Archives: The Lord of the Rings

Aftermath

I had a party at my house last night, a triple celebration: my fiftieth birthday, the tenth anniversary of my marriage to MBW, and MBW’s U.S. citizenship. The house echoed at times with the play of what seemed a hundred children, but couldn’t have been more than a half dozen. At the end of the night we discovered that a glutinous jar of pink slime, some sort of kid’s plaything, had been ground into the HA’s carpet. While a few remaining adults got down to cleaning that up (it turns out ice cubes are useful in that regard — helpful tip for you) I went back downstairs to pack up leftovers and load the dishwasher. The aftermath of the party.

Naturally, that got me thinking about war. Specifically the aftermath, the cleanup. And more specifically, how fantasy novels tend to deal with (or not deal with) the aftermath of the epic battles that fill their pages.

Top Ten Fantasy Films

These things are subjective. They have to be. By what metric does one objectively quantify entertainment value? I believe I’ve said before I don’t really have favorites. I can and do enjoy things equally, without rankings. So what I’m listing herein is merely a current snapshot of what I consider the elite group of fantasy films, appearing without any particular order (perhaps descending, though I won’t be held to it.

What am I considering as a fantasy film? I must necessarily limit this, as the category would otherwise be overbroad. For the purposes of this exercise, fantasy means swords and magic.  I’m excluding animated films. Live action only.

Let’s step right through the wardrobe, shall we?

Tolkien Birthday Celebration

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Kennedy School for the J.R.R. Tolkien Birthday Bash on Saturday. The recent inclement weather is the likely culprit for this year’s rather sparse attendance. (Seriously, I saw a couple guys on cross-country skis crossing the street when I left.) So I suppose there isn’t much to report. I brought the family with me, thinking the Heir Apparent would be old enough to enjoy some of the activities, maybe enjoy the costumes. But I only saw one person in costume. Due to naptime considerations (no, not mine, wiseass) and the condition of the roads we left before any of the planned events began (except for the commencement of the trilogy showing in the theater, but I’d just as soon sit at home for a re-watch.)

Dreams and the Perilous Realm

At what point during parenthood do you begin getting a full night’s sleep again. I’m nearly at the three-year mark and I’m still not there. I’m tired. I mention this because I was considering today’s post with my head on my wife’s shoulder. She asked if was sleeping, or thinking, or dreaming. I asked if I could do all three. Because, as I just alluded to, I’m tired. But that exchange brought to mind a paper I’d written during college, back in the antediluvian days of the late 1980s-early 1990s for a class on “The Lord of the Rings.” Yes, I received university credit for re-reading the trilogy. I’m not ashamed. The point is, I wrote about dreams, and the perilous realm, and seeing beyond the veil within the context of LOTR. So, I figure it is appropriate for a post on this here web log of mine.

Tolkien’s Birthday Commemoration

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Yesterday marked the birth date of Jonathan Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Had flights of Maia not called him home in 1973 he’d be pushing the Old Took for longevity records, but still shy of Bilbo’s Ring-assisted accomplishment.

An admirable man, a man I’d like to have met. Of course given that I was all of four years old when he died that wish falls into the category of sheer fantasy. And I’ve still not been to England. I’ve not visited the Professor’s gravesite, not had a pint at the Bird and Baby. Any connection I have to the man remains the written word.

And that’s remarkable. The power of Tolkien’s story and his (underrated) ability to tell the story leads to annual tributes such as this from people who have no personal connection to the man at all. Talk about a legacy.

To an extent we are all living in the world Tolkien created. Not his Middle-Earth, but our media saturated world of video games and fantasy films, all of which owe a debt to his writing. That’s a topic others have dealt with in depth, but it is worth at least recognizing. (Example picked from the internet’s upturned hat.)

When I sit down to write fantasy I’m forced to acknowledge Tolkien’s vast shadow. That acknowledgement for me comes in the form of deliberately steering clear of dwarves (note the ‘v’, another of Tolkien’s influences), elves, and hobbit analogs. You can pile “Lord of the Rings” homages high enough to rebuild Barad-dûr. That’s fine. I like pizza, I don’t mind new pizzerias putting pepperoni on the menu. But I don’t want to emulate that pie when I’m sweating before the brick oven.

So here’s to the good Professor. One way or another we all shelter in his shadow. I, for one, am grateful for the shade.

 

Happiness and Endings

We look for happy endings. But there are no endings. Except, y’know, death. The story may stop, but it doesn’t end, only the narration ceases at a particular moment, a transition to some other event the author doesn’t record.

Everyone is looking for a little slice of paradise. No one finds it. At best it’s transitory, that blissful stretch in Margaritaville where the beer is too cold and the daiquiri too fruitiful. And then the bar tab arrives and you come back to earth, or the hangover arrives, or you roll over in bed and see that you just might have made a huge mistake.

It’s all cyclical. Every paradise contains the seeds of its own hell. And we’re all capable of creating our own individual circles of the inferno. James Branch Cabell knew this. Read “Jurgen.” Our humble protagonist, the pawnbroker Jurgen, is given a second chance at youth, a chance to avoid all the errors of his life. But of course he simply makes a similar sequence of mistakes, complicit in his own miseries. It’s what we do.

No true story has a happy ending. J.R.R. Tolkien writes of the ‘eucatastrophe’ in which the tides abruptly shift, bringing a wave of happiness. But even “Lord of the Rings” ends on a bittersweet note. “The Princess Bride” (the book, not the film) get it exactly right, cycling from ‘the happy ending’ on to the immediate difficulties that follow.

Of course some seem to like the problems. E.R. Eddison’s “The Worm Ouroboros” for example deliberately eschews peace exchange for an immediate reset to turmoil. Less boring, you see. I do see, but I for one could put up with the occasional stretch of boredom for a corresponding length of peace.

But, that’s life. We know it from infancy. Watch a baby through the day transitioning endlessly from delighted wonder to wailing despair. “And they all lived happily ever after” is rightly confined to children’s fables. Stories, if they are honest, reflect the fragile and temporary nature of happiness.

I suppose that’s how it ought to be. Things are defined by opposition. How could we recognize happiness without a bit of misery? What would we have to look forward to, to strive for? In that respect, the emotional cycle is a boon, right?

How’s that for a happy ending?