Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lord of the Rings

I've spent the past couple of evenings watching Peter Jackson's movies from the Lord of the Rings cycle. The cycle finishes on TBS tonight.

I was not a big fantasy genre fan in high school. I never had much of a taste for magic and sorcery. I read The Hobbit, enjoyed it, but did not feel compelled to pick up the Ring Trilogy. I had friends in school who were devoted Tolkien fans complete with maps of Middle Earth on their bedroom walls. In retrospect, I think it is curious that almost all of those Tolkien enthusiasts I knew in Texas were anti-clerical secularists. Tolkien himself was devoutly Catholic, and his stories are very deeply Christian.

I've never read Tolkien's Ring trilogy. I've only seen Peter Jackson's movie version. The Tolkien fans I know are divided over it. The older Tolkien fans are a little disappointed in it, and the younger ones generally love it. The one thought that occurred to me over and over as I watched the movie, was "World War II." I wonder how much of that was Jackson and how much Tolkien. Tolkien always denied that his novels were allegorized retellings of the Second World War. Maybe, but his experiences of World Wars I and II appear to inform those stories. They certainly inform Jackson's visualization of the stories. It is hard to look at those magnificent scenes of the swarming Orc armies and not think of the World Wars.

I must confess that the other name that sprang to mind while watching these movies was Wagner. So many scenes from the movie looked like paintings of Wagnerian operas by Moritz Von Schwind for Neuschwanstein.

The best fantasy always reflects back upon reality. Eastern European authors certainly knew this, think Kafka and Gogol. Latin American authors frequently blur the line between what is real and fantastical; e.g. Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I love the use of special effects in these movies, especially the use of landscape, seemlessly blending shots of New Zealand with computer generated prodigies. We get a real sense of the wonder and the expanse of Middle Earth. But the best part for me are the very unmagic moments in the tale when characters must make desperate choices between principle and expediency. Frequently, they choose wrongly. Few in the story are purely good or purely evil. Everyone is subject to the temptations of fear and ambition personified in the ring itself. Most of the monsters are former men and hobbits who became monstrous.

The fantasy genre used to rule the video games. Now, it appears to me that it is being displaced by coarser glorifications of war and crime.


Taranaich said...

Tolkien's rejection of allegory does not mean he rejected allusion.

An allegory is a deliberate attempt to address events, situations and ideas through another medium or guise. This is not what Tolkien was doing with LotR, as it would betray the larger, mythic principles of the work, and tie it too inextricably to its time and place.

An allusion, however, means that something can be viewed as applicable to other events, situations and ideas. I think Tolkien was perfectly aware and willing to consider the themes in Lord of the Rings applicable to the Great War: in fact, his Samwise is a deliberate reflection of the average soldier's unsung heroism in that mad, horrific conflict.

So, Sauron was not meant to stand in for Hitler, but one could make comparisons between Sauron and Hitler, if you see what I mean. I doubt Tolkien was anyway, since the bulk of LotR was written prior to World War 2. The Great War is a much more profound influence.

I think you should give the book a shot, it might surprise you. It's in a deliberately archaic style, but I found it a most rewarding and satisfying read.

Counterlight said...

Yes, I am seriously considering reading the cycle, maybe this summer.

rick allen said...

I think, for what it's worth, that Tolkien's book is considerably better than Jackson's moview, which began, for me, with much wonderment, and concluded with seemingly endless battles and mawkish farewells.

Tolkien's strengths are his originality and the leisure with which he pursues his story (not an option for a filmmaker). I am also admittedly greatly attracted to his theme, the power of the renunciation of power. That said, I also find his style rather stilted, and his narrative can be tedious at times. I don't know if it's "great literature," but I've read the thing a couple of times, and I enjoyed it.