Today would have been a great day in my life if it was twelve years earlier, or if I were twelve years younger.
Let me explain.
I had the privilege of being in college when the original Lord of the Rings movies were released. Fellowship was released in December of 2001, when I was a sophomore. The Two Towers arrived my junior year, and The Return of the King during my senior year.
And it was a big deal, let me tell you.
Back then, I knew the names of all nine members of the fellowship. I could pronounce Maedhros correctly. I could discuss the merits of Book 4 relative to Book 3. This made me a moderate LotR fan. (The serious LotR fans were able to name Thorin’s ancestors for seventeen generations and conjugate Elvish verbs.)
Back then, at college, the movies were big events. I’d guess that on the night each one was released, about two thirds of the student body showed up at the nearest theater for the midnight screening. It was the social event of the season.
Why? Can’t really say. When I was nineteen or twenty years old, there was something immeasurably cool about watching vast armies chopping each other to pieces. The fact that the armies were entirely digital, with no physical existence to speak, did not reduce the coolness of it. It was cool. It was awesome. It was amazing.
Thirteen years later, it’s no longer cool or awesome or amazing to me. I would venture to say that if someone rounded up those hundreds of Harvey Mudd students who sat is lines outside the theater for six hours in December of 2002, most of the them would express similar feelings. Hence I’ve not bothered to see any of the Hobbit movies.
Why is a particular movie–or anything, for that matter–cool at one stage of life and uninspiring at a later stage? I don’t know. Somebody should investigate that question.
Five or six years ago, I read The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison and, like so many others, I was blown away by it. Eddison, for the unenlightened, was among the first great fantasy authors. He wrote a generation before Tolkien first produced The Hobbit, at a time when little epic fantasy existed and there were no rules for the genre. And he wrote well. The Worm Ouroboros is a triumph of action and adventure, larger-than-life personalities in equally large landscapes, magic, mystery, romance, and pure writing skill. For his style and subject, Eddison looked back towards ancient epics and fairy tales, but blended them with a plot and characters worthy of a 500-page novel.
Given its greatness, you’d expect me to start immediately on Eddison’s other fantasy work: The Zimiamvia Trilogy, wouldn’t you? I’d expect me to do so too. Strange things happen in my reading career, however. Since I first became a voracious science fiction and fantasy geek, I’ve discovered scores of excellent authors. I don’t have time to finish the oeuvre of one before I discover the next. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single author out there for whom I’ve read the complete published works. I will, of course, pick up Eddison’s trilogy someday. Just don’t ask me which day.
I already used up Gone with the Wind for my favorite female character, and I’m determined not to include any book twice. The Princess Bride became one of my favorite movies, but I don’t like the book. I guess I’ll go with this:Some folks like The Lord of the Rings, some don’t. I’m among those who do. I find the book to be majestic, very well written, and highly creative. I can easily see the reason why it became the basis for almost all adventure fantasy of the past fifty years, as well as inspiring who knows how many pieces of art, TV shows, movies, games, and more. On the other hand, I can also see why some folks find the book obtuse, wordy, and boring. The Lord of the Rings is surely an acquired taste. However, it’s one that a whole lot of persons have acquired.
J. R. R. Tolkien, we must understand, was not an ordinary man. He was a professor at Oxford in the early part of the twentieth century. His topic was ancient languages and literature. Thus, his academic career involved immersing himself in archaic texts and works that most of us have never heard of, sometimes written in languages that most of us have never heard of. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he was mildly eccentric. However, if he didn’t fit with the modern world, that may tell us more about the modern world than about Tolkien. He tried to be a model of the type of English gentleman that was disappearing in his own time and has totally disappeared now.
That such a man should produce was is possibly the most famous entertainment of the twentieth century is surprising to say the least, almost as unlikely as a carpenter becoming the most influential person in history. However, if one reads Tolkien’s books it becomes a little bit less surprising. If nothing else, he did immerse his readers fully in a fictional world. No other fantasy author can provide such amazing wealth of detail, can allow us to fall so completely into the landscapes, the social scenes, and the battles of a world that never existed