Parish faith-formation series studies ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy
PITTSFORD — In the first book of English author J.R.R. Tolkien’s best-selling trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, a group of nine unlikely traveling companions set out on a risky quest to bring a powerful ring to a far-away land.
In Pittsford, two individuals recently took a risk of their own, albeit much a smaller and less potentially lethal one than the one undertaken by the characters in Tolkien’s novels. Greg Lane and Kathryn McAlarney, pastoral associate for evangelization at St. Louis Parish, planned a series of nine sessions in which participants will discuss The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Catholic themes and symbolism found within the trilogy and its film adaptations.
The series is quite different from adult faith-formation programs the parish has offered in the past, but McAlarney and Lane wanted to try something different, even if that meant taking a risk, McAlarney told the Catholic Courier.
“Isn’t that kind of what the whole trilogy’s quest is?” she mused. “You set out and you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but you trust in God.”
Their risk seems to have paid off, as more than two dozen people have attended each of the sessions that have taken place thus far. The series began Jan. 7 and will wrap up March 9. Participants need not have read any of the books in the trilogy ahead of time, as the first hour or so of each session will be spent watching a portion of one of the trilogy’s three film adaptations released in the early 2000s.
The second hour will be spent discussing the Catholic themes found in the books and films. Themes discussed during the Jan. 21 session included the sin of pride, transformation, self-sacrifice, and the battle between good and evil.
“That just intrigues me, just to see the connection between our faith and this great epic of a book,” McAlarney remarked.
Like many of the participants at the Jan. 21 session, McAlarney had heard the trilogy was rife with religious overtones, but she had never had the opportunity to examine and reflect upon those overtones. After discussing the idea with Lane, a parishioner who is well-versed in Tolkien’s works and has worked with McAlarney on adult faith-formation programs in the past, the pair decided to put together and offer a study based on The Lord of the Rings.
“The trilogy is layered with Catholic themes even though God himself is never mentioned,” McAlarney told participants before the start of the first session. “When I first started to hear someone point out the connections, I was amazed at the richness of this novel. Tolkien himself said that as he wrote this work, he began to feel as if there was another hand writing it.”
Parishioner Renee Mills said she first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when she was in high school, and the novels touched her heart.
“I’d always wanted to study more about it and take a look at it a little deeper,” Mills said. “I’m really grateful that I can come to something like this and look at it from a deeper perspective. There are a lot of layers.”
Jennifer Lockemeyer and her 17-year-old son, Jack, said they also attended the Jan. 21 session in the hopes of learning more about the trilogy’s Catholic themes. Lockemeyer said she liked the program’s “marriage of secular and sacred,” and the fact that its appeal spanned generations.
“It’s another way for teens to connect with their faith. It’s also something I could do with my son. There are not a lot of opportunities like that,” said Lockemeyer, who with her son belongs to St. Kateri Parish’s Latin Mass community at St. Thomas the Apostle in Irondequoit.
McAlarney and Lane hoped their program would be attractive to those who regularly attend the parish’s faith-formation offerings as well as people who haven’t frequented more typical faith-formation programs, either at St. Louis or other area parishes. They hope the program might inspire participants to want to learn more about their faith, Lane said.
“There are a lot of different on-ramps to our faith. I don’t really care if people knew the trilogy. What I want to do is have someone be interested in looking at our faith again from a different point of view,” McAlarney added.