Is Gandalf the Mahdi? has published a short, brilliant report on Iran's tensions by an anonymous writer whom it identifies both as "a Time reporter in Tehran" and "a resident of the capital." The basic facts of the story are simple. In an effort to keep Iranians at home, rather than marching in the streets, the besieged theocracy has turned to a 21st-century version of bread and circuses: Broadcast plenty of movies. The strategy includes showing Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films on Channel Two. This choice is tone-deaf to the power of storytelling -- or, as Time's writer speculates, perhaps it's the work of a "subversive soul manning the controls at seda va sima, central broadcasting."

Although J.R.R. Tolkien did not write the trilogy as allegory, people naturally will see parallels between his characters and characters in their own time. Salon reported, back in 2004, on the debate about comparing Sauron to George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden.

It is possible, of course, to see other comparisons in the trilogy's great moments. Time's writer describes a few:

Lots of people, adults and kids, are watching in the room with me. On the screen, Gandalf the Grey returns to the Fellowship as Gandalf the White. He casts a blinding white light, his face hidden behind a halo. Someone blurts out, "Imam zaman e?!" (Is it the Imam?!) It is a reference, of course, to the white-bearded Ayatullah Khomeini, who is respectfully called Imam Khomeini. But "Imam" is at the same time a title of the Mahdi, a messianic figure that Muslims believe will come to save true believers from powerful evildoers at the time of the apocalypse. Isn't that our predicament?

… At the moment, the ancient Treebeard bears Pippin through the forest, and the hobbit asks, "And whose side are you on?" Those of us watching already know the answer: Mousavi! Treebeard is decked in green, after all.

I would quote the essay's final paragraph, but that would be the equivalent of a spoiler. Instead, I hope you'll surf over to and read about this remarkable, amusing instance of pop culture crossing cultural boundaries.

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