I love fantasy. When I was a small kid, I used to watch a lot of cartoons. Watching them, I got drawn to the fantastic elements. The things which were really impossible to perform in real life like making fire, flying, going from one place to another in the snap of a second, traveling to a world filled with exotic and wonderful creatures. These things can hold the attention any child, but not all of them can keep their love into teenage and adulthood. It is not a bad thing per se. People just get comfortable with reality and find their time accosted by it (or their minds have been shattered by society).
Even I have forgotten many of these fantasies.
However, there is one story filled with magic and such wonder, I and as well as the people well into their old age still have it in their minds and hearts and dream of it. They are still fascinated by it, amazed at such a tale was able to be told. It is none other than The Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of The Rings is an epic fantasy story written by J. R. R. Tolkien. A story so long for it had to be published in three volumes, each volume consisting of six books.
Lord of The Rings has stood the test of time, transcending something akin to high literature without being overly boring, of course, which is quite an achievement. It has been adapted into animation, radio, stage, and the faithful live action movies.
The story has been much beloved and even critics can’t help but be lost somewhere along the way into analyzing it.
People love it for many reasons. Some love it for the great battles, others for the great epic heroes in the form of men and elves, of powerful wizards who are always on time ever late nor early. Not to forget, the movies gave the story, one of the most iconic soundtracks ever made. God bless Howard Shore. Excellent use of CGI also must be mentioned with the practical make-ups of the orcs and goblins.
I agree with all these sentiments, yet I must say, I like Lord of The Rings for different reasons entirely. These are small nuances, very subtle but felt altogether and serve as little details to the big picture which are very easy to miss. But, these are the most important aspects which make up the story. If these were taken out, I have no doubt in my mind, the story would completely fall apart what it truly meant to be. These are the heart and soul of Lord of The Rings and these are the reasons why I love The Lord of The Rings.
Be warned for I will take the reference of both books and movies, but it will be easy to follow through. Also, beware of spoilers!
The Importance of The Shire
The Shire is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place ever conceived in either page or film. It does not have the majestic marvel of the elves dwelling place Rivendell, or the magical warmth of Tom Bombadil’s house in the Old Forest, what it has is the simplistic nature of a countryside with holes in the ground. No, not smelly, dirty or wet holes filled with worms–hobbit holes, which mean comfort.
The Shire can be said to be the closest to a physical paradise. While there may be some pesky neighbors trying their best to get your house for themselves, and the folks might not like you adventuring around very much, it is still a lovely place.
The importance of The Shire lies in the fact in its timelessness. While the Elven realm’s splendor is maintained thanks to the three rings of power, and Tom Bombadil seems to possess immense power over the boundaries of his land, affecting them at his command, and while the race of Men has neglected the nature, the Shire stands by itself. There is no magic involved, just hobbits living there eating and celebrating their days and nights.
The Shire has even been able to endear itself to Gandalf, who has been all over Middle-Earth from olden days and has seen many wonderful places.
It is very much adored by all who visit, but the most who must have is none other than Frodo Baggins.
The very first scene in the movie (after the narration) is Frodo sitting under a tree, while ‘Concerning Hobbits’ plays in the background. Quite many of the first scenes of the first movie are taken of the Shire, such regard is not provided to the same extent to Rivendell or Lothlórien or Bree or Gondor. It is the Shire which holds precedence over all and for a very good reason.
To illustrate my point, Frodo agrees to be the ring-bearer, to take it to a journey to Rivendell nearly getting killed and even then volunteering to make the trek to Mount Doom in Mordor to destroy it. Frodo was a hobbit. He wasn’t foolish or very brave. He was not a fighter or a tactician.
Frodo was afraid, yet he found courage in his heart for he knew if the enemy gained the ring, his home could be destroyed. He did it for The Shire. Not for honor, glory or revenge, but simply to save his homeplace. He loved the Shire, as Bilbo Baggins had earlier said to Gandalf about how Frodo loved the Shire too much for him to go with Bilbo.
If this does not make you believe me, listen to the soundtrack. There are iterations of a piece you must hear from time to time in the three movies. They are named ‘Concerning Hobbits’, ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’, ‘Many Meetings’, ‘Samwise the Brave’, and ‘The Return of the King’. If you check, you will find them listed under the heading called ‘The Sound of The Shire’.
The Shire was always there through out the books and movies.
The War Didn’t Matter
Now let me tell this out. By saying the war didn’t matter, I am not denying its severity in any form. War is hell. War brings the worst out of us. There are no winners, only those who are left. This is true to what J. R. R. Tolkien thought when he served in the first World War.
In the Lord of The Rings, the war is a looming threat driving the heroes to undertake the journey, but to me, I felt it just served as background noise, small and hushed to the real important things happening in the midst of it.
Many fantasy stories have some form of conflict in them in the form of war. In which the forces of evil and good fight to decide the victor. Literary epics like The Iliad, Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Mahabharata, etc, have large-scale wars in them. It is all about restoring order and justice. But Lord of The Rings is different. Yes, there is the threat of a war, but the story was never about the battle. Lord of The Rings acted as a subversion of war epics.
It may be very hard to understand in the amazing action scenes, but Lord of The Rings is a fantasy story where war was recognized as fruitless and so instead of themes like good vs. evil, vanquishing of the bad people, it is about preventing the war. The journey is not for honor, or glory, or respect, as pointed earlier and added further, it is to protect Middle-Earth and its inhabitants. All the kings, knights and elves are doing it to protect Middle-Earth, just like Frodo is doing it to protect the Shire.
It seems people seem to forget about it (especially those who have watched the films). It must be because, in the latter two of the three films, characters like Gandalf and Aragorn were put in the front. Their task was to gather support, rally their men, fight for Helm’s Deep and prepare for the worst, while Frodo’s journey was given lesser gravity. I can understand this in making the movies show more exciting stuff, but it did hamper the meaning of the story by a little bit.
At the end, there was a little skirmish but, the war was stopped before it could gather a bigger flame. It was an epic fantasy where war was stopped. Stopping the war was a greater priority than fighting the war.
The Quiet and The Voiced
There are scenes in the trilogy of both the films and the books, where nothing happens, where characters just stay there and moments are quiet. Other times they keep talking on and on. Now, from a general perspective, it does not advance the plot much. The quiet moments could be cut off and the conversations could be exchanged for action to convey the information, but I feel taking these things out will take away from experiencing the true beauty of the story.
I watched the films first before I read the books. I didn’t know the part of the story which was spent in Farmer Maggot’s farm. So while I read the book, I, myself, had the urge to skip this side bit. But, as I read it, I found a certain charm in the following part of the book. Reading passage after passage, I found myself in the low lights of Farmer Maggot’s house, and at the dinner table. I saw him, his family, the tired hobbits bathing and singing a song they learned from Bilbo. The anxiety of Frodo with Farmer Maggot for he used to steal in his younger days and kindness of the farmer.
Again, cut from the films, the meeting with Tom Bombadil. The enigmatic, strange and master of the Old Forest, meeting Goldberry, the trick with the ring, it was more than just mere world-building, it was enjoying the story not to finish it, not to reach the final destination, but to immerse in the journey which was being undertaken. The threat of the enemy loomed above constantly, but the magic of the world could not be denied.
Similarly, the characters talk a lot in this movie. There is a lot of exposition, but it is in a way which is made believable in the context of the journey. But these interactions give them a sense of presence. Most of the time, in movies and stories, only the important dialogues are shown, which are rich in exposition but lack emotion and weight. This is a kind of mistake, to only show what is important. Yes, it makes for a tighter paced story but it will start to feel unreal. Reading some of the newer novels, like even the one I have liked very much, they seem to feel like somebody has compiled all the action scenes of a movie and uploaded it.
The books have started to feel incredibly fast like there is no moment to relax, and of course, it is made to be more interesting, making sure the reader will turn every page, utilizing cliff hangers, snappy dialogues, witty remarks at the end of a conversation. The books seem to be trying too hard to pull the reader into the story instead of trying to let the reader follow it at their own pace. At times, even a medium-sized novel becomes exhausting and makes me want to just get from everyday life.
However, even as long as a movie The Lord of The Rings is, it is never exhausting. The pacing is never off, there is a sense of progression. The dialogue is not only for exposition or character development, but they are there for emotion, just small talk as friends would do on a journey. In layman’s terms, they feel natural.
There are no unimportant details to be taken out. Everything is there to be read, to be enjoyed being read. Everything is there to be watched and enjoyed being watched. What makes this occurrence in the books quite logical is J. R. R. Tolkien wanted to write a story for himself. He wasn’t an author, but a professor. Simply, he was not an author. He was a writer writing a story which he wanted to enjoy.
Lord of The Rings has a special place in my heart among many other people. Its great world-building, lore, themes, and narrative still have me spellbound after all these years. It is not an epic perse, it is not the journey of a king, or queen, or knight. It is the journey of a hobbit, a simple creature with loyal friends by his side, who shaped the landscape of all ages to come. For while great men keep their eyes far out, it is the simple men, gentle and kind, who remain true in dark times.
I would like to end this essay on this quote by Gandalf which I feel, summarizes the essence of what I loved about it.
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.