tolkien was real whereas Martin just accepts it as a fact and, as in the title, a rationale for a game. For Tolkien the outcome mattered, for Martin the nihilism is taken for granted.

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That’s probably why it took me several starts as a very young man (child really) before the fire caught and I zoomed my way through the trilogy. (The hobbit was easier and much earlier for me in that regard.) But … yeah. A page or two just about flowers and landscape wasn’t what I was about either - which is probably testimony to the power of his story that those of us fueled on “action diets” of popular entertainment are willing to tolerate all the prose. Can you imagine a story (especially a cinematic version of it) trying to get away with that today?


The buddy who enticed me to read it read it every winter. But then he was someone who would also dress up to watch/perform the Rocky Horror movie weekly. He was someone who enjoyed make believe but never really believed in anything. I have no idea where or if he is now.

I read it once. Not sure if I’ve ever read anything more than once though something’s like Penner and McGilchrist require much rereading as you go to even say you’ve read it once.

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