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Excellent LOTR commentary: A Ring For Our Times
The Claremont Institute, via ^ | Thursday, December 20, 2001 | Mark Gauvreau Judge

Posted on 12/22/2001 10:25:00 AM PST by Gelato

A Ring For Our Times

Thursday, December 20, 2001

Exactly, completely, irrefutable wrong. Totally wrong. Unbelievably, bizarrely, brazenly wrong.

Mark Gauvreau Judge

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Anthony Lane writes about how he discovered J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy as a boy, how proud he was to have read it, and how he even pretended to be Frodo Baggins. But when he summarizes why he thinks Lord of the Rings is essentially a young boy's book, he goes disastrously off course:

"It is a book that bristles with bravado, and yet to give into it -- to cave in to it, as most of us did on first reading -- betrays a certain nerdishness, a reluctance to face the finer shades of life, that verges on the cowardly. . . . women leave their girlhood behind with a glance, while men keep looking over their shoulders at the vanishing Shire and ask themselves if it might still be possible, or proper, to head back to their hole in the ground. And so, against out better judgment, we will troop into the film and start to replace the world outside with the more vibrant and momentous one within, the one that Tolkien taught us to prefer."
Astonishing. Lane managed to plow through 1,077 pages of Tolkien and somehow ends up at the antipode of what "The Lord of the Rings" really means.

"The Lord of the Rings" is about dying and about duty. It is about leaving adolescence, venturing into the cruel and dangerous world, sacrificing for others and making the right moral choices even if it kills you. It is precisely not about being able to return to the Shire.

By now, the plot of the story is fairly well-known: Frodo, a little creature known as a hobbit, comes into possession of a powerful ring, which he must attempt to destroy before it falls into evil hands. Along the way there is an abundance of Teutonic and Celtic myth, organic earthiness and truly terrifying encounters with evil. When all is said and done, everybody is changed. Frodo is wounded, demoralized -- indeed, unable to function in the world. He, in fact, has sacrificed his life.

Astonishingly, Lane claims that all of us self-conscious, nostalgic boys -- no, girls aren't like that at all! -- want to hide in the Shire for the rest of our lives. What Lane neglects to mention is that when Frodo returns from his journey, there is no Shire left to hide in. Evil has followed him home. Tolkien couldn't be more clear: you can't go home again. But that shouldn't prevent you from doing the right thing anyway.

When the first volume, the "Fellowship of the Ring," was first published half-a-century ago, a New York Times critic offered up this terse assessment: "This is not for children." That seems especially valid today.

Indeed, the movie's timing could not be better. We can see a number of similarities between Tolkien's story and our present situation. Frodo doesn't go out on a quest to vanquish evil -- because of his laziness and reluctance to leave the sunny Shire where he lives, the evil comes to him in the form of "the black riders." He barely escapes to the Elvish city of Rivendell, where he begins to learn that the world is much bigger and more different than he thought. He confides to the wizard Gandalf that he doesn't quite understand the human member of the fellowship, Aragorn, who claims to be a dethroned king even thought he is only what the hobbits call a "Ranger," i.e., a drifter. He is immediately put straight by Gandalf: "Only a Ranger!" cries Gandalf. "My dear Frodo, that is just what the Rangers are: the last remnant in the North of the great people, the Men of the West. They have helped me before; and I shall need their help in the days to come; for we have reached Rivendell, but the Ring is not yet at rest."

The hobbits later learn that the shire has been so peaceful for so long because Aragorn and the other Rangers have been protecting it. But times have changed. In Gandalf's words, "The world is all around you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out."

Although Tolkien never intended his Ring cycle to serve as a parable of his time, it isn't difficult see the story as a reflection of our own. Like Frodo, America dallied and slept in our Shire as "the shadow grew in the East"; like the hobbits, we viewed our own protectors in the military and intelligence services as unwanted. There are also reminders of Americas own traitors, who even now, amazingly, are blaming us for what happened on September 11.

In "The Lord of the Rings," the good wizard Saruman the White goes over to the enemy. Tellingly, his white robes changed to a multicolored hue, perhaps representative of the multiculturalism and fraudulent globalism that have obsessed us in recent years.

Gandalf is not impressed. "I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered."

"'I liked the white better,' I said."

"'White!' he sneered. 'It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.'"

"'In which case it is no longer white,' said I. 'And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.'"

Later on, Gandalf is asked what will happen if the fellowship succeeds? Will that be the end of the Shadow? No, he answers. The Shadow can be driven back into the East, but not conquered. It can reform over time. Our job, he tells them, is simply to -- and these are my clumsy words -- fight the good fight while we're here. To do what God has put us here to do in the time that He has put us here. It is also, at least according to Tolkien, to have mercy.

What is amazing is how much more real all of this seems than the reality-based entertainment that has come into vogue in the last few years. The movie critic Michael Medved once said that many of the great films are about one thing: duty. In "It's A Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart wants to escape Bedford Falls and see the world, but his connections there hold him back. In Casablanca, Bogart stays behind. Duty (and, by extension, sacrifice) is what the Lord of the Rings is all about.

Some may think that tying this dark hour of history to a fantasy novel is insensitive, even vulgar. I think that's misguided. This is a time of war, and at such times, what the world needs isn't love, but moral clarity. The Lord of the Rings serves as a brilliant metaphor for the current crisis. Re-read the book. See the movie. You will be better for it.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: tolkien
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1 posted on 12/22/2001 10:25:00 AM PST by Gelato
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To: Gelato;ecurbh;Texas2Step
Thank you for the post.... I go today, finally, to see it.

Pinging the Ring Ping King!

2 posted on 12/22/2001 10:31:11 AM PST by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
Good for you! I can't wait to see it.
3 posted on 12/22/2001 10:41:34 AM PST by Gelato
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To: Gelato
What are you waiting for? - I was waiting until my brother could go, or I would have been in line with the other geeks on Wed.
4 posted on 12/22/2001 10:51:17 AM PST by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
Thanks for the bump! I saw it last night. Don't have time for a full review, maybe later this evening. But it was INCREDIBLE!!! I had extremely high expectations, and it met every single one.

One word of advice, don't go looking for what is there, or what is not, just let yourself get caught up in it all and get carried away. It's that kind of movie!

5 posted on 12/22/2001 11:05:12 AM PST by Texas2step
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To: jrherreid; HairOfTheDog; RosieCotton; billbears; ObfusGate; austinTparty; Texas2step; billbears...
6 posted on 12/22/2001 11:17:23 AM PST by ecurbh
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To: Texas2step
I have no intention of picking at the details, only enjoying the telling of it. And I am not beginning my re-read of the books until AFTER the film, so the fog of forgetfulness regarding the little things will only help.

Gee - 7.5 hours till it starts.... you think I should start getting ready yet?

7 posted on 12/22/2001 11:25:08 AM PST by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog
What are you waiting for? - I was waiting until my brother could go,

This is, in a small way, what the review was about, to do your duty, and not do the easier thing. (Of course waiting to go with your brother is likely less of a burder than bearing the Ring).

8 posted on 12/22/2001 12:31:30 PM PST by Lucius Cornelius Sulla
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To: Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Hee Hee... yes, this has been a bearable burden :~)
9 posted on 12/22/2001 12:41:04 PM PST by HairOfTheDog
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To: Gelato
Lord of the Rings is absolutely the best movie I've ever seen. I'd encourage everyone to go.
10 posted on 12/22/2001 1:04:31 PM PST by Tax Government
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To: Gelato
A correction:

Frodo was NOT demoralized. He had grown great in wisdom and bravery. He was also functional and loving, and finished Bilbo and Frodo's book. But he had seen enough evil, and seen what the world had to offer -- and literally chose God and God's presence over staying in Middle-earth. His ending is sad for Middle-earth but NOT for Frodo :-)

11 posted on 12/22/2001 2:43:59 PM PST by Cascadians
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To: Cascadians
Good insight.

It's been a few years since I've read the books, so I can't quite recall if Frodo was "demoralized," but I do remember he was somberly affected by his experience.

12 posted on 12/22/2001 4:12:02 PM PST by Gelato
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To: Gelato
In the books, Frodo's wounds from Weathertop, Shelob, and from the great burden of bearing the Ring, all combined to weigh heavily on him in his later years.
13 posted on 12/22/2001 4:19:22 PM PST by FreedomPoster
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To: Gelato
I wouldn't say that Frodo is demoralized either. He IS changed and he can never go back to being the carefree, happy hobbit he is at the story's beginning. If you want a parallel to Frodo, think of the survivors of a battle like D-Day, in which one knows that one did what one must and would do it again, but still bears the scars of the experience.
14 posted on 12/22/2001 7:40:50 PM PST by PMCarey
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To: Tolkien
15 posted on 01/12/2002 6:49:15 PM PST by Marianne
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To: HairOfTheDog
How do I get on the Ring Ping list. I have a daughter who is passionate about LOTR. She wears a jacket where she designed and made with the words of the ring inscribed on one arm in silver...she talks about it non stop. She is learning the elvish language...need I say more?

She has asked me to find more articles about LOTR.

16 posted on 12/17/2002 3:05:52 PM PST by mlmr
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To: mlmr; ecurbh
Well, ecurbh is the king of the ring ping! So that will get you pinged to new stuff!

Most of the new Lord of the Rings stuff is over in the General Interest side... Not the news side where this one is. There is a Topic called the Hobbit Hole that we file all the Lord of the rings posts under, if they are posted over there where we like them.. The topic is not to be confused with the thread called the Hobbit Hole where we chit/chat. You can subscribe to the topic as a sidebar, or find The Hobbit Hole from the FR Home page under Dailies. Clear as mud? Check that out for starters!

Browse Topic: Hobbit Hole

How old is your daughter?

17 posted on 12/17/2002 3:37:36 PM PST by HairOfTheDog
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To: HairOfTheDog

How old are you?

18 posted on 12/17/2002 4:15:03 PM PST by mlmr
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To: 2Jedismom; Alkhin; Anitius Severinus Boethius; AUsome Joy; austinTparty; Bear_in_RoseBear; ...

Ring Ping!!

19 posted on 12/17/2002 4:16:23 PM PST by ecurbh
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To: mlmr
Oh I am an old 35 yearish lady....

Was wondering if she was old enough to FReep, you could get her a login! But our youngest regular in the hobbit hole is 20 I think, and most of us are old! So I don't know if we would be interesting for her.
20 posted on 12/17/2002 4:19:05 PM PST by HairOfTheDog
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