I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.
If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.
While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.
One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.
Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”
And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”
This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.
And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.
If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.
If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.
This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.
Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.
This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.
Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6
“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.
“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.
But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.
How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?