I've seen these movies several times. I read Tolkien many years ago, and I always thought the movies were an incredible achievement. I'm not one who knows every scene and all the lines, though. I know the storyline, and enjoy the movies, but I'm not the kind of fan who names their children Arwen. I am the sort of fan who adores Viggo Mortenson as both the dirty, sweaty Aragorn and the cleaned up version. I am the sort of fan who thinks Orlando Bloom makes one sexy elf. I am the sort of fan who enjoyed the movies in a rather superficial sense, loving the cinematography and the epic feel of the story. Last night, though, as so often happens when you do something for the first time with your child, I watched the movie with new eyes.
During the opening scenes it was just as I first thought when I arrived in Ireland and decided that Tolkien must have been inspired by his time there to write of the shire and hobbits. Even though the movie was filmed in New Zealand the depiction of the shire is as Irish as the Emerald Isle itself. There is even speculation that Tolkien based some of the story on Irish legends and myths, although I don't know enough of these to have an opinion. My daughter and I both marvelled, though, at how the shire reminded us of the Irish countryside, and how the lives of the hobbits could have been modelled on that of ancient rural Irish folk.
As the movie played on, though, I saw past the spectacular cinematography and realized that Tolkien's themes are almost exactly the lessons parents try to impart to their children. I was actually mildly astonished at how I'd sort of missed that in previous viewings - I'd always enjoyed the story but hadn't given much thought to the ideas behind it.
There is, of course, the loyalty of Samwise Gamgee, who may not be the brightest hobbit but proves to be the most faithful. Frodo is leaving to continue his mission to Mordor, and tells Sam he is going to Mordor alone. Sam's reply? "Of course you are, and I'm going with you!". Who hasn't wished to have a best friend like that, who will follow you in good times and bad, never leaving your side even if you tell them to?
There is Aragorn, who struggles with his own fear of weakness and is not sure if he can embrace his destiny to be king. He is so courageous, and yet he knows that even the bravest and strongest cannot know for certain that they will always choose the right path. He does not know if he can be what the world of humans needs, but of course none of us know if we can be what those around us need.
There is Boromir, the human who struggles with his own desires and that which he knows to be right. When Boromir attacks Frodo and attempts to take the ring my daughter asked what happened to Boromir to make him act in such a way. I explained that he was so blinded by his own desire for the ring and the power that he would do anything he could to get it, even betraying one he had sworn to protect. I told her that this happens often, and people will do anything - plagiarize a book, rob a bank, cheat investors - to attain something they want. It's a struggle people face every day, and with things with far less power than the One Ring. Boromir of course redeems himself when Merry and Pippin are attacked by Orcs, and he fights to the death to protect them. This is a powerful depiction of how even those who have done wrong can redeem themselves by choosing the right path. As I always do I cried when Boromir died, arrows protruding from his chest as the Orcs storm past him.
There are Merry and Pippin, those mischievous hobbits who seem a bit silly and always doing the wrong thing - and yet when the Orcs are about to find Frodo they take what seems to be a suicidal path and convince the Orcs to follow them so Frodo can escape. Only true friends would take such a risk.
There are Legolas and Gimli, who swear to help Frodo achieve destruction of the One Ring, and who not only put themselves in danger but into alliance with each other to do so. This speaks to the ability to work with those we distrust to attain a common goal, and to perhaps even find unexpected friendship along the way.
There is, of course, Gandalf. Gandalf is the mentor we all wish we could have, the one whose words we carry even when they have left our lives. When Frodo expresses his wish that the ring had never come to him Gandalf replies that everyone who lives through such times wishes these things, but that we don't usually have the choice of the time we have, only what we do with that time. How often do people wish they didn't carry a burden, that it had fallen to someone else instead of them? Do we spend time lamenting being given such a task, or do we simply choose how we will deal with that burden, and then do it? These are words to live by, my friends.
And there is Frodo, the hobbit who seems too small to carry the One Ring to it's destruction. The fate of the world rides on Frodo's shoulders, and it weighs on him heavily. Frodo, though, doesn't give up, and somehow manages to keep going despite injury and grief. He accepts his fate and while he doesn't know if he will succeed he forges on. How frightened he must be, as we all are when we face things we don't understand or think we cannot achieve. Frodo provides perhaps the most powerful lesson of all - that even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
By the time the credits rolled I realized I had seen the movie and the story in a way I never had before. I looked at my daughter and thought that perhaps these movies should be required viewing for every child of a certain age as they depict so many of the lessons that we as parents try to teach. It's not only children who can benefit from these stories though. So many adults could use a refresher in these lessons of loyalty, faith, trust, and courage. When Tolkien wrote he wrote not of elves and dwarves, hobbits and wizards - he wrote of all of us.
Into The West, Lord of the Rings Soundtrack