The stories that make your heart soar

Do you have a story that makes your heart soar? A book or a movie that evokes a visceral reaction, no matter how many times you revisit it? Those are the stories that resonate on a very deep level, if you will, stories that speak to the soul.

I have loved Tolkien’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings since I was a child. I’m not sure how old I was the first time I read the books. To me it seems like the stories have always been with me and, in a way, that is true.

It is a bit strange that a little girl loved such dark books, full of battles and scary scenes – not the stereotypical girly stories. I was swept away by the saga, charmed by the hobbits and enchanted by the elves. Interestingly the scenes that made my heart soar (and still do) are not nice or magical ones. In fact, they are rather terrible but, at the same time, beautiful.

As an American girl who lacked for nothing, why did I value the fortitude of the dwarves? In the books they are not depicted as particularly nice or charming but their strength and fierce loyalty appealed to me. The rich emotional tapestry of the dwarves made them seem somehow very familiar: these hard-working people, fine craftsmen who loved beautiful things and knew how to create them, people who could endure great hardships, were willing to endure in order to regain the home they had lost and never stopped dreaming about.

I didn’t know that Tolkien created the dwarves as a reflection of the Jewish people, longing to return to Zion.

I cried when Thorin was killed. It was right that the Arkenstone be returned to him and gut wrenching that he did not live to enjoy the achievement of regaining the homeland of his people and the Arkenstone at their core. Was Tolkien imagining the Ark that was once in the center of the very real mountain in the heart of Jerusalem?

The battle cry of the dwarves of the Iron Hills, rushing in to save their fellow dwarves, their brothers, one moment before they were overwhelmed by their enemies, has always made my heart soar. For the American girl my reaction makes little sense. As a grown up Israeli I understand it much better. The dwarves roared “Moria!” as they dove in to the Battle of the Five Armies. They were reminding each other of the terrible battle where so many of their relatives had been slaughtered, that had driven them further from their homeland, from safety but from which, as a people, they had survived.

How very Jewish. Hardships endured and survived made them stronger, gave them the courage to face the new, seemingly hopeless battle ahead.

Could it be that the stories that make your heart soar that are the ones that you understand with your soul before it is possible to understand them with the mind? That is my experience.

In Tolkien’s words, his stories are not an allegory of the times in which he lived but rather are “applicable.”  Allegories, he felt, are an imposition of the author on the reader. He preferred stories that the reader was free to apply, as the reader desired. As a child my ability to apply his stories to anything outside the pages was very limited. Now I know better. I can recognize more elements because I am living them.

The Hobbit ends with a conversation between Bilbo and Gandalf: “Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo. “Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

When this was written Tolkien couldn’t have imagined living to see the prophecies come true but somehow he knew that many would tend to disbelieve because they “had a hand in bringing them about.” I see this very often in the attitude of many (including far too many Israelis) towards Israel. It is up to us to recognize that all our “adventures and escapes were not managed by mere luck.”

In The Lord of the Rings the dwarves play a lesser role than they do in The Hobbit and yet they are still important.

Of all the scenes in the trilogy, it was always the death of Boromir that moved me the most. Again, this is rather strange when considering myself reading this as a little girl. Today the scene still moves me to tears.

Boromir sacrifices himself to protect those smaller and weaker than himself. By loving others more than he loves his own life he redeems the mistakes he had made due to hubris and desire for power. Love leads him to the most powerful and honorable act of his life.

This scene has deeper meaning when you can name the names of real people who made the same choice Boromir made. With little effort I can tell you a number of such stories, the events that occurred and the heroes who loved others more than they loved themselves.

The tears I cried for Boromir are the same tears I often find rolling down my face watching the evening news. Israel is full of stories of honor, sacrifice, love. Ours are not the legends of a classic fairy-tale, a figment of an author’s imagination or something that happened “Once upon a time.”  Our stories are real and they are happening now.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are stories that have inspired so many people around the world. Many of those who look deeper in to the stories discover the thread of Christian principles and ideals. Few seem to notice that the author was actually inspired by Zion. He wrote of the people exiled regaining their homeland. The re-establishment of their home brought prosperity to the men and elves living next to them, made the land green again. Everyone benefited. Even when Tolkien’s focus was no longer on the story of the dwarves their presence remained key. The ability to bridge the mistrust between elves and dwarves is what helped the Once and Future King to return to his throne.

Tolkien’s stories are not an allegory, they are highly applicable. His fantasy can be found in Israeli reality. His writings contain inspiration for all who are willing to recognize it and, more importantly, apply it.

Now doesn’t that make your heart soar?


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