In December 2001, Greg Wright wandered down a rainy Seattle street looking for a movie theater. Not just any theater, but one hosting a press screening for the anticipated first installment of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Wright had gotten a press pass to cover the film for Hollywood Jesus—but he had also gotten the wrong address. And that mix-up was the last straw for Wright, who, as far as he knew, had been writing about J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece in vain.
“I had put countless hours into the pre-release coverage on Hollywood Jesus, but it seemed as if the work had simply fallen into the void,” said Wright in an e-mail from Seattle. “No one that I knew was following it: friends, family, coworkers—nobody.”
But all that is gold does not glitter, as Wright would discover the next day. His resignation letter to Hollywood Jesus’ David Bruce opened “an immense information bottleneck.” Wright’s work had been getting attention: Web awards, reprints, translations into Spanish and Swedish, and much more.
Wright expanded his coverage of Peter Jackson’s massive film adaptation and set about writing a book. That book hit shelves this year: Tolkien in Perspective: Sifting the Gold From the Glitter.
It was a relatively easy first book for the Seattle native, who earned degrees in English literature and computer science from the University of Washington, worked in the computer industry for a decade, and then took a theology degree from Puget Sound Christian College.
An ordination and a couple of years later, he joined the staff of Hollywood Jesus as the Tolkien expert. And he knew Tolkien’s work well, having first gotten an inkling for the delights of Middle-Earth while in high school.
“As an introvert,” Wright said, “Tolkien’s Middle-Earth provided the romantic escape that I thought my life needed—and oddly enough, my immersion in Tolkien’s fiction actually led me to become more ‘heroic’ in my own life.”
“I was something of a natural cynic and pessimist, and Tolkien’s fiction helped restore a conviction that good really does triumph over evil,” Wright continued. “Several months of calligraphic discipline enlarging Tolkien’s maps by hand helped me improve my character. Detailed knowledge of Middle-Earth was good for the ego, too.”
That detailed knowledge allows Wright to quote liberally from Middle-Earth masters—like Gandalf, who told Frodo that “the pity of Bilbo may one day rule the fate of men.” Gandalf the wizard was referring to an incident in which Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo Baggins, had spared the life of Gollum, a former hobbit, who resurfaces in the tale.
“It’s not that pity, in and of itself, is the milk of human kindness,” Wright said. “The point for Gandalf is that Bilbo, by thinking ‘outside the box,’ so to speak—and acting contrary to ‘natural’ instinct—was able to be an instrument of Providence.”
“The more attention we pay to spiritual virtues, however—those expressed in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, or those described by Paul in Galatians 5—the more opportunities we have to become active conduits of God’s work,” Wright continued.
Wright expects to finish his first novel, set in 1910 on Idaho’s mining frontier, by February. He’s also working on several other books, including another Tolkien-themed tome, as well as a critical look at the works of Pulitzer-prize winner Booth Tarkington.
Wright is also the founder of Dramatic Insights Ministries, which works with churches and communities to apply the dramatic arts to Scripture and its interpretation.
“There are a great many tools which the church has neglected, and which, if properly sanctified and wisely employed, can effectively strengthen faith and improve the world,” Wright said.
Wright thus emphasizes the importance of having a good theology of art and entertainment, which swirl around us much as ever. Wright prefers a brand of “consecration theology,” which he demonstrates as applicable to art in Tolkien in Perspective.
That theology relies on “a supposition that all things may be profitable, if consecrated through prayer and devotion,” Wright said. “In my ministry, I try to find ways that the marginal or questionable may be consecrated to God’s work. That’s what God does with us.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.