Obsession of the Week: Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings is a long standing obsession for me since I first read it in 1977.  There are so many reasons for this that it will take a series of posts; otherwise the one would be so long that I will lose my reader before I get to the end.  Since everything I have to say is SO important, I certainly don’t want to do that.

Let’s start at the beginning: Why is The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings worth the time it takes to read/watch it?

First and foremost it is a great, entertaining tale.  It is set in a world called Middle-earth that could have been ours, long, long ago, when it was still wild and undeveloped, full of beautiful, mystical places and creatures: secluded utopias; dark, haunted forests; buried treasure caves; ill-tempered dragons; stupid, hobbit- and dwarf- eating trolls; monsters of all shapes and sizes (see Balrog);  and people who have connections to nature that give them mystical powers that we all wish would truly exist.  Everything that you come across as you follow their adventure is a living, sentient being with its own agenda and power, from the different humanoids–wizards, hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins, etc–to those that in our world are only mindless creatures with no voice–such as spiders, eagles, and trees.

The stories focus on the experiences of hobbits. Hobbits are funny little people with hairy feet who love to party.  Just when you think they are the comic relief, you find that at their core they are made of stronger stuff and step up to the plate when duty and adventure call.  Of course their adventures are more exciting and exotic than those likely to call to us, but who doesn’t hope, as we lounge in front of our TV’s eating our Pringles or Doritos, that if something exciting knocks on the door we will “Seize the Day.”  Even now, sitting on the sofa with the computer on my lap, I can see my front door and wonder what if?  What if some stranger came to call?  Would I accept a challenge to see what I am really made of?  What am I really made of?

Bilbo and Frodo are hobbits who accept their calls to action when they are dropped on their doorstep.  Now comes the cast of characters that excite the imagination.  The first is a very wizardy-looking wizard named Gandalf  who believes the hobbits are extraordinary when everyone else dismisses them.  Next come the gruff dwarves (too many to name) with masses and masses of gold and jewels and cavernous, mind-blowing halls hollowed out of ancient mountains.  There are elves, too; not Santa’s elves with stocking caps and pointy shoes, but tall, beautiful, powerful elves, who are the original inhabitants of this earth and masters of every skill from war to swordmaking to architecture to art. Trees called Ents walk and talk in this world and have the ability to strike back at those who would destroy them and their habitat.

The bad guys have the good grace to look like bad guys, all evil and twisted and disgusting, the baddest one being Sauron who is only a great lidless, flaming eye.  The orcs are entirely and completely grotesque and even their blood is black.   Some, like Sauruman the wizard, start out looking friendly, but gradually show their decay like the portrait of Dorian Gray.

Finally there are men–us–who tend to be self-centered and self-righteous, but also brave and self-sacrificing.

I want to be brave and self-sacrificing.  When I am with them on their adventures in the books/movies, I am.

Now to the adventures.  The Hobbit is a fun little tale about Bilbo Baggins accompanying a group of rowdy dwarves through many dangerous and remarkable days to a mountain with a ton of treasure and a huge, angry, deadly dragon.  It is Bilbo’s duty to get rid of the dragon so the dwarves can get their treasure back. So here’s the scene–a little guy who loves eating and drinking and quiet nights at home faces a giant, angry flying monster who can incinerate him with a breath.  If you are thinking this is both comical and terrifying, you are absolutely right.

And oh, by the way, Bilbo accidently happens upon a ring when he is lost in a cave, which he wins in a battle of wits with a weird, pale, slimy creature called Gollum.  The ring makes Bilbo invisible so that he can do what he needs to do with the dragon, but other than that, its discovery is a footnote.

Until…Gandalf the wizard realizes it is The One Ring, a repository for the evil spirit of the evilest Dark Lord that has ever darkened earth with his evilness.  He calls on Frodo, Bilbo’s nephew, to help destroy the Ring and rid the world of this terrible, dark, evilness.  Did I mention this  guy is dark and evil?

Frodo joins a band of brothers known as the Fellowship of the Ring, and they start out with elf-blessings to get to the Mountain of Doom and destroy the ring.  Problem is, the Ring has a mind of its own and it doesn’t want to be destroyed.  Their perils are not nearly as much fun as an angry, fire-breathing dragon.  This is a quest not only to save man-, hobbit-, dwarf-, and elf-kind, but it is also a journey inward to the depths of their souls to discover if they each are brave or good or selfless.  Some pass and some fail, just like us.

So are these books/movies worth the investment of time it takes to get through them?  Absolutely.  For fun and adventure they are the standard by which all other adventures are measured.  For thought-provoking insights into the human experience and the complications of human interactions, it is all the philosophy anyone could ever need. If you haven’t read them or seen the movies, run–do not walk, run–to grab them up and read or watch them.

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