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The Lord of the Rings

I Hit People Who Label It As Wizard and Dragon Fantasy

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 05, 2001.

On December 19, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings debuts, I assume here in Boulder. The book by John Ronald Reul Tolkien is among my very favorites, and I am looking forward to a movie as I have not for decades. Like some of you, I really like Tolkien and am protective of this terrific story of a pre-Christian Europe. Unlike any of you, I am the world's greatest authority and biggest fan; some of you disagree, but what do you know? Deal with it. I'm fifty-three and excited about a silly movie. It doesn't happen often.

I worry. A main character has been removed, Tom Bombadil. For those of you not clear on this, Lord of the Rings is about good and evil, bearing a not weak link to the Satan and the fallen angels of the Bible. On the evil side, we have Morgoth, who does not play a role, and whose second in command, Sauron, is the Lord of the Rings. Sauron has seven witch kings, the Nazgul, who work for him controlled by the rings he gave them, as he tried to corrupt elves, dwarves, and man with other rings. On the good side, Tom Bombadil is, if not god himself, the next thing to it. Nothing can harm him. He is the oldest living creature. He has been written out of the movie.

Tolkien wrote rather eloquently about what he called Faerie, which is the genre and mindset of those who believe in animism and the revocation of the pathetic fallacy. Which is to say, for all his very Catholic longings, Tolkien believed in elves, races of dwarves, and a variation of the Leprechaun called Hobbits, his creation. His elves were not little creatures, but dark and tall of great beauty and originally immortal who came from over the sea in a series of adventures that owe much to Plato and Atlantis. Tolkien's elves do not have Spock-like ears, as he wrote in his famous piece On Faerie. In the movie, they do, and it bugs me.

Tolkien also samples the Elder Edda and all the mythology of Northern Europe. His evil creatures called Orcs are stolen from Blake and other writers, but originally an Orc was clearly a Hun of Attila in their animal skins and Oriental faces. One of the great sub stories of Lord of the Rings involves the family of Rohan, an actual noble family of Gaul that went back thousands of years.

Hobbits, Tolkien's heroes, are clearly British and clearly often Cockney. Tolkien believed in class, and this social striation lacerates the Shire, the Hobbit home. There is an awful lot of the politically incorrect about Middle Earth, the Hobbit planet. And bizarre omissions. There are no dogs or cats, only wolves. Ponies and horses are the only tamed animals, though eagles talk.

What made it work is the extremely detailed and magical way in which he imbues lands, races, creatures, and trees with personalities, histories, and separate cultures. His writing, which C. S. Lewis said contained a beauty to break your heart, actually sings in memory. To this day I can quote entire passages of the books, or think I can. Without trying.

Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as one volume. It was Ballantine, the publishers, who broke it into three parts and gave them the names which the movie has followed. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, the Return of the King. Tolkien sold the movie rights for about $12,000 in 1968. I have seen the trailer for the movie, and for all my fears of a bomb, I suspect it will be either the biggest success of all time or the next thing to it. If there is an contemporary example of why copyright and literary license - and movie rights - ought to be changed, there it is. The family Tolkien ought not to be deprived of the great finances so generated by this movie.

George Lucas, who bought into the trilogy concept and lifted entire characters for Star Wars, Gene Roddenberry for Star Trek, and a thousand and one lessers owe Middle Earth big time. I hope beyond hope that this movie will drive new generations back to the books that I cheerfully recall as among the most enjoyable reading experiences, or perhaps just experiences, of my life. I wish those who are done with Harry Potter will continue the great quest of the Hobbits, Strider, Legolas, Gimli, and will retain initial impressions of the Mines of Moriah, Helms Deep, Rivendale, and Mordor. I wish it were all true, because I am a victim of Tolkien's theory and example of sub-creation, and want a world of clear good and evil and friends of which you suspect not, transformation, and spiritual bonds.

That is very unlike me. Such is Tolkien's claim. This is Dark Cloud.