“Lord of the Rings”, or #LOTR as it has been dubbed following the filming of two series by Peter Jackson, one quite good and then the Hobbit three-part series virtually unwatchable – garbage in technicolor. He forgot, in that filming that the greatness of the Hobbits was to be found in feats of epic goodness, not martial strength, and had Bilbo sword-in-hand fighting the Wargs. J.R.R. Tolkien is still turning and turning and turning again.
#LOTR, of “Big Bang Theory” fame, is not – as Hollywood’s illiterate would have us believe – an extended version of Dungeons and Dragons, a refuge for “Nerds” who cannot “get laid” (if you will pardon my crude vernacular). As in with all things, ‘pop culture’ that cannot fathom right and wrong, truth or goodness and therefore must pervert it and warp it to their misunderstanding has also sought to take #LOTR and give it to the ‘losers’ of the world.
Thank God the ‘losers’ do tend to strike back, having more staying power than the the denizens living under that storied hill outside of Los Angeles who gave us the likes of “Dude, Where’s My Car” and “The Hangover”. Thank God for J.R.R. Tolkien.
I recently completed #LOTR with my little boy, seven years old. Stretching him, to be sure, for the vocabulary that Tolkien brings to bear is prodigious indeed. But that is good for my son. And better for him yet, is the need to wrestle with right and wrong, giving him a sense of good and evil and the epic fight to do what is right in a society that tends to sell facile answers in response to life’s intractable questions. Why would Frodo choose to go on, to the bitter end, without even a mouthful of “lembas” with which to begin the journey home? Who cares what happened to the world, if he were to die in the process of saving it? Why not try and put the ring to the service of Boromir of Gondor – after all power is amoral, is it not? Nothing is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – perhaps Sauron was being misjudged after all or perhaps the perfect beautiful dictatorship of Galadriel, an ice queen beautiful and terrible as the night – might be better than the bumbling Gandalf always concerned with ideas of restraint and propriety.
And the story itself? It was not, as Peter Jackson probably thinks, a cool mid-century tale of knights and trolls and ogres. Tolkien pulled his story from seeds buried deep – since the belly of time – the ancient ring brought to us by Norse legend, the figure of Gandalf a wizard from the misty days of the North-Atlantic when somebody sat on a rock and penned the saga of Grendel (which, also, Hollywood ruined). It is deeply religious, though Tolkien himself denied it – a eucatastrophe where victory is seized at the eleventh hour from the jaws of a more-powerful defeat by a cast of characters which are not deeply flawed but deeply weak.
Therein lies the heart of this story, and what I hope my little boy will take with him as he engages with life and reads and rereads #LOTR, as I hope he will. Why did Frodo succeed? He was not stronger, nor was he craftier, nor was he more disciplined. Nor even did he have a great confidence, the character is wracked with doubt and despair through every page of the epic. How did Sauron allow him to infiltrate to the very dark heart of his kingdom without even a glance? It is because Sauron could not conceive of such self-sacrifice. Surely the ring, if obtained, would be used against him. Is that not the way of the world? How can such power be eschewed when needed — do we not even have a glimpse of this in Boromir? But even if not used, surely it would be safeguarded, for who knows the future? A talisman to be bartered with in exchange for boats to follow the elves into the west, when Gondor at last fell? Yes, hedging… that is always the better part of valor. But to send two diminutive characters into the heart of darkness on a fools errand from which there would be no return? An act of suicide, self-immolation? This is not something that fit in Sauron’s imagination.
I have always been bothered a little bit by the end of #LOTR, which echoes just a little bit the end of The Hobbit but oh-so-much-worse. The ruin of the shire. We who fight the darkness like to think that the places we fight for remain pristine and unchanged, as they are in our own imaginations, while we battle the Smaugs and Saurons of our own. That when it is done, like Lawrence of Arabia we return to the hills and dales of our youth and find the milkmen and the postmen and the Blockbuster Video store exactly where we left them. But the epic in this world knows no boundaries and evil is the ultimate ‘globalized’ force flowing back and forth over borders which we are unable to close to the madness. When Frodo returns, to find his shire having been occupied by a weakened Saruman, it is said this is a reflection upon Tolkien’s own return from World War I to have found the rapid industrialization required to win that war having laid waste to the green areas of his youth. World War I was a great, world-altering conflict. The end of the Age of Lords, nobility and the great houses we watch in Downton Abbey and smile at their stuffy conservatism. Brought down by the factories which raged across England, and which Tolkien knew were both a cause-and-result of the epic battle against evil.
There is so much to learn from The Hobbit, #LOTR and I am so grateful to J.R.R. Tolkien for having given the world this saga, to teach our little boys generation after generation of those things that need not change, must not change in a world that has no time for that which is old and good and true.