You know I’m a sucker for a good story and how they move me. I love encountering epic portraits of truth in story form. As far as themes go, identity is a major component of my passion, mission, and mentoring practice. Naturally then, stories with themes that include the characters exploring their own identity, and asking “who am I?” as men are deeply appealing to me.
Seeing a man encounter the question and the answer to his identity is wonderful, especially when it’s in the company of other men.
One story – and in particular one scene – that has always stood out to me as epic is the scene below from The Two Towers. It is such a great metaphor on so many levels and is deeply spiritual.
I could write a whole book on the parallels of this scene and the redemptive work of Yeshua, but this post is not about that. The story I see here that I am most excited about is my own and yours, and men’s in general. This scene is about us.
A massive war is brewing in Middle Earth. One that will determine the destiny of for generations to come. Darkness appears to be falling on the world and things are looking hopeless. The good guys are outnumbered and scrambling to round up all the help they can find. They’ve reached out to the people of Rohan who are known for their fierce warriors and readiness for noble battle. Unfortunately, they have decided to sit this one out and their lack of participation feels like certain doom.
The Rohan aren’t in the fight because their King Théoden has become derelict in his duties and is leading his people poorly. The Rohan know this and are suffering for it.
Théoden has been deluded by dark voices to the point of being worthless, forgetting who he is. He’s abdicated his kingliness to others and is living a neutered existence of apathy and indecision.
The bad counsel of insidious, toxic words spoken to him by Gríma Wormtongue have become a thick shadow veiling his sense of self and identity.
He’s living as an impotent king and the world is at risk because of his resulting indifference. Gandalf (the wizard) is one of the good guys and he’s here to speak some truth.
Watch how it unfolds
This movie first pierced me because I realized something deeply profound but only in part at first.
To be direct about it – I had a sense I was living like Théoden and wanted more for myself. I longed to be free again and if possible, doing cool shit like Gandalf was doing also. “Be careful what you wish” for they say.
My own “Grima Wormtongue” lies about my identity and the darkness that ensued
Unfortunately, like Théoden, I was a long way from being a Gandalf. I had succumbed to the many vile whispers of identity-crushing, soul-darkening lies spoken to me over a lifetime. Lies that began as a child and followed me throughout life…
- “I’m a loser”
- “No one likes me”
- “I’m ugly/awkward”
- “I look like Sloth from The Goonies”
- “No one ever sees me”
- “I’m alone”
- “It’s too late, I’ll never find real, deep love”
- “I guess this is as good as it is going to get”
- “I’ll probably die unhappy”
- “That kind of life is for everyone else, not for me”
Like Théoden, these lies slowly deprived me of my vigor, purpose, and identity. They prevented my pursuit of my true birthright and purpose.
I was shriveled up in my chair in the dark musty hall of my playing small life, growing more feeble, pale and weak by the day. Life felt like a groundhog day existence of going to work, coming home, watching some shows or reading a book, going to bed. Some days included the extra punctuation of a night out, or physical intimacy, or a vacation, but in general, “life” seemed bleak. Really. Fucking. Bleak.
Oh how I wished I could enter the battle and do something great with my life!
Breath the free air again my friend
I love in this scene how Théoden transforms before the camera, his color and vigor returning. It’s cool also how he starts to remember the face of Éowyn, his niece.
Théoden was returning to a former identity of his, not arriving at a new identity of himself. That is a crucial element of the story of not only his transformation, but mine and yours too. Our transformation takes us to what we’ve always been underneath the layers of lies and darkness. Transformation is about renewal of our true identity not about getting reaching new lofty heights.
To know his identity, every man needs a Gandalf
I was a Théoden yearning to be free, in need of a Gandalf, and yearning to be a Gandalf. Dark had been my dreams of late. Like Théoden and every man playing small, I needed a band of warriors and a wizard to help release me from the darkness that had enshrouded my mind.
For me that was not an easy search. Where were all the good men? Where were all the Gandalfs? Struggling to find each would end up being the catalyst for my own mentoring work, desiring that no man be stuck in darkness without a company of men to rebuke the lies holding him down.
I was able to find Gandalf in the form of a few men, but it wasn’t easy! There aren’t many white wizards.
I would ultimately learn why.
Why are there so few Gandalfs?
Earlier in the Lord of the Rings trilogy we see a former version of Gandalf – “Gandalf the Gray” – go toe-to-toe with the fiery Balrog (must watch!). He fought valiantly, saved the lives of the company but was lost to the battle. His company mourned his loss.
Take a look:
Yet… that death could not keep him. He prevailed and returned to the Fellowship at their time of greatest need but this time as Gandalf the White. Now he’s a refined wizard who has battled demons, been to the pit of hell and was refined in the process.
He no longer fears death and is ready to run headlong into the fight. This is evident in how Gandalf speaks to Gríma Wormtongue.
Be silent! Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth! I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm…”Gandalf the White
Behold… the mic-dropping power of a transformed life. The kind of power that comes from renewal is not just any renewal, but the kind experienced in the intense heat of a forge.
He had some impressive wizardry skills before in his grayness, but he wasn’t Gandalf the White until he fought the demon and won. He is no longer the garden-variety, mediocre, and gray wizard, but Gandalf the White – radiant with light, peace, serenity and power.
How I wanted that transformation and renewal watching this scene. I wanted the renewal of Théoden and Ganfald.
But here’s the thing… Gandalf had to overcome the Balrog and experience death to see his grayness transformed and find his true self. It was from this transformational power that he could speak life-giving freedom to Théoden. It was not until he had fought the Balrog and prevailed.
This is why there are so few Gandalfs. Very few will fight the Balrogs.
Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time.
“Until at last I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside. Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time… and every day was as long as a life age of the earth… but it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I’ve been sent back, until my task is done”Gandalf
That gives me the shivers!
All gospel parallels aside, this scene is a powerful picture of the transformation I went through and that I believe every one of us can go through as men. We must each overcome the toughest adversity in our lives, fight the Balrog, and come back.
During my most soul-crushing experience of life and what appeared like everything falling apart, darkness took me. This cause me to feel like I was “straying out of thought and time”. The days and nights seemed endless. Several years flew by and I believed it was the end.
For me, the balrog was the shadows of my true self. It was the gray shadow of the real me. The one stuck trying to live a life of performing my way upward and onward, exhausted from trying to be better and better all the time. I would encounter this balrog, this ancient demon of the deep in the midst of extreme relationship trouble.
I wrestled that balrog down the pit – nearly resulting in the destruction of my person and marriage.
It seemed like I had died.
But I had not!
… but it was not the end.
I have to admit…it feels very threatening for me to write all this. I mean, what kind of arrogant f*#k compares themselves to Gandalf?
Brother. as much as it feels a bit scary making the comparison, the truth of the matter is, I experienced the feeling of life in me again. This is what happened to me.
I experienced death, demons, transformation and restoration and have been “sent back, until my task is done”. That task, for me, is to war for the restorations of my fellow Théodens of the world, brothers like you!
If that is you – and you’ll know instinctively if it is – I’m ready. Harken unto me and let’s get you breathing the free air again and remembering your sword again.