Do you often find yourself wishing you could be swept away to the magical places found in books? Don't deny that you wanted to live in the Shire at one point. While it might be a bit of a stretch to magically transport to Rivendell with the elves, I believe that one of the great aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien's works is allowing us to see our world in a new light. We truly live in our own type of middle earth, and it is up to us to find the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. The struggles we face every day are the same things that Tolkien addresses in The Lord of the Rings. In The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman, Rose talks about how there is more to life than we see. Tolkien's fantasy world is very similar to our own lives. Just think about it: battles between good and evil, searching for the good, true, and the beautiful, finding the meaning of true friendship, and learning to hope.

We don't exactly wage battles with Orcs every day, but it is easy to see the tension between the forces of God and Satan in our world. Recognizing this as a battle allows us to see evil in our lives for what it really is: evil! That bad decision that your friends are trying to pressure you into? Perhaps they're really just trolls trying to bring you to their Dark Lord, Sauron. Well, alright, that example was a bit farfetched. (And no, this does not give you leave to go around bashing people on the head with swords!) But I hope you understand the point. So what are we to do in this world? Well, for starters, listen to what Tolkien has to say!

Find hope in despair. As Sam reminds us, "There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." Despair, suffering, sin, and tragedy are all realities in everyone's life. There's simply no way around it. But, "Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach" (J.R.R Tolkien). Sometimes, the clouds can get in the way! Remember, God's got your back, always has. Even though we find ourselves like Frodo climbing Mt. Doom, sometimes feeling like we can't go on, God will bring us comfort and peace. And while you're working on finding your own way out of the mist, help others find their way also! Be the Sam to someone's Frodo. I know, it's cheesy, but I couldn't resist. If you know someone who is going through tough times in their life, be Jesus to them. You can't take away the circumstance or the hardship but you can give of yourself to them. If you have not taken the time to listen to Annie Lennox's powerful song "Into the West" played in the credits of the Return of the King film, I highly recommend it. Besides the great emotional resonance that it adds to the movie itself, it is a song that sends an all-embracing message.

Live life to the fullest. Be a Hobbit. Have you noticed how carefree they are? Hobbits are simple in their lives and content with what they have. Unlike those who are concerned about worldly wealth and greed for great kingdoms, hobbits are happy to be where and what they are. However, living in a simple manner does not mean that you should never go out into the world. Rather, the exact opposite is true. Remember the quote from the Hobbit film, "The world is not in your books and maps, it's out there!" Challenge yourself, go on adventures, step out of your comfort zone, and most of all, be ready to accept whatever task you are given, because no one else can do it but you. Remember, Hobbits are ready to dive forward if adventure is sent their way. Live in the moment. In the true order of things, no matter what sufferings and trials life brings us, there is always a happy ending. You can't lock yourself in your room and always try to play it safe. In order to encounter God and grow as a person you must take risks and experience true joy by living in God's world and by His word. Stop defining your life by the expectations of others. Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Drink in the joys of life, and live life to the utmost fullest. Gandalf gives us some wise words on this point, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Choose Love. "I choose a mortal life." There are a lot of love lessons to be learned from The Lord of the Rings, especially from Aragorn and Arwen, whether the love is romantic or not. The first reason this love can resonate with all different types of situations, is that it is eternal and sacrificial. Arwen makes a promise to Aragorn to bind herself to him, forsaking the immortal life of her people. The key word in this is forsake. By its very nature, true love requires sacrifice. In order to give yourself wholly, you must let go of other things. The stakes are high and we will experience discomfort and trials. But braving these difficulties leads us to the reality of all things good, true, and beautiful. Again, these lessons apply to every situation, not just romantic love. Today we find many modern love stories that focus a lot on passion, feelings, passing summer love, or the like. The type of love we find between Aragorn and Arwen is helpful, not hurtful. It looks for the good of the other person. In the Two Towers film, Aragorn finds himself in a dream and tells Arwen, "My path is hidden from me." She replies, "You cannot falter now. If you trust nothing us." This kind of love looks past selfishness and provides strength for whatever task is laid before us in life.

So we see, life is an adventure. In fact it is a grand scale fantasy and the clue is finding the way to fight against the evil battles. We live in a culture that treats evil like something to be accepted and not feared. Tolkien helps show us that this is not the case and teaches us many different useful lessons in life. He teaches us to take strength in Christ, and we will find our way. And although we may wander far from home, Jesus' truths are everywhere. When the night is overcome, you may rise to find the sun.

Emily Snell